Digitized by the Internet Archive
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, BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY^
DEC 2 1988
IHE VS^-TEP MI) SEWER
ioF tk: city cf
1630 - 1978
THE WATER AND SEWER WORKS OF THE CITY OF BOSTON 1630 - 1971
by NEIL J. SAVAGE
'Tis a little thing
To give a cup of water; yet its draught
Of cool refreshment, drained by fevered lips
May give a shock of pleasure to the frame
More equisite than when nectarean juice
Renews the life of joy in happiest hours.
ION. ACT 1, SCENE 2
Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd (179A - 185A)
As one who long in populous city pent,
Where houses thick and sewer annoy the air.
Paradise Lost. Book VIII, Line 4A5
John Milton (1608 - 1674)
THIS inSTORY WS OOM^ISSIOSED BY THE BOSTC«s: WATER AND SEWER OCMMISSIOSI
A. Raimcnd lye. Chairman
Michael J. Rotenberg, Vice Chairman
J. John Pox, Ocrttnissioner
Francis W. Gens, Executive Director
ThorBS J. O'Neil, Project Director
The author is deeply grateful to the Carmission for the
opportunity to carpi le histories of two Wbrks that are as historical
as they are vital . He could not have progressed en the vork, let
alCTie finished it, without the generous help of the staff of the
the Research Department of the Boston Public Library, the
Massachusetts State Library, and the Boston City Council.
1HE WATER AND SES/iER WORKS OF TOE CITY OF BOSTds^
Oopyright (c) 1981 by the Bostcxi Water and Sewer Ccsmissica:!
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form by an electroiic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording means or otherwise, without
prior written permission of the Ocrmiissiai.
Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
and his fellow iininigrants had been eighteen weeks out of Salem
following the irregular coast line in search of their permanent
place of settlement in the New World when they landed at
Charles town in June of 16 30. Death debarked with them.
Ill provisioned because they believed the glowing reports
of the land's ability to support them, and having neither the
experience nor knowledge to properly set up their encampment,
scurvy and dysentry overcame them and soon almost every household
would count one dead and in some more . They lived from the
offerings the sea over which they had arrived gave up - mussels ,
lobster and clams. But what they needed most and without which
there was no hope of survival was a supply of pure fresh water.
Charlestown had water, but it lay still in ponds. The
Puritans trusted only water that was in motion, believing that
its movement purified it. They were told that the White settler
who had preceded them. Rev. William Blackstone, had an "excellent
spring" near the place where he lived, on the slope of one of
the hills across the Bay in Trimountaine. So they crossed the
salt water to find fresh, and found a copious and pure supply in
a spring near what is now called Dock Square.
1. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, April, 1907,
2. Ibid. p. 297.
On the 7th of December, 1630, in the well practiced
terseness that was their style, the members of "The Court of
Assistans holden at Charleston (Charlestown) ordered that
"Trimountaine shalbe called Boston, Mattapan, Dorchester; &
the Towne upon the Charles Ryver, Watertown."^ Thus the followers
of Winthrop changed the name which described the hills that
dominated that place of river, inlets, streams, islands, and
peninsula to that of the place from whence many of them had
come - Boston in Lincolnshire, England.
It was not the first time the name had been changed. Its
Indian inhabitants called it Shawmut, the place of living springs.
Blackstone's excellent spring lay quite close to where he lived
on the slope of Beacon Hill near Louisburg Square. (Ultimately,
Mr. Blacks tone was invited to join the Church, but demurred,
saying: "I came from England because I did not like the Lord
Bishops, but I can't join you because I would not be under the
Lord-Brethern," and abandoned his home, and the Puritans were
convinced, his soul, fleeing to the wilds of Rhode Island) .
As the Town of Boston began its slow growth, people settled
further from the spring and carirying water became a burden. In
1650, several inhabitants of North Street approached William
Tynge, already one of the richest merchants of the Town, and
1. The Records of the Colony of Massachusetts.
2. Cotton Mather, Magnalid (1702) book xxiii, p. 7,
asked if he would supply them water from the spring behind his
house. On June 1st, 1652 the Great and General Court incorporated
Boston's first water works - "for the dayly use of fresh water
for their several families, and especially the eminent danger
i-f any scathfier should happen amoungst them (which God forbid)."
The water rents were to be paid to Mr. Tynge - twelve pence a
year - and the Corporation was to meet annually on the first
of July - "if not the Lord's day, or if it be, then on the
second" to elect two wardens to serve for a year and no more.
The wardens were to see to the works, had authority to seize
property of those who did not pay for the water and to prevent
anyone who was not a member of the Corporation from taking water
by first warning them and then if they persisted, taking from
them the vessel in which they had intended to carry away water.
The wardens were also authorized to give license to draw
water to those too poor to pay for it, and anyone was authorized
to break into the works at any place in case of fire.^
The conduit was a large reservoir about twelve feet square
holding water conveyed from wells and springs by wooden pipes.
Over the reservoir a wooden building was constructed for storage,
but later the well was covered with planks rising to a level oQsout
two feet high with sloping sides. The pipes had been laid some
time earlier and the length they travested North Street
became known as Conduit Street.
1. Massachusetts Colony Records, Vol. Iv. Part 1 p 99
(June 1, 1652)
As the years passed and the Town grew, watersheds were
destroyed, springs covered over and built upon or dried up.
Slowly a dependence grew for the needed supply on dug wells or
cisterns used to catch rain water. And it was becoming apparent
that the quality of such water was not that of the springs.
In 179 3, B. J. Ferron, who held the imposing title of
"Surgeon-Major of his Most Christian Majesty's Squardron under
Maetanay's Command in North America, and His Majesty's Marine
Hospitals at Boston and in Rhode Island" experimented with several
samples of well water taken in different parts of Boston to
determine its quality. The analysis of water in those days was
an inexact science at its best. Nevertheless Ferron wrote: "From
the various experiments, may we not conclude that the water of
Boston contains sea salt with a base of mineral ackali in small
quantity of oil, perhaps a little tal catharticus amarus. There
are besides some which contain farther a superabundance of earth,
suspended by means of an undue proportion of air."
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, some of Boston's
"capitalists" as they proudly called themselves in those days,
became convinced that there was a market for the sale of water
to the inhabitants of the Town. But there was no large supply
to be found in Boston. They turned to the neighboring Town of
Roxbury and to its Jamaica Plain section where was located a
1. Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences - 179 3 in English and French.
Pond of approximately seventy acres with a depth, in some sections,
of up to sixty or seventy feet.
In 169 8 the rights to the waters of the Pond had been
granted by the Town to one Joseph Belnap with permission to
draw water for the operation of a grist mill to grind corn for
the inhabitants of Roxbury and Brookline. In 1739 the Selectmen
decided to regulate the amount which could be drawn. In October
of 1780, the Grist Mill was diverted to other uses and in
February of 1784, because the surface of the Pond had fallen,
it was ordered that the drain be entirely stopped six feet to
the eastward of the Gate "until the season would admit to a
good look at the source."-^
In 179 5, the backers of the proposed water works petitioned
the Great and General Court for a charter to proceed with the
project. In their petition they proclaimed that they had
purchased the rights to the pond from William Marshall (he
had purchased them the previous year) and that they were
convinced "great quantities of water can be drawn the greater
part of the year" and pointed out that it was "impossible to
maintain the health of the people without washing sheets in
Summer and in Autumn" (which was the only times each year that
they were) , and further raised the spectre of "other Cities
ravaged by fire - at great expense. "2
1. Drake's History of Roxbury.
2' Records of the Proprietors of the Boston (Jeunaica
Plain) Aqueduct Corporation 1795.
The Act of Incorporation was passed by both branches of the
Legislature on February 26, 1795 and signed the next day by
Govenor Seunuel Adauns. The first meeting of the Corporation
was to be "holden at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern in Boston"^ on the
same day at 12 noon. In attendance were Laommi Baldwin, Jr.
who was to be the Engineer for the construction of the works
and Charles Bulfinch, its architect.
To raise funds, the Incorporators sold, or attempted to
sell, 100 shares at $1,300 per share. Two mains were originally
laid. There later would be four, two of four inch bore and two
of three inch and made of pitch-pine, laid into Boston in a
subterranean txinnel there to be connected to the lateral pipes,
one and one half inches in diameter, of the subscribers. Both
the Towns of Boston and Roxbury had free access to the hydrants
the Corporation built, in case of fire.
The Boston Aqueduct Corporation, more commonly known as
the Jamaica Pond Aqueduct, had its problems from the beginning.
Shares were hard to sell, revenues from water rents (set by the
Legislature) proved inadequate to cover expenses and assessments
were repeatedly laid on the shareholders. At one point the
selling price of the shares fell to $500.00. No dividends
were paid for ten years. The works were in constant need of
repair as the wooden pipes often broke, especially where one
length was connected with the next. (This was done by
dovetailing the narrow end of one length into the wider end of
the next and sealing the joint with an iron ring. Wear often
caused these joints to separate. The Works long time Chief
Engineer, Mr. Thomas Dexter, developed an extraordinary skill
at locating the leaks without excessive digging. Forcing an
iron rod down through the earth until he hit the top of the
pipe, he would strike the rod and listen, with his ear against
it, to the resulting sound. Its tone would tell him how far
away the break was. The method was most effective and left
Mr. Dexter deaf.
Waste was, as it is now, a great problem for the water
works. Rates were charged by the size of the family (with
different rates for hotels, manufacturies and commercial houses),
The users of the water were very careless, often not turning
off their stop cocks. But despite all its problems, the Jamaica
Pond Aqueduct brought a supply of water, albeit not always sure
and steady, to several sections of Boston (the Pond was not
elevated enough to supply the high sections of the Town by
gravity flow) for over fifty years and at its demise was
supplying between 1,500 and 1,600 hundred households and other
users, including the Massachusetts General Hospital, and homes
and business far up Washington and Tremont Street in the City.
By 1844 it had 55 large (50,000 gallons) and 9 small (25,000)
reservoirs in the City. The fire hydrants when, in reality,
plugs in the pipes which the fire companies (over most of the
life of the Aqueduct, private companies which dashed to the
fire hoping to be the first there and if they were not, prepared
to fight it out with whomever was) could pull out so that water
might be pumped.
Although many were reluctant to see it happen, the growth
of Boston had been such that it was forced to abandon the rather
cumbersome and informal Town Meeting form of government and
petition the General Court for an act incorporating it as a
City. The City charter was accepted by the Town on March 4,
1822. The names of two illustrious citizens of the new City
were proposed to be its first Mayor - Harrison Grey Otis and
Josiah Quincy, but support for each was so evenly divided that
a compromise choice was made, John Phillips. The ascent of
Quincy to Mayor was to come in 1823. He would be called by
many the "Great Mayor."
In his inaugural address, Quincy turned, with his usual
optomistic enthusiasm to the question of a supply of pure water
to all sections of the City. He urged that a supply be brought
in and suggested as potential sources the Charles and Neponset
Rivers. It would be twenty-five years later, a quarter of a
century of surveys, controversies, elections, legislation,
petitions, remonstrances and argument, sometimes, of a gentlemanly
character, and sometimes not, before his son. Mayor Josiah
Quincy, Jr. , would pull a lanyard on Boston Common to allow the
water to flow into the Frog Pond and through the newly laid
pipes of the City.
Mayor Quincy's plea for water, while not immediately
heeded, did set the project into intellectual motion.. By 1825,
the City Council (Common Council and Board of Aldermen sitting
jointly) appointed a Committee to look into the acquisition of
a supply of water. Mayor Quincy was its Chairman. The joint
Committee hired Daniel Treadwell to conduct a survey. As the
project would stir the passions of the City, it also would,
through its history, attract men outstanding in themselves and
in their professions.
Treadwell, an orphan at eleven, had been apprenticed
to his older brother as a Silversmith. He eventually became
successful in that craft on his own. Yet, like many men of
quality who lacked formal education, he had a thirst for
knowledge and spent much time in available libraries reading.
Treadwell 's desire for learning was matched by his love of
invention. He created a machine to produce screws, one to
make hemp, and a printing press that was operated by the weight
of the pressman's foot using an ingenious combination of levers
and a toggle joint. His press was later improved to print on
both sides of the paper simultaneously and eventually was
operated by steam power. Treadwell was early on interested in
the ejnbryonic railroad system of America and his sketches
illustrating a system of turneibouts allowed the construction of
single track railroads. He shared his self-gained knowledge
through a series of lectures to working men on the application
of scientific principles to their IcQjor. In 1834 he was appointed
Riimford Professor and Lecturer on the Application of Science
to the Useful Arts at Harvard College.
Treadwell began his report of November 4, 1825 with a
determination of just how much water the City needed. Assuming
the population of Boston would be approximately 50,000 when the
water arrived and using the consumption figures of the Cities
of Philadelphia and London, he reckoned by interpellation
that the City ought to have 1,458,000 gallons daily. But he
was dissatisfied with that figure on the grounds that the pattern
of consumption of the citizens of Boston might not be the same
as that of their counterparts in Philadelphia and London.
So he devised his own formula.
He began by assuming the 50,000 people in the City were
gathered in 8,000 families. Giving each family 100 gallons
a day for cooking and washing and other uses, would require a
supply of 800,000 gallons. But not all citizens would find
the same day propitious for washing either themselves or their
clothes. He assumed, therefore, that 6,000 would coincidently
wash each day using 60 of their hundred gallons and those not
cleaning up would use 40 for "other purposes" thus making a
daily total use of 680,000 gallons. Add another 500,000 gallons
for watering horses and streets and leakage and 1,180,000 was
needed, rounded off to 1,600,000 to provide for the growth of
the City. (Treadwell did not provide any extra for the fighting
of fires, assuming that at the sounding of the alarm, all other
uses of the water would stop and there would be enough water
available to supply eight engines which could pump it high
enough to reach the top of the City's tallest building) .
Having thus satisfied himself as to the amount needed, he
turned to the source. If the water was to come from the Charles
River, he would draw it from above the falls at Watertown,
through two round wooden trunks, 2 1/2 feet in diameter buried
at a sufficient depth under the earth to prevent freezing. The
water would run to a pumping mill on the Mill Dam in the City.
There it would be pumped up to a Reservoir on Beacon Hill, and from
the Reservoir through mains of iron to all parts of the City.
He estimated the mains laid on the level and constantly filled
and subject to small pressure would last forty years. One pipe
would be sufficient for the City's supply but by laying two,
repairs to either one could be made without interrupting the
The Reservoir, he stressed, was very important. Treadwell
estimated 800,000 gallons would be used during five hours in the
morning and 800,000 during the twelve succeeding hours. Water
would be shut off from the Reservoir during the remaining seven
night time hours. The average hourly use during the day would
be 66,666 gallons, but at times the use would reach 160,000 gallons
an hour. If the water were kept running into the reservoir during
the night, the larger amounts used during peak hours would always
be available from it. If not, the 160,000 gallons would have
to be taken directly from the machinery (pximping mill) , which
he considered a disadvantage, even if the velocity of the water
would be less from the reservoir than directly from the machinery,
His reservoir would be 30,000 superficial feet, 8 feet
deep with a capacity of 1,800,000 gallons when two-thirds full.
That amount could be obtained by working the engines ten hours
each day, during the night-time.
Treadwell now turned to Spot Pond in Stoneham, eight miles
distant from the City as another possible source. Both from
observation and gauging, he was easily convinced that the large
amount of water available from the Charles River would be more
than enough to supply the needs of the City even in the dryest
years. Unable, however, because it was surrounded by bushes
and meadows, to survey Spot Pond Treadwell wrote that that would
have to wait until the Pond was frozen over, and relied on a
previous survey of the 220 acre Pond laying 8 miles from Boston.
During the dry summer of 1822, the Pond had been drawn down
eight feet to a level eight feet below the waste way to supply
the mills built around its perimeter, but by the following
winter, it had filled to such a degree that its water flowed
over the waste way. That fact, and the estimate that 800,000
gallons daily were leaking out through the gate which could be
repaired, convinced Treadwell that the supply at Spot Pond was
sufficient. Yet, to make perfectly sure, he urged the Committee
to direct some person to put a water measure on the Gate and let
it register over a sufficient period of time.
Unlike the Charles, Spot had the advantage of gravity flow
into the City and would need no pumping. The surface of the
Pond two feet below the waste way was 140 feet zdaove the level
of the water in Boston Harbor at mean tide. Beacon Hill was 90
feet above the Harbor level. Spot 50 edsove Beacon Hill.
Treadwell would bring the water in in a line of Iron pipe which
would run from the South End of the Pond, 80 rods east of the
Andover Turnpike, southerly, following low land to the Mystic
River, cross it near the Shipyard in Medford, thence, after
crossing the Middlesex Canal, keep near Craige Road from Medford
to Craige 's Bridge. Here it would cross the Charles River to
the Boston Shore, and then up to the Reservoir on Beacon Hill.
There would, under his plan, be a second reservoir on Copp's
Hill, supplied from the Beacon Hill Reservoir. He also gave
an alternate route, somewhat longer, but perhaps making the
crossing of the Charles less difficult.
This alternate course would be more westerly. The water
would flow as before out of Medford, continuing until it passed
between the Powder House in Charlestown and Prospect Hill,
through Cambridge Port to a point of land opposite the Mill Dam,
and there crossing the Charles to the Dam where the River was
comparatively shallow; over the Dam to Beacon Hill. The first
route would be seven miles and 16/52s of a mile long, the second
eight and one-quarter miles. There would be twenty-two miles of
pipe in the streets of the City (counting mains only, not service
pipes to the houses) . The total cost of the works (excluding
the cost of the land for the Reservoirs and with a caution that
"the expense of crossing the ((Charles)) river ((was)) not likely
to be accurately estimated, as it is a worlc of a kind altogether
new") and that the estimate did not include the cost of acquiring
the Pond, would be $615,469 from Spot on the westerly route, and
$558,353 on the "Craige's" route. The cost of procuring the
water from the Charles would be $514,842, and included two men
in constant attention to the machinery plus the capitalized cost
of repairs for one year.
Treadwell attached the chemical analysis of the two waters
done by Dr. Charles T. Jackson to his report. They showed both
of an acceptable purity, taste and color.
What was done with the Treadwell survey was what was to be
done with subsequent surveys over the years — nothing.
By 1834, calling for the introduction of a supply of pure
water into the City had become a standard part of the inaugural
address of each incoming Mayor. Some wished it done at the
City's expense. The Capitalist wanted a private, profit making
(they hoped) Corporation. Mayor Theodore Lyman (1834-1835)
insisted something be done. Another survey was ordered, this
time by the City's Engineer, Laommi Baldwin, whose family name
is borne by the apple his father discovered . Baldwin was a
lawyer and author. But his greatest prominence was as a Civil
Engineer. Indeed^ he is called by some, the "Father of Civil
Engineering in America." His accomplishments in that field
were many, Fort
Strong on Noodle's Island in Boston Harbor; the Bunker Hill
Monument; the extension of Beacon Street below the Conunon; the
great Dry Docks in Charlestown and Norfolk; the surveying of
the Erie Canal. He begins his report from Charlestown on
October 1st, 1834, with an unnecessary apology:
(The report is) — "far from being so full, definite, and
so much in detail as the important object demands." He then
proceeds to submit a survey exquisite in detail which runs,
with the chemical analysis of Dr. Charles T. Jackson attached,
to over one hundred pages.
The well ordered mind of Baldwin required that he first
list all the sources of water existant in the City. He lists
1. By collecting rain water in cisterns on the roofs
of house, etc.
2. By raising it from wells in the common way.
3. By boring into the earth and tapping springs below —
(Artesian wells) .
4. By conducting it from high and distant sources by
aqueducts, conduit pipes, or pumps.
The first method is in common use, he pointed out, in
Boston and other places where no supply of pure water can be
obtained from the earth; the second method is also common; to the
third he devotes much detail, tracing the history of Artesian
1. City Document No. 12-1834.
wells from the Artois Province in France to a magnificant one
he himself had built at the Norfolk Naval Yard. And 9s far as
Aqueducts are concerned, he describes the better known ones
from the Appian Aqueduct (B.C. 312) to the Agua Virgini, restored
under the Pontificate of Nicholas V, and completed during the
Reign of Pius IV in 1568; then details that method of supply in
the Cities of Paris, London and Edinborough. On page thirty
six he comes to the point reached by Treadwell on page one of
his report: How much water does the City actually need each day?
First, he reasoned, he would find out how much water the
City now had, at least from its major source, wells. To determine
that he sent out one Eben A. Lester to make a careful investigation
of all wells in the City. Baldwin found the results of the
investigation very curious. (Not as curious, however, as some
in later years would find the methods used by Lester in his
herculean task) .
Of the total of 2,767 wells Mr. Lester had located, the
water was drinkable in 2,085 of them, but of the same 2,767,
2,760 were hard and not used for washing. It was easier to quench
ones thirst in the City than to remain clean, it seemed.
Baldwin then estimated that the population of the City would
be 80,000 by 1840. (It actually would be 84,400, This was not
the first entry into the field of population estimates by Baldwin.
In 1809 he published a paper warning against extensive immigration
impairing the national character). If one were to take Treadwell' s
figure of a need of 1,600,000 gallons a day and divide the
population of 80,000 into it then the 100 gallons a day Treadwell
said was the need for each person would only be 20; not enough.
Turning to potential sources, Baldwin begins by listing
no less than thirteen Ponds ranging in size from Spot with 260
Acres to Morse's Pond in Needham, 20, and in distance from the
City, Learnard's Pond in Framingham, 27 miles, to Baptist Pond
in Newton, nine miles, (he included the Charles River) then
he proceeds to shoot down all but one of his ducks.
He dismisses Treadwell 's Spot Pond since his measuring
of its discharge was 1.67 cubic feet per second, while in order
to produce Treadwell 's 1,600,000 the discharge would have to
be 2.41 feet per second (and besides, of course, the 1,600,000
was now inadequate in view of the increased population. )
Some of the remaining ponds were dismissed because the supply
was also inadequate; some because the water was impure and others
because the route over which the aqueduct from them would have
to travel was too high for gravity flow. The Charles River,
although more than an adequate supply, was removed from
consideration because of the analysis of its water. Some samples
were taken by Jackson at the Falls at Watertown. Jackson found
the water there to be impure. (A great irony. For years the
River water there had been used in the manufacturing of paper
and cotton cloth. The discharge of the Mills so discolored the
water that the firm of Bemis and Eddy, manufacturers of a high
quality paper much used for the correspondence of the well-to-do.
and for legal docijinents, had been forced to bring in clear water
from a distance at considerable expense. Also, the factories
using the water to bleach cotton found that their product,
rather than been bleached white, was being taking on a reddish
tint. Both early exaunples of the self-defeating nature of
Baldwin now turned to the more distant sources in Framingham
and Natick. Long Pond, he stated, from a calculation made during
surveys by the Commonwealth, was 600 acres and its surface 127.91
feet above marsh level. He found an outlet which fell into the
Concord River near a Cotton factory and used the mill race just
above the mill to gauge the discharge, while the machinery was in
motion, August 16, 1834. Using six tests and the mean from
those results, he determined the velocity of the top of the surface
along the middle of the current to be 18 1/2 feet in 18 seconds.
Using Dubuat's formula he found the possible discharge to be 2 8.89
cubic feet a second and with Prony's simpler formula: 26.35.
Taking 25.00 as the mean of the two results, he calculated the
discharge to be 2,160,000 cubic feet or 16,156,800 gallons in
24 hours. Thus, he concluded, this source was sufficient for a
supply, but held off judgment as to whether it should be the
supply because of its height and relative expense of effecting
a discharge from it. He then turned to nearby Farm and Shakum
Ponds in Framingham. If they could not offer the needed supply,
he would recommend Long.
He found Farm Pond 196 acres and 149.37 feet above marsh,
21.46 higher than Long and Shedcum. Shakum, which had the
appearance and the character of being a collection of clean,
pure springs(but which had not been analyzed), he found to be
&9 acres in size and 155.00 feet above the marsh level, 5.64
eibove Far and 27.10 higher than Long. He could not measure the
discharge from Shakum since the outlet had been stopped up to
allow farmers to get their hay from the extensive meadows below.
Farm Pond and Shakum together, with springs indicated everywhere
for several miles, would offer a sufficient supply. But, he
added, "Long Pond is abundant, though the excavation will be
His final conclusion as to the source was that the most
eligible was a combination of Farm and Shakum, together with
incidental strecims dependent upon them, and on Long Pond and
suggested that the water be brought in by an aqueduct, without
the use of pipes, to the nearest point of sufficient height in the
City to allow it to flow through cast-iron pipes to the highest
land in the City.
For that purpose, he proposed to build a reservoir near
the road "leading from Roxbury to the Brush Hill Turnpike, by
the rocks on the west side of the road north of R. G. Amory's
house, or someplace in that neighborhood." His reservoir would
1. City Document 12-1834.
be such that when full, the surface of the water would be 110 feet
above marsh level. The aqueduct would bring the water to the
Reservoir by gravity, and be capable of delivering five million
gallons a day, should that amount be required, but could be
easily restricted to a lesser amount. The distance from Farm
Pond to the proposed reservoir was 23 and 3/4 miles and from the
south end of Long Pond, through Dug Pond to the same point, 21
miles and 3/4; from the East side of Long Pond, nearly 22 miles.
As to the form of the proposed aqueduct, he began his usual
thorough discussion of the sv±»ject and came to an innovative
decision. There are four forms of Aqueducts, he said. The first
is an open canal, like a common navigable canal, but on a smaller
scale. Such an aqueduct has supplied parts of London with water
for two centuries. But only its inexpensiveness recommended it
if the water were going to be used for any other purpose but
domestic use (washing, cleaning but not drinking) .
The second was like the first, but with stone walls four
or five feet high, thus protecting the canal from filling and
choking by the bank's washing in, and lessening the encroachment
of weeds and aquatic plants along the border. The next type of
construction would be to lay stone walls up on each side without
mortar or cement, two or three feet apart, three or four feet
high, with flat stones to cover the top, an reach laid over the
whole, so to effectually conceal the works from sight, and to
protect it from mischief.
The fourth type of aqueduct would go beyond the third in
construction, being built in regular masonary, laid in hydraulic
cement, or in common mortar, and lined with cement. The bottom
would be of stone, the top covered with the same and the whole
work laid underground, or where the foundation would be too low,
covered with an embankment. A construction, which taken in toto,
was unique at that time.
Baldwin then went with some detail into the forms of aqueducts
he had previously outlined, showing in each the area of cross
section, the slope in inches to the mile, the velocity of discharge
a second in cubic feet and the same each twenty-four hours. He
calculated the cost of the open canal at 15 cents the cubic yard
or $2,288 a mile; and the open canal with sides of stone to be
$7,746 per mile if it were to be five feet wide and three deep.
The excavation would have to be six feet deep and eleven feet wide.
He then points out that such an open canal will be exposed to
frost and ice which will cover it in winter, lessening the discharge
about one quarter.
All in all he lists and describes seven possible kinds of
aqueducts (three merely variations in dimensions) and comes at
the end to the type he obviously favors, the completely enclosed
aqueduct of stone and hydraulic cement or masonary. He points
out that in order to deliver 5,000,000 gallons daily the aqueduct
Baldwin took Treadwell's 100 gallons a day, multiplied it
by his projected population of 40,000 and added an additional
1,000,000 gallons a day for future growth of the City and non-
should be two feet wide and four feet deep, a cross section of
eight feet. Ironically, despite his statement that "a close
stone aqueduct is the most proper construction.", he would
begin the line of the works, which he divides into eight sections,
with an open canal for the first three miles.
Farm Pond, he notes, is 149.3755 above the marsh and 39.375
above the basin in Roxbury, and 2 feet 11 inches above Sudbury
River on the North, into which it has a natural outlet. By
digging 5 or 6 feet deep for about a mile or a mile and a half,
the whole of the Sudbury River, with all its rain, may be
intercepted and conducted through Farm Pond to the Charles,
instead of pursuing its natural course to the Concord, thus
making those waters available.
His canal would take the water from the Pond a distance of
three miles to the left bank of the Charles River in South Natick
and terminate at the commencement of the low ground and meadov;
separating the main from Dedham Island, a total distance of
13 miles, 7 quarters and 9 3 rods. Here the water would enter
that part of the aqueduct, constructed on the bank of the Charles
River. The aqueduct would cross the river to its right branch on
a bridge with two arches of 50 feet span and 20 width. The point
of crossing would be the old abutments of a bridge, now removed,
a few rods below the present bridge at Spring Street to Dedham.
The aqueduct would then run east of Spring Street to the
Meeting House, crossing the Dedham Turnpike to the east of the
Halfway House, and then to the Providence Road. It would pass
over the Boston and Providence railroad on a bridge with two
accommodation bridges. The remaining distance to wheffi he found
ground suitable for a basin or reservior was two miles, 3
quarters and 55 rods. He found it difficult to estimate the
cost of this section, since the land was broken and much of it
Brescia ledge (Roxbury pudding stone) . He brought his line to
T. K. Jones' or the Grove Hall in Dorchester and mentioned that
adjacent lands admitted of even a higher line and the aqueduct
and reservoir might be advanced a half mile further toward Boston.
From the reservoir to the State House (the floor of the
State House was used in every report as the height to which the
water should flow since this point was higher than any other
in the City), the distance would be 2 miles, 3 quarters and
12 rods. The fall from the top of the Reservoir to the floor
of the building would be 14 feet, and a pipe of 18 inches in
diameter would discharge, at that level, upwards of 2 million
gallons daily; a similar pipe would discharge into a Reservoir
at Washington Square at Fort Hill, a little less than four millions
The cost of the canal and aqueduct to bring the water to
the basin or reservoir in Roxbury would be $500,000 and to bring
it into the City and to the reservoir at either the State House
or Washington Square at Fort Hill, would be an additional
$250,000.00. This cost did not include the cost of right of ways
or the purchase of the Ponds suggested as the supply. Baldwin
added a final caution as was his wont. Should any doubt exist
that Farm and Shakum Ponds, with their numerous Springs were
sufficient for the supply he envisioned, there was always the
waters of Long Pond which could be had for between only
20 and 30 thousand dollars in addition.
As nothing had become of Treadwell's 1825 report, nothing
was to become of Baldwin's of 1834. The question of bringing
in to the City an adequate supply of pure water was far from
dead, however. One could run for Alderman or City Council
taking one side or the other in the controversy; a call for
Water seemed institutionalized in almost every new Mayor's
inaugural address. The protagonists formed several sides.
Those who wanted the water brought in by the City; those who
wanted it brought it, but by Capitalist. Those who wished a
lot, those who felt a little was enough, those who saw
no need at all. The Water Party was fragmented and thus
unable to prevail. But neither did their opponents have the
strength to be rid of the scheme.
On January 14, 18 36, Mayor Armstrong forwarded to Engineer
R. H. Eddy, instructions from the Joint Committee for the
Introduction of a Supply of Pure Water into the City, reaue sting
that he make a survey as to how that could be accomplished.
The directive restricted Eddy's investigation to the Horn and
other Ponds emptying into Mystic Pond in Medford and to Spy and
Fresh Ponds in Cambridge. A subsequent letter on April 21st,
expanded the potential sovirces to be considered to the waters
of Spot and Mystic Ponds. An interesting expansion of Eddy's
mandate in light of subsequent events.
Mr. Eddy begins his report gently protesting that he had
entered on his task with much delicacy, since he supposed it
had met with such thoroughness by Mr. Treadwell and his esteemed
friend, Mr. Baldwin. He then, like Baldwin before him, apologizes
for the little time he was ahle to devote to the report. Neither
his report nor his defense of it in future years were to suffer
from any delicacy or apology.
Eddy first sets down an economic principal, which was to
become the basis for upcoming debates. If, he reasons, we build
a Works of sufficient size to provide for a great future need
when the City has grown, we are misusing capital, for the income
from the beginning will only be in proportion to the use of the
Works, and the interest on the unused pipes, pumps and paraphenalia
will soon exceed the principal necessary to construct them. Thus
having opted for economic caution, he proceeds to sources.
Eddy dismisses rivers rather sximmarily, pointing out that
Lakes and Ponds are fed by pure springs, but Rivers are used
to dump the unused product of mills, dye houses, cotton mills
and other factories. Besides, he states in contradiction to
both Treadwell and Baldwin, there is not enough water in the
dry season in the Charles River. Nor in the Neponset he adds.
He reverts to economics to dismiss Baldwin's Farm, Shakum
and Long, pointing out that these bodies empty into the Concord
River from which is taken the water for many mills - Brown's, the
Framingham Carpet Factory, Saxonville Factory in Saxonville
Village etc., - and if the City were to use the Ponds recommended
by Baldwin, it would become engaged in long and expensive
litigation for damage brought by the owners.
He then, seemingly out of order, points out that since
the introduction of Anthracite, eliminating the use of pine
wood for fuel, the cost of steam power is down (two shillings
per horse power, per an eleven or twelve hour day) and when the
price per ton of the coal is down to $8.00 the ton, one would
be able to have 50 horse power per the twelve hour day for only
$15.50. Thus he concludes, by the use of machinery, the City
could be supplied with an abundance of pure soft water from
resources with five miles in any quantity which may ever be
He lists seven potential sources - Spot Pond in Stoneham,
260 acres; Horn in Woburn, 102.83 acres; Edge in Woburn, 20.63;
Winter and Little in the same Town in combination, 19.07 acres;
Mystic in Medford, 227.89 acres; Spy and Little in West Cambridge
and in combination, 140.57; and Free, Cambridge, 180.57. Eddy
points out that since three of the Ponds discharge into Symmes
River which in turn discharges into Mystic Pond and Fresh and
Spy run into Alewife Brook, which discharges into the Mystic
Pond outlet, by raising a dam where the Middlesex Canal crosses
the Mystic River, the waters of all the Ponds might be united.
But the results of his survey indicated that the quantity of
water in the Mystic Pond as it stands alone is so great as
never to render it necessary to resort to either (sic) of the
Eddy compliments Treadwell's prudence in estimating the
supply available at Spot Pond, i.e., enough to give the City
1,600,000 gallons a day, but his own estimates of the capacity
of the Pond with the sixty additional acres he would add by
damming, he felt that indicated the Pond could provide, on the
average, 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 gallons a day.
As the season was unfavorable to gauge the quantity of
water wasted from the Mystic Pond, he relied on the testimony
of Mr. T. F. Mayhew who had resided at Bacon's Mills for many
years. Mayhew said that in the Spring Freshets when the water
was highest, the head was about 8 feet; that is two feet above
the top of a six foot dam, 20 feet long. When the Springs
are lowest in the summer or autumn, two gates, each one foot
square, will reduce the head of water, in 12 or 14 hours, to
about four feet; two feet below the top of the dam, but that is
not frequently the case for any length of time. Two gates
under that circumstances would deliver about 20 ciobic feet per
second. He reckoned from this and other information that the
Pond received, in dry seasons, 40 cubic feet, or 300 gallons
per second, equivalent to 121,961,000 gallons per day, enough
for the Mystic to supply any quantity the City might ever
Eddy went on to develop a rather unique scheme, one which
would become controversial, and aspects of which he would be
forced to continually defend. He would initially use the waters
of Mystic, and when needed. Mystic and Spot.
An examination of a map of Boston, Eddy said, would indicate
that one fifth of the City lay above a horizontal plane, 20 feet
above the highest tides, and the remaining four fifths below
that plane. The portion above the plane he designated high
s'ervice , the portion below low service . He continued that since
that portion of the City in the high service area was much
developed, most of the future growth of the City would be in
low service portion which he assumed would always be occupied
by "tradesmen, mechanics, artisans, and a portion of the community
devoted to manufacturing pursuits." Consximption thus would
be much greater in low service than high, which he assumed would
not in any future period exceed 1,000,000 gallons a day.
He then fixed the height the water should be raised for
the low service to 60 feet above highest tides or 40 feet above
the divisional plane. The expense of raising one million gallons
60 feet over a twenty hour day - (the other four hours to be
taken up in oiling and repairing the machinery) , since it would
take 16 horse power and the rate per horse power was 33 cents,
for 11 hours, and the fuel would cost 60 cents for 20 hours
would be $9.60 per day.
Eddy then illustrates the economic feasability of raising
one, two and three million gallons a day for the low service
from Mystic Pond. Allowing each tenant the generous amount of
1. Boston City Document No. 10-1834.
200 gallons a day (average usage in Philadelphia was 187 gallons
and in London 180 gallons), and charging each $5.50 a year as
the water rent, he computes the total rents at each level of
supply and the cost to raise it assuming coal to cost $8 dollars
a- ton, then he translates those figures into the capital required
at 6% interest. Adding to those figures the cost of building
the Works from Mystic Pond to the City will give the total
expense of the amount of supply agreed on for his low service, he
As to the mode of bringing water from Spot Pond into his
high service, Eddy notes that the terrain around Spot Pond is
extremely hilly and abounds in ravines. Pointing out that the
Mountain Brook branches off into two valleys, one running east
and the other west, and the eastern branch runs nearly to Spot
Pond, he recommends the raising of a dam across the valley at the
branches of Mountain Brook, thus creating an immense addition to
the Pond to where the Brook cuts into the valleys. This scheme
would add 60 acres to the Pond and the evaporation from this
natural reservoir would be replaced by the water of the brook.
Eddy would run a conduit from the dam he proposed to
build, to the Andover Turnpike, through the Turnpike, then follow
the general direction of the Brook, along the low ground to
Mystic River, a short distance below the bridge at Medford.
Crossing the stream there, it would curve south to the Medford
Turnpike, until it crossed the Middlesex Canal at the Toll House
of the Turnpike. From there the line would proceed in the road
to the foot of Bunker Hill Street and then up to a Reservoir on
the Summit of Bunker Hill. Since the Reservoir on the top of
the Hill would be 98.961 feet above the coping of the Dry Dock
in the Navy Yard, and Spot Pond, at the surface of the water, was
138.161 above the same mark, the fall from the Pond to the
Reservoir would be 40 feet. Because he intended to rocike a
Reservoir out of the whole of the Pond and draw it down as much
as eight feet if necessary, he listed some of the depths below the
level of the Pond of some principal points in the City ranging
from the floor of the State House 30.261 feet below to the upper
step of Purchase Street Meeting House — 82.801, thus illustrating
that there would be no place in the City the water from his
high service would not be available. (The figures he used in
this calculation were first given by Baldwin in a report to the
Jamaica Pond Aqueduct Company. At the time of his 1834 Survey,
Baldwin was Engineer for both the City and the Aqueduct Corporation)
Somewhat abandoning his exortations about the economic
uncertainties of building a Work to supply more water than will
be immediately taken, Eddy advocates a pipe not only large enough
to guarantee the delivery of two to two and one half millions of
gallons a day, but one that would be capable of delivering four
million. The distance from the Pond to the Reservoir would be
exactly five miles, and using Prony's formula, he concludes that
the pipe should be 22 inches in diameter. To get the water from
the Town of Charlestown to the City of Boston, he would lay two
mains, each 18 inches in diameter, through Eden and Main Streets,
to the Warren Bridge, and cross that Bridge to the City. The
reason given for his choice of two pipes is interesting and based
on a letter he had received from the Superintendent of the
Philadelphia Water Works, Mr. J. F. Graff, Esquire.
"Mr. Walker of London" (Graff writes) calculated that under
a head of 56 feet from our reservior to the summit of our city,
8,000,000 gallons would flow through a 20 inch main in 24 hours.
No do\ibt this result would take place, if the pipes was allowed
to be open the whole time, and the flow be constant for the 24
hours; but this is not the case with water works where the water
only gains an increase of velocity in the pipes in proportion
to the quantity used" .
Graff goes on to explain that he has seen instances where
the water when first turned on to fire hoses was very tardy,
three hoses being needed to supply one engine when the water
first ccime, but one proved sufficient after the water in the
main gained its speed. Graff also states that the calculations
and formulas fail because they fail to take the useage at any
various amounts of particular time into consideration. Often, he
says, when the use in London is 4,000,000 the main calculated
to produce 8,000,000 gallons fails. To obviate the difficulty,
1. Boston City Document No. 10-1834
an additional main of 20 inches was laid. Graff also warns against
trying to save money in laying too small pipes from the one
"This is generally done," wrote the Superintendent, "by
mistaken calculations that if a main be 40 inches, four branch
pipes of ten inches each must be sufficient, as they are equal
in area to the main, when perhaps to these latter pipes of 10
inches, there may be 40 or 50 lateral pipes attached of double
the area of the main." Large feeds from the main to the distant
lateral pipes should be used, he cautions.
Anticipating an objection, Eddy turned his attention to
the fact that at extreme high tides, salt water slightly affects
the water of Mystic Pond at its lower extremity. His solution
would be to raise a dam at the outlet, preventing the admixture
of fresh and salt water. He also noted that Dr. Jackson's
analysis of the water at the outlet of the Mystic Pond showed
that 27.397 grains yielded one grain of solid matter, while the
same amount was yielded by 41.666 at Spot Pond, 16.826 at the
Croton River (New York City's source) and 6.666 grains in the
Verulam and Wandle Rivers in London.
♦Graff, who built the Philadelphia Water Works and was
its Superintendent until his death, was quite helpful to the
City of Boston during the years it spent examining the possibility
of a supply of pure water and while Eddy was pleased to quote
him in Eddy's 1836 report, a subsequent quote of Graff's - "if
you can get the water without machinery, I urge you to do so.",
was telling against Eddy's plan to pump the water.
(The tibiquitous Dr. Charles T. Jackson had done the water
analysis for Baldwin in both his survey for the Jamaica Pond
Aqueduct Company and for the City; for Treadwell in his report
and now for Eddy. A man of considerable brilliance and controversy.
Dr. Jackson received his preparation for Harvard Medical School
with Doctors James Jackson ((one of the School's founders)) and
theequally eminent Walter Channing. He received his M.D. from
Harvard Medical in 1828 having won the Boylston prize for his
Dissertation. Jackson developed an interest in mineralogy and
went to Paris the year of his graduation to study medicine at
the Sorbonne and geology and mineralogy at the Ecole Des Mines.)
(Always a man of expanding interests, he secured, while in
Europe, a large number of electrical instruments and apparatus.
On the ship carrying him home, he became friendly with Samuel
F. B. Morse who shared his interest in such equipment. When
Morse announced his invention of the electric telegraph, Jackson
claimed to have pointed out to Morse the underlying principles
of such a device which he had previously perfected in a working
model, but then abandoned as having no commercial value. Jackson
later claimed to have invented guncotton when its discovery was
announced by F. Schonbeing) .
(But his most noteworthy controversy was his insistance that
it was he, not W. T. G. Morton who had determined that ether
would cause unconsciousness to such an extent that it could be
used safely in human surgury. It is known that Jackson had a
working model of a device quite similar to Morse's telegraph,
but he discarded it. It was also known that he had given ether
to Dentist Morton to use on a patient during the extraction of
a tooth. But the anesthetic properties of ether were already
known to science, and if the experiment had proven fatal, and
there was no certainty that it would not, Jackson probably would
have been the first to condemn Morton. )
(Despite a lifetime of controversy ((insanity overcame
him in 1873) ) . Dr. Jackson was recognized as a brilliant
geologist and mineralogist, being geologist for most of the
States of New England) .
Eddy's dam at Spot Pond would increase its acreage from
227.89 to 857.89. His route for the water from Spot would
commence at the dam near the road to West Cambridge; run to the
Mystic Pond outlet West of the Middlesex Canal, cross these
waters in iron pipes under the bed of the stream, then to the
Middlesex Canal, through it, and under the Lowell Road.
Continuing parallel with the Canal, it would cross the Medford
Road to Winter Hill, enter the Medford Turnpike at the foot of
the locks of the Branch Canal from Middlesex to Medford River,
then to Main Street in Charlestown, curving around the Base of
Bunker Hill to the well of the steam engine house on a wharf
proposed to be built at that point. The distance would be 26,500
feet. The construction of the conduit would be brick masonry,
laid in hydraulic cement, three feet in diameter.
The genius of Eddy's plan was this. He was, in effect
proposing two water works. One was an aqueduct to bring water
from Spot Pond by gravity to a Reservoir (he called it the "upper")
on Bunker Hill. The other an aqueduct to bring water from the
Mystic Pond to the foot of Bunker Hill and then pump it up to a
second (the "lower") Reservoir on the Hill's summit.
The water from the upper (Spot Pond) Reservoir would
supply low service, those buildings below the imaginary plane
Eddy had drawn on the map of Boston. The lower (Mystic Pond)
Reservoir would service the high service, those buildings above
the plane. This was possible, of course, because the water of
the low surfaced Mystic Pond now flowed from a Reservoir on Bunker
Hill sufficient in elevation to permit the necessary head.
Eddy reasoned that only one service would be needed
immediately. He would cause the waters of Spot Pond to flow
into the Mystic Pond and have the water from that supply piomped
up to the Reservoir on Bunker Hill, flowing out of it to the
main pipe of the high service, and by a connecting pipe, to the
main for the low service also.
When the demand had outstripped the supply from Mystic,
or when the dryness of the season prevented the water from Long
Pond flowing into the Mystic, he would cause the water from Long
Pond, now stopped at the Reservoir on Bunker Hill, to flow into
the low service main.
Confusion arose as to why he did not do it the other way
'round, since the Spot water could supply the high service through
gravity. Upon reflection, it can be seen that it made no difference,
since machinery would have to be used to pump the Mystic water.
The use of machinery - pumps and engines - of which Eddy would
passionately defend in later years, was finally the undoing of
h-is plan, put to death by his friend Mr. Graff's aversion to
pumping. Perhaps Eddy sensed that an objection would arise to
his use of pumps, for after listing the estimated expenses of
the project, he spends considerable time at the conclusion of
his report giving examples of pumps and engines used successfully
in both the London and Philadelphia works, and mines in England
Eddy's estimate of cost, without considering pipes for
distribution in the City, would be $388,74 7.76 from Spot Pond
and $218,130.00 from Mystic, a total (which he did not choose
to add up) of $606,077.76. Less than Treadwell for much more
water, and much less than Baldwin for the same amount.
(Eddy had the foresight to inquire of Mr. George Odiorne,
who claimed to have the title to Spot Pond, on which he and the
others operated mills. Mr. Odiorne traced the title back to
an unconditional grant of the General Court of Massachusetts Bay
in 1640, and then recounted a running battle between the mill
owners and abbuters for many years. The first mill, a corn mill,
was erected the same year as the grant - 1640. At that time,
Stoneham was a part of the Town of Charlestown) .
While Mr. Eddy was busily at work determining that the water
should come from Mystic and Spot, a group of enterprising gentlemen.
William Sullivan, Daniel P. Parker, Caleb Eddy, and others, went
to the Legislature and, in one day, April 16, 1836, had passed
in the House, passed in the Senate, approved by the Governor's
Council and signed by Governor Edward Everett, an act incorporating
the Boston Hydraulic Corporation for the purpose of supplying
water to the City. Beside the expected clauses, i.e., authority
to take land, water to the City for fighting fires, there were
several interesting additions. One would give the City the right
to purchase one third of the shares of the Corporation, or all
of them upon completion of the Works if it so desired, provided
the price would return the investors a profit of ten percent.
Fireplugs (hydrants') would be built into the system, but the
City would have to pay for the water used as it would have to
pay for that used in the two ornamental fountains the Corporation
proposed to build. There was also a clause requiring a vote
of the Citizens of the City accepting the provisions of the Act.
The vote would have to take place after the City Council itself
had accepted the proposals contained in the legislation, and
within four months of the effective date of the Act, or the
Company's Charter would expire. There was no doubt as the
source the Hydraulic Corporation would look to. It's Charter
restricted it to bringing the water in from "within ten miles
North of the mouth of the Charles River" - Spot Pond.
It seemed now, for the first time since Mayor Quincy's
call for water, all elements necessary to heed that call were
present. Three extensive reports and surveys were in the hands
of the City Council's Committee on Water, each done by a
distinguished engineer and two agreeing on Spot Pond as the
best source; a vehicle existed to carry the work through in the
Boston Hydraulic Company; and a compromise between the Capitalist
and those who wanted the City to do it by means of the Act
which created the company allowing City participation or eventual
ownership. And a growing and more recognizable need for the water.
The City Council did not, as required to let it to continue
to exist, act upon the Boston Hydraulic Company by the prescribed
date, August 16, 18 36. The forces who favored the City bringing
in the Water at its own expense, called for a meeting of the
inhabitants of the City for the 26th of August at Faneuil Hall.
Over two thousand packed the Cradle of Liberty where so much
of the History of Boston had been made. The debate was acrimonious,
with much shouting, challenging of facts and figures, shoving and
hissing. The question to be voted up or down was: "It is expedient
for the City to bring in a supply of pure soft water at its
own expense" the vote , 2,107 yeas and 135 nays. Having thus dedided
by whom one would have hoped that they then would have addressed
the question of from where, but they did not.
On December 19, 1836, the Common Council met and noted the
results of the vote, stating that in order to carry it out, the
City would have to petition the Legislature for the necessary
authority. That was not done subsequent to the Public Meeting,
they said, since the Legislature was not then in session, the
next session to be on January 1, 18 37. They alluded to the fact
that the Jamaica Pond Aqueduct Corporation had Baldwin do a survey
which indicated that the Jamaica Pond could provide up to ten
times the amount of water it now did; but if the City was to go
ahead with its own works, the proprietors would offer the
Corporation for sale to the City.
Evidently feeling the rising tide of criticism, the Council
pointed out how diligently they had been in identifying the potential
sources of water; the Ponds at Framingham, the Spot, Jamaica
Pond. When they made a decision, they claimed, "there will
doubtless be general contentment among the people." They caused
a survey, and many researches and inquiries, they protested, and,
"whatever of delay may seem to have attented their operations,
they know that nothing savouring of negligence is justly charged" .
They then concluded by referring the whole subject to the next
City Council, which, in its own turn, passed an order on
January 5th, 18 37, to appoint a "suitable nximber of Commissioners"
to look into the whole matter.
The water just would not flow.
1. Boston City Doc\iment 7-1836
Although the argument would be raised again, the vote at
Fanueil Hall had effectively ended the possibility that the water
would be brought in by a private company. The sticking points
now were from where, and to a lesser extent as the years passed
and the City grew, how much.
There could be no compromise as to source, the water could
only come from one. But there could be compromise as to who
was going to meike that decision, and the names of the three
water Commissioners appointed on March 16, 18 37, spoke of that
Daniel Treadwell who first suggested Spot Pond and who was
for a lesser amount; James F. Baldwin who favored a large amount
brought from Farm and Shakum and perhaps Long, and brother of
the ailing Laommi; and, the one to be persuaded by one or the
other .Nathan Hale.
One of the City's most prominent men of the day, Nathan
Hale, nephew of the Revolutionary war hero, earned his A.B.
from Williams College and an A.M. from Dartmouth, and was admitted
to the Suffolk Bar in 1810. But he soon abandoned the legal
profession for journalism, and purchased the Boston Daily
Advertiser, the first daily newspaper in Boston. He used his
newspaper as a means of swaying public opinion and was one of
the first American editors to introduce editorial comment as a
regular feature. Hale held a high place in the history of the
American Railroad System and was a founder and first President
of the Boston and Worcester Railroad. Also a founder of the
North American Review, his stereotype maps of New England became
a standard geographical reference.
The Commissioners were to be paid $8.00 each day they
About this time, someone got around to asking how the
project would be paid for. A Committee was appointed to look
into the matter. The first paragraph of their report is worthy
of quote, just for its language.
"The Committee entered upon the performance of the duties
devolving on them with a degree of diffidence which the importance
and magnitude of the subject referred to them seemed naturally
to inspire. And while they regretted that the subjects embraced
in the order had not been referred to the Committee of Finance,
whose particular province it is to direct the financial operations
of the City, and to recommend from time to time, such measures
as they may deem expedient; to facilitate them, they felt bound
by a high sense of duty to consider, somewhat in detail and to
the extent, they were enabled to, from the time which they could
devote to the subject and the sources of information which were
open to them, the subject matter which had been referred to
1. Boston City Document No. 9 - 1837.
1. That the project was so worthy, the City ought to
borrow the money.
2. They couldn't because of the state of financial
affairs both here and in Europe.
3. In a year things would be better and they could
borrow the money at low rates without recourse to a foreign
4. That the City owned enough property, aside from public
buildings for collateral.
5. Although the City debt had risen from $100,000 at the
inception of its Charter, to one million five hundred at
present, not to worry, it had enough property to liquidate
the debt and leave a handsone balance.
6. That the City advance the money initially needed for
the project, repaying itself by the sale of land and that the
same procedure be used for paying the interest on the money
that would be borrowed as needed.
On December 8, 1837, the Commissioners were to produce a
6 3 page plan for the supplying of the City with pure water. Only
Hale and Treadwell would sign it, Baldwin refused.
**The City owned much land which it sold as the City and
the demand for land grew.
Going back once again over the feuniliar (to anyone who read
the previous reports) ground, they first compared the supply
provided the citizens of London (measured in wine gallons) and
Philadelphia (significantly measured in beer gallons) . They
concluded that in five years the City would need 2,500,000 gallons
and 3,000,000 in ten. Now the need was for 1,600,000. (Treadwell
prevailed here, somewhat unscientifically one would presxime
since it had been twelve years since he first proposed that amount
and the City's population certainly had shown great growth).
Lining up eighteen of the usual ducks, they began as before,
to knock over the ponds. Some for being too distant, some for
lack of supply. They ended up with seven Ponds and two Rivers
and then used the analysis of the by now water logged Dr. Jackson
to further refine their list.
Dr. Jackson disappointed them by declaring all the prospective
sources nearly pure. "Chemical analyses," they countered,
"however, is not yet sufficiently perfect to determine several
important qualities of the foreign substances found in water" .
They would form their own opinion by taste and color. In order
of clarity, they concluded were the following candidates: Spot,
Long, Punkapaug Pond, Mystic, Charles River and the Neponset
River. But there was no marked differences in taste, all being
*A wine gallon is equivilent to the United States four quart
gallon - 231 cubic inches. A beer gallon, used in some o£
the surveys and reports, equalled 282 cubic inches.
Since the structure necessary to bring the water in from
Punkapaug would be as expensive as that from Long and Long had
more water, Punkapaug was out. Neponset lost out to the Charles
because, although they were the same in distance, the Charles
water was more colorless. Of the four finalists , Spot and Long
were to be preferred if the water were to be brought in without
artificial means, and Mystic and the Charles River, if it were.
They then proceed to go through the by now familiar examination
of all aspects of each; distance; area of water, height over
marsh, head; available supply. They list the finalist, not in
order of preference it turns out, as five possible plans.
1. Pump the water from the Charles River to a Reservoir
on Corey's Hill in Brookline, 117 feet above tide water in
Boston, and bring it into the City in an iron pipe.
2. Pump it from the Mystic Pond to a Reservoir on Walnut
Tree Hill near the Royal Farm in Medford, through Cambridge to
3. Bring the water from Spot Pond to the reservoir on
Walnut Tree Hill in Medford in conjunction with a plan to pump
water in from Mystic Pond if the quantity from Spot falters,
thence into Boston by iron pipe.
4. Bring the water in from Long Pond by a closed conduit
to the proposed Reservoir on Corey's Hill in Brookline, then
into the City by iron pipe.
The Commissioners apologize that the amount of time they
were forced to spend on the Long Pond plan, prevented them from
making the estimates for the other three plans as accurately as
they would have liked, but they were, they said, sufficiently
near the truth to be relied on.
The water from the Charles would be pumped up near the
■falls in Watertown, forced through a 21 inch pipe to the Reservoir
on Corey's Hill, which would hold 5,000,000 gallons, two days
of the supply needed in future, which would allow for breakdowns
and repair of the equipment and other interruptions. From that
Reservoir, the water would be taken by an iron pipe 21 1/2 inches
in diameter to a Reservoir to be built on the Bowdain estate on
Beacon Hill. Using, as before ,Prony' s formula, they estimated
the discharge on the Hill would be 4 cvibic feet per second, or
2,592,000 gallons a day. Whole cost of the works: $465,039.00.
Then, by rather strange logic, they established a premise,
which would prove to be a flaw in their plan for raising the
needed water by pumping it. Since, they said, they knew of no
Engine in use in America that produced the same results as the
so called Cornish engines in use at the mines in Cornwall, they
would use the results of that engine to determine how much coal
would be needed to claim the amount of water needed. They
established a formula. What amount of coal would be necessary
to raise one pound of water one foot? Calling the result the Engines'
"duty", they used as an example the most efficient of the Cornish
Engines. The results of those Engines ranged from as low as
22,000,000 pounds one foot with one bushel of coal to a high of
91,959,596 with a bushel. They settled on 60,000,000 pounds one
foot with one bushel of coal. With the then cost of coal, that
would amount to $11,808 annually, which they capitalized at 5%
to be $236,160. Thus the total cost for the water from the
Charles would be $701,199 plus the usual 10% for contingencies
From the Mystic Pond they would bring the water to a Reservoir
on the top of Walnut Tree Hill, at an elevation of 126 feet
above tide water, 1.562 m.iles from the source. The Reservoir,
like the one proposed for Corey's Hill, would hold two days'
supply, 5,000,000 gallons. From that point it would be brought,
in an iron pipe of 22 inches, through Cambridge, west of the
colleges, to Charles River, which it would cross on a permanent
stone bridge, constructed on the side of the existing bridge
between Ccunbridge and Brighton, cross the Mill Dam to the
Reservoir on Beacon Hill. The whole distance would be 7.52 miles
and cost $554,622. Add in the aforementioned cost of pumping
and the 10% contingency allowance, the cost totaled $869,860.
As far as Spot Pond was concerned, they were convinced
that that source would yield 2,100,000 gallons a day, never
less than 1,600,000, which, they said, was the amount which would
be needed for the next four years. Then, they supposed, the
populations of the City would have grown to 87,000, necessitating
a supply of 2,500,000 and, if the population continued to grow at
the assumed rate, it would be 105,000* at the end of another six
♦They could not, of course, have anticipated the flood
of immigrants that were soon to come.
years, requiring 3,000,000 gallons a day. Following Eddy's
reasoning, they averaged out the daily need over those periods
to be 2,750,000, 2,100,000 from Spot and an additional 650,000
a day from Mystic. The Commissioners would construct the Works
from the Mystic to a degree that it alone could supply the daily
need if Spot Pond should fail during years of drought.
The water from Spot would come in a 22 inch iron pipe starting
at the southern end of the Pond east of the Andover Turnpike,
to Mystic River, above the upper shipyard, cross the river on
a permanent stone bridge, to the Reservoir on Walnut Tree Hill,
a total distance from the Pond of 3.18 miles. From the Reservoir
in iron pipes of the same diameter, 22 inches, it would follow
the same plan as the route of the Mystic water, across the Charles,
over the Mill dam and up to the Reservoir on Beacon Hill.
Here they hesitated, for they were unsure of what the City
would have to pay to acquire the rights to Spot Pond. They asked
Mr. George Odine's reply was rather uncivil. He protested,
quite strongly, that he and his brother Thomas of Maiden, were
the sole owners of the Pond and of the bed of the creek leading
from it to the Mills in Maiden. The property also included a
mansion house, barn, out buildings, a rolling and splitting mill,
machine shop etc. Since the City had, for so many years, been
dawdling along unable to make up its mind as to where its water
was to come from, if indeed it ever was to come, they had hesitated
to expand or improve their holdings. But, if the City could
make up its mind by September 1st next, they could have one moiety
of the Pond for $65,000 but if they continued their procrastination,
it would cost them $70,000 until the first day of January, 1838.
In calculating the price, Mr. Odiorne, noted that it included
the value of an exceptionally large daily supply; and a consideration
of the fact that it would put him out of a business he had been
engaged in for 30 years and had hoped to leave to his son.
Too much, the Commissioners concluded, $60,000 would be
more than generous. Thus the cost of getting the water from a
combination of Spot and Mystic Ponds, including the pumping and
10% for contingencies, would be $850,006.
As to Long Pond, its distance from the City, 18 miles combined
with its limited elevation, would make bringing in its water
directly to the City by iron pipe too expensive, so they looked
to an aqueduct, along the straightest line from the Pond to a
Reservoir on Corey's Hill in Brookline. The conduit, of brick
or stone, would be closed, thus eliminating the possibility of
it being contaminated by bathers or by substances thrown into
it by the residences along its banks.
The Commissioners offered two possible constructions. One,
a close conduit of stone, consisting of a floor nine feet wide
and one foot thick; upon this two walls would be placed 2 1/2 feet
high and 1 1/2 feet thick; leaving a clear space of 4 feet between
them. This water-course would be covered by a semicircular arch
1 1/2 feet thick, the whole being of rough stone without cement,
designed to be surrounded with a puddle of clay and gravel to
The second would be laid in hydraulic cement and designed
in the form of a cylinder, 8 inches thick, having a clear passage
for the water, of 4.6 feet in diameter. Both structures, of
equal areas were calculated to convey the water at a slope of
3 inches to the mile; and deliver 11 cubic feet per second.
The plan was quite elaborate. The Water from Long Pond
spilled into the Concord River, which supplied the Middlesex
Canal. Thus any dimunation in the supply would affect Mills
as far away as Billerica and Lowell. The Commissioners assumed
that that would not be a problem, the supply was so large,
except in dry season. Nevertheless, they proposed to form two
Reservoirs from several small Ponds in the vicinity of the
Concord River, where water might be reserved in winter and used
as required in dry seasons. They disbelieved, as they did Odiorne's,
the estimate of the damages by the Mill owners, and used their
own. To bring the water from Natick, through Needham and Newton,
where it would cross the Charles near the Lower Falls, then to
Brighton, terminating at the Reservoir at Corey's Hill, and
thence, in a pipe 21 1/4 inches to the Beacon Hill Reservoir.
Thus the estimated cost for the four proposals , including the
ever present 10% for contingencies, were:
1st plan - Charles River $ 771,318
2nd plan - Mystic Pond $ 869,860
3rd plan - Spot and Mystic $ 850,006
4th plan - Long Pond $1,118,294
Now the elimination. Since the 2nd plan was certainly not
superior to the 3rd, and it would cost more, that was not the
plan to be adopted. By adopting the 1st plan in preference to
the 3rd, a savings of $80,000 would be achieved, but as this
plan (Charles) required machinery "which implies some shade of
uncertainty" (although they were convinced, since they had
recommended two machines either of which could pump up the
necessary supply by itself made the uncertainty almost non-
existent) out went that plan.
Long and Spot-Mystic were left for consideration. Noting
that the Long Pond scheme would cost $268,288 more than Spot-Mystic,
they nevertheless pointed out that Long had the advantage of
being able to supply a large surplus of water to the Reservoir at
Corey Hill which would be available at a future day, by laying
a new main from the Reservoir to Beacon Hill when needed. They
then proceeded to do in the Long Pond plan arithmatically .
The extra supply available from Long Pond would not be
needed for ten years, and then require the laying of a second
main from Corey Hill to Boston. If they took the extra present
cost to build the works from Long Pond, and capitalized it at
5% interest for ten years, and added in the cost of the new main,
and compared these figures with the cost of increasing the works
at Mystic Pond in ten years, Spot-Mystic would be less than the
cost from Long Pond. Projecting their calculations twenty years
into the future, they concluded that the Spot-Mystic Plan to be
$117,302 less for the same amount of water. On the second point
of comparison, sufficiency of supply, they "believed" both
sources were adequate so when they arrived at certainty of supply,
Treadwell and Hale lost their previous certitude about the
accuracy of their estimates and Baldwin.
In their attack on Long Pond, while^ Hale and Treadwell,
said, the construction proposed for the aqueduct to bring in
the water from Long Pond; "shall be as much beyond the reach
of interruption in its operation, as any work of h\iman art can
be beyond the reach of accident we cannot pretend that the
cost given in our estimate, is sufficient to produce a work of
this permanent and perfect character ". And they didn't
think any more money should be expended to make it perfect. To
the counter argument that the Spot-Mystic Plan would require
the use of machinery, always capable of breaking down, they
pointed out that if that were to happen, the supply from Spot
Pond, coming by gravity to the City would be large enough at
all times to provide the full supply, during any period of
occasional interruption " even should it be to the extent of
bursting all steam boilers, or burning down the engine house...."
As to the quality of the water. Spot-Mystic, they said,
was more pure than Long. Which was not to say that Long was
not pure enough, but if it had to be brought in an aqueduct of
a construction they described, a cement which would not dissolve
in the water had to be used, otherwise lime or other foreign
matter would make the water disagreeable to the taste, and be
injurious to its softness. English Roman cement might be used,
but that would increase the cost substantially. The majority
of the Commissioners, all things considered, recommended the water
be brought in by the Works from Spot and Mystic Ponds.
Turning then, to a plan for distribution within the City,
they recommended in addition to the Reservoir on the summit of
Beacon Hill, one under the summit of Fort Hill. The first would
be a hundred and four feet above tide water, and the latter fifty
feet above it. The water would flow into these Reservoirs during
the latter part of the day and at night when usage was at its
lowest, so that there would be sufficient water in the Reservoirs
to supply the service pipes each morning when the usage would be
greatest. Beside providing for an ample supply at all times,
this plan had the added advantage of allowing the pipe from the
Reservoirs in the City to the source at -Walnut Tree Hill to be of
much smaller dimensions and less expensive.
The Commissioners would lay iron mains in various directions,
of from six to twenty inches diameter, through the principal
streets of the City to a length of approximately eight and a
third miles. By the side of the mains they proposed to lay
small iron service pipes, three inches in diameter, from which
the water would be taken by small leaden or wrought iron pipes
to the houses. By laying this double line of pipes, flow would
not have to be interrupted when a new home was tied into the
system, and extensive digging would be unnecessary. The service
pipes, on both parts of the streets, would run eleven and one
In those streets which the mains did not run, the distribution
would be made by single pipes of three or four inches in diameter,
communicating with the principal mains and with each other.
This would require twenty six miles of pipes, thus the total
length of streets travelled by the works would be forty-two and
one third miles, "being all the streets, and lanes, laid down
upon Smith's map of Boston, after deducting therefrom five and
three quarters miles for streets laid out but not built upon as
There was to be four hxindred and forty seven fire plugs in
communication with the mains and pipes. These fire plugs could
receive a supply of in excess of thirty gallons from the source
without the City and whatever was in the Reservoir on Beacon
Hill. Since the height of the source was at least a hundred and
four feet above tide water, the water could be played directly
to the top of any common building situated in a low part of the
City. The cost of distribution, including an additional 5 1/2
miles to bring the water to South Boston, would be $657,554 or
a total for the completed works of $1,507,560. Feeling, it
seems, some compunction to further justify such a large expenditure
of money, the Commissioners concluded their report with a passionate
presentation of the value of such Works from the viewpoint of
health, growth, commerce, increased wealth and protection from
Commissioner Baldwin appended the reasons for his non-
concurrence to the Commissioners' report. It was the necessity
of using machinery to pump the water up from the Mystic Pond.
He stated that the manpower, machinery and maintenance would
require great expense; fires that must never go out, a supply
of coal which might be interrupted by acts of our Government
or foreign powers. He scoffed at the savings supposedly
available in the Spot-Mystic scheme as opposed to the Long and
the fact that the former would require an addition in ten years.
"And what, sir, are 10 or 11 years, or what are $117,000
dollars, in a work of this description? Population is increasing
and will continue to increase, whether the work goes on or not
and if we go in this piece-meal way, we shall ever be at work
and never fully satisfy the wants of the citizens."
Mayor Samuel A. Eliot, to whom Baldwin's remarks were
submitted, wrote back to Treadwell and Hale and asked them if
they wished to rebut their fellow Commissioner. It took them
eleven pages to Baldwin's four. Their argument against Baldwin's
objections was a vigorous re-statement of their reasoning for
choosing Spot-Mystic in the first place. Although they thought
Baldwin's contention that erecting a dam across the Mystic
River so that salt water would not enter the Mystic Pond at
extremely high tides (Baldwin maintained it would cause silt to
fojrm in the River and damage its navigability) unworthy of a
response, they gave it one, since they felt Eddy had unnecessarily
raised concern among the citizens of Medford. They cited
several rivers where such dams existed harmlessly.
In an ordinance passed by the City Council on March 20,
1837, the powers of the Water Conunission were expanded to include
the necessary authority, including the letting of contracts, to
bring in the water, and on the 29th, the Standing Committee
on the introduction of pure water felt that the:
"...time has arrived when a decision can be made by the
City Council upon the great question which has so long
interested the public..." But before they made the decision,
they once more, perhaps for emphasis of the answer, addressed
the question; Should the water be brought in at the City's
expense, or by a private company? They decided that the City
should do it, explaining, in a rather radical statement for
those days: "...They (Councillors and Aldermen) believe that
it is too important a business to be suffered to be affected
by the calculations of private interest...."
The Committee on Water agreed with the majority of the
Commissioners that the water should come from Spot-Mystic.
They then took formal votes that it was expedient for the City
to bring in the water; that it should come from Spot and Mystic
Ponds ;^ that the work should begin as soon as the City received
the necessary powers from the Legislature; and that those powers
should be sought immediately.
1. Boston City Records - No. 4-1838.
Nothing, it seemed now, stood in the way of the Water Works.
Nothing but fate, and fate intervened.
The percarious, powerful, shaky and sometimes dishonest,
banking industry of America came down with a thud. Fortunes
were lost in a day, factories closed without notice, great ships
idled in the harbor, not loading or unloading, but only seeking
its shelter. The great Crash of 1837, in some ways worse than
the Great Depression of the 19 30 's, had come. There was little
money available, and certainly none to be borrowed for such an
ambitious business as the City proposed to undertake.
But by this time the project had born a life of its own
and those involved with it could not leave it alone.
Eddy submitted a document to Mayor Lincoln on February of
18 38, revealing himself as a bit of a culprit in the long delay
of the project. Disagreeing with Laommi Baldwin's report of
1834, he whispered into the ear of then Mayor Lyman and several
members of the Water Committee of the City Council, that the plan
submitted by the renowned Baldwin was impractical and too
expensive, and that given permission, he might submit one of
his own, which, of course he did. His communication of 1838,
was essentially a re-hash of his original proposal (he takes
pains to point out that the plan finally adopted by the City -
Spot-Mystic was originally his) but takes issue with the plan
to bring the water across the Charles on a permanent bridge.
Instead he proposes a ttinnel, which, he adds, could also
accommodate a pipe for the gas works.
Several Petitions for and Memorials against the Introduction
of the Water were submitted to the Council signed by prominent
and obscure men of the City. The one which bore the signatures
of William Appleton, Charles P. Curtis and Abbott Lawrence ended
with the demand "LET THE THING BE DONE."
Lucius Manlius Sargent, Esq.*,* sent by a series of answers
to questions he had proposed of Mr. Eliphalet Willieuns, Esq.,
President, relative to the Boston (Jamaica Pond) Aqueduct Company
Mr. Williams was quite down in the d\imps about the whole affair.
What was he to do? If the City was going to bring in water, he
dare not expand the Jamaica Pond works, and if they were not,
he would like to get on with it. In despair, he threw in the
towel, and offered the works for sale to the City (if the right
price were offered) .
Abbott Lawrence, who took a continuing and keen interest
in the water question, was a wealthy merchant of the City,
having made fortunes in cotton and the China trade. He was a
Whig Congressman and Ambassador to Great Britain. As Commissioner
representing the Commonwealth in 1842, he settled the question of
the Northeastern Boundary of the State with Lord Asburton
who represented Great Britain. His gift of $50,000 to Harvard
in 1847 estedslished the Lawrence Scientific School there.
1. City Document No. 9-1838.
** Lucius Manlius Sargent, was a well known author of the
day and an expos tulator for the water power. He also devoted
his effective pen to the crusade for temperance and against the
A Mr. Austin sent along some Minutes of Evidence taken and
Papers laid before the Select Committee of the House of Commons
and the Commissioners of the Supply of Water to the Metropolis
(London), in the years 1821, 1828, and 1834, for the edification
ol all who would plow through them.
On March 15, 1838, Mr. Shattuck siibmitted to the Council
a resolution to direct the not so defunct Boston Hydraulic
Company to do the job. If that resolution were not to pass,
then Shattuck in his next resolution, revived the Long Pond
scheme by directing the City to adopt it and then proceed to get
the necessary legislation. He then killed the whole thing again
by requiring that the legislation be approved by two-thirds of
the City's voters and, if that by any chance happened, by two-
thirds of each branch of the City Council.
On December 20, 1838, the Committee of Water answered an
inquiry as to the possibility of paying a bonus to any incorporation
which would bring the water to the City. They thought little of
the idea since the City could do it cheaper, having the ability
to borrow money (if there were amy) for less interest.
Almost as if to take up its time while it waited for the
financial cloud to lift, the Council sent the Commissioners
back to look once more into the subject. The Commissioners
confirmed their previous assumptions on the quantity of water
available from Spot-Mystic and lowered the estimated cost by
$10,200 because of a drop in the price of iron pipe. This factor
also lowered the cost from Long Pond by $57,810. Mr. Treadwell
and Mr. Hale signed the report. Mr. Baldwin dissented. The
City Council wanted to know why and Mr. Baldwin sent in his
reasons to them on January 22, 1839. Nothing had changed but
the level of his hyperbole. He still opposed getting the water
"The pumping of water by steam power, the best and most
ingenious mode man can devise, must be attended with a vast deal
of care, trouble, perplexity and risk, not only to this generation,
but to all succeeding ones, and should be avoided in all cases. "^
By March of 18 39, the financial situation was beginning to
brighten, and it was believed that element of the three needed;
source, financing and legal powers, was no longer a detriment to
the commencement of the project. The City petitioned the
Legislature for the requisite power, which held hearings, conducted
in the manner of the examination of witnesses in a court of law.
The first hearing was on the 21st of March, and by the 25th, this
fair but rather cumbersome procedure led the Legislative Committee
to conclude that there was not sufficient time left in that year's
session to complete its work on the Act.
A report to that effect was made to the Senate, which on
April 4th, ordered the Committee to report a bill, and on the
discussion which arose, they were directed to bring in a resolve
for the appointment by the Governor of Connnlssioners to examine
the whole vastly examined subject. The appointments by the
Governor would come upon the application of the City. The City
authorities made little attempt to hide their anger, seeing
the Legislation for what it was, an attempt to put the whole
subject back to its beginning, as they themselves so often had.
Since communications between two governments is usually couched
in the most genteel language, especially in the nineteenth century,
the response from the City can only be described as written in
The fourteen years of controversy since Quincy first called
for the water, the surveys, reports, petitions and agitations,
both for and against the project, its size and source, seemed
to have wearied the combatants. In September of 18 39, the
Committee on the Introduction of Soft Water Into the City of the
City Council, issued a low keyed and well thought out review of
the proposed project, lamenting that there "has been less public
interest displayed in it than in other years, and it has appeared
almost forgotten by others, (but) they are themselves more than
ever impressed with the propriety, the expediency, and within
a few years, the necessity of the measure."
They blamed the Engineers , since they could not agree as
to the source. The friends of the project were divided, weakening
1. Boston City Records - Docviment 29-1839.
their efforts. They also felt that the large quantity the
Engineers called for, was difficult for the public to digest
and fear of the cost of such a massive works, hurt the cause.
Continuing in a concilatory vein, they forgave the proprietors
o-f the Jamaica Pond Aqueduct their opposition, pointing out that
no one could blame them for using all honore±»le means to preserve
the value of their franchise. The Committee then proceeded to
cut back the project. Assuming that the need at present and for
the foreseeable future would be 2,000,000 gallons per day and
1,700,000 was available from Spot and considering that source,
for the first time, 300,000 would be available from Jamaica Pond,
they would combine those two sources. This elimination of the
Mystic Pond would eliminate the necessity of the second Reservoir
and they would also eliminate the Reservoir on Walnut Tree Hill
in Medford and reduce the size of the pipes bringing the water to
the City. The cost of their proposal would be $650,000, which
price included the purchase of the Jamaica Pond Works for $100,000.
The cost for distribution within the City they believed to be
$600,000. The interest on this money for the time before it
would be paid back, at 5% would be $62,500, immediately reduced
to $50,000 by the rents from those customers who were already
taking the water from Jamaica Pond. Five thousand tenants at $10
per year would cover the interest and they felt that 5,000 (or
6,500 including the 1,500 now using the Jamaica Pond water) out of
City with 13,500 families was an easily attainable goal.
The Committee instructed the Mayor to apply to the next session
of the Legislature for the authority needed by the City to finally
bring in the water and also to negotiate for the purchase of
the Jamaica Pond Aqueduct.
But petition was never made and that sober and well reasoned
report by the Committee on Water became the projects lamentation.
In 1843, James Odiome asked leave to bring water into the
City from Spot Pond. He never received it.
The affairs of men are not always theirs to manage. With
each passing year the water supply in the City dwindled. Wells
dried up, the drilling of new ones caused nearby wells to fail.
Cistern water grew ever more contaminated from the growing City's
pollution. Fires were a constant threat and too often a disastrous
reality. And a blight was to strike at a distant island's stable
crop and the trickle of immigrants from that unhappy land who
had heretofore come to the birthplace of America's liberty to find
their own, was soon to be a flood of men and women fleeing death.
In 1844 a new Water Commission was appointed, retaining
Nathan Hale and James Baldwin but replacing Daniel Treadwell with
Patrick Tracy Jackson. Jackson had amassed a large fortune in
the Indian trade and used it to enter into cotton manufacturing
with his brother-in-law Francis C. Lowell. In 1821 he purchased
a large track of land on the Merrimack River for his manufacturing
plants and thus laid the foxindation for the City of Lowell. In
1835 he completed building the Boston to Lowell Railroad, but
the crash of '37 wiped out most of his fortune and he became
Superintendent of the Locks and Canal Company of Lowell.
While the Committee on Water had been cautious and concilatory
in their last report of 1839, the new Commissioners were not
and the project took a quandum leap. Based on the fact that
the City's population had more than twice do\ibled in the last
fifty years and was now near 110,000 they proposed to get enough
supply for 250,000. Again using as their measure that daily
supplied to the Citizens of Philadelphia, 28 1/2 beer gallons,
they projected a need of 7,125,000 gallons a day. Without
Treadwell present to protest, they quickly abandoned Spot and
Mystic-Spot (without even mentioning them, since, one supposes,
they felt those sources could not supply the huge amount they
now felt to be needed) and turned to Long Pond in Natick.
Using their own measurements and those of Mr. Knight who
owned a woolen mill and cotton mill there, they determined that
the supply was sufficient and, could be made even more so if
the dam would be raised five feet, expanding the already 600
acres of existing surface. This would result in a Reservoir
of 128,502,000 cubic feet of water, enough to sustain a
continuing draft of 12 feet a second for a period of 124 days,
or seven feet for 212 days. Certainly enough to supply their
proposed Reservoir at Corey's Hill in Brookline with the eleven
feet per second they wished, in the driest of seasons.
Turning then to the mode of bringing the water to the
Reservoir, they travelled to New York to examine the newly
completed Croton Aqueduct which was to supply the City of New
York. In comparison to the New York Water Works, even the
eunbitious plans of the Commissioners were dwarfed. The Croton
Aqueduct could supply water to two reservoirs one of 20,000,000
capacity and one of 150,000,000; over twice the length of the
one they were proposing and built through some very rugged terrain,
necessitating much tvinneling. The conduit was 7 feet, 5 1/2 inches
in width and 8 feet, 5 1/2 inches at its greatest height. The
Commissioners were convinced of the excellence of its construction
and felt assured that the same would be, on a smaller scale, best
for the Boston Works.
The Long Pond Aqueduct, to bring enough water to the
Brookline Reservoir for a day's supply (7,000,000 gallons),
would be of brick, laid in hydraulic cement, of oval construction,
five feet in width and six feet in height. The brick work would
be eight inches thick and the whole structure covered with an
embankment of earth, four feet in depth. The water would fall
three inches a mile, and the necessary 11 feet a second to be
delivered to the Reservoir could be attained by filling the Aqueduct
to a depth of three feet ten inches, leaving a space of more
than two feet empty.
These dimensions were, of course, larger than the Aqueduct
proposed in 1837, but the additional supply and the wish for
added height so that more satisfactory distribution could be
made to all sections of the City, justified the extra cost, the
The line of the Aqueduct would initially follow that of
Baldwin's out of the Pond, but then as directly as was possible
to the Reservoir on Corey's Hill. The Commissioners saw no
problems arising along the route, and thought the only two
obstacles of note was the crossing of Valleys of the Charles River
Lower Falls and Lime Cove, beyond Brighton Valley. They would
cross these by two iron pipes, each 30 inches in diameter, the
total length of pipes would be 2,437 feet.
If the water were taken from the Pond at a height of 124.86
feet, and about four feet were allowed for the inclination of the
Aqueduct and 15 inches for fall at the two valleys, the surface
at the Reservoir, when filled, would be 119.61 feet above marsh
They recommended four Reservoirs in the City; Beacon Hill,
Fort Hill, Dorchester Heights; and Copp's Hill in the North part
of the City. The Reservoirs could be dispensed with if pipes
of a sufficient size came in from Corey's Hill, but to maintain
an uninterrupted delivery of water at a high level, the Reservoirs
The pipes from Brookline, two of iron 30 inches in diameter,
would rxon to Tremont Street near the Roxbury boundary; a branch
of 12 inches would run to Dorchester Heights to supply South
Boston; then one of the two mains would continue through Tremont
Street to Boy Is ton Street, and branches would be carried from
there to the Reservoirs on Beacon, Fort and Copp's Hill. The
water would arrive on Beacon Hill at the height of 111.61 feet
above marsh level; 4.6 8 feet above the level of the State House
floor and 60 feet above the foot of the columns "in the Piazza
in front of Tremont House".
1. Boston City Documents - No. 24-1844.
The cost for the 7,000,000 gallons daily - $2,118,535.83,
including the 10 per cent for contingencies.
The Committee on Water responded to the report by adopting
three resolves. That the supply should come from Long Pond,
that it is expedient that the City begin as soon as possible
and that the City Petition the Legislature for necessary powers.
The resolutions were joined questions which were to be put
before the voters as part of the municipal elections on the
second Monday of December, 1844. The voting Citizens of the
City showed a more decisive attitude toward the project than
had some of their leaders over the years. To the question of
the water coming from Long Pond - 6,260 yeas to 2,20 4 nays.
The questions of the City bringing the water in and the Petition
of the Legislature for the power were passed with equally large
margins. The two questions that the opponents had placed on
the ballot - to bring the water in from Spot Pond and to have
it paid for only by those who used it, were defeated.
It had been twenty years now since Treadwell first listed
the mecuis and matter necessary to procure an adequate supply of
fresh, sweet water. The battle which had engaged the City and
all of its Citizens in greater or lesser measure for those two
decades was now marched up Beacon Street to be fought, and finally
concluded many prayed, under Bulfinch's Golden- Dome.
The first session of the Joint Special Committee of the
Legislature was held on January 6, 1845. It was one of some
joviality as the many proponents and opponents smiled and shook
hands and filed their appearances, briefs, petitions and remonstances.
The City of Boston and those who supported its Petition; the
opponents of the project per se» t he Tovms of Framingham, Natick
and Newton, resenting the pillaging of their communities to fulfill
the needs of a greedy City; the owners of the Mills on the Pond
and beyond, the proprietors of the Middlesex Canal; the Boston
Medical Community which had long fought for the Water, knowing
it would help them in their so far generally successful effort
to spare the City from the ravages of awful plague and the people
of East Boston, who, if they were not to have the water, knew not
why they should have to pay for it.
The implications of the project had grown over the years,
in proportion to its size. Some were apparent, some would only
be realized in the passing of time.
The Bankers were, as was their wont, cautious, on the one
hand the enormity of the financing of the Water Works, astonished
them. On the other, if proper terms could be gotten from the
City, there was profit to be made.
Talk was about of the possibility of filling in the putrid
marshes of the Back Bay. And the immigrants had to live somewhere.
There was much unused land in South Boston. A never ending supply
of water to those two sections of the City attracted the
speculators. There were pockets to be lined.
Nathan Hale, Jr., recorded the proceedings, but strangely,
only wrote down the answers and not the questions.
Gentlemen of breeding disagree with each other only in
circumspection and nuance, the more to woxind your enemy. But
such methods take time and the hearings droned on as one side,
then the other, rehashed the twenty year effort to get water
from Pond to pipe, in excrutiating detail.
Pity the witness who came unprepared, he would have his
testimony thrown back into his face. Or one with unclean hands
to suggest that the digging of more wells would suffice, if it
were learned that he was in the business of manufacturing p\imps.
Perfidy was denounced when detected (there had been, over the
years, some switching of sides as one plan then the other seemed
in ascendancy) .
The testimony was technical, thorough and sometimes lurid,
as the minute detailing of the poor wrenches living in filth
and in hovel, waiting in all sorts of foul weather for the man
who had the key to the padlock on the common well to appear
(which, it was implied, he often did not) .
By the first of March, the legislators were growing weary,
and warned the combatants that time for the introduction of
legislation was growing short. On March 13th, 1845, after
twenty-six sessions, the Joint Committee reported out favorably
a bill which would give the Water Commission of the City of
Boston almost unheard of broad powers to bring water into the
City. The Commission could hire whom it pleased, pay them what
it thought just, commit the City's money in any amount it deemed
necessary, award, with or without bids, contracts large and small,
take property, private or goveminental, by eminent domain,
negotiating the price to be paid, or if it could not, bringing
the matter to Court.
The Act, passed by both branches of the Legislatiire and
signed by the Governor, was a total victory for the City and
its Water Commissioners. Clause 20 provided that the Act could
not take effect until approved by the voters of Boston balloting
within sixty days. The caunpaign began immediately, with the
usual arguments, for and against in the City's newspapers, on
broadsides, pamphlets, in meetings and rallies. Realizing that
it was their last chance, the opponents united and worked
diligently emphasising as their strategy not the merits of the
Water Works, but the unchecked power of the Water Commissioners.
The Water Party mounted their campaign with great confidence,
remembering that they had won handily the last time a question
pertaining to the project was placed before the voters.
They lost. The Legislative Act was defeated, 3,999 nays to
3,670 yeas. (The vote was quite close in most Wards of the
City, the glaring exception being the vote of Ward 12 (East Boston)
where the measure was defeated 421 to 88. The insistance that
the Noodle Islanders pay for something they could not enjoy,
proved fatal) .
The City Council, quickly recovering from its shock, moved
to keep the now seemingly defunct project alive - by calling for
another survey. But this one would be different. They removed
the three sitting Water Commissioners - Hale, Baldwin and Jackson
and replaced them with John B. Jarvis and Walter R.
Jarvis' qualifications were obvious. It was he who had
built the enormous New York City (Croton) Water Works. Starting
out as axeman on the survey teaun for the Erie Canal, Jarvis
eventually became Superintendent of fifty miles of that water
way. In 1827, while serving as Chief Engineer of the Delaware
and Hudson Canal, he was directed to do the planning for its
railway. At that time there was no railway worthy of the name
in America and little was known of the primitive system in
England. Having no knowledge of the svibject he had been assigned,
he was forced to look into every aspect of a railway, exploring,
accepting, rejecting. In addition to building the railway,
Jarvis trained all the personnel and drew up the specifications
for all the equipment, including the first locomotive to run in
America, the famous "Stourbridge Lion."
While employed as Chief Engineer of a Canal in New York
State which used reservoirs to supply the upper levels, Jarvis
did considerable experimentation of the total rainfall required
to replenish reservoirs. In 1836 he was hired as Chief Engineer
of the Croton River Water Works.
Adding to Jarvis* expertise on Water Works was the other
new Commissioner, Walter T. Johnson of the Philadelphia Water
While Jarvis and Johnson were busy investigating a subject
that it seemed humanly impossible to find out something heretofore
hidden, the Proprietors of the Spot Pond Aqueduct Corporation,
who thought they had won and were now not so sure, busied
themselves trying to sell $500,000 of Capital Stock. They could
manage only about two thirds of it, so they petitioned the City
to buy the other third, promising in turn to make the Mayor and
Aldermen members ex-officio of the Board of Directors, and giving
them the right to set the water rents (provided they guaranteed
a 6% annual profit to the sxabscribers) . They also promised any
number of hydrants the City wanted and three orneunental fountains,
but no free water for them.
The Committee of the Aldermen who heard the petition,
accompanied by one hundred signatures of some of the City's most
prominent men and largest property owners thought the idea
delightful and suggested that the City put the proposition
in the form of a ballot question and let the enlightened Citizens
who had turned down the City's plan accept the Capitalists.
The City Council would not be moved. They found it "inexpedient".
It would be their project or it would be no ones.
The Jarvis-Johnson report was submitted to the Committee on
the Introduction of Water on November 18, 1845. One hundred and
twenty seven pages long with six appendices, it investigated the
oft looked into Spot and Long Ponds and resurrected the Charles
River into contention. But with a new element. Since the last
investigation, navigation on the Charles had been extended. If
the Charles water were to be used, it would have to come from
further upstreeun and more pipes would be necessary.
The two new Commissioners turned first to the quantity
available in the sotirces they were considering, leaving the question
of quality for later examination. The ultimate quantity of water
available from any source, they reasoned, reflecting Jarvis'
training, was a question of annual rainfall less evaporation.
Here they were aided by three years of observations by Dr. Hale
who had determined that the average rainfall in Boston was 43.34
inches and the average evaporation 11.62 leaving 31.72 of water.
With other considerations that they did not list, the Commissioners
concluded that from one third to one half of the annual fall of
rain may be collected into the reservoirs (Ponds) .
Continuing to discuss, in intricate detail, the quantity
of water available from each source. Spot, Long and the Charles
River, and taking into consideration the effect on each supply
by dry seasons, evaporation, wastage and drainage; the cost,
advantage and danger of pumping; they presented the City Council
with three alternatives to deliver the water to the Reservoir on
1. From Spot Pond, 1,500,000 wine gallons a day
at a cost of $636,896.
2. From the Charles River 7,500,000 wine gallons per
day at a cost of $1,993,536.
3. From Long Pond, 7,500,000 wine gallons a day at a
cost of $1,346,599.
They further reduced the equation to the cost of bringing
in 1,000,000 gallons per day. $424,598 from Spot, $329,373 from
Charles River and $354,320 from Long Pond. They then weakened the
case for Spot Pond by stating that their estimate lacked the
degree of certainty they felt about Long Pond because of the
crossing of the Mystic and Charles Rivers, and did the scime for
the supply from the Charles because of the estimate of the work
that could be performed by the Engines necessary to raise the
Although, they said, the cost of repairs on the Long Pond
Aqueduct might be more than on the Works from Charles River, the
cheap cost of coal brought on by severe competition then
prevailing could not be expected to last, so, all in all, the
Long Pond Aqueduct would ultimately be cheaper. They felt that
the estimate of the cost for distribution in the City listed by
the Commissioners in their 184 4 report was reasonable. That
figure, $740,044 was sufficient they believed, for the City's
present population of 115,000 and any increase in that population
(which they estimated would be 220,000 in 20 years) would see
the extension of distribution at the cost of $4.50 for each new
If their projections of population growth were correct, a supply
of 5,250,000 gallons a day would be necessary in ten years and
6,600,000 in twenty. Thus, if one were to take into consideration
adequacy of supply for the future and the cost of obtaining it.
Long Pond was obviously the best source. As an added
measure of caution, they pointed out that the supply from Long
Pond could be increased to 7,500,000 gallons for the additional
expenditure of $75,000.00. If this were done, they predicted,
(quite inaccurately as the future would prove) , the City would
have a Water Works sufficient for its needs for the ensuing thirty
years. Unable to leave it at that, they went one step further.
For an additional 2,500,000 gallons or a total of 10,000,000 it
would cost only an additional $65,000 to increase the size of
the iron pipes that would cross the Charles River Valley and
Brighton Valley and those from Corey Hill Reservoir to the City.
The proposed Aqueduct and Reservoir were already of sufficient
size for that amount of water.
Thus, the project to bring a supply of water in the City of
Boston had grown in twenty-five years from 1,600,000 gallons
at a cost of $641,000 to 10,000,000 gallons at a cost of $2,651,643.
(Here it would be of importance to note the history of the
examinations of the quality of the water from the various sources.
The science of such analysis, as the Commissioners stated in their
1837 report, was infant and inexact, but such analysis went on
nevertheless, from Ferron's one in 1773 to the one by B. Silliman,
Jr. , attached to the Jarvis-Johnson Report. The majority of these
examinations were done by the acrimonious Dr. Jackson, but some
of importance were done by Professor Eben Norton Horsford.
Although by academic training a civil engineer, Horsford became
a prominent chemist. After studying in Germany at the Giessen
Laboratory under the renowned Liebig, Horsford returned to the
United States to become Rumford Professor at Harvard. It was
his influence which caused Abbott Lawrence to found the Lawrence
Scientific School at Cambridge. He also developed marching rations
much used by General Grant's troops during the Civil War.
Horsford's father had been a missionary among the Seneca Indians
and Horsford published a reproduction of the Indian language in
English, German, Iroquois and Algonquin. He was devoted to
archeological research and was convinced that he had found the
s'ite of Leif Erickson's ancient City of Norumbega along the banks
of the Charles River) .
Chemical evaluation of the purity of water was, in essence,
restricted to its chemical contents, taste and color. In this
respect, the analysis done by Dr. Stillman for the Jarvis-Johnson
report was typical. Using thirteen samples from such diverse
sources as Mystic Pond, the Croton River, Spot and Long, the
Schuykill in Philadelphia, and a well at No. 20 Beacon Street,
Boston, Stillman tested each for their specific gravities, carbonic
acid in a standard gallon, solid matter in 100,000 parts by weight,
grains of solid matter in one gallon, grains volatile in redness.
Anhydrous solid matter, sulphuric acid and lead desolved. He
also, previous to his analysis, made notes of "Sensible Properties
In observation he found one sample from Spot Pond to contain
a few small white floes, inodorous, sapid. From that Section of
the Pond between "the island and the southeast shore at a depth
of 8 and 13 feet, he found the water had a tint of color
greenish yellow with scum on standing quiet for a time, odor
unpleasant and by no means agreeable.
1. Boston City Document No. 41-1845. Appendix page 10.
The water at the outlet of Long Pond, he found transparent,
entirely inodorous and tasteless. At a depth of 62 feet, he
found it turbid, color reddish brown, and almost marshy in taste.
His sample of the Charles River at Watertown, was transparent,
but not perfectly so, inodorous, but slightly sapid, leaving a
somewhat harsh or rough impress on the palate. And that from
the same River in South Natick, he discovered to be brownish
yellow in color, with no sensible turbidness, quite transparent
and with a fresh odor. It was also insipid, leaving a pleasant
taste in the mouth.
The carbonic acid in the samples ranged from 0.999842 in the
Charles River at Natick, to 1.000118 in the same river at Watertown;
solid matter from Spot Pond at a depth of 26 feet, to 10.719 in
Long Pond at the outlet; grains of solid matter in a standard
gallon from 1.850 in Long Pond to 6.190 in Spot Pond; grains
volatile at redness in one gallon from 0.6 3 at Long Pond to 1.58
in Spot; Anhydrous solid matter per gallon from 1.22 in Long to
4.62 at Spot; the water having the lowest amount of sulphuric
acid in one gallon was the water in the Charles, (0.00137),
and the highest 0.011 in Spot and the final analysis showed that
the amount of grains of lead dissolved were lowest in the water
(0.46) in both the Long Pond and Charles River and the highest
in the water of Spot. (.215)).
The response of the opposition to the Jarvis-Johnson Plan,
was harsh, expected and quick in coming, as was the proponents.
Messrs. Wilkins and Shattuck, hastily wrote and privately
pviblished a pamphlet decrying the plan as needless, excessive
foreboding of financial disaster and economic havoc. Nathan Hale,
signing himself "a member of the late Board of Water Commissioners'
responded in a point by point rebuttal of their objections and
those of some who had testified before the Legislature at the
time the City was petitioning for the necessary authority.
On March 30, 1846, the House and Senate passed and the
Governor signed, an Act again granting to the City of Boston,
the necessary rights and privileges to begin to bring to life
a project which seemed a year earlier to be still born - the
Water Works of the City of Boston.
This piece of legislation was, in its essentials, the same
Bill which had been rejected the year before by the Citizens
but contained some controls over the Commissioners. They could
only serve for three years, or until the project was completed,
whichever came earlier. But were eligible to be appointed for
another three years if the project was still incomplete. The
votors accepted the legislation.
On August 20, 1846, the former President of the United
States, Congressman John Quincy Adams, then approaching his
eightieth year, joined Mayor Quincy and other dignitaries on a
festive train to Natick to break ground for the long elusive
Water Works of the City of Boston.
The City Government had moved swiftly after receiving
approval for the project from the voters. They reconstituted
the old Water Commission, reappointing Hale and Baldwin and
replacing Jackson with Thomas B. Curtis. The Commissioners
moved no less swiftly lest foe or fate interfere once more.
In their first monthly report of June 11, 1846, the
Commissioners reported that they had hired a clerk and office
space (having found none suitable in City buildings) at the
corner of Tremont and Bromfield Streets; hired John Jarvis as
Consulting Engineer for the sum of $3,000 per year; decided to
hire two Chief Engineers, one to bring the Aqueduct from the
Pond to the Reservoir either in Brookline or Brighton and the
other to bring the Works into Boston. They had conferred with
Mr. Knight about his rights to the Pond, and purchased a lot of
land of John Hancock, -through the agency of Mr. Thomas Smith.
The lot, land bound, was 17,39 2 square feet and was purchased,
as the site of the Beacon Hill Reservoir at two dollars, two
and nine tenths cents the foot.
In September, the Joint Standing Committee on Water was
able to report to the full Council that Mr. E. Sylvester Chesbrough
had been hired as the Chief Engineer of the Aqueduct Division
and Mr. William S. Whitwell, Esq., Chief Engineer of the City
I>epartment. The gentlemen, each under a Resident Engineer,
began immediately to survey for an appropriate line. For $150,000
the Commissioners had purchased all of Mr. Knight's rights to
Long Pond, his factories, mills, dwelling houses of operators and
out buildings. Just to make sure that they had such authority
(they did), they had the City Council confirm their actions. The
Chief Engineer of the City Department busied himself with making
plans and estimates of Cost for the Reservoir and constructing
an accurate plan of the City from actual surveys. The Commissioners
decided on what route the Aqueduct would take on the first five
miles of its journey from the source to Needham. They had so
far, they reported, expended $205,613.80.
The Jamaica Plain Aqueduct Corporation, seeing its monopoly
to deliver water going, and convinced that the City would sell
its water at cheaper rates, and long ignored by the Water
Commissioners, decided to go down fighting. They notified fifteen
hundred of their customers that they would no longer receive water
from Jamaica Pond. The Company intended to just deliver water
to the low sections of the City in the hope that concentration
there would decrease its expenses and make it competitive with
the City Works.
Josiah Bradlee and other customers who faced a shut off,
petitioned the City. Since they had long been supplied from
the Aqueduct, they had no wells and unless they had the money
to dig them, or indeed if any productive ones could be found,
their property's would have to be abandoned with great loss to
the City's Revenues. Could not the City tie one of its mains
coming from the Brookline Reservoir into the Pond, or better
still buy the Aqueduct Corporation? The problem they faced, was,
after all, the fault of the City, they concluded.
The Commissioners responded that they would be willing to
buy at the right price, which they thought to be $80,000 knowing
that after the introduction of their water, the rents of the
Jamaica Plain Aqueduct Corporation would plummet or disappear
By the time of their second quarterly report, January 2,
1847, the Water Commissioners were able to report that most of
the contracts had been let and that some of the excavation from
Long Pond where the Aqueduct would sit had already begun. The
Commissioners had determined that by tunnelling through two rock
summits, one in the Town of Newton and one in Brookline, the
line of the Aqueduct (by this time finally settled) could be
shortened to a little less than 15 miles and the crossing of
the Brighton Valley avoided. This change necessitated the
abandonment of the long proposed Corey Hill site for the Reservoir
and the substitution of a piece of land mainly owned by one
John E. Thayer, Esq., on the south side of the Old Worcester
Turnpike, near the Brookline Meeting House. To expedite the
tunnelling, shafts were sunk less than 400 feet apart and men
worked in each section, in three eight hour shifts, twenty-four
hours a day. One tunnel would be of a length of 2,300 feet, the
other of 1,150.
The only pipes to be used from the source to the Reservoir
in Brookline were two 30 inch iron pipes to take the water across
the Charles River at Newton Upper Falls.
For the Reservoir on Beacon Hill, the Commissioners took
by eminent domain a lot on Derne Street to add to that purchased
from John Hancock estate. It was proposed that the Reservoir
would be 200 feet by 125 feet, covering an area of 25,000 square
feet and capable of holding two millions of gallons. The depth
of the Reservoir would be 15 feet and the height of the water
20 feet above the level of Mt. Vernon Street, sufficient to
convey the water to the second story of the highest dwelling
house in the City. The contract called for the completion of
the Work, containing 17,000 cubic yards of hydraulic masonary
and concrete by August 15, the next year.
Lest the Commissioners begin to think that they had put
controversy behind and were going to be left alone to get on
with it, one Silas B. Barnes (and others) soon removed that
happy prospect. The gentlemen felt, and so informed the Mayor,
Aldermen and Common Council that all was not as it should be
with the project.
Their complaiits were several in number Citizens of other
States had been appointed to posts of importance at exorbitant
salaries; contracts had been entered into with contractors from
abroad; contracts were not being awarded, as promised, to the
I'owest responsible bidder; and the Commissioners were, in general,
"casting an imputation of incompetency upon our Boston mechanics,
to the manifest injury of their reputation."
The Commissioners replied on February 8, 1847. The authority
given to them by the Legislature, they pointed out, allowed them
to hire whomever they pleased, using their own judgment of their
competency, and to let contracts out either by sealed bids or
negotiations, whichever they thought best. And since none of the
gentlemen whose names appeared on the Petition, had any interest
in any of the contracts, and since most of them (contracts) were
yet to be executed, the inconvenience that might result by
publication of the contracts, precluded them doing so.
To the main charge, that the contracts given out for the
construction of the Reservoir on Beacon Hill were not given to
local firms competent to do the work, the Commissioners could
hardly believe itl It was a charge "unsupported by a particle
of truth." They pointed out that on this particular contract
the petitioners indeed had an interest, since no less than five
of the Petitioners had submitted proposals. All of which, they
pointed out, were higher than the contract awarded. While not
1. Boston City Records No. 8-1847.
so to the petitioners, the Commissioners' response was sufficient
for the Committee on the Introduction of Water of the City Council.
By July of 1847, the Commissioners could report that, with
the exception of a small section, construction of the Aqueduct
was going on all along the line. The only delay that they could
possibly encounter, was the available supply of brick keeping up
with the work.
It had been thought by the Commissioners, that by changing
the original plans and tunnelling in Brookline and in Newton, thus
avoiding having to cross two valleys, money would be saved both
in construction cost and the length of the Aqueduct. But they
were having trouble at both sites. The workmen were encountering
an unexpected amount of hard rock and when it was removed the
excavations soon flooded. The Engineers were forced to employ
in its construction what the Commissioners had refused to in
delivering the product of the Works - engines and pumps. They
were constantly at work, while the miners toiled. The new route,
the Committee was assured would still be cheaper.
The water of Long Pond had been drawn down preparatory to
the erection of the dam there; almost eight miles of pipe for
distribution in the City had been laid, nearly all the land along
the margin of the Pond had been purchased; the Commission had
spent $659,856.13. As Eddy's machinery had been used, so had
It must be said that the continuing increase in the cost of
the creation of the Boston Water Works, was as much a function
of the forward looking nature of its planners as their propensity
to spend. That the size of the Works and the amovmt of water they
would supply would not be needed for years to come, was not a
function of needless spending, but rather theresult o£
j-udicial planning. In July of 1847, 1,711 Citizens of South
Boston, petitioned the City to add enough land to that which
it would take for the Reservoir, so that a suitable Public Park
or Square could be built on Dorchester Heights. To the petition
were joined the signatures of some of the City's most influential
Citizens - Abbott Lawrence, Harrison Grey Otis and Stephen
Fairbanks, who saw it as an opportunity to bring to fruition a
proposal they had long been making - a proper park which would
be a memorial to the Revolutionary War fortifications there.
The proposal was to take 400,000 feet of land extending
from G Street to Old Harbor Street, east to west, and from Seventh
nearly to Fifth Street, north to south, "embracing the summit
of the western-most of the hills known as Dorchester Heights,
with the remains of the fortification built by Washington."
The Reservoir would take 120,000 feet; and the additional 280,000
feet would add $112,000 to the cost of the project. There was
some objection, but a joint Special Committee of the City Council
felt that South Boston, , although paying its share of taxes, did
not get its share of benefits; the park would attract more people
to live in South Boston, and the site of such historical
1. Boston City Document No. 29-1847.
significance ought to be under the jurisdiction and protection
of the City.
As if the long delays and troubles the project in general
had was destined to contaminate each aspect of it, the City was
having trouble coining up with the permanent financing, being
forced to pay for the project as it was building from its own
revenues or short term borrowing.
In June of 1846, the Joint Standing Committee on Finance
was authorized to borrow a sxim not exceeding one and one half
million dollars. They were sure that the money could be procurred
in Europe at a low interest rate, no higher than 4% per annum.
They were to be disappointed. The Bankers of France, England
and Holland, attracted to the excellent investments in railways
and railway bonds and anticipating coming pressure on the money
market, refused even to make an offer. (That failure was to
put a stain upon American stocks) . When they turned back to
the United States for the money, they ran into a significant
offering by the Federal Government, which produced a premium and
made it inpolitic to try to get the permanent loan,' >t that time.
Those circumstances forced the Committee on Finance to
continue to fund the project by short term borrowing. In April
of the following year, on the 30th, they advertised for a loan
of one million dollars. Each of $200,000 principal would be
paid back at differing dates of maturity ranging from April 1st
of that year (1857) to April 1, 1861 and bearing an interest rate
of 5%. (They issued the paper in certificates as low as $500
"such as would fit the convenience of the smallest capitalist."
The City heavily advertised the offering both in the money
markets of the United States and Europe. The whole eimount was
sold, taken at an average of about 94 for 100. The Committee
noted that the effective interest rate was more favorable to
the borrowers than that they had received from the recent
United States issue, but less than many had anticipated, and
insisted that it got the money at the best rate, under the
circumstances. They felt that they could not have taken any
steps toward a permanent loan until a change had taken place in
the financial condition of the country.
The progress of the Works was aided substantially by the
mild winter of 1847, so much so that the Water Committee in their
semi-annual report of December, predicted that the completion
target of late 1848 would be reached.
Turning their attention then to Reservoirs in the City, the
Commissioners pointed out that the start of construction on the
Beacon Hill Reservoir had been delayed by the time consxamed in
obtaining possession of the buildings which occupied the site.
The Mayor had not been able to set the corner stone until
November 22nd, 1847.
It had been decided to increase the size of the Reservoir to
40,000 square feet. The Reservoir's foundation extended from
Hancock Street on the West to Temple Street on the East, and
from Derne Street on the North to the rear of dwelling houses
on Mt. Vernon Street on the South. In order to give a regular
form to it, Derne and Hancock Streets were straightened and
widened. The Commissioners were able to obtain all the land
necessary by purchase (one sale being made to them after legal
proceedings to take it had begun) . The land consisted of a lot
of John Hancock, unoccupied by buildings, a house owned by the
Commonwealth which was the residence of the Sergeant at Arms;
the Bowdoin School House owned by the City, several tenements
owned by Benjamin Adams and four dwelling houses.
Much of the land had formerly been the estate of the late
Governor Hancock, and included the most elevated part of the
City. This hill received its name from a Beacon which was
erected in the early years of the Town on its summit to welcome
ships coming into the harbor. The Beacon was blown down in 1789
and replaced by a Doric Column, 60 feet in height, commemorating
events of the Revolution. When the summit of the hill was dug
away and used for the making of lands reclaimed from the sea, the
Doric Column was in danger of being undermined and was taken away,
Had the Commissioners observed, only half of the summit of the
hill had been left, their work would be less. As it was,
they had to replace the dug land with a foundation of massive
The site for the Reservoir on Telegraph Hill in South Boston
had been selected, but no plans had been drawn up for it. The
Commissioners had determined, however, to bring the water to the
peninsular by a branch from the 36 inch pipe coming from the
Brookline Reservoir to the corner of Tremont and Dover Streets.
The branch, a twenty inch pipe, would pass directly by the route
of the South Bridge to South Boston, either under it or beside it.
It would be covered by earth to protect the pipe from erosion
caused by the salt water and would be laid so low as not to
interfere with the flow of the tide or the passage of vessels.
The Commission had purchased the land for the Reservoir at
Brookline from John E. Thayer, Joshua C. Clark, Charles Heath
and the heirs of David Hyslop. The land, including the surrounding
embankment, amounted to about 38 acres. The area of the water
surface would be about 22 1/2. The work had already begun with
the shaping of the embankment. The earth not impervious to
water had been removed, and replaced by puddled earth. It was
the plan of the Commissioners to so construct the Reservoir
at Brookline, that water could be discharged into the pipes to
the City either directly from the Aqueduct or from the Reservoir.
In this way, the water could be brought into the City even before
the Reservoir was completed, if need be. The same applied to
the Reservoir on Beacon Hill.
The tunnels in Brookline and Newton were still a problem,
much more rock being encountered than anticipated and the water
problem forced them to engage seven steam engines to pump it out.
Nevertheless, 2,310 feet of the 3,59 3 had been excavated.
Water seemed to be the enemy of the Water Works. Three
pumps of a large size had to be used for removal of water in
sections 1 and 2 of the excavation for the Conduit. Quick
sand was found in certain places. However, nearly half of the
masonary of the conduit, a little more than seven miles, had
already been completed.
Four large culverts and several smaller ones had to be
built to convey the water of brooks or ravens which crossed
the line of the Aqueduct and were built of substantial masonry
laid in hydraulic cement.
The dam at the outlet of the Pond, was nearly finished,
they reported. The foundations of the piers and abutments for
the arched bridge that would take the conduit across the Charles
River at the Upper Falls in Newton were raised above the water,
and a large embankment of puddled earth had been constructed
across the valley near the Charles in Needham, forty feet in
height, to receive the brick masonry of the Conduit. The lands
bordering the Pond had been secured against use by man or animal
which might contaminate it.
Although most of the land over which the line of the Aqueduct
was to pass had been purchased, the Commissioners were having
difficulty negotiating the purchase of others. They attributed
this to the fact that much of the line ran quite close to the
Boston and Worcester Railroad, and the owners of such parcels
had an extravagent idea as to its worth. "The progress of
negotiations (despite their desire to do ample justice to the
proprietors) has often been tedious and dilatory." All lands
purchased have been paid for, they continued, as well as all
work done. Total expenditures as of December 2, 1847 -
Boston City Document No. 44-1847.
It has been said that at the time of the War of the
Revolution, there were, proportionately, more educated men in
Boston than in any other city in the World. The Puritan belief
that if a man were to ably serve "Churche and Commonweale" and
to avoid the importunities of the Devil, he should be educated,
led the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
to degree, in 16 42, that parents were responsible to see that
their children could read and write. Before that body made it
obligatory, in 1647, that every Town with 100 families must
have a "Latin Grammar School" Boston already had its, as did
It was tradition that the graduates crossed the Charles to
Harvard and in the early part of the Nineteenth Century, when
some fortunes were settled, the tradition was expanded if one's
field were medicine, to travel from Cambridge to the great
Universities and hospitals of London and Berlin. When one
returned, he was truly fit to serve his fellow men.
The five members of the Board of Consulting Physicians
to the City of Boston to whom the Water Commissioners turned
to determine the best material for the service pipes in 184 8
were distinguished men of that tradition. Dr. John C. Warren,
Dr. George C. Shattuck, Jr., Dr. Jacob Bigelow, Dr. George
Hayward and Dr. John Ware.
Dr. John Collins Warren was the son of Dr. John Warren,
who participated in the Boston Tea Party and at age twenty-two
was appointed by General Washington as Surgeon at the Army General
Hospital on Long Island. After the war, he became a prominent
s-urgeon in the City and was one of the founders of Harvard
Medical School. His brother. Gen. (Dr.) Joseph Warren fell at
John Collins Warren had followed his father as Professor
of Surgery and Anatomy at Harvard and became one of the best
known and respected surgeons in America. When he was in his
seventieth year he lent his considerable skill and unequalled
reputation to W. T. G. Morton's first application of ether during
surgery on a human.
Dr. George Cheyne Shattuck was graduated at Dartmoxith
College in 1803, and from the medical school there in 1806, receiving
the degree M.D. in 1812. He was President of the American
Statistical Association from 1846 to 1852, and received his L.L.D.
from his alma mater in 185 3. He founded the Shattuck School at
A Fairbault, Minnesota and gave liberally of his fortune to it,
building the observatory there.
Dr. Jacob Bigelow, like many of his peers, was a man of
many interests - physician, inventor, botanist, writer. He was
a moving force in the establishment of the rural cemetery at
Watertown, Massachusetts - Mount Auburn - and a founder of the
Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Bigelow was, for fifty years,
Professor of Materia Medica at Harvard and from 1816 to 182 7,
Rumford Professor there. At the time he and the others would be
called upon to determine what material would be best to transport
the water from mains to the houses, he was President of the
American Academy of Arts and Science, of which he was a member
for sixty-seven years.
These distinguished men concluded that from the viewpoint
of economy and flexibility, lead was the best material to use.
But they had a problem with its effect on health. On the one
hand, they had evidence of sickness ranging from light complaints,
to a statement that "lead, received into the body, in certain
quantities and for a certain period of time, is liable to produce
alarming complaints among which are a species of paralysis."
On the other hand, they had testimony from witnesses who were
known to have drunk water delivered by lead pipes for many years
without evident harm.
They were convinced that some lead is quickly dissolved
upon the first application of the water through the pipes, but
that the amount of lead traceable on that material in the water
soon becomes miniscule, leading them to conclude that the
interaction of certain quality water and lead forms a coating
on the inner walls of the pipes.
In their decision that lead pipes are, with some exception,
not injurious to the health of those who use the water through
1. Boston City Documents No. 18-1848.
which it runs, the Board of Consulting Physicians solicited
the opinions of Drs. Hosack and Griscom who were associated
with the Croton Water Works. Both doctors advered that, in
their opinion, water from lead pipes would do no harm.
There was however, r»ur»niinity among the Doctors whose
opinion they solicited. Dr. J. W. Webster considered the lead
produced in the water, used over a period of time, to be dangerous,
Dr. Hayes believed that copper pipes, covered with pure tin
would be the best.
As in the Act passed in 1845, there was no provision in the
one passed in 1846 to include a supply of water to East Boston.
In May of 1848, the Commissioners replied to a petition from
the Citizens of that section of the City praying for the water.
They felt that water, as well as a gas main, could be brought
from the Peninsula, under the bottom of the harbor to East Boston.
It would be an arched gallery, six feet in internal diameter, or
eight feet overall considering the brick masonry which would
encompass it. At the location suggested by the petitioners, the
crossing would be three thousand feet, and the depth of the
water in the middle of the channel was thirty-five feet at
ordinary high tide and forty-six at high spring tide. To the
Commissioners those dimensions posed an unmanagable obstacle.
Citing, as they had many times before in determining the
cunount of water needed, the experience of London in attempting
to bore a tunnel under the Thames so that a passage way could
be obtained for Londoners to pass from one side of that river
to the other, they concluded that the proposed East Boston tunnel
would be too risky and too expensive. The cost of the Thames
Txinnel, a project much less in dimension than the sought after
one to East Boston, had risen from the estimated $860,000 to
$2,660,000, took over nine years, and was finally abandoned.
The petitioners believed that if the tunnel were to be dug at
a depth of 80 feet, the hard clay which forms, in certain
sections, the subterranian plate on which Boston lies, would
provide suitable material to insure the safety of construction.
The Commissioners disagreed, believing that only porous earth
would be found and that, as was the London project, the
construction would be plagued with continuing and perhaps fatal
flooding. As to the petitioners statement that a party in New
York had offered to enter into a contract to lay down an iron
pipe of twelve inches in diameter, across the bed of the channel
for the sum of $100,000, they must reject that in the absence
of definite plans and in the belief that such a pipe would be
impractical to lay in any manner which could be relied on for
"The undersigned conceive that it would be irrelevant
for them to suggest any other mode of supplying water to the
inhabitants of East Boston, as the authority with which they are
invested by their appointment, extends only to the introduction
and distribution of the water of (Long Pond) . "
1. Boston City Documents No. 22-1848.
As the Citizens of East Boston had turned down the plans
of the Commissioners by their vote in 1845, the Commissioners
turned down their plea in 184 8.
While the Consulting Physicians were investigating the
best material for bringing the water from the mains, the
Commissioners felt constrained to proceed on their own and, in
fear that lead pipes would lose out in the considerations of
the Doctors and Chemist, they procured iron pipes of one and one
half inches which they laid down for carrying the water from the
street mains to the sidewalks, and in part to the dwelling
houses, so far as that branch of the work has been yet accomplished.
It would be up to the house holder to bring it further.
The instructions given by the City to its Board of Consulting
Physicians was to determine the best material for the pipes to
carry the water the final few feet to its consumers from the
viewpoint of health, safety, repairability , strength, flexibility
and economy. As often happens, the theoretical men of science
disappointed the practical engineers. The Consulting Physicians
report did not conclude that any one material was the best, but
merely, albeit in great detail, pointed out the good and bad of
each kind considered.
The Commissioners, rather annoyed, pointed this out in
forwarding the Physicians' report to the Water Committee of the
City Council. But decisiveness was not the strong suit of the
Commissioners either. They decreed that lead pipes should be used,
unless of course, one wanted cast iron.
To justify their decision, they quoted extensively from
an exhaustive study of the subject by Dr. Horsford, a report
which concluded positively that "Long Pond Water may be served
from leaden pipes with iron mains, without detrement to health."
The leaden pipes would be five eights of an inch in diameter,
weighing three pounds to a foot in length, and conducted through
such part of the cellar or foundation as to afford the best
protection against frost. The pipes after having entered the
house would run to the sink-room or to the kitchen, where the
most constant supply would be assured. Since the water will
rise and be available at any time, to any part of the house by
perpendicular pipe, no tank or pump would be necessary, they
pointed out. The pipe should be placed near the chimney, or
in such position that it would be protected from freezing. If
this could not be done, the pipe should be laid in an inclination
so that it might be emptied by opening a discharge cock when
danger of freezing was present.
The Commissioners, with apparent pride, stated that with
the above precautions and a skillful plumber to adjust the
fixtures, water could be conveyed to any part of the house at
the pleasure of the occupant. If one wanted to avoid the
expense of such fixtures, they could receive the water from a
single stop-cock at the place where the water is introduced
into the premises, or preferably, at the sink-room or kitchen.
1. Boston City Documents No. 32-1848.
There should be in all homes, a sink with a pipe to carry off
the waste water. To every stop-cock, there should be attached
a piece of vacant pipe, or other air chamber, which, in the
event of compression of air on a sudden shutting off of the
water, may serve to relieve the pipe from the shock of water
haunroer. If this isn't done, the pressure from so high a head
of water will, the Commissioners cautioned, be liable to burst
the pipes, or gradually expand them by repeated shocks.
(The Commissioners then made a significant decision. It
had, up to that time, been the custom for the water taker to
pay for the pipes which carried the water over his property to
his home. But the cost of the project was such that it was
vital to the interest of the Commissioners, and the City's
ability to pay the interest on its loans and eventually to retire
the debt, that the water be taken by as many people as possible,
the entire City if that could be managed. To induce people to
take the water, the Commission voted to lay the pipes into the
household at the City's expense, thus assuring an almost universal
subscription to the water) .
AUTOMOBILE PURCHASED JUNE 1, 1909, AND EQUIPPED FOR EMERGENCY SERVICE See Page 84 )
LEAD PIPE GNAweii Bv
IMPROVEMENT OF CANTERBURY BRANCH OF STONY BROOK.
JUNCTION MAIN CHANNEL STONY BROOK AND BUSSEY BROOK BRANCH CONDUIT AT REDUCER ON MAIN CHANNEL
AT FOREST HILLS SQUARE.
DETAIL OF BUSSEY BROOK CONNECTION. WITH MAIN STONY BROOK CHANNEL, SHOWING WATER-BREAK.
THE WATER AND SEWER WORKS OF THE CITY OF BOSTON 1630 - 1971
by NEIL J. SAVAGE
'Tis a iitt].e thing
To give a cup of water; yet its draught
Of cool r ef re,-, iunent , drained by fevered lips
May give a shock of yjleasure to the frame
More equirite than when r.ectarean juice
Renews the life cf joy in happiest hours.
ION. ACT 1, SCl-NE 2
Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd (1794 - 1854)
As one who long in populous city pent,
Where houses thick and sewer annoy the air.
Paradise Lost. Book VIII, Line 445
John Milton (1608 - 1674)
What the City wanted by the fall of 184 8, was its water
from Lake Cochituate, (at the insistance of Mayor Quincy, Jr.,
L'ong Pond and the waters which feed it were now called by their
Indian name - Cochituate. Thus Quincy, with his fine sense of
history linked the Sweet Spring of Shawmut, where the City had
begun, to the splendid supply from Cochituate, which would
sustain its life, two hundred and eighteen years later) , but
what it was getting was sharp October rain, chill and
penetrating. On the evening of the 2 4th, the Whig Party had to
call off its planned torch light parade. The rain showed no
signs of letting up as early morning of the 25th approached.
Perhaps, thought Quincy, he should call it off, postpone the
entrance of the water into the City. But his patience could
hardly tolerate another delay after almost a quarter of a
century of them.
Then fate finally turned friend and presented the City at
the dawn of October 25, 184 8 - perhaps in tribute to its
Celebration - with the New England weather that comes closest
to the divine, a pretty autumn day, not an Indian summer reprise,
not a preview of winter, but a gentle warmth and coolness,
brightly hatted in a cloudless sky.
The din of the pre-arranged sign that all was well began
with the rise of the Sun. First the massed cannons on the
Common, 100 lined in perfect symmetry, boomed the message in
close timed sequence. Then the church bells, from every church
in the City and beyond, rang out in a deep metallic harmony for
aj.1 to come to the Common.
They did. The crowded trolleys could hardly move through
the mass, most of them on foot since it would be a skittish day
for horses. There was to be no commerce that day, nor business,
nor banking, nor manufacturing in the City or the towns around
it. People streamed over the bridges from Charlestown and
Cambridge, walked up Washington Street from Roxbury, took the
train from Dedham. The City's population would not reach that
number for some years to come, but more than 300,000 came to see
in fact a promise so long ago made.
They were greeted with gay decorations, banners and flags,
and with lettered signs, some crude, some fancily printed:
At the corner of Park and Tremont - "PRAISE AND ADORATION
BE GIVEN UNTO HIM WHO VISITETH THE EARTH AND WATEREST IT."
At Beacon and Charles - "SWEET WATER SHALL RUN IN UPON US, AND
BITTER WATERS BE DRIVEN OUT." And across the Frog Pond with
its bright new gravel, the better to receive the water - "THE LORD
SPAKE, GATHER THE PEOPLE TOGETHER AND I WILL GIVE THEM WATER."
Numb, xxi.16 and in triumphant exclamation, from Gen xxvi . 32
"WE HAVE FOUND WATER!"
The Grand Procession formed along the streets by the market
built by the Mayor who had years ago cried out for today's arrival.
Marching would be all the Governors of New England, all their
Councils, Legislators, the Mayors of their Cities, and their
educators and clergymen of prominence. Scores of units of
Militia of every description and history, one uniform more colorful
than the next, high ranking officers of the Army and Navy, aging
veterans of the War for Independence, the Federal and State
Judiciaries, the Congressmen and Senators. And a member of Her
Majesty's Parliament from South Lincolnshire, England.
(Whoever 's task it was to determine the order of march in
each of the eight divisions, either out of frustration as to
the proper protocol or an impish sense of humor, came up with
some dazzling sequences. The Superintendents of the Lunatic
Hospital marched three places before the members of the
Massachusetts Legislature who were immediately followed by the
Warden of the State Prison. All propriety was not lost to the
gentleman, though. The President of Harvard, quite naturally
one is to suppose, came before all the visiting Governors of the
New England States.)
No one was left out, all invited. Even if, in the natural
order of the day the Masonic Organizations of the State came
before them, in Division Three, no less than ten Catholic
Societies followed in Division Four. In the last Division,
their enthusiasm undiminished by the inevitable long wait those
who are chosen to be the tag end of a great parade must 6ndure,
came the School Children of Boston and surrounding communities.
led by the pupils of the Public, Latin, High and Grammer Schools,
and followed by the Children from the Orphan Asylums and a good
Sister of Charity leading "children over eight years of age".
The marchers were finally in their assigned places on the
Common by one o'clock. Stands had been provided by the Frog
Pond for those whose station in life was such as they deserved
the honor, a plank over it set out for the Water Commissioners
(Hale, Baldwin and Thomas Curtis. Poor Treadwell's name never
passed one lip that day) and His Honor, Mayor Quincy, Jr.
A song to be sung by all, had been composed by a fellow
from the Franklin Topographical Society. He had titled it "For
the Merry Making on Water Day" .
"Away, away with care today 1 There's naught but joy before
us; A gladsome shout from the mass goes out. And we join the
chorus. Hail, hopeful streaml from thy bright gleam Our Hearts
reflect the Omen, the water's want no more will haunt The thirsty
man or women. "
George Russell, a man who combined academic talent with
business acumen, had also written a hymn for the occasion to
be sung by the Handel and Hayden Society. Mr. Russell had
recently returned from Honolulu where he had built up the very
large and successful commercial house of Russell and Sturgis.
"Let old and young, rich and poor, Join in one full
harmonious song! And swell the Anthem loud and longl", it
The opening prayer, given by the Reverend Daniel Sharp, D.D. ,
was unusually brief for Divines of that day given the opportunity
of such a great occasion. Mr. Sharp was followed by a large
group of specially chosen Boston school children who recited,
more or less in unison, an Ode composed just for the event by
James Russell Lowell.
"My name is Water I I have sped - Through strange dark
ways Untried before. By pure desire of friendship led,
Cochituate's He sends four royal gifts to me. Long life,
health, peace, purity."
Nathan Hale spoke for the Commissioners. One supposes that
he didn't mean to be truly literal when, while thanking everyone
else concerned with the work, he added: "The City Treasury in
aid of this work, has poured out its resources like water."
(Mayor Quincy in his address later was to assure all that, even
when the Beacon Hill Reservoir was completed in perhaps less
than two years, the total cost of the project "probably would be
not near to $4,000,000." Some wealthy citizens were seen to
The time had finally come. "Do you want the water," Quincy
shouted at the crowd. "YES," they roared back. He approached
the lanyard to the gate blocking the sluice. As if to rid himself
and the City of the long years of frustration, he gave it a
mighty yank. A trickle of coppor colored, dirty water came
1. Boston City Document No. 50-1848.
weakly out. Then, before any disappointment could grow, a
mighty gusher shot seventy feet into the air. The momentarily
hushed throng gave out a mighty yell, hats flew, young boys
rushed into the filling Pond, muskets were fired, the fire
company's raised their banners in salute. Some women were seen
to weep - and men too.
THREE CHEERS, THREE CHEERS I Cried the Mayor. HURRAY, HIP,
HIP, HURRAY I The crowd yelled back. Then, from behind those
facing the Pond from the Beacon Hill side of the Common came
the whomp, whomp of scores of rockets filling the air. First
a representation of Neptune, his fork in hand flashed across
the sky, then a great waterfall with the names of the three
Commissioners and the Mayor written across it. The spectacular
display continued for some minutes and then, just as an exploding
American flag was fading out and sinking, in sparkling bits and
pieces to the ground, there came a shout from the crowd along
Tremont Street. The buildings there seemed to explode as had
the fireworks into sheets of light. In each window of the
Tremont House there were three gas torches, and on the face of
the Gas and Light Building, light after light, which seemed to
become the building itself, burst out in a massive and intricate
In 1645, one John Dotten asked permission of the Select-
men of the Town of Boston to enter his house drain into the
"Common Shoar ". These Common Sewers, built by either a group
of Estate owners or by the Town, took waste water from the homes
and drained it into the canals, rivers, brooks and sea which cut
through and surrounded the Town. They grew as did the Town,
with no plan or pattern, at improper angles and in imperfect
fit. And often in too low a grade for proper drainage. But
the polluting effect on the water they discharged into was
hardly noticable, if it existed at all. No human waste ran
through the drains in those days before Hopper invented his
Yet, there were sources of filth in the City which
escaped into the Common Sewers. On the first Monday in November,
1832, a Suffolk County Grand Jury indicted the City of Boston.
The charge was the City's failure to abate a nuisance at the
scavenger's depot on Merrimack Street. The aptly named and
officially recognized scavengers were waste collectors, taking
away the carcasses of dead animals, offal and rotting vegetable
matter. They would cart the offensive material to the depot
where they would heat it and drain off the liquid content before
they proceeded to take what remained out and bury it. As the
Town grew, so did the Depot, emitting a noxious odor which
forced the closing of windows in the neighborhood even in the
warmest of weather. But their worst offence was the draining
of the putrid liquid into the Common Sewer. It was supposed to
Boston Town Records - 1645
be carried down a canal to the Bay, but filling of the canal
had stopped its flow, and when it rained, either the liquid
itself or its odor would flow back up and into the houses of
Hearing the testimony ascribed to be twenty-five of
the City's most prominent physicians that "the affuvia arising
from such sources are prejudicial to health, often prove to be
the fomes of fevers and a medium favorable to the propagation
of contagious diseases of every description", the Court found
the City guilty and ordered it to have the Depot removed.
The City had begun to pay better attention to its sewers
before that. In 1822 it had ordered a study by the Surveyor of
Highways on the State of Common Sewers which led from the public
streets and which may have made an encroachment of the Town slips.
It also placed the opening and repairing of Common Sewers under
the jurisdiction of the Surveyor of Highways, with authority to
issue permits for such work.
The Board of Health whcih had been established when the
Town accepted its new Charter as a City on March 4, 1822, was, by
the following year, becoming concerned with the condition of many
of the drains and sewers and the inability of some of them to
properly discharge all the waste water entering them, and the
state of their repair. Some permits required that the Common
■''Interesting Trial, Proceedings Of the American Statistical
Association, March 31, 1899.
Sewer could not be used unless the waste was first run through
a cesspool. In July of 1823, the City Council's Committee on
Drains appointed one Reuben Hastings as Superintendent of
Drains. Among his duties was to make sure that drains were
completed in conformity with the City direction and to the
Superintendent's satisfaction and that the owner of the Estate
constructing the drain used only workmen licensed by the City
to assure their competance in such construction.
From the very beginning of its formalization of supervision
over drains and sewers, the City had much difficulty collecting
the assessments it had levied on the property of those who had
joined their drains to a common sewer that the Town had built.
In 1824, the Joint Committee to appoint someone to keep and
collect accounts due from sewer assessments, decided to split
the responsibility between the City Auditor (who would compute
the assessment) and the City Marshall (who would collect it - or
try to) .
Later, in order to better control the construction of
common sewers and connecting drains, the Joint Committee on
Drains, Mayor Joshua Quincy, Chairman, reported out an ordinance
which gave to the City Marshall the general superintendancy of
Common Sewers. Whenever the City was to build one, the City
Marsahll was to observe how it was being built, and record its
depth, breadth, mode of construction and general direction
in the book of plans of Common Sewers. After determining the
the valuation of any adjoining estates that might enter into
the Common Sewer from the Assessor's Book he was to report the
proper assessment to the Auditor of Accounts who was to report
forthwith to the Mayor and Aldermen.
But the collection of these assessments remained
difficult. For one thing, many believed that the City should
bear the whole cost since it was its duty to look after the
general good health of its citizens. The lien that was placed
on the property assessed ran out after one year and if one
could duck the City Marsahll for that length of time, he had
not to pay. Debts far exceeded collections and by 1882, a Joint
Committee was formed to look into the matter and was pleased to
report that the party they had hired to adjust and collect the
past due accounts had made much progress. His good fortune
did not last for long. In 1840, Robert G. Shaw and others
sued the City claiming it had no authority to make an assess-
ment against them, for the priviledge of entering a common sewer.
After three trials, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that
the City had authority to make such a charge, but not against
the Estate the drain ran from but only the land it ran under,
thus lowering the assessment. The Court also ruled that when the
City built a main sewer across vacant land, the amount of the
assessment to be charged when the land was built upon and a drain
constructed, should be set when the main sewer was constructed and
not when the building on the lot was completed.
It is ironic but true that the arrival of the Cochituate
Water, in combination with the availability of the flush toilet,
not only can be counted as the beginning of the system of sewers
the City now has, but also of the massive pollution of the once
biue-green rivers and bay. Now to the waste v/ater was added
human excretion (night soil as it was called in polite circles) .
Also the availability of the water made possible development of
areas of the City which heretofor were unliveable because of their
lack, creating the need for more sewers.
By the time that the last half of the nineteenth century
began, the Superintendent of Sewers was a firmly established
department of the City's structure. The first large work of
the Superintendent was a system of drainage, executed at great
expense, for the southwest part of the City bordering on the
Back Bay. Because of the building of the Mill Dam, a portion
of the territory had not been graded to a proper height to admit
of a natural drainage to the sea and to abate this nuisance it
had been necessary to direct the sewage into the tide water. The
Main Sewer was laid in Dover Street and Tremont from Castle
Street to near the Roxbury line, which intercepted all the
drains which then had termination in the Back Bay. To protect
the low land and cellars from inundation, it was necessary to build
the sewer with self acting tide gates. These gates were worked
to stem the tide twice each day. The rest of the time the sewer
was used as a cesspool or reservoir where the drainage was
retained until the falling of the tide.
More accurately, human excretion used for fertilizing.
The increased use of the rapidly expanding sewer system,
however, poised a problem. The drainage from the high, y:'""
of the City was being run through the mains in the lower section,
thus it was ending up in the Dover Street Main which was not
large enough to hold it when the tide gate was shut. As a
consequence, the sewer frequently filled up and flooded basements
and cellars. To alleviate the problem, several weirs were built
to cause the water to drain into the empty basin (Back Bay)
during high tide.
The solution, unfortunately for the Superintendent at
least, proved to be only temporary. As the Back Bay was being
filled in to re-claim land for the City's expansion, the weirs
had to be continually extended ^nd eventually all were closed
save one. The City Engineer's solution was to recommend the
immediate construction of a large main sewer to commence at the
Channel in the South Bay, and to extend to Dedham Street to
connect to the main sewer now laid in Tremont, thereby diverting
all the drainage south of Dedham Street from passing through to
Dover Street Main. The proposed sewer would be about 2,600 feet
long in the last section across South Bay lands about 1,000 feet
to be built of lumber six feet square and placed on stilts to support
it. That section would be available for the drainage of South
Bay lands were they to be built on. A second section from
Tremont Street to Harrison Avenue, being in original land, could
be built of brick laid in cement of a circular shape six feet
in diameter or an internal area of about twenty-eight feet. The
third and last section would include the building of a gate
chamber with its tidal gates, and the required alteration of
the sewer at Harrison Avenue at its junction with Tremont
Street. The Superintendent further suggested that the continuing
complaints of nuisances in vacant lots and abandoned buildings
would not be cured until the City required owners to build their
houses at sufficient height to allow for proper drainage.
In January of 1860, the Board of Alderman passed an
ordinance requiring an annual report from the Superintendent
of Sewers, the first to be submitted no later than April 30, 1860
for the year 1859. The Superintendent reported that his appropria-
tion for that year was $35,000 and that he had expended from May 1
to December 31, $39,398.18 and had income of $15,279.62 of which
$4,408.62 was from sewer assessments.
There had been built 24 new sewers in Boston proper and
fourteen in South Boston. Three land depots had been built in
the developing South End of the City. The amount of pipe in the
City proper was 8,275.5 feet and 8,856.5 in South Boston with
1,087 feet laid in East Boston and 2,130 for the Public Land
Of the total number of feet laid, 3,214 was to replace
old pipes. The dimensions of the pipes ran from 12 inches wide
by 16 inches high, to four feet by five feet; shapes from
rectangular to square and material from timber to brick masonery.
The major construction was a new sewer in Prince and Causeway
Streets, and the diverting of a great part of the sewage of the
District between Charter, Hanover, Charlestown and Medford
Streets, to discharge under the Charlestown Bridge.
The Superintendent pointed out the constant problems he
was having with the continuing filling of the Back Bay by the
Boston Water Power Company (despite its name, a real estate
development company) . Since the Company was now ready to fill
in the Bay between the Boston and Providence Railroad and the
Worcester Railroad (between the lower ends of Fayette and
Providence Street) and several sewers which drained into that
part of the Bay took the drainage from a section bounded by
Church, Treraont , Providence Streets and the water, a new route
would have to be found. The choices were two, he reported.
The sewers could be extended through the filled in land, or
the drainage could be diverted into the Church Street Sewer.
The streets in question were on such a low grade that they
could not be drained into the Church Street sewer unless the
grade was raised, a proposition the Superintendent and his
successors were to advance for many years in other sections of
the City. If he were to extend the sewers, he would wish to
build suitable steam pumps and a building to pump out the water
which would accumulate while the water was trapped by the closed
tidal gates at high tide, and discharge the drainage directly into
the Charles River. Or else put a covered basin near the outlets
of sufficient capacity to receive the surplus drainage from the
sewers during high water and retain it to the fall of the tide.
The Superintendent posed this question regarding the
building of sewers by the Water & Power Company in their reclaimed
but still vacant land. "If the sewer being built on private
streets which now drain into the Bay, who is to assume the expense
of placing buildings and land in proper condition from drainage?"
Superintendent Simeon B. Smith then turned to a problem he
knew to be growing and over which he felt much apprehension.
"Within a few years, since the introduction of the Cochituate
Water, there has been a considerable change in the substances
introduced into the sewers from the universal use of water cabinets,
and the carelessness of the inhabitants in neglecting to keep
their drains and cesspools in order, and permitting filth and
subject of improper nature to enter them. The manner of disposing
of the night soil through the sewers and discharging the same upon
the border of the City and its affect on the health and character
of the residents and the formation of deposit in the Harbor, Docks
and Sewers, have been slightly considered in other reports, but no
practical result has followed, nor has the question received that
attention from the Community which it demands. "
As in the plea for water, nothing would be done for years
about the problem until the Harber and River were almost irrever-
Smith suggested an idea to solve the problem that was then
being entertained in Europe. To separate the night soil from
ordinary house drainage, retaining the solid mass upon the premises
Boston City Document No. 11-1860
of the occupant in suitable tanks, causing it to be deodorized, removed
periodically, and finally sold for agriculture purposes. He
wanted a State Conmiission set up to investigate the problems and
potential solutions of this method of disposing with human waste.
In subsequent reports, the Superintendent observed that the
triparize (triparte) agreement among the City, the Commonwealth
and the Water Power Company called for the sewers of each street
in the filled-in Bay to drain into one main which would discharge
sewage directly into the Charles. He very much objected to this,
feeling that such a volume could not be absorbed by the River
at one location. Better, he said, to have a sewer at every other
street discharge into the River, so that the reduced amount could
be carried to the middle of the stream and then out to sea on the
The remaining years of the 1860 's were taken up with the
acquisition of drainage rights in the new sections of the City,
the constant replacing of old wooden pipes, and of man hole covers
(some were still made of oak) . The City could hardly keep up
with the demand for new sewers and the growth of the City often
depended on how much time it took it to satisfy the appetite for
more and more of them. Buildings were continuing to be constructed
at too low a grade and consequently cellars flooded at severe
high tide. The problem was particularly acute in the area running
from Copley Square to Shawmut Avenue. The Superintendent insisted
that he license those mechanics who were going to build the sewers,
since once built, they became the responsibilty of the City and
poor construction caused many a headache.
There still was not unity among the three parties to the
building on the Back Bay as to one large or several smaller
sewers and the Superintendent urged a Commission to study the
subject. He was constantly over his appropriation and just as
constantly going and receiving additional funds from the Finance
Committee of the Council.
The City's death rate, theretofore exemplary, beaan to
climb and the physicians attributed it to the horrid e f fluent
being dumped into the harbor and rivers, or not being disposed
of at all. Yet the flow of raw sewage continued, indeed increased,
When Atlantic Avenue was constructed, contradicting his previous
insistence that several and not one sewer discharge into the
less fragile Charles, Smith built one large one to take all the
drainage from the area on the theory that it was better to make
but one area of the harbor putrid instead of many.
The flats of the Charles River Basin were fast becoming
an open cesspool and on summer nights when the wind was in the
right direction, and of the proper strength, and the tide low,
a stink enveloped a large portion of the City. Several leaders
attributed the increasing defection to the Suburbs to it. The
drainage situation in the South End contributed to the problem.
The land naturally sloped toward the Back Bay, or empty basin,
which was not always empty. But the water level was kept at
three feet so that the waste from the mills, as well as the
sewage from the district could empty into it. The City, which
owned much of the land in the South End, began to sell it off
in 1845. As the land became occupied with homes, supplied with
Cochituate Water and water-closets, the heretofore relative
innocuous waste became stagnant filth.
In 1850-51, a large sewer was built running the whole
length of Tremont Street to intercept the outlets of the cross
sewers in the South End and run the drainage down Dover Street to
the South Bay. This sewer was intentionally built very low so
that it might discharge into the Bay during low water. A tide
gate prevented the water from flowing back into cellars. But
when the tide was abnormally high during storms, the system was
designed to take the water the sewer could not hold and discharge
it into the Back Bay. The filling of the Bay, however, eliminated
all of these overflows and even a waste weir built to the Bay did
not help since it, in consequence of the building, was now too
lengthy to be effective. There were 1,14 2 cellars between five
and ten feet above the low water mark which would be flooded in
the event of a very high tide .
The Committee of Aldermen who considered the problem in
1868 dismissed the idea of building a large new sewer to take
this overflow and hold it until the tide was low as too expensive.
They also ruled out the idea of pumping the excess water to a level
above the high tide, being -weary, as were the planners of the
Water Works, of the dependency on such a method. They finally
concluded that the cellars could be kept dry by removing any
connection in them to the sewer system and by boxing them. They
also recommended that the territory between Dover Street and the
Albany Railroad should be raised to a sufficiently high level to
drain independently to South Bay by a separate system of sewers,
and leave the rest of the area the full use of the large sewer
in Tremont Street and the other in Dover.
As far as the identical problem, buildings on low grade,
in the Church Street area, a Commission was formed and authorized
to spend not more than $650,000 to raise the buildings and grade
of the territory.
By 1873, the Superintendent of Sewers was able to report
that the City had 123 miles of sewers in its system. In his
1872 annual report, the Superintendent, W.H. Bradley, addressed
two questions. The first, was the discharge of sewage into the
River and Harbor shoaling- these waters as some, concerned with
navigation, maintained it was, and secondly, could not the sewage
be used for fertilization, thereby eliminating the discharge into
the waters entirely?
To the first, the Superintendent deferred to the reports of
the Harbor Commissioners and of the U.S. Engineers. Neither had,
nor could they, find any evidence that the shoaling was a result
of the discharge of sewage. Indeed, the Superintendent maintained,
"large spits have been made by ashing from the islands, and shoals
have formed in Charles River by deposits from its currents, and
by obstructions of bridges, but hardly a trace of sewage matter is
ever deposited beyond the ends of the wharves, or can be found in
the Harbor. "■'■
Boston City Document No. 92-1872,
To the second question, the Superintendent replied that no
effective way had yet been found to separate the beneficial matter
for the sewage from that which wasn't. That in order to have a
sewage farm, most of the water had to be removed and since Boston's
sewage was heavily water (the City's water consumption had reached
twice the per capita use of London) the cost of removing it would
The Great Stoney Brook which ran through a large part of the
City was being used by some as an open sewer and the City was
forced to proceed to cover parts of it over creating a conduit.
The Sewer System of the City of Boston first growing hap-
hazardly, then forced to catch up to the effects of the Cochituate
Water, the Water Closet, the multitudes of immigrants, the annexa-
tion of Roxbury, Brighton and Dorchester, and the wrenching from
the sea of great acres of made land, had never the time for forward
planning or thoughtful consideration. Now on September 16, 1872,
the Committee on Back Bay Drainage submitted a thoughtful and
forward looking report to the Board of Aldermen.
Some sections of the City were by now very thickly settled.
Ward 3 had a population of 268 to the acre. But Dorchester had
only 3 and West Roxbury 1 and one-fifth. It was to this area.
West Roxbury, Dorchester and Brighton, that the City would have
to look to to house its expansion. The Committee turned its
particular attention to the West Roxbury and Brighton Districts,
an area larger in size then the City proper. The Brooks emptying
into the Muddy River drained an area of about 2,600 acres, one
larger brook draining the territory as far as Chestnut Hill and
the smaller draining the territory as far as Jamaica Pond. The
Muddy drained into what was at the time a part of the Charles
River Basin, but which was to be filled in.
If the section then termed the City's suburb was to be
developed, the drainage of the Muddy River had to be conveyed
through sewers as would the human sewage. The Committee thought
that a bad idea. The grade of Boston and Albany Railroad practi-
cally determined the grade at v;hich such sewers would have to enter
the basin, as the reconstruction of numerous bridges for street
crossing would make the raising of the grade of this railroad
very expensive. (The law required that there be a distance of
18 feet between the track and the bottom of bridges.). The grade
of the sewer would be effective only at low tide and the system
would face the same problem it did in the South End and Back Bay.
Besides, the Committee pointed out, that the discharge of water
(if two sewers - one for rainfall and one for human sewage were
to be constructed) into the Basin might be beneficial for the
River, it was already taking a great amount of human sewage, not
only from Boson, but Newton and Watertown and Waltham. Better
they reasoned, to take the drainage to Dorchester Bay and discharge
it, not in the Bay, but into the channel of the Neponset River,
between the Bay and Commercial Point, where it would be subjected
to the action of both the tidal currents and also the scour of
the Neponset R. iver.
The Coimnittee pointed out in its concluding paragraph,
that this drainage system would be provided, by necessity, to
adjoining towns over which it had no jurisdiction. It suggested
that the City and its neighbors join in dividing these drainage
areas into suitable districts, or "by which control, so far as
the mutual interests of the city and of the towns, which relation
to streets, water supply and sewerage, should be placed under
commissioners having full power to devise and carry out such schemes
as would be advantageous to the parties at interest." (The
suggestion, put forth by Assistant City Engineer Henry M. Wightman,
was to come to fruition some seventeen years later with the legisla-
tive creation of the Metropolitan Sewer District.).
^Boston City Document No. 92-1872.
Many, beside the prominent physicians of the City,
continued to feel that the raw sewerage being discharged into
the harbor and which gave off such unpleasant odors at low tide,
was harmful to the health of the City's inhabitants. To alay
(or confirm) their fears, the Committee on Sewers was requested
in 1873 to investigate the existing condition of the City's
sewers and to ascertain if any improvements were necessary for
the preservation of the public health. They were the wrong ones
Starting their report rather grandly, they said, "It is
generally conceded that the rapid removal of decaying matter
from the habitations is part of the necessary machinery and forms
one of the conditions of life in large cities, and no doubt has
a marked influence on the preservation of public health; but so
varied are the conditions of life and so many the influences that
should be eliminated before a comparision could be made, that no
estimate in figures of the relations of sewerage to human life has
ever been given."
Conceeding to themselves that "there can be no question
as to the perfect means enjoyed by our citizens in the collection
and removal of sewage" they turned to the method of its disposal.
Dismissing the complaints of those who claimed that the City had no
sewerage system at all or a bad system or no comprehensive plan,
they declared that the City's system of drainage was as perfect,
but not as complicated as that of any other City. They noted that
Boston City Document No. 94. 1873-
without any long lines composed of huge sewers or pumping works or
flushing apparatus, the removal of the sewage from house to ebbing
tide was rapid and complete; and "that is a perfect system."
They stated that the awful odor eminating from the Charles
River Basin was not caused by sewage, but by stagnent water on
the exposed mud banks, a condition caused by the filling in of
the Back Bay by the Water Power Company. Indeed, when fresh
water was allowed to run in, the odors disappeared. To those
who claimed that the large amount of waste being drained into the
Charles was forming shoals and enormous mud banks in its chanel
and the river would soon be as the Thames is in London, they
haughtily replied that although Boston would some day rival London
in size and population, the analogy ended there.
As for the Stoney Brook, which was by then the receptacle
of the drainage from most of the breweries and factories of
Roxbury, and which at Parker Street drained into the flats of
the full basin, that basin is the property of the Boston VJater
Power Company which is rapidly filling it in. The gravel filling
has kept so far ahead of house construction, that the residents
of the new area hardly smell anything at all. Faultless themselves,
they could nevertheless find some fault with the Street Commissioners.
It was imperative, they pointed out, that when streets are laid
in new territory, that the avenues should be laid out along the
valleys of the various water sheds, in order that the main sewers
of those valleys may be most advantageously located and constructed.
They have been embarassed t>y the necessity of taking land
solely for sewer purposes (at a considerable expense) rather
than wait in vain the action of the Street Commissioners.
The Committee on Sewers was equally displeased with the
Water Board. Why, they demanded to know, did the Water Board
insist on supplying a copious amount of Cochituate water to
new households in the City's suburban limits, before they got
there with the sewers? The soil in these areas was such that
it could absorb the amount of well water used, but when the
water pipes arrived, water usage surged, quickly saturating the
soil, creating the uncomfortable and unhealthy condition of
waste water without drainage.
It is not recorded as to whether or not the Water Board
was intimidated, but the Board of Health was certainly not.
In a report to the Honorable City Council of December 17,
1874, they called the attention of that body to the conditions
of the old Roxbury Canal, crossing under Albany Street; to the
Stoney Brook Sewer, discharging upon the Back Bay flats; and the
Muddy Brook Sewer, between Brookline Avenue and Downer St.
The tide in the canal was sluggish they pointed out, and
the discharge of three or four sewers into it, leaves shallow
water at low tide "through which the foul gases from the putrid
bottom can be seen bubbling into the atmosphere." It is so
bad, they stated, that in the streets around there, there is a
City of Boston Document No. 18.
daily average of 230 patients who require pure air. They
found equal nuisances at the other two points of discharge.
The Board of Health had no doubt that the prevalent
summer diseases of the City were largely influenced by that
poisoned atmosphere. If the sewage could not be retained and
used but had to be discharged into the water and lost, it
would be best, in the opinion of the Board, that large main
sewers should be built to carry the sewage out to sea. As
for which came first, the water or sewer pipe, they regretted
that water pipes had preceded the laying of sewers, but they
thought it fair to say that the supply of pure water had
become a necessity and the people would have suffered without
In 1874, Superintendent Bradley was able to report that
his department had laid seven and three-quarter miles of sewer,
some of brick, some of pipe (iron,- scotch and Arron) and some
still of wood. They ranged in size from nine inches, to 78 by
72 inches. He had expended $232,832.63 and collected $105,794.71
The Town o£ Charlestown had been getting its water from
the Mystic Pond and after its annexation to Boston, the
responsibility for that supply fell on the Boston Water Works.
By now the streams discharging into the Pond were becoming
polluted by the disposal of waste from factories and sewers.
wanted to build a sewer to divert these waters and preserve the
purity of the Pond. The sewer would start in Woburn, "run in a
south-easterly direction through VJinchester and into Medford
and be discharged in the lower Mystic Pond, thus by passing
the water supply.
The concern of the Board of Health was more convincing
to the City Council than the assurances of the Sewer Conunissioners,
On February 23, 1875, the Board of Aldermen authorized the
Mayor to appoint three civil engineers to report on the sewage
of the City, The order was later amended to allow him, if he
felt it expedient, to appoint two engineers and one person
skilled in the subject of sanitary sciences.
As was the case with the investigations into a supply of
pure water. Mayor Cobb (a quite popular man having been elected
to office 19,191 votes to 568 for his opponent in 1873 and
re-elected 16,874 to 835 in 1874) found three men of great
distinction to study the matter, E.S. Chesbrough, C.E.; Moses
Lane, C.E.; and Charles F. Folsom, M.D.
Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough had little school education
before he was fifteen. He started work as an axe man on a
surveying crew and ended as acting chief engineer of the
Cinncinnati and Charleston Railroad. After trying farming for
two years, he returned to Engineering on the construction of
The Boston ^^^ Providence Railroad, and then became Chief
Engineer of the Western Section (Cochituate to Brookline) of
the Boston Water Works .
In 1849 he was named sole Water Commissioner for the
new Works and in 1855 became the City's chief engineer. But
it was in Chicago where he accomplished the work for which
he would be best remembered.
When he arrived in 1855, Chicago was a filth sodden town.
Chesbrough raised the grade of the entire Town so that its
sewage could be drained into Lake Michigan. He laid out the
Chicago Sewer System, making it the first city in America to be
systematically sewered. (The amount of filth carried into the
Lake was so great as to endanger the purity of the water which
was the City's supply. Chesbrough tunnelled two miles under the
bed of the lake for a pure supply.). He also tunnelled under
the Chicago River so that the traffic across it would not
obstruct the navigation so necessary to the City's life. He was
involved in every project so vital to that City at that stage
of its existence.
Moses Lane was graduated C.E. from the University of Vermont
in 1845. He spent most of the next years teaching, but was
called by James P. Kirkwood, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn
Water Works in 1856 to be his principal assistant. Joining
Chesbrough in general engineering practice, he prepared plans
for the water supply of Pittsburgh. In 1871 he was appointed Chief
Engineer of the Milwaukee Water Works which he designed and
constructed. He was called to Memphis, Tenn. to correct that
city's drainage after yellow fever epidemic and constructed the
water works of New Orleans and Kansas City.
Charles Follen Folsom, M.D. was educated in the classical
tradition and after graduating from Harvard in 1862, taught in
Port Royal, S.C. for the Anti Slavery Society which later
became the Freedman's Bureau. He decided to enter the medical
profession and graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1870.
(His studies were interrupted due to travel and ill health) .
Almost immediately he made a specialty of hygiene and mental
disease , serving for a time at the famous McLean Assylum.
Folsom lectured on mental diseases at Harvard Medical during
1879-82, and was an assistant professor there from 1882 to 1885.
He was equally accomplished in the two specialties of his
practice, hygiene and mental health, and held a foremost place among
the prominent New England practitioners. He was for eight years
secretary to the Massachusetts State Board of Mental Health, and
was a member of the first Metropolitan Sewer Commission. Folsom
was an overseer of Harvard University from 1891 to 1903; a
fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of many
other professional and learned societies. Folsom was a busy
suthor, writing many papers and pamphlets dealing with hygiene,
public health and mental diseases in clear, concise and convincing
The Commissioners started their book size report with
dismissing out of hand any thought that the death rate of the
city and its diseases were not caused by its poor systems cf
sewage. Noting that while ,when the city was about seven hundred
acres, the drainage posed no problem because it was so much
diluted in a vast volume of water, the growth of the City
in various directions and on reclaimed land necessitated the
extension of a plan which is no longer suited to the needs of
the City. The filling of the old Mill Pond made it necessary
to extend the sewers in that district to the canal and when
that was closed, the sewers were intercepted by a main which
now discharges on both sides of the City. The outlets are higher
than the central point of the sewer in Haymarket Square causing
disruption in that whole drainage area.
The South Bay district contained so many old covered
wharves, the Commissioners noted, that the tide actually ebbs
and flows in some parts of it; when the odors from the sewage
discharged in the closed basin formed by the Mill Dam and the
Cross Dam became too offensive, the sewer was extended to the
Charles River to keep it flushed and clean and the sewers had to be
discharged on the south side of the city into South Bay, causing
flooding in cellars during storms at high tide. Summing up that
part of the report, the Commissioners pointed out that the City
had now many acres of filled in flat land and as quickly as it
was created, it just as quickly caused a problem of drainage,
a problem which many Cities had had from the beginning.
As to the condition of the sewers themselves, while the
modern ones were constructed of good material and well built,
there was no pattern to them, often they were built in response
to an emergency. There were, in the City proper, thirty-two
independent sewer districts, the principle sewers of which were
built in different years, often widely apart and discharging into
Directly under the manholes of the sewers (of which they
noted there were enough to properly inspect the sewers) was a
catch basin put there to prevent deposits that might obstruct
the sewer. They can never be properly cleaned, the Commissioners
said, and continually collect sewerage resulting in literally
open mouthed cess pools. A system which would allow the sewage
to be rapidly discharged would eliminate the necessity for them.
The Commissioners objected to the tide gate sewers of
which the City had many since they were out of operation one half
of the day. During the time that they were closed by the tide
the sewage entering them built up leaving a slime on the sides
of the pipes. At the time of the build up, noxious gases also
built up and could be discharged from household faucets,
expecially if heavy rain accompanied the high tide.
Some of the fault, they wished to add, was not that of the
City's sewer system, but of house drains and cess pools and
privies. Cess pools and privies might still be necessary in
some parts of the City and when built with cement walls and
properly cleaned (by the pneumatic method) are not harmful.
But if not properly built or cleaned, or filled in when they are
no longer needed, they are a danger. As for house drains, they
are sometimes made of pervious or ill-joined material allowing
contamination of the soil and afterward of the air. If they
are made of lead pipe, they often corrode and finally become
perforated, allowing the discharge of sewer gases.
As to the filled in land, that of the old Mill Pond and
the South Cove and large portions of the area between Dover and
Northampton streets is of material not suited for building on.
It is porous and allows water to percolate through rendering
at least all the basement unfit for dwelling. While the Back
Bay proper was filled with the best material possible, and the
water level in the soil is uniform, the water, nevertheless,
is too near the surface, creating serious faults of drainage.
There appear, the Commissioners noted, only two methods
open to the City to alleviate its problem. One, raise more
than one-half the superficial area of the City proper, which
would be prohibitively expensive and the second, a system of
intercepting sewers and pumping. Before going into their plan
in detail, they proceeded to look at the final disposal of the
sewage and the positions of the sewer outlets.
Neither precipitation of the solid parts with a view to
using them as manure or disposal by irrigation seemed the way
to the Commissioners. The method the Commission recommended
was that used by all cities near a great body of water. Carrying
the sewage out so far that its point of discharge will be remote
from dwellings and beyond the possibility of doing harm. Sounding
like previous commissioners in previous reports about another
problem, they said "The work will require a large sum of money,
but no larger than has been expended by other cities for the
same purpose; only two-thirds as much as the City of Frankfort
on the Main has lately appropriated for their sewers, and a small sum
when we consider the benefits which will come from it."
City Document No. 1875.
As to the place of disposal of the sewage, (At this
juncture of the report, it becomes clear that the three
CoiTunissioners were not making a report on the sewage of Boston
alone, but of the Metropolitan District. It would do no good
if Boston strived to keep the sewage out of the Charles River
or far from the shore of Massachusetts Bay if other Towns were
still dumping in the River and into the Harbor ) , placing
floats at six different places and following them as long and
as best they could, would help determine the spot where the
sewers should be discharged.
If the discharge was to be from Commercial Point, City
Point or the Charles River below East Boston Bridge, sewage would
be in large quantities even if discharged on the ebb tide, so it
would return in considerable quantity by the next flood.
As far as discharging from Moon or Castle Island, if the
discharge were done on the flood, the sewage would be deposited
to a considerable degree on the flats of the Charles and Mystic
Rivers or the Dorchester Bay and Quincy Bay flats, but if discharged
at and immediately after high tide, it would generally go as far as
Bell Buoy or Boston Light, with a certainty of not being a source
of nuisance by the returning tide. The discharge there would be
for the Cities lying south of Boston,
As far as the cities lying north of the Charles River, the
only place that the sewage would be carried from the northern
outlet out to sea by a rapid current was Shirley gut.
As far as the intercepting sewer was concerned, it would
discharge all the sewage from that part of Boston situated between
the Charles and Neponset at the North End of Moon Island. The
main intercepting sewer would be located in nearly a direct line
from Cottage Farm Station to the Neponset River near Savin Hill,
to cross the river by a siphon, then to a sewer to be built
along Sguantum Beach and across Squantum Point to the end of
The grade of the sewer at Cottage Fai™ Station would be
one foot below low tide, and the fall to Moon Island, twenty-
five inches per mile. The sewer would be circular, nine feet
in diameter until it reached Albany Street, nine feet by eleven
(equal to a circle ten feet in diameter) from there to the
pumping station and from the pumping station to the outlet at
Moon Island, at first ten feet by twelve (equal to a circle of
eleven feet in diameter) and finally twelve feet by thirteen
thus enlarging the storage capacity of the outfall sewer.
The siphon under the Neponset would be six feet in
diameter and fifteen hundred feet long. While it was proposed
to build it of wrought iron, properly protected from salt water,
further surveys and borings might show that it would be more
permanent and less expensive to build a brick tunnel laid in
Portland cement with iron ribs to strengthen the masonary.
Chambers would be placed in each end of the siphon for connecting
a second one if ever needed. At the outlet of Moon Island there
would be a reservoir to hold twenty-five million gallons, somewhat
more than the usual amount of sewage discharged in twenty four
hours. The discharge would take place at each tide for two
or three hours after high water.
They proposed to erect at the pumping stations three
engines of 14 5 horse-power each. A very liberal provision
for the present, but in view of the free use of water after
the completion of the Sudbury aqueduct, it was thought best
to do it that way. The sewer would drain all the City lying
between it and the Charles; and all that part of the City between
south of the new sewer below grade forty. It will be
large enough to drain twenty square miles and to take the sewage
of a population of 750,000.
The size of the outfall sewer would be sufficient to carry
the sewage from a population of one million and also one-fourth
of an inch rainfall per day. It would have a capacity of over
two hundred and eighty million gallons a day. (All this was
based on the assumption that the amount of sewage was seventy-
five gallons per day per inhabitant.)
The Commissioners also wanted it understood that the
natural water courses in Dorchester, Roxbury and Brookline were
to be kept open, especially Stoney Brook and Muddy Brook, and
free from sewage and their chanels straightened. It would be
impossible, the Commissioners thought, to build a sewer large
enough at reasonable cost to carry off those waters in case of
storm. The recommended that the sewers be flushed periodically
as was now done with the sewers of European cities.
The cost of the sewers recommended for the south side of the Oiarles
River would be $3,746,500. and for those of the district north
of the Charles, $2,804,564.
(There was an immediate remonstrance to the plan by twenty-
eight citizens. They objected to the cost, questioned the need,
and doubted the pumping station) .
On June 12th, the Joint Special Committee on a System of
Improved Sewage for the City of Boston reported its response to
the Commissioners recommendations. A serious mistake was made
it conceded, by fixing at too low a grade those portions of the
City whcih had been reclaimed from the sea. Since the sewage
had for so long been discharged into the basin (Back Bay) and
the grade of much of the Town has been geared to that, the
filling in of the basin had resulted in the grade of some of the
City being too low. The problem had been rectified in the ter-
ritory of the Church, Suffolk and Northampton districts at the
cost of several million dollars. The nuisance had not been
abated however, but only transferred to some other parts of the
City, the drainage going through tide-locked sewers which emptied
at some different points along the waterfront, frequently depos-
iting the sewage on the flats at low water, causing an intolerable
Pointing out that the drainage was discharged at 100 points
along the waterfront, sometimes at low tide where it would settle
on the mud and sometimes at flood tide where it often washed back
in, the Committee reminded its readers that the sewage had so built
up in the Roxbury Canal that it became necessary to dredge there.
That the stench and nozious gases
eminating from the sewage were a source of ill health, they
had no doubt. They traced the course of the proposed inter-
cepting sewer on the north from its start in Cambridge at the north
end of the approach to Brookline bridge, through Waver ly Street to the
Boston & Albany Branch Railroad, to Charles town, thence to
Cambridge and Alford streets to the Mystic River, crossing both
the Mystic River and the Chelsea Creek by a siphon to Breed's
Island and across the island along the northerly foot of Breed's
Hill and another siphon across the inlet to Winthrop and finally
to an outlet at Point Shirley.
The plan, they said was bold and expensive, but boldness was
needed and the more than $3,000,000 that it would cost was not toQ
much to pay for the relieving of such a danger to the health and
welfare of the City and its inhabitants. They recommended the
adoption of the plan of Chesbrough, Folsom and Lane.
On July 12, 1877 the City Council passed an order authorizing
the City Treasurer to borrow the sum of three million seven hundred
and twelve thousand dollars. The plans for the improved sewer
system had been drawn by the City Engineer, Joseph P. Davis and
the necessary authority obtained from the Massachusetts Legisla-
ture in Chapter 136 of the Acts of 1876. But the City Engineer
took liberty to change some of the Commission's plans, and to
consequently to increase the scope and cost of the project.
Engineer Davis declaring it did not seem in variance
with the spirit of the Commissioners 'report, considered four
points for the discharge of the drainage; Spectacle Island,
Thompson's Island, Castle Island and Moon Island. Because he
was wary of where the sewage would end up and distrusted the
topography, he ruled out Spectacle. Neither did he and the
Joint Committee think Thompson's Island was a favorable place
As far as Castle Island was concerned Davis felt that
permission to use that land, which was owned by the Federal
Government and was the first line of defense of Boston Harbor,
would be too difficult. He therefore settled on Moon Island
as the point for discharge, declaring it far enough away from
any present or prospective population, with strong currents
which would take the discharge safely away. The total cost of
building the interceptor sewer system would be $3,429,000.
On July 25, 1877, the Common Council executed the necessary
documents to take land in Medford, Winchester and Woburn it was
authorized to acquire by the Legislature for the Mystic Valley Sewer.
On January 28, 1878 it did likewise for some marsh land in Old
Harbor Point in Dorchester, from whence the sewer would run out to
The building of the sewer, except for one section in the
Back Bay was to be let out for contract. There was considerable
agitation on the part of unemployed men living in the City that
the contractors were hiring people from outside the City at
unreasonably low rates of wage, thus depriving them of work
and forcing down the pay of those who did have work. In response
to the criticism, the City decided to build section 4 itself,
using the machinery and expertise it had acquired in building the
section in the Back Bay. They would use day labor. The building
proceeded at a good pace- In August of 1879, the City took the
necessary lands at Squantum in Quincy and Moon Island."
By 1880 the City had 197.5 miles of sewers, the Superinten-
dent reported, as he did almost annually, that his appropriations had
run out and he needed more money. The Ordinance of 1876 governing
sewers in Boston was amended so that if any owner connected his
drain to a common sewer from land which had not been assessed, he
would have to pay two cents a foot up to 125 feet, but when his
land was assessed, that payment would be deducted from the assess-
The struggle to unpollute the Mill Pond continued and in
1883 a new outlet was put into the Charles River to take the
drainage from what was known as Miller's River to be discharged
by the Prison Point Bridge in Charlestown.
Cochituate water had arrived in the sparsely settled
Dorchester section of the City and had caused, as it had in other
sections before, a building boom. No drains existed in Dorchester
and the earth was ill suited for cess pools. If drains were to
follow the natural flow of Stoney Brook, in whose valley the
section lay, five miles of pipe would have to be laid to reach
the nearest sewer, which was in Jamaica Plain. In his annual
report of 1883, the Superintendent listed the footage of accepted
streets which had no sewers. The length ranged from 15, 650 in Brighton
o 262,270 in Dorchester. Because of the variable conditions of the
streets he could only estimate the cost of laying sewers at $3.50
per linear foot, of $3 ,300,013. for the 945,435 unsewered streets.
Up to this point in time, the superintendency of the
sewers, both building and maintaining, had been held by the
Board of Aldermen. But ordinance dictated that the charge of
City Property, and completed sewers had been ruled such by the Supreme
Judicial Court, was the joint business of the Aldermen and Common
Council, the City Council, It was decided that the Aldermen would
remain in charge of the construction and the City Council would have
jurisdiction over maintenance . The City Council would annually
vote for a superintendent, who, it was hoped, would be in charge
of the duties of both construction and maintenance. .
While the building of the needed system of intercepting
sewers had accomplished much of what it was hoped it would, there
was still a great deal to be done in the system. Old wooden sewers
still existed,, particularly in the North and West Ends and they
were continually leaking. The wooden flume from Squantum to Moon Island
was, in the opinion of the Superintendent, the weak point in the
system. He feared that it was liable to burst at any time and
cause an enormous nuisance along the shore. He wished to build
a new conduit in its place.
The changing political control of the City isapparent in
the positive response of the Mayor and Alderman and Common Council
to Superintendent Thomas J. Young's request for more money. The
order increasing his salary from three thousand five hundred dollars
to five thousand was signed by Patrick J. Donovan, Chairman of
the Board of Aldermen, D.F, Barry, President of the Common Council,
Hugh O'Brien, Mayor and J.H. O'Neil, City Clerk.
The amount of work done by the Sewer Department in 1886
and 1887 far surpassed that done in any similar period and as
the sewers were laid and the water mains built, building was
sure to follow. In one section of Dorchester, the number of
houses increased from scarcely a dozen to several hundred
first class residences after the arrival of the water and the
sewers. The rapid progress in building sewers, however, created
problems. The Sewer Department found itself constantly under-
funded and great pressure was brought on Mayor O'Brien by the
enterprising builders of the City. The Mayor pointed out to
the City Council in September of 1887, that there was $862,699
in the City Treasury for a variety of purposes of which no more
than $30,000 would likely be called for that year and urged
some of those funds be transferred to the Sewer Department.
Pollution continued. Upon the petition of several prominent
citizens of the Ashmont District, who claimed that the lack of
proper drainage had contributed to the death of several children,
the Sewer Department built one and had it empty into the Neponset
In January of 1888, Mayor O'Brien received a letter from
Mr. Francis A. Osborn, Chairman of the Civil Service Commission,
noting that the Superintendent of Sewers had twelve men in his
employ who had not been certified by the Commission. In reply
to the accusation. Superintendent Seth Perkins went to see the
Commission and convinced them that he must have the men or his
vital work would be hampered. They reluctantly agreed and told
him that if he would send his "aids" as he called them by, they
would certify that they could find no one on the Civil Service
Rolls qualified for the job that they were doing. Five came
by and were certified, but when the other seven appeared on
a subsequent payroll, the Civil Service Commission informed
the Mayor of the alleged illegality.
In response, the Superintendent said that he was trying
to obey both the letter and spirit of the then experimental
law, and that since the Commissioners could not, to his know-
ledge, supply the men he needed, he hired twelve young men to
do such things as take measurements by rod, gauge, or tape,
keeping accurate records of same, etc. Jobs the laborers on
the Civil Service list could not do, Perkins maintained. As
why only five men came by to be certified, the explanation was
simple, the other seven had completed the task for which they
were assigned and had been let go. That they were still on the
payroll book reflected work they had done and not as yet been
paid for. The Board of Aldermen were satisfied and ordered the
Civil Service complaint laid on the table.
The time, money and energy spent on the building 'of the
very successful improved sewerage (Main Drainage Works) , and
the almost insatiable demand for sewers in the developing
sections of the City, had led, in the opinion of the Super-
intendent, to the neglect of many of Boston's old sewers which
he was sure, decreased efficiency of the whole system.
In his report submitted to City Council on January 28, 1888,
he listed the present conditions of the sewers in each district
of the City and the work that had been done the previous year
and what was to be done in the future .
The East Boston area had been furnished with sewers in
about nine-tenths of its territory, and while these in the
uplands were in good condition, those in the lower section were
not. Mostly built of wood, they had sunk and had been badly
disordered and were constantly filling with silt. They discharged
directly into the water, making the docks filthy. Since they did
not have tide gates, the water backed up the sewer when the tide
came in and often flooded cellars. That problem, he noted, could
not be entirely obviated, even with a system of low-grade
intercepting sewers, and he urged that the law that no cellars
or basements be built below the elevation of high water be strictly
Two large wooden sewers had been replaced with ones
substantially built of brick. He felt the plan of the Metro-
politan Drainage Commission that would have the City build
intercepting sewers which would convey the sewage to a point
on the southeasterly end of the Island and pump it to a
discharge main extending to Bird Island Flats should be
The situation in Charlestown he found very bad. Most of
the Sewers, or more properly drains, had been built by private
parties for their ovm needs, and in many cases no records of
where they were existed. Those that could be found were never
meant to be sewers, just drains, and now they were being asked
to be something they were not. Many were made of brick laid
dry (without mortar) and the bricks protruded catching all sorts
of material. These were most difficult to clean, the manholes
being so far apart (if they existed at all) as to preclude the
use of rods.
In 1887, the Superintendent reported, two thousand four
hundred and sixty five feet of sewers were built. A small
amount but the construction resulted in two important improve-
ments. One of the sewers eliminated the discharge under the
Chelsea Bridge by extending along the Navy Yard wall a distance
of 830 feet where it could discharge into a current. The sewer
in Bunker Hill Street was too small to carry the storm water of
the thirty six acres naturally coming to it and cellars were
being flooded. A new and larger sewer cured the problem.
The trouble that each Superintendent had from the Back
Bay and other filled in land visited this Superintendent also.
As land was filled, wooden sewers were laid with no precaution
against settlement. They had settled and many functioned only
partially and some not at all. These sewers must. Superintendent
Charles Morton stated, all be replaced.
The same condition of out of repair wooden sewers obtained
in South Boston. In Dorchester, the small branch sewers and
main sewers constructed some years ago in the more populous parts
of the district were in good order, but the sewers in the portion
of the district newly developed were too small. The problem lies
in the lack of planning for future growth. While the sewers were
large enough when built, the constant adding to them of lines ren-
dered them too small. One sewer in Commercial Street had a terri-
tory of 710 acres which would naturally drain into it and that
large area was increased 760 acres by the construction of a tunnel
through Centre Stree and over into the Stoney Brook Water shed, to
take the drainage from land as far as Blue Hill Avenue and Oakland
Morton predicted that the ultimate development of
Dorchester will involve the extension of the interupting sewer,
now built as far as Commercial Point, up the Neponset Valley, to
intercept the sewage now emptying into the Neponset River, and to
take care of the upper districts when they shall be supplied with
sewers. No satisfactory disposal of the sev;age of that part of
Dorchester, he continued, bordering upon the Neponset River can
be had until that sewer is built.
Unlike his dissatisfaction with the sewer system in other
parts of the City, Morton was most pleased with the conditions in
Roxbury, commenting that the sewers were well built of either
brick or pipe and well designed. Attention had been paid to making
their size correspond with the amount of sewage to be carried. The
main sewers followed the line of old brooks which had been filled
up, and the water which had formerly flowed in them was now
flowing in the sewers. With the exception of extensive changes that
must be made in the sewers of the Ward Street district because of
the removal of the main sewer from Parker Street, no new work
of any importance would be needed for a number of years . The
number of small sewers ordered to be built by the Board of
Aldermen, Morton remarked, had not been done owing to lack of
All sewers in the Brighton area were relatively new, the
district having no sewers prior to 1878, but they too v/ere
constructed too small and without regard to the drainage areas.
The value of land there had increased so much that the owners
wished to get theirs on the market immediately. To that end
they planned to fill in all m.arshy areas and constantly asked
the Superintendent for permission to drain into the sewers. It
would be impossible to admit the brooks and the consequent storm
water into any sewer in Brighton constructed prior to this year,
As for the future, the outlet sewers which now empty into
the Charles are intended to be interrupted by the Main Drainage
sewer for the Charles River Valley and that work should be prose-
cuted during the present year.
The Superintendent found West Roxbury, in comparison to
its size, almost bereft of sewers. There was a main sewer built
in Washington Street as far as Roslindale, but very few tributary
sewers had been constructed. Some of the area would not need
sewers for some time, but others should recieve them soon.
Morton told of repeated complaints from the Board of Health
about the lack of sewers at Anawan Avenue, Highland Station,
Central Station and several other places. But because of lack
of sufficient appropriation, nothing could be done. To reach
the districts needing sewage, long lengths of expensive main
sewers must be built in order to connect with the present main
The problem of bringing the sewer system to the very large
area which is West Roxbury, the Superintendent explained, is
governed by the capacity of the existing sewer on Washington
Street, which runs up to Kittridge Street, and the future course
to be pursued in regard to Stoney Brook. It is evident that
Stoney Brook must always continue to be the great channel for the
conveyance of storm water in West Roxbury. The money spent on
the so-called improvements of Stoney Brook from 1880 to 1884, was
just money thrown away, Morton contended. Not only was the work
started at the wrong end and the widening and deepening of the
brook done only in West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain so that a flood
of water fell down to Roxbury, but no intelligent plans were made
for Roxbury where several miles of brook are walled in a channel
much too small.
After exhaustingly reviewing the options present for
controlling the flooding that occurs in West Roxbury and Jamaica
Plain during heavy rain. Superintendent Morton turns his attention
to the subject of ventilation. The system then existent was
simply to have holes in the covers of manholes, so that sewer
gas could escape from them. jf the covers were located in
front of a dwelling, complaints would surely follow and demand that
a closed cover be substituted. To the suggestion that the sewer
be ventilated using the same system as is used for subways, he
reported that that method had not been tried and proved. The
assumption of certain data, such as the requisite velocities,
volume of air needed, co-efficients, etc., has, Morton believed,
to be made from the data gained in the ventilation of mines with
His own investigations of the matter made him conclude that
there were only two proper methods of ventilating the sewer system.
(1) a number of small vents which would be carried above the house
tops by means of pipe ventilation, or (2) the establishment of a
ventilating plant at the outlet of a system, as being the only
point capable of furnishing a single vent for the whole system.
The first method, while perhaps the best, since it would cause
more rapid changes in the air in the sewers, would be very expensive.
The second, not withstanding the fact that it would require considera-
ble power to reverse the natural flow of the gases, could be operated
at a comparatively small expense. This method could be readily
adapted for the Main Drainage Sustem by locating a plant at the Old
Harbor Point Pumping Station where there are all the appliances for
the manufacturing of steam present.
Superintendent Morton concluded his lengthy and detailed
report with a discussion of a problem which had plagued the system
since its inception - sewer assessments.
The method of assessment then in existence was based on
the size of the sewer being drained into and the actual cost
of building the sewer, factors, terrain for instance, making
such cost variable. Mortion objected to it and suggested that
a uniform rate per square foot of land benefitted, or a
uniform cost per linear foot of sewer could be established,
based upon the average cost of sewers already built, which would
yield and amount equal to the revenue to the City and be more
equitable and satisfactory to those assessed.
Morton conceded that the question of assessments was an
important one and suggested a special committee of the Committee
on Sewers of the Alderman, the Corporation Council and the Super-
intendent of Sewers, to take the matter under consideration.
152 CHAPTER XIII
The water had indeed arrived, but the Boston Water Works
were far from completed. Upon the shutting down of the project
for the winter of 1848, the Water Commissioners reported that the
Reservoirs on Beacon Hill and on Telegraph Hill in South Boston
had as yet not been completed, the distribution pipes in South
Boston and in a few streets in the City Proper had not as yet been
laid, and a large portion of the service pipes in Boston had not
as yet been done. Still, they hoped that all would be accomplished
by the close of the coming season, hopefully by the 1st of November,
1849. The law which created the Water Commission stipulated that
the service of the Commissioners would terminate three years after
the Act became effective or upon the completion of the works, which-
ever came first. It also allowed for extension of that body if the
works took more than three years. Early in 1849, the Commissioners
asked and received from the City Council an extension of eight months.
Although the works were incomplete, the Commissioners and the
City Government were convinced that the problems of an adequate supply
of pure, fresh water into the City had been solved for many years
to come. They could not envision any other result from the long and
arduous effort. They were wrong. Rather than being an end, even
one temporary, to the supplying of the City, it was barely a begin-
ning and the City would struggle for the next forty years in an
always precarious and sometimes desperate effort to keep up with
an astounding growth in demand for the water, a combination of
unprecedented growth in population and scandalous waste. Boston's
daily per capita use of water would become the highest of any city in
Those who lost the battle to have the city select the source
they thought best, were, in the end to win. For the sources now
disregarded, and others, would eventually be tapped. ■
The cost of the works now was exceeding even the most pess- ,
imistic estimate o£ those who most feared its economic effect
on the City. They proposed that the building of the Reservoir on
Telegraph Hill be postponed so that the debt would grow no further.
The Commissioners said no, the Reservoir on Beacon Hill, as large
as it would be, was not large enough to supply the whole City, and
if a Reservoir was to be built in the old part of Boston, its cost
would be much greater than on the cheaper land in South Boston. .
The Commissioners were still having trouble in settling some
claims for damage on property they had taken by their power of
eminent domain, and asked the City Council to go to the Legislature
to get permission to allow them to go, in the case of those who
would not settle, to the Court of Common Pleas, there to have a
Commissioner appointed to determine the proper amount of damages.
So far, they reported, they had spent $3,448,762.85 and est-
imated the cost of completing the two reservoirs would be $537,212.00.
As in other sections of the city. East Boston was growing as immigrants
continued to flood in. By 1849, the population stood at 9,130 -
1,780 families living in 1,217 houses. Their need for water could
no longer be ignored. Mr. Chesbrough was asked to determine the
best route and estimate the cost. He picked several as satisfactory,
all of which would take the water by iron pipes, supported on
wooden piers, across the Charles and Mystic rivers and the channel
between Chelsea and East Boston, His estimation of tlje cost was
$397,508.02 (because of the necessity of crossing the water, he
added 201 instead of the usual 10% for contingencies and the cost
would be held down by the gift of the East Boston Company of an
acre of land suff icent in height for a reservoir) . The council
approves an appropriation of $400,000.00, and felt the project
should go ahead despite the obstacles it faced.
From its relatively humble conception, the Beacon Hill Reservoir
was becoming a massive work. It was 199 feet, three inches on Dearne
Street, 182 feet, 11 inches long on Temple, almost 192 on Hancock
and stretched over 200 feet on Mt . Vernon. The foundation which would
support the basin and thus the water was almost finished. Its lateral
walls which would retain the water would be 12 feet with the face of
the extension walls on the street. The Reservoir would stand over 15
feet high and the basin would hold to 2,678,961 wine gallons, and its
main horizontal section would equal 28.014 square feet. The level on
the top of the water would be 122% feet above marsh level, or the
high water mark, and run about 7 inches upon the 20 inches of coping
at the top, or 14 feet, and 7 inches above the bottom of the basin.
The minimum level of the Brookline Reservoir would be 2% feet below
Before the end of the year after the water had arrived, the
Commissioners were able to report that they had laid 75 miles of
pipes, ranging in size from 4 inches to the 36 inch main from Brookline
to the City, including 11,483 service pipes laid in Boston, and
1,005 in South Boston. 10,851 taps had been opened and 1,637 app-
licants for the water were waiting to have theirs done. -662 fire
hydrants had been attached to the works in Boston and 88 in South
The scheme to compensate the owners of the Middlesex Canal
and the mills along the Concord River for their loss of water as it
was taken from Cochituate seemed to be working. The two compensation
reservoirs, White Hall in Hopkinton and Fort Meadow in Marlboro, in
which surplus water of the winter and spring had been stored, were
opened in June, and the discharge of water gradually increased as a
drought worsened, until on July 26th of 1849, it reached a discharge
of 40 cubic feet per second.
The East Boston section of the works proved no exception to
history and the estimate of its cost had to be raised. The Commissioners
were unhappy about being forced to construct pipes across the water
but they had no other choice. The reservoir to be built in East
Boston would hold four days supply, on the assumption that any break in
the main across the water could be fixed in that time.
It was becoming obvious to the Joint Standing Committee on
Water, that the Works, as then planned, would soon be completed
and they turned to the task of restructuring its management. The
Committee decided that the creation of a Water Department when the
service of the Commissioners ended would be the best and most
economical. They could find no examples of such a department in
neighboring cities, so they travelled to New York and Philadelphia
to have a look at theirs. They saw nothing they felt appropriate
for Boston. In both cities, the income from the water rents and
other sources were running below the interest on the money borrowed
to build the works.
In Philadelphia, the water was at hand, thus the number of
men required to deliver it was small. New York, however had to
go forty miles to its water and had a large force in its Water
The Committee decided on an Ordinance creating the Cochituate
Water Board, which would be given all the powers of the present
Water Commissioners. The proposed Board would consist of one
Water Commissioner, an Engineer and a Water Registrar, who would
see to the clerical management of the Board. Each of the members
of the Board would be chosen by the City Council and compensated
to the extent the Council thought equitable. Their terms would
run for One year.
They also appointed a Water Comptroller who was to take charge
of the collection of the rents, and remit the same weekly to the
City Treasurer. All others hired by the Water Board, they stipulated,
must be citizens of the City and their appointment be approved by
the Council. An order was passed asking how many men, not counting
laborers, were now in the employ of the Commissioners and what was
their compensation. Eighteen, the Water Commissioners replied, with
their salaries ranging from $3,000. for the two Chief Engineers,
Whitwell and Chesbrough, to $1.00 per day earned by the Lake Gate
The persistency of the Water Commissioners in seeing the Works
completed through years o£ opposition, delay, frustration and some
times bitter argument, was in many ways herculean. Water would have
come to Boston without them of course. Its arrival was inevitable,
but much is owed to those men, Laommi Baldwin, Nathan Hale, Laommi's
brother James F. Baldwin, Daniel Tredwell, R.H. Eddy, Thomas B. Curtis.
Gifted men, many pre-eminent in their own fields, they gave of their
energy and intelligence and risked their reputations to bring to the
City they loved so much, that commodity the availability of which was
now helping to turn Boston into a major City of the World - Water.
On January 5, 1850, with the Mayor and City Council in attendance,
the three surviving Water Commissioners, Hale, James Baldwin and
Curtis, submitted their final report to the Joint Committee on the
Introduction of a Supply of Pure Water Into the City of Boston. They
reported to Mayor Bigelow and the Committee that all important work,
except the completion of the Works to carry the water to East Boston,
had been finished. There were still, they said, some damage claims
to be settled and equipment to be sold.
Ironically, those three foresighted men left the service of the
City with a statement which would, much sooner than any of them could
realize, prove totally inaccurate.
"The amount of water afforded by Cochituate Lake during the
past year, although a season remarkable for its comparatively small
quantity of rain and snow, has been sufficient to give the most
satisfactory assurance, of the abundance of the supply which may be
relied on from it, for all domestic wants of the City, at any future
period." The Lake was yielding, including some which was wasted
1. BOSTON CITY DOCUMENT NO. 3-1850
completed through years of opposition, delay, frustration and some
times bitter argument, was in many ways herculean. Water would have
come to Boston without them of course. Its arrival was inevitable,
but much is owed to those men, Laommi Baldwin, Nathan Hale, Laommi's
brother James F. Baldwin, Daniel Tredwell, R.H. Eddy, Thomas B. Curtis.
Gifted men, many pre-eminent in their own fields, they gave of their
energy and intelligence and risked their reputations to bring to the
City they loved so much, that commodity the availability of which was
now helping to turn Boston into a major City of the World - Water.
On January 5, 1850, with the Mayor and City Council in attendance,
the three surviving Water Commissioners, Hale, James Baldwin and
Curtis, submitted their final report to the Joint Committee on the
Introduction of a Supply of Pure Water Into the City of Boston. They
reported to Mayor Bigelow and the Committee that all important work,
except the completion of the Works to carry the water to East Boston,
had been finished. There were still, they said, some damage claims
to be settled and equipment to be sold.
Ironically, those three foresighted men left the service of the
City with a statement which would, much sooner than any of them could
realize, prove totally inaccurate.
"The amount of water afforded by Cochituate Lake during the
past year, although a season remarkable for its comparatively small
quantity of rain and snow, has been sufficient to give the most
satisfactory assurance, of the abundance of the supply which may be
relied on from it, for all domestic wants of the City, at any future
period." The Lake was yielding, including some which was wasted
1. BOSTON CITY DOCUMENT NO. 3-1850
into the Concord and Charles Rivers, 10,339,000 gallons on the
average and who could imagine a need for any greater quality.
They totaled up their work.
Over 81 miles o£ pipe in various dimension from 4 inches to
■ 24 inches .
13,341 service pipes to houses and places o£ business.
12,108 taps opened and 1,233 waiting to be opened.
1,292 feet of one inch pipe of lead laid on the wharves to
service the shipping in the harbor.
779 fire hydrants in the City proper, 137 in South Boston.
The Beacon Hill Reservoir completed and water let in on the
17th of May (1849). It had been filled by means of a 30 inch
pipe from the Brookline Reservoir, in the space of 185^ hours,
and in 21^2 had risen to the height of 4?2 inches on the wasteway
by which the overflow is discharged into the common sewer.
The total cost of the works (not including East Boston) was
$4,039,826. less $41,774. realized from the sale of machinery for
final cost of $3,998,052. The $4,000,000. cost that Mayor Joshua
Quincy, Jr. predicted that the project would not come near, was
just barely missed.
The Council appointed the men who had been the Chief Engineers
of the respective Eastern and Western Division of the Works, Chesbrough
and Whitwell, during its construction to the Cochituate Water Board
along with J. Avery Richards as the Registrar. Chesbrough would
be the Commissioner and Whitwell the Chief Engineer.
In 1850, the City ordered that all persons taking water must
keep the service pipes within their premises, including any area
beneath the sidewalk, in good repair and protected from frost at
their own expense; and further ordered that the water taker would
be held liable for all damages which resulted from their " failures
to do so.
The Overseers of the Poor, petitioned the Water Board for a
supply of water to the new Alms House built on Deer Island. The
Chief Engineer calculated that the best route would be from the
present termination of the six inch pipe in East Boston, across
the Channel and then to the hill north of the Alms House. 18,000
feet of the pipe would be constantly wet and therefore would be
made of wood, which is an almost indestructible construction, he
pointed out, as long as the wood remains wet.
Except, one supposes by its Proprietors and those who still
took water from it, the Jamaica Pond Aqueduct, seemed forgotten,
The Water Board decided to purchase it, but the City Council objected
to the agreement on the ground that only that body could enter into
such actions. The Water Board politely differed, pointing out that
the Water Act of the Legislature allowed the City Council to delgate
any of its authority to its agents. The Council had so done with
the Water Commission and all the powers of that body were subsequently
given to the Water Board.
They defended the financial aspect of their impending purchase
by pointing out the City would receive the revenue now going to
Jamaica Pond Aqueduct. The whole number of takers from the Aqueduct
Corporation was about 300 and the average annual water rent, $8.00.
The Board planned to pay $45,000. for all the property of the
Corporation (except some land in Boston). Included in the purchase
would be Jamaica Pond itself, a body of water of about 60 or 70
acres and containing 116,000,000 gallons of water of a height of
sixty feet above the tide.
(The Board already had an offer for the Pond.) The Council,
after consideration of the Board's plan, agreed that they had
acted in the best interest of the City but should have informed
the Council of the negotiations.
The authorities at the newly opened Charlestown State Prison
approached the City Government there and asked for permission to
run water pipes through the City to the prison. Charlestown saw
this as an opportunity to get some much needed fire hydrants for
no cost and agreed to let the pipes be laid if hydrants were placed
along the line. When the prison authorities asked the Water Board
of Boston to supply it with Cochituate water, the answer was no on
the grounds that they doubted their authority to supply outside the
City, The rejection also contained the first hint that the Cochituate
supply might prove inadequate soon.
Pointing out that there was sufficient water at Cochituate now
(679,209,300 gallons), they then stated:
"It is sufficiently obvious, nevertheless, that the time must
arrive, and at no very distant date, when, if the consumption of
water goes on increasing as it has been doing, the whole means of
supply must be restricted to the City itself." The population of
Boston they pointed out as of May 1, 1850, had grown to 48,573.
The Water Board soon discovered that, in the determination to
get the Works built at the highest possible speed, that the Water
Commissioners had not created an authentic description of all the
parts of the Works, and there existed no official statements of
the mode of construction. To remedy the situation, the Board
researched one of its own, describing the construction of the Boston
Water Works in very great detail.
' The Proprietors of Louisburg Square had been encouraged to
make improvements around their property. One was to build a
fountain on their common and to surround the common with an iron
fence. The owners spent considerable money in doing the work and
each of them was paying a yearly fee for upkeep. The city
fathers who had encouraged the improvements were pleased, as was
the City Assessor who felt the improvements added $2,000. to the
value of each house on the Square.
The owners pointing our that one of the improvements they
had been encouraged to do was the fountain said that they believed
they had an agreement with the City, that if they laid and connected
a pipe from the Reservoir, the City would find and lay the introduction
pipes and grant free use of the Cochituate water, so long as an
abundant supply should continue.
The City Council asked the Water Board if they would do it. The
Water Board replied that, even without considering the expediency of
the request, it had not the authority to give water away. If, it
added, the Council felt they had such authority, then they could
delegate it to the Board.
By October 1851, the average daily use of water in the City
had risen to 8,451,259 gallons or more than sixty gallons for each
individual. This represented an increase since the previous year
o£ over a million and one half gallons a day and over ten gallons
for each individual. This had happened without a corresponding
increase in water tenants.
There were several reasons, the Water Board believed, for
such an increase. Some houses as well as individuals in different
classes were using much more water than anticipated. This included
hotels where there is a constant flow of water which is not necessary.
It is not necessary and indeed illegal to keep water in water closets,
they pointed out. Stables where a hose was allowed used a great
quantity of water. Perhaps, the Board went on, meter should be
placed to find out just who is wasting the water, and the rates
certainly should be kept high to discourage waste. The Board had
already placed Mr. Huse's meter in distillaries , sugar refineries
and other places. The Water Board asked the Council to change the
Ordinance which created it to allow for the placing of meters any-
where they thought advisable. The Board felt so strongly on the
subject that they also suggested that malicious waste of water should
be made a penal offense.
The Works continued to grow as did the City. On December 23,
1852, the Committee on finance reported to the City Council that
they had negotiated a loan with Messrs. Baring, Brother § Co. of
London in the amount of 400,000 pounds sterling at the rate of 4%%,
payable in that City twenty years from October 1st. The $1,950,000
realized from this loan added to previous loans, made the total
borrowed for the Works $5,187,671.66 and when due and payable,
including interest, the total expended would be $5,568,587.89,
minus cash receipts of $185,000,00,
As the calls made over the years for the introduction of water
had become more strident as its need grew worse, now the call for the
elimination of waste grew louder, as the water use soared beyond
In his inauguaral address on January 3, 1853, Mayor Benjamin
Seaver called the City Council's attention to:
"The reckless, and I regret to say, continually increasing
wastefulness, in the use of water which seems to prevail almost
When the water was brought in, he said, an assumption was made
that 28^2 gallons or at the most 30 would be a sufficient supply for
each inhabitant. That, it was thought, would be more than adequate
for all the public, domestic and manufacturing purposes. It was
also assumed that seven and one half million gallons a day would
not be needed until a population of 250,000 was reached. Yet the
use at the time was nearly forty nine gallons to each individual
of the City. If the waste did not stop, cautioned the Mayor, the
water would have to be refused to a certain class of taker and the
City thus deprived of a large portion of its revenue, or another
main must be laid from Brookline at great expense.
"Some of the consequences have now been stated," the Mayor
continued, "and I would earnestly caution the City Council, and
through it our fellow citizens, and everyone who has the means and
opportunity of enjoying the blessings which an abundant supply of
water, at so much cost, has been furnished, that the supply thought
1. Boston City Document 1-1853
amply sufficient for all necessary useful purposes, is of course
limited to those purposes; and that the City's works are entirely
inadequate to supply long, the present increasing and wasteful
consumption of it".
It was not until May 20th, 1851 that the Water Board could
report the completion of the purchase of the Jamaica Plain Aqueduct
Corporation, but in the essence all they had purchased was the
Corporation's works. By that time the doomed Company was down to
a mere 35 users in the City. The flow of its water was cut off at
Tremont Street. Those Works represented one of the earliest
attempts in America to supply water to many users from a central
source through a system of mains and service pipes. Financially,
it had its good and poor days and its demise represented the end
of the ownership of Water Works by private parties. It had managed
for 56 years to supply fresh and pure water to parts of the Town
and City of Boston. Its Pond, today as then, a thing of great
beauty, was eventually to form one of the brightest jewels in
Frederick Law Olmstead's beautiful emerald necklace through the City.
The warnings against waste went unheeded, the consumption
unchecked. By 1853 the average daily per capita use was 55 gallons.
Again the greatest of any City in the world having Water Works.
Rates to commercial customers were raised in hopes of stemming the
growing use and the City Engineer was ordered to attempt to find
the cause of the waste.
He went about his assigned task by measuring the use of the
water in those four hours, midnight to four o'clock in the morning,
when usage was assumed to be lowest. To his astonishment, the amount
taken was 885,000 gallons, or a twenty-four hour use of over 5,000,000
At first he attributed the suprisingly large amount to 1-eaks in the
systems, but a check proved this not to be the case. He then metered
large users of water and found that one hotel had a daily consumption
of 25,539 gallons for 58 days and another 17,441 for 70 days. After
the meters discovered the large use, it dropped dramatically.
The overuse of the Works was beginning to affect the level at
the Beacon Hill Reservoir, making the high service imperfect. At
times the level of water stood at four and even as low as ten feet
below the ground level of the Reservoir. What a calamity, the
Engineer thought, if fire should break out when the head of the
water was insufficient or when the water was not even attainable.
It was time, he concluded, that the Council must think of another
main from the Brookline Reservoir or the use of steam to raise a
sufficient quantity into the reservoir for the High Service. Unable
to control the waste, the City was inexorably marching to the point
where it did not wish to go - finding an additional source of water.
The Chief Engineer also suggested metering all water and charging
a water rate in direct proportion to the quantity used.
Repairs to the Aqueduct were started and concluded .in 1854.
There was a problem of accretions in the pipes and they had to be
cleaned out. It was felt by the Water Borad that their rate of
growth had diminished, but that the precise origin of the build
up had to be found and, if possible, the means of preventing it
In their report of 1855, the Water Board stated that they
believed the whole length of pipes of four inches and upward,
now laid, including hydrant branches, had nearly completed the
whole works within the City, as the streets and populated areas
of the city then existed, One hundred ten and four-f if iths miles
of pipe had been laid, 960 stop cocks istalled, 17,999 service
pipes had been connected to the mains, and 1,210 hydrants built.
An additional charge of one dollar to dwelling houses and a rate
of five dollars upon each house where there was a water closet or
bathing tub was imposed.
For the first time since it had been selected as the source
of the City's water supply, a deterioration of the quality of the
Cochituate water had been detected. The condition was universally
prevalent and not only a source of much annoyance, but it also
elicited concern for the welfare of the City. The condition was
first noticed in October of 1855, To some it consisted of a peculiar
fish^like taste, to the ma;jority, however, it was the taste of
cucumber or some similiar vegetable, The taste was sometimes
accompanied by a disagreeable smell. The Board, at first, assumed
the problem was in the pipes and had them flushed out but the taste
got worse not better. It was also observed that the mysterious
condition disappeared from water that was left standing a few days
after being drained from the works,
. As they had more than once before, those concerned with the
City's water turned to Dr. Horsford of Cambridge for help. He and
Dr. C.T. Jackson of Boston were appointed to see what they could
find out. They both concluded, after working independently of
each other, that the impurity in the Lakes water was caused by the
decomposition of vegetable matter existing in the Lake, probably
brought about by the long and severe drought of last summer and
to the subsequent rains acting on the peculiar soil of a part of
the Lake and over the whole watershed. They both believed that
the condition would clear up naturally.
On April 9, 1855, the Cochituate Water Board declared all
the Works completed, nine years after the project had begun. All
that was needed now was maintenance and connecting up of new
customers. A year later they knew that they had been wrong. The
daily draw from the Brookline Reservoir had grown to 10,436,300
wine gallons and the mains from it to the City were insufficient
for such a supply. On some days demand was so great that head
dropped as much as ten feet. The next year the Board reported
that a new dam at the outlet of the Lake and an additional pipe
of 36 inches laid 985 feet across the Charles River Valley had
been completed. If the present rate of consumption, 12,726,072
gallons daily continued, the Board warned the present supply would
soon be exhausted. The Finance Committee voted to borrow $300,000.
to construct an additonal main from the Brookline Reservoir and
it was voted to increase the penalty for waste. (Hopper Closets
had increased from 648 in 1854 to 3,215 in 1856),
The City Council's Ordinance against waste placed a two dollar
fine on those it found unnecessarily wasting the water. If the
waste did not stop in two days, the water was to be cut off and an
additional two dollar fine imposed. For a second offense, the
fine would be four dollars and if this were not paid, the water was
to be cut off and not put back until the cause of the complaint was
remedied. The charge to reinstate the water was two dollars. In
1858, the water rates were substantially increased, some even doubled.
But nothing seemd to work against the mounting waste.
To a young Mr. Reuben Ware, the awful roar he heard on that
March day in 1859, was inexplicable until he reached the spot where
the iron pipes of the Water Works to the City of Boston crossed
the Charles River Valley, A great avalanche of wood, stone, trees,
and earth was being carried into the river by the water which until
now had passed unseen through the pipes. The pipe crossing the valley
had broken away from where it connected to the rest of the aqueduct
and tons of water were spurting out. The young man had the presence
of mind to run to his house and mount a horse for a dash to Lake
Cochituate, where he informed Mr. Knowlton, the Gate Keeper, who
promptly shut off the flow of water from the Lake. That prevented
further damage, but a great amount had already been done.
The huge wall of debris had quickly blocked the river and
already it was backing up, flooding the surrounding territory.
And the frightening possibility that the complete break in the
system of delivering the water raight not be repaired by the time
all water in the Brookline Reservoir had been used, thus denying
the City any water at all, was a real one.
The stone gate house and nearly 100 feet of the brick conduit
had been torn away and carried, with several connecting pipes, a
distance of 75 to 100 feet. The Water Board immediately dispatched
all its men to the scene. Work to repair the break began at once,
but was severely impeded by a violent rain. As many men as were
needed were found, and soon the small army was of a size that
sufficient food and shelter could not be found in the vicinity.
Many workmen had to be sent into the City at night and returned
in the morning.
The Water Board had a bit of luck, though, Ordinarily its
normal supply of pipe on hand would not have been sufficient for
repairs but fortunately they had an extra supply of 30 and 36
inch pipe on hand, thus avoiding a delay in the repairs. The
pipe was connected temporarily to a new gate house that would be
constructed far inward from the old one on April 2nd, after five
days and four nights of intensive effort.
The connection was made through one of the pipes and the
following night through another. On the following Thursday, after
thus assuring the City of its supply of water, a new gate house
was constructed. The connections were made just in time, for the
task of shutting down the Works in the City and already begun,
commercial users first. In answer to the Water Board's appeal,
the households had cut thier daily usage from 9,000,000 gallons
to 3,000,000 gallons (an indication as much as anything of the
extent of the waste) .
A Mr. Curtis was kind enough to allow the debris to be piled
on his property until it could be carted away. The job of cleaning
the River proved arduous and, not counting the cost of the pipe,
the expense of the near disaster was $15,380.73.
(The Water Board had a Gold Medal struck and presented it to
the quick-witted Reuben Ware) .
The second main from the Brookline Reservoir to the City was
completed and connected on the day before Christmas of 1859, It
had cost $404,254.87 or $13.07 a linear foot for its roughly 23,000
feet of length. It worked well as the height of the water in the
Beacon Hill Reservoir rose six feet over its previous average.
In their annual report of 1860, the Members of the Water
Board were very pleased to say that "it seems as if we might now
fairly conclude that the individual consumption of water had come
to its maximum - the variation in three years not exceeding one
gallon (per person) " 12h to 73 gallons. They were unfortunately
wrong and had to report a "fearful example" by indicating the
consumption in 1861 had risen to 97 gallons per inhabitant. A
consumption that might be sustained if the rainfall at Lake
Cochituate averaged its usual SSh inches of rain each year, but
if the rainfall should diminish to an average of 48 3/4, the
supply would be inadequate, let alone the delivery system.
Willing by now to try all known methods of cutting down
on waste the Water Board considered adopting the plan of the
New York Works. This required City approval of all fixtures to
be licensed and certified as competent by already licensed
plumbers. It also required them to report each month on what
they expected to install and be duly bonded. (The New York
system also required the plumbers to be Native Americans) .
In 1862, partially as a result of its inability to stop
the waste, the composition of the Water Board was changed. It
would be, from then on, composed of six civilians, two members
of the Common Council and one of the Board of Aldermen. They
were to serve staggered three year terms. The new Board was
no more successful than its predecessors and in December of
1864, the water level at the Lake, from a combination of heavy
draw and a dry fall and winter, fell dangerously low. A system
of inspection of household plumbing and installation of meters
was tried. Many fixtures were found out of order, the meters
were far from perfect but worked particularly well, ofter cutting
consumption of large users in half. A fact that led the Board
to conclude that no less than half the water supplied the City
was being wasted.
The 1866 annual report of the Cochituate Water Board was
submitted to the Joint Committee on water on May 20th, to conform
with the City's fiscal year which ended on April 30th. In it
the Board reported that when the East Boston Reservoir's water
filled above ten feet, it leaked. They, as yet, had been unable
to locate where in any particular part of the puddle bank the
defect might be. The Hopper Water Closets continued to cause
waste. Many owners of that device of convenience believed that
in order to keep them clean a steady trickle of water should
constantly run through them. The Board maintained that they
would be more sanitary with one flush of one or two quarts of
water. The Works once thought essentially finished began to
grow again. It was decided to build another larger reservoir
outside the City at Chestnut Hill in Brighton and Newton. When
it was completed, the Reservoir in Brookline would be emptied,
given a much needed cleaning and a leaky gate house fixed.
The Water Board did not escape the labor unrest that was
fermenting towards the end of the nineteenth century. Although
the Board maintained that their employees were well treated and
well paid, without notice on March 2, 1867, 235 of them walked
off the job. Their demand was for an increase in their wages which
stood at one dollar and fifty cents a day. The Board, in their
report to the Committee on water, claimed to have later found out
that the fault lay in a few restless individuals. Within a few
days, most of the men, many of whom lived quite close to their
jobs and were respectable family men, were back of the job, the
Board said, indicating the strike was a failure. Never- the-less ,
the daily wage was raised to one dollar and seventy five cents
on May 4th.
$710,000. had been appropriated for the Chestnut Hill Reservoir
and by November of 1867, $643,000, had been spent. The Board
estimated that it would need $200,000. and an additional $200,000.
for the planned 40-inch mains into the City.
The town of "Rocksburie" , so called because of the abundance
of pudding stone found there, was settled by men of substance,
merchants and artisans from the Western Counties of England in
1630 or 1631. It prospered and was, in many ways, more historical
than its larger sister across the narrow neck of land which peri-
lessly connected it with Boston. After years of debate, those
relatively few citizens who held the franchise, voted 1,832 Yeas
to 592 Nays to allow the by then City of Roxbury to be annexed
to the City of Boston. The annexation would take effect on January
6, 1868. One of the reasons that the annexation party won the
day was was the knowledge that Roxbury could be tied into the
Cochituate Water. What frightened some of the Water Board and
other members of the Boston City Government was whether the Boston
Water Works as they then stood had the capacity to supply the
amount the new section of the City would require.
To determine just what the need would be, circulars were left
at every house and place of business. One thousand and one said
they would take the water, 390 said maybe. A general route was
chosen to bring the water to Roxbury. A main would be connected
to the present 36-inch main at the junction of Lowell and Washington
Streets. A twenty-four inch main would carry the water through
Washington, Dudley and Eustis Streets, to East Street, then branch
off from that with smaller pipes, extending into those streets on
the high ground where water was then most needed.
As a matter of economy, metallic grates, hydrants and service
pipes would be put in as fast as the several mains were laid. The
Boards asked for two appropriations, one of $200,000. to start and
and one of $250,000. to complete the proposed work.
The Board didn't get the money. There was much powerful
opposition to an early supply of Cochituate water for 'Roxbury.
The reasons given were the same as given in opposition to bringing
the water to Boston and by some of the same men, for sections of
Roxbury, particularly around Jamaica Pond, contained the summer
homes of men of wealth of Boston. The Water Board confessed that
the opposition stupified them.
But the opposition was victorious only temporarily and eight
miles of main and two of service pipes were laid in the Roxbury High-
land District and water was introduced on the 26th of October,
1868, almost twenty years to the day after it had reached Boston.
A Reservoir was proposed on Roxbury Highlands but the use of stand
pipes was becoming more popular. The Water Board went to Philadelphia
to confer with the Chief Engineer of the Works there, Frederick
Graff, and inspect a stand pipe being erected by him. They also
visited the Chief Engineer of the Cronton Works in New York where
Chief Engineer William L. Dearborn recommended the device.
The Board unanimously agreed that a Stand Pipe would be erected
on a lot known as the "Old Fort" situated on Beech Glen Avenue
on the south and Fort Avenue on the north. The base of the shaft
was to be about one hundred and fifty-eight feet above the tide
marsh level. The interior of the pipe was to be made of boiler
iron, five feet in diameter, of equal size throughout.
The Chestnut Hill Reservoir had been completed, but the Board
asked for another $500,000. to construct a water tight dam or
puddled embankment to protect the aqueduct and embankment, as the
pressure o£ the water in the upper basin had cracked the conduit,
and water was working the way through the embankment, undermining
So large a membership on the Board was now thought to be
cumbersome, so the Ordinance creating it was changed in 1869 to
a makeup of one member of the Aldermen, two of the Common Council
elected annually by their respective bodies and two citizens
elected to serve two years.
Water had still not been brought to Deer Island and the
Board of Directors for Public Institutions urged the Water Board
to do so, since the impending annexation of Dorchester would bring
more "inmates" to the Alms House as other annexations had done
before. The Board reported the Stand Pipe in the Highlands almost
completed, with the pumping engines and boilers in working order.
The grounds around the stand pipe were so laid out as to be acces-
sible to carriages. It was decided to supply the High Service in
Boston from the same Stand Pipe by making a direct connection. If
successful, the head would be increased one hundred feet, bringing
it almost to the base of the cupola of the State House.
The almost uninterrupted record of spending beyond their
estimates which each Commission or Board of the Works compiled
did not escape the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, By 1870 it had cost
$2,277,616.00 and they needed, they told the Joint Committee on
Water another $259,120.95 to complete it.
The year 1870-1871 brought with it a severe drought, so much
so that the water level at Lake Cochituate was only 4 feet 10/12
inches. Two pumps were put into service to force the water into
the conduit. And, though it was not their history to do so, the
water users of Boston managed to conserve so that the quantity
used decreased by 62,700 gallons a day. Rain, as it always had in
this moisture rich section of the Country, eventually restored
the Lake to its normal level.
Because the Boston High Service District was now supplied
from the Fort Hill Stand Pipe; because the increased quantity
of water used made its previous generous supply now only one
fiftieth of days need and because of the impending 40-inch main
the reservoir on Beacon Hill
directly to the City from the Chestnut Hill/was no longer needed
and the Water Board proposed to sell it. They felt the proceeds
from the sale would be enough to pay for the main from Chestnut Hill.
The Cochituate Water Board was not the only such entity
supplying water in the Metropolitan Area. The Mystic Water Board
had been formed to supply the Town of Charlestown. When the City
Council instructed the Cochituate Board to supply East Boston with
a supply of water at the earliest moment possible, the Board replied
that the annexation of Roxbury and Dorchester made them doubt that
the Boston Water Works had the capacity to do the job. They suggested
that they purchase water from the Mystic Board to supply both East
Boston and Deer Island. Not only will this be more economical,
they pointed out precluding an addition to the Boston Works, but
the head would be far greater coming from the Mystic Lake than from
Cochituate. The supply commenced in January of 1870 and, as a
condition of the contract until the water debt of the City of
Charlestown was extinguished, revenues from the sale of the Mystic
Water for East Boston and DeeT Island must be used for" the purpose
of reducing that debt.
But not everyone supported the scheme. Many questioned why
the City, which they believed had to have an abundant supply of
water after spending so much on its Works, had to go to the large
annual expense of purchasing some from Charlestown.
The Water Board knew that the supply from Cochituate was in
real danger of proving inadequate, and soon. The only solution,
was to find an additional source. They turned to the Su dbur>'
River. Their plan, when the Legislature gave them the proper
authority, was to take the Sudbury River and use it to fill Lake
Cochituate, and then to build a new and independent conduit of
liberal proportions to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. They believed
that they received the necessary authority just in time, since
the pressure on the existing conduit which was not built to
deliver the huge amount it naw was, was being threatened with
serious mishap, especially in cold weather when people ran the
water to prevent the pipes from freezing up.
To do the necessary surveys which would determine the best
route from the Sudbury to Lake Cochituate and thence to the Chestnut
Hill Reservior, they sent to Chicago for Mr. Chesbrough. He
cheerfully replied that he would be delighted to come. Since the
Water Board was convinced this large new supply would forever,
or at least for a very long time, satisfy all the needs of the
City, they wished to start its construction immediately, and
could they have $500,000. as start up mgney, they asked the city
There was some objection to the quality of the water of the
Sudbury River which, like all River water, was subject to periods
when it contained decayed vegetable life. The problem could be
alleviated, it was known, by storing the water for a time and
exposing it to the air. They proposed storage basins on the River
itself, and diverting some of the River to Farm Pond, which would
act as a natural storage reservoir.
The Boston Water Works were expanded once again with the
annexation of Charlestown in 1873. Under the terms of the Annexation
the Mystic Water Board was to remain as it was until the City
Council of Boston decided to merge it with the Cochituate. But
some in City Government felt that the rapid growth of the City
required a new Water Board and held out the possibility of going
to the State Legislature to create one.
In 1874, there was considerable discussion regarding finding
an additional supply of water for Charlestown - East Boston by
connecting the Mystic Lake with the Shawshine, Concord and Merrimack
Rivers, or one of them, or by use of the Old Middlesex Canal, which
because of the arrival of the Railroad had become obsolete- as a'
means of transport.
The City of Boston was slowly but inexorably taking or planning
to take for its own use much of the watershed of Eastern Massachusetts.
The objection of the Citizens of Framingham in 1846 that their water
should not be taken to feed the wasteful habits of the City's had
by now become a fact. Yet the City did not exist in a vacuum and
its growth was being matched, in different measure, by the Cities
and Towns which surrounded it. Talk of metropolitization in the
quest for water was beginning to accelerate.
In their annual report of 1874, the Cochituate Water Board
"It seems proper to take into consideration in this supply
of water the Towns of West Roxbury, Brookline, Newton, Brighton,
and Hyde Park, all of which, as well as Boston, are situated upon
an island formed by the Harbor, and the Charles and Neponset Rivers
and their connecting stream, Mother Broo/k-'-
It hardly admitted to subdivision while the growth of Boston
continuted unabated. In 1870, not yet fifty years after the small
Town had abandoned that form of Government and had become a City,
its population was 287,787. In fifty years it was supposed there
would be 987,919 living there, almost a million inhabitants.
The attempt to supply the needs of so many at the expense of
the surrounding Communities would be unconscionable, and dangerous.
Foresighted men began to take seriously the necessity of a Metro-
politan Water and a Metropolitan Sewer System.
The City Council felt that the time had now come for the merger
of the Cochituate and Mystic Water Boards into the Boston Water
Board. The Board would consist of three members, each serving
staggered three year terms and appointed by the Mayor. The City
Engineer would be Consulting Engineer to the Board. The revenues
of the Mystic Lake Works would be kept in a separate account and
continued to be used to pay off the bonds sold to build those works.
The necessary Ordinance was passed on April 16, 1874.
The City Council had appropriated the $500,000. to begin
surveys and landtakings along the route o£ the Works from the
Sudbury River, but strong contention by some of the land owners
who faced loss of their property that the present Water Board
lacked the legal authority of emminent domain, caused the Council
to hesitate. Some agreed that indeed the property owners might,
as they had threatened to do, get injunctive relief.
Mayor Cobb pointed out to them his dilemma, the Water Board
had either to continue the taking of the necessary property or pay
the contractors off and close down the project. If, he maintained,
the present Water Board had not the required power which he believed
they had then the Council itself certainly had it under the Original
Water Act, and could delegate it to the Board. The majority agreed
with him and decided the work should continue.
The last report of the Cochituate Water Board, that of March
1876, reported substantial progress on the Farm Pond to Chestnut
Hill conduit which would be 15 3/4 miles long. It had been divided
into 20 sections for construction purposes. The Board, which had
first met on January 2, 1851, reported that the total cost of the
Boston Water Works as of May 1, 1876, had been $11,994,479.78.
There was some grumbling from the owners of manufactories in
the City to the effect that the cost of Boston water was higher
than other cities and they were finding it difficult to compete.
The Common Council requested the Board to reduce the cost from two
pennies per hundred metered gallons to one.
The new Water Board was appointed by the Mayor on July 6, 1876,
confirmed by the City Council on July 25th and entered upon their
duties on the 31st. Timothy T. Sawyer, Chairman,
The Board immediately realized that they were beset with claims
for damages along the route of Sudbury Water Works. They hired
the distinguished (Civil War General, Governor of Massachusetts)
lawyer, Benjamin F. Butler. He was assited by Linus M. Child, Esq.
to represent the City.
The Board reported the Cochituate Department in good shape
and the Lake with the help of the Sudbury water had a good supply.
The Engineer recommended that a third engine with a capacity of
3,000,000 gallons and a new boiler be erected at once for the high
service, but they demurred, feeling that high service equipment
would be abandoned in a few years in favor of a pumping station
at Chestnut Hill. The Mystic Division was also found to be in good
shape. They granted a h. cent decrease in the metered water charge
to manufacturers instead of the full penny which had been requested.
The other members of the Board were Leonard R. Cutter and Albert
Stanwood. By 1879 the Sudbury River ' Farm Pond Works were fully
operational - 10,271,800 gallons per day were being sent to the
Chestnut Hill Reservoir, 411,300,000 gallons had been diverted to
Lake Cochituate. The average daily consumption from Mystic Lake
was 8,883,470 gallons, and from Cochituate - Sudbury 25,696,900
for a total of 34,580,370. Henry W, Wightman was the City Engineer
and Consulting Engineer to the Water Board. Nevertheless, despite
this availability of so huge a supply, the members of the Board
were constrained to say in their 1881 annual report;
"IVith all the appliances at the command o£ the City, it is
still a work of difficulty to keep the resources of the Works
equal to the growing demands made upon them, and the Board often
finds themselves in the embarrassing position of being obligated
to refuse applications for extensions and use of the water, esp-
ecially in the high service districts, as a result".
The Board asked permission to enlarge the works once again,
in several important aspects. It was already building a new
storage basin on the Sudbury River.
The Legislature, on April 15, 1881, gave the City authority
to place meters on any building it supplied with water, except in
cases of tenements containing from one to three tenements, in which
case they would have to get permission of the owner. In all tene-
ments the owner would be responsible for the water bill.
The Lake Cochituate water once more turned sour, and then was
shut off, allowing extensive cleaning and repairs to the aqueduct.
The plan of the Water Board to sell the abandoned Beacon Hill Reservoir
and to get some money to pay for some of the cost of the Chestnut
Hill Reservoir works seemed in jeopardy when on November 27, 1880,
the City seized the reservoir. The plan of the City was to build
a Court House there. (After much bickering, the Water Board did
get it back, where upon it sold it to the Commonwealth of Massa-
chusetts, On the foundation of the Beacon Hill Reservoir now
stands the State House Annex, The foundation of that Annex with
its basement and sub-basement, attests to the fact that the space
once held millions of gallons of water, Workers there say it's
still damp) . The residents of Noodle Island were complaining
again. When they continually complained that the Mystic Lake
■water was awful, the East Boston Works were detached from that
source and put on the Cochituate - Sudbury supply. They now
groused about the lack of pressure. There were only two solutions
to the problem they were told. Back to Mystic Water or increase
the size of the pipe from Boston. But the Board thought that the
$80,000. that it would cost was too much. What they would do was
to put a (Deacon) meter to work, the consequent decrease in use
would increase the pressure, they were sure.
In 1883, the City Council wanted the Water Board to tell them
why there were still two Water Registrars, one for the Sudbury-
Cochituate Works and one for the Mystic, The Board reminded the
Council that at first the two had to be separate to make sure the
income from the Mystic was used to retire the Mystic Water Bonds
and since the system had worked so well, they haden't bothered to
change it. Some Councilors suspected patronage. On January 31,
1896 the Boston Water Board was abolished and replaced by a Water
Department to be over seen by one Commissioner.
Although the City had an existing law changed in 1884 to allow
it to go to the Supreme Judicial Court to obtain injunctions against
anyone found polluting its water supply, the supply quality cont-
inued to deteriorate. In May of 1886, a committee to investigate
the problem had been appointed by the Suffolk County District
Medical Society. It found the tributaries to Wedge Pond, which
emptied in Mystic Lake and the upper portions of the Lake itself
were still being contaminated by tanneries and other factories.
The tanneries not connected with the Mystic sewer built by the
City were attempting to minimize pollution by subsidence and
filteration, but the results of those methods were entirely un-
satisfactory, the Doctors said. As also were the attempts to cure
the problem of the discharge from pirvies, water closets and sinks.
Even when the inhabitants took the trouble to discharge their
waste into cess pools, the solids, Doctors George S. Shuttuck and
Henry J. Barnes concluded, could hardly be expected to depurate
before they reached streams by subsoil currents. Since the City
was contemplating abandoning the Mystic as soon as an additional
source could be found, the Committee recommended that a connection
be made on the south side of the Charles River so the Cochituate
water could be brought to Charlestown.
The City was having trouble with its meters. In a report to
Mayor O'Brien, a commission appointed to test their effectiveness
stated that the tenement meters were worthless and the Crown and
Worthinton Meters almost the same. When the Water Commissioners
purchased the Jamaica Plain Aqueduct Corporation, they ended up
only buying the rights to supply water to Boston. Now the corp-
oration wanted to sell all its property to the City. This action
was urged on the City Council. The price was $100,000. and since
the Pond and adjoining property would soon be needed for the new
Parks system it seemed the best thing to do. If the price was un-
satisfactory to the City, then three men, one each appointed by
the parties to the transaction and the third by the other two would
decide the price. The act of 1886 which gave the City the authority
to purchase the property required acceptance by a two-thirds vote
o£ the City Council and the Council did not give it.
In 1889, the City Council gave authorization to the Water
Board to take more of the land around the Sudbury River and more
o£ its watershid and to build a fifth basi'$, the cost of which
would be $1,045,000.
Continually displeased as to the effectiveness of its water
meters, the City began in 1890 to require monthly reports on how
any were out of service, sold, being repaired or purchased.
As was the custom, men were laid off during the winter months
when no construction could take place. The Aldermen inquired if
the remaining work force, 27 men in the Eastern Division and 62 in
the Mystic could not be put on half time so some of the men laid
off could have work. No, they were told, since those retained were
not common laborers, but men whose skill was required to keep the
Because of the scandal allegedly involving one of the members
of the Water Board, an allegation which was never proven, there
was an attempt in 1891 to do away with the Water Board and delegate
its duties to the City Engineer. The Corporation Council ruled
that this could not be done since the legislation under whose
authority the Board functioned required three members.
It was decided that the sixth basin on the Sudbury River had
to be built, although Basin number 4 and 5 were not as yet completed,
This latest basin would have a capacity of 1,500,000 gallons. The
dam across the valley would be 1,500 feet in length and consist
of an earth embankment with a center core wall of concrete extending
to bed rock. It was to be located in the towns of Ashland and
Hopkington. The core was 8 feet thick ^t the base and abput 3
feet at the top of the dam.
By this time, 1894, the Water Board had been split into what
were essentially three Departments; Engineering, for the construction
and maintainance of the Works, under the City Engineer; the Water
Income Department for the assessing and collection of the rents
under the Water Registrar; and the Water Supply Department, in
charge of seeing to the quality and quantity of the water, under
the charge of the Water Board. In this way, those who wished to
abolish the three member Water Board had effectively lessened
their power and responsibilities.
Desmond Fitzgerald, who was later to write a brief history
of the works, was the Engineer for the Water Supply Department in
1895. In his report of that year, Fitzgerald's superior, the
City Engineer, reported that the daily average use of water was
41,500,000 gallons from Cochituate - Sudbury. Since the capacity
of the works was estimated to be 46,650,000, it was evident that
availability of supply might be inadequate before Basin number
five could be completed. The average daily use from Mystic was
11,500,000, far in excess of the capacity of those works.
The year was exceptionally dry and the water became so low
at the Mystic that sea water had seeped into the Mystic and 40,000
people in Ckarlestown had to be supplied from Cochituate - Sudbury
for four months. When Basin number 5 is completed the capacity
of the Works will be 61,500,000 gallons and since daily consumption
is now 57,000,000 that quantity will soon exceed the supply, The
Mystic soon must be abandoned as the quality of water is no
longer acceptable and getting worse, and there are too. many people
living on the watershed to make imporvements worthwhile. The
completion o£ Basin 5 will complete the Sudbury Works, so it is
apparent that, once again, anothe source o£ additional supply
must be found for the City voracious lust water.
The present Works also required expansion. The increased
use of the water in the High Service Area made the supply Mains
from the Fisher Hill (Corey Hill) Reservoir and those in the
Roxbury District inadequate to furnish a supply without an excessive
loss of head. At times the Parker Hill Reservoir in the Roxbury
District has been nearly emptied and the people on the higher
land have been entirely deprived of their supply. The City Engineer
recommended the laying of a 46- inch pipe from the juncture of
Fisher Hill Avenue and Boylston Street to the corner of Huntington
Avenue and Heath Street, with a connection at Wait Street for the
supply of the Parker HillReservoir and another branch of a 36-inch
main to be carried through Heath Street to across the Roxbury
District, The new pumping engine at Chestnut Hill and Mystic
stations will furnish sufficient pumping capacity, he was sure,
to meet the requirments at those stations for the next five years.
As a result of the investigation by the Metropolitan Water
Commission into the problems and potentials of supplying with
water an ever rapidly growing Metropolitan Area, where a large
number of the Citizens of Massachuestts lived, the Great and Gen-
eral Court, in a truely historical action, created on June 5, 1895,
by enactment of Chapter 488 of the acts of 1895, a Metropolitan
Water Board, the first in the nation.
The three Commissioners appointed by the Governor were to
see water for the inhabitants of the Cities of Boston, Chelsea,
Everett, Maiden, Medford, Newton, and Somerville and the Towns
of Belmont, Hyde Park, Melrose, Revere, Watertown and Winthrop.
That ambitious beginning was to grow into the massive Water Works,
a first unique, and still the envy of many water short Metropolitan
Areas. The system today supplies thirty-four Cities and Towns with
well over 116 billions of gallons of water a day.
The Commissioners were to take all of the Boston Water Works
outside the boundaries of the City which they felt they needed for
their purposes. In addition to the City's existing sources the
new entity would take water from the Nashua River at a point above
the dam at Lancaster Mills in the Town of Lancaster.
As the first step in the metropolitization of water supply,
the new Board hooked up to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir conncetions
to the Mains of Somerville and Chelsea and tied the Charlestown
section of Boston into Spot Pond.
On January 1, 1898, the Metropolitan Water Board made a
taking of the sources of supply outside the City of Boston,
including basins, aqueducts, mains, etc., except the Fisher Hill
Reservoir and the Sudbury River Works.
It had been fifty years, one month and seven days since the
arrival on that joyous day of the pure, cool and healthy water of
Long Pond - Lake Cochituate. The total cost of the Boston Water
Works had been $26,180,203.26. Loans totaling $17,911,273,98 of
that amount were still outstanding. "
In the early part of the last half of the Nineteenth
Century, the American correspondent of the London Times wrote
to his Editor that if you stood long enough outside Ticknor's
.Old Corner Book Store at School or Washington Streets in
Boston, you would eventually encounter the greater part of the
intelligence of the New World.
He was correct, of course. Thoreau, Emerson, Whittier,
Lowell would eventually be by, as would the great Divines whose
firey oratory provided the moral impetus for the Civil War:
William Lloyd Garrison, Edward Everett Hale, and John Freeman
To that time Boston was essentially an English Town where
one might walk from one end to the other in a liesurely day's
effort. There was a section for those who practiced the Law;
one for those engaged in Commerce; another for Banking and
every participant in each endeavor was sure to know his fellows
By the turn of the Century, however, the changes in the
City were profound. Its growth, caused by both heavy immigration
and the annexation of Roxbury, Charlestown, and Dorchester had
been phenomenal. In 1900 its population was one half million
and it ranked with the great Cities of America in number of in-
habitants , progress and commerce, if not in physical size.
It had become obvious, as it had in 1822 when Boston abandoned
the town form of Government to establish itself as a City, that
the City's growth and complexity required a restructuring of
its Government. In 1909 a new Charter was adopted ending the
bicameral Board of Aldermen and Common Council and substituting
for it a City Council, one Councillor to be elected from each
Ward. That new Charter also strengthened the hand of the Mayor
delineating the power of that office and of the Council along
the lines of administrative and legislative branches.
One result of the new structure was the combining of three
heretofore independent departments whose fuctions were obviously
closely related - Water and Sewer, Engineering and Street laying out
In 1910, Mayor John H. Fitzgerald signed an Ordinance incorporating
those functions into a department of Public Works. The ordinance
stipulated that the Department be headed up by "a Civil Engineer
of recognized standing in his profession." Mayor Fitzgerald, with
the approval of the Council, selected L.K. Bourke to be the first
Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, an agency which
was to see to the delivery of most of the essential services
the City provided for its citizens.
Since the City was no longer in the business of seeking a
supply of water , its function now was to see to it that delivery
system in the City was kept in the proper condition. F.A.
Mclnnes, the new head of the Water and Sewer Divisions of the
Department of Public Works found the Water Works to be in
good shape, recently improved by the extension of the High
Service to Dorchester Valley. Average daily consumption was
85,511,500 gallons, but that represented a reduction in the
daily per capita use from 130 gallons to 124.
He found that he had a personnel problem in the Sewer
Works however, many of his men were quite old Having given a
great number of years to the service of the City. They had
no pension and had to continue to work far beyond the -time
that they could put in a proper days work. He urged the Mayor
and Council to consider providing these men with the means to
In 1916, Mayor James Michael Curley made a decision to con-
tract out most of the Department's work, a decision which forced
the transfer of twenty men to other City Departments. The
water Division was planning to build a much needed pumping station
for the Fire Department in the Downtown area of the City. The
Engineer of the Water Works felt that he had selected the
best possible location, the hill on Boston Common. This good
engineering but poor political decision caused a hue and cry.
Looking elsewhere, he choose the Charlesbank in the vicinity of
Otter Street. By that time Beacon Hill had become fashionable
and its residents influential, "No", they said. They liked his
next choice only slightly better. Under the ground on Charles
Street midway between Beacon and Boylston Streets. The poor
man had finally to settle for a site at the foot of Fort Point
Channel near the old Mount Washington Brdige. A location with-
out a constituency.
The effort to expand the separate systems, one for water and
the other for sewage, continued. In 1917, a new system of
sanitary and storm sewers was laid down Broadway in Dorchester
eventually to run to the Dorchester tunnel which would take
the sewage to Moon island by gravity. Here it would be pumped
up into the two storage reservoirs , there to be held until
the proper flow of the tide allowed to be discharged into the
Harbor to be taken out into Massachusetts Bay on the receding
tide. In theory an effective way to dispose of the waste, in
practice, less so.
Continued extension of the High Pressure Service was also
paramount and Tremont Street was connected to that service in
1918. The number of High Service hydrants in the business
district now stood at 188.
The report of the Department of Public Works in 1923
stated that there was 994.66 miles of common and connecting
sewers laid in 587.86 miles of streets and that the Calf Pasture
pumping station had pumped no less than 32,276,342 gallons of
sewerage in 1922 at a cost a little above $150,000.
Although, "motor vehicles" by 1924 predominated, a goodly
number of horses were still used by both the Water and Sewer
Division. As it had been to his predecessors, the $1,000,000
appropriated annually by the City for Sewer work was inadequate
the Division Engineer stated, especially in view of inflation.
He need 501 more.
Slowly but inexorably the beginning years of the deepening
depression was bringing all work on the system to a halt.
In 1930, only three and one third miles of new sewer line was
laid and less than eight of water pipe. Anticipating the Public
Works that would soon be financed from Washington, Mayor Curley
sought permission from the Legislature to borrow $3,000,000
for the modernizing of the Sewer System and to put as many
men to work as he could. He pointed out that the scheme would
only add a few pennies to the tax rate.
During many years of the history of both the Water and
Sewer Works the City had been forced to react, with little
or no real planning, to continued growth of the City. Where
people went, water and sewer must go, and hopefully first. As
a result, particularly in the case of the High Service, there
were many dead end lines. The construction of the tunnel to
East Boston and the widening of Cross Street provided the
Water Division with the opportunity to tie many of these dead
President Roosevelt's efforts to ease the unemployment
caused by the Depression resulted in most of the work of the
Water Division in 1937 being done not by the Department of the
Public Works but by the Work Projects Administration, the Water
Division merely acting in the capacity of Supervising Engineer.
The 2,500 men employed by the DPW in 1938 was the lowest number
employed since the Department had been established.
More of the slowly disappearing from view Stoney Brook, this
time a section in West Roxbury, was covered over by the WPA.
One of the steam pumps at Calf Pasture was beyond repair
and it was decided to replace it with an electric one. The
new machinery worked so well, the Commissioner considered re-
placing the other steam pump with an electric one also. The
operation of the steam pipe took eight men. The newly created
Water Income Division reported a surplus of $654,998.45 instead
of the deficits that had prevailed in previous years. The
method used to collect delinquent accounts was to lower the
water pressure of the culprit, not so far as to endanger
health, but low enough to make things uncomfortable. .
In 1942, the Water Division was further restructured to
include Water, Engineer, and Distribution Branches and a
Business Office. Just as it had done in the years of the
Depression, the advent of the second World War virtually halted
all construction and much maintenance activity in both the
Water and Sewer Works as more and more men were given leaves
of absence to go off to War. Much work was contracted out, but
the private contractors had their own problems obtaining the
necessary menand material. The situation held some irony since
the cause of the shortage of men and material, the War, also
created an increased demand for water and sewer services as
government agencies and the private sector expanded in the
War effort. The lack of work and the increased prosperity
brought on by the War resulted in a surplus in the Water Division
of $1,350,224.10 in 1944.
By War's end a great amount of maintenance work had accumulated
and those veterans who choose to return to the Water and Sewer
Division were put to work immediately. It was assumed that
the dismantling of the War effort would decrease the demand for
extention of the Works, but the great post-war desire of couples
to own a home of their own resulted in large scale building in
areas of the City heretofore only sparsely settled. Once again,
the Water and Sewer Divisions found themselves in a period
The Engineer of the Sewer Department was pleased to note
in his 1948 Annual Report to the Commissioner of Public Works
that the plans for the Sewage Treatment Plant at the Calf
Pasture were almost ready.
In 1889 the Massachusetts Legislature had created a Metro-
pDlitan Sewage District as a companion of the Metropolitan
Water District. By 1895 the Sewer District had extended the
Boston Main Drainage System to communities on the North of
the City and constructed interceptor sewers, pumping facilities
and an outfall on Deer Island. The Metropolitan system was
noA\- uui.ijjiiig uncreateu sewage into the Bay on the North from Deer
Island and the City of Boston equally :itreated waste on the
South from Moon Island. The situation festering like its
products, was becoming intolerable. A third system of sewer
outfalls was built off Nut Island in 1904 compounding the
almost systematic polluting of the Harbor.
In 1940, the Massachusetts Legislature passed Chapter 598
which authorized the City of Boston to build a Treatment Plant
at Calf Pasture. The war interfered. In 1950, Mayor John B.
Hynes returned George Hyland as Commissioner of Public Works
after a five year absence from that position. All Hyland
had of the proposed Treatment Plant was a set of plans. Plans
he did not like. The existing Act authorizing the Treatment
Plant by then called for construction to start not later than
April 1, 1950 and that it be completed by July of 1955. To
comply with the law, Hyland did some token work at the Calf
Pasture, but little else owing, he said, "to the unavailability
of the appropriation."
Hyland realized, as did others, that a partial solution to the
pollution o£ the harbor was no solution at all. It called for a
metropolitan effort. The Metropolitan District Commission built two
deep rock tunnels in 1952, one to bring the raw sewage to Nut Island
where a treatment plant was built. In 1968, a second treatment plant
was built on Deer Island fed from the other rock tunnel. Except for
emergency use during extreme wet weather, the Moon Island outfall is no
longer used. This source and overflow from combined storm water and
sewage sources, particularly affecting Dorchester Bay, the Charles and
Neponset Rivers and the Inner harbor remain sources of Pollution yet, but
suggestions have been made that a series of stormwater treatment stations
would eliminate that situation.
Following activation of the Deer Island Treatment Plant and the opera-
tion of year round chlorination, several beaches in Winthrop were re-opened
and commercial shell fish harvesting in the area was once more allowed.
The idea of a Metropolitan agency for the supplying of water and
the disposal of waste proved irresistable. The Metropolitan District
Commission would eventually supply water, all or part of their need,
to Thirty- four cities and towns and dispose of the waste of forty -three,
most having both services. But, like its ancestor, the Boston Water
Works, the Metropolitan Water Works found the demand constantly threatening
to outstrip the supply.
The Commission, which also has a Park Service and a Police Force, had
finished its works to take water from the Wachusetts River in 1908, but
this source was soon inadequate as more cities and towns joined the system
and demand increased. A permanent solution, it was felt at the time, would
be the creation of a system of Reservoirs on different watersheds,
culminating in the building of the massive Quabbin Reservoir, sixty five
miles from Boston, almost half the distance west across the state.
Taking by the power of Emminent Domain granted to it by the Leg-
islature, all or part of several towns constructed a thirty-nine square
mile Reservoir. This man-made lake stretches 18 miles in length and has
118 miles of shore line. CoD^leted in 1939 it utilizes the Swift River,
a tributary' of the Connecticut . After completion of the massive earthen
dam, at the time the largest in the world, it took seven years for the
Reserv^oir to reach its capacity of 412 billion gallons of water.
Such a great supply to satisfy the demands of so many, had to have
a large delivery system. The water is delivered through an intricate
system of lesser reservoirs, conduits, pumping stations and deep rock
tunnels. It was the completion of one of these tunnels in 1950 which when conn-
ected to the Boston Works, dramatically increased the High Service Pressure
in the city. This in turn allowed for the discontinuance (except in
emergency siutations) of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, which since it had
the low service, increased that services pressure also.
Association with the Metropolitan Systems did not come cheaply. The
assessment for the City for its water in 1952 was $1,636,681.00 and for
the sewers sendees, $574,385.81. In 1953 the Commission doubled its water
rates and Boston consequently increased its to $2.00 for the 1st 20,000
cubic feet, $1.90 for the next 20,000 and $1.70 for the third up to 1,000,000
cubic feet when the charge would be $1.15 per cubic foot.
There had been some conflict over the years as to the responsibility in
certain situations of the Board of Street Commissioners, the Street Lay-
ing out Department and the Water and Sewer Divisions of the Public Works
Department. To remedy the situation, the Public Works Department was re-
structuredin 1955, with all functions o£ the Street Laying out £nd Street
Commissioners having any connection with the Water and Sewer Works being
transferred to the Department of Public Works.
The architects, engineers and builders who had put thousands of tons
of buildings on piles driven through the filled in land of the Back Bay
thought of it as that, man made land, but to Nature it was still a Bay.
There was constant danger that the water level would fall below the tops
of the wooden piles, piles indestructable as long as they were sub-
merged, but quick to rot if not. It was a situation that bore watching
and indeed the Trinity Church in Copley Square, had a Water Level
Committee for just that purpose.
Some time between 1929 and 1933, the Committee concluded that the
City's sewer on St. James Avenue was contributing to the fluctuating water
level beneath their magnificant church. To alleviate the problem, the
city installed a weir and a butterfly gate in the sewer. Meticulous re-
cords kept by the Water Committee indicated that over the years the water
level was generally satisfactory, but not so when the gate was open for a
protracted time. The Water Divisions solution to the problem was to store
water in the Boylston Street surface drain to replace water under the
church as needed.
The hurricane winds of the not so gentle lady called Diane, were
predicted to hit Boston. They did not, but the storms rain did. In
thirty six hours on August 18 and 19, 1955, eleven and ninety four
hundreds inches of rain deluged the city. In one twenty four hour period
of those tu'o days, over eight inches fell. Despite the size they had
grown to over the years, the storm drains and separate sewer were unable
to cope with that amount of water. In the reverse of what was supposed
to happen, water began to run out of sewers and drains rather than into
them. Extensive areas of the South End, Back Bay and Roxbury (the low
lands which had always given trouble), were flooded. The Water Division
was hard pressed to help everyone but with the help of every pump they
could get from Contractors, the Civil Defense Agency and the Fire Department
they managed to pump many out.
The large taskforce of men and machinery had hardly finished that
emergency assistance when the Charles and Neponset Rivers and Mother
Brook reached their crest, flooding the Island section of Hyde Park and
Belnel Village in Dorchester. In some places water reached seven feet
in depth. It was deep enough in the village to require rowboats to rescue
Cellars in those sections could not be pumped out until the water
receded. An attempt was made to lower the depth of flow on the
Neponset and Mother Brook by cleaning debris from the crest of the Union
Waste Paper Mill in Dedham, from Jenkins Dam and the upstream side of the
Central Avenue bridge, both in Dorchester Lower Mills. The owners of the
Jenkins Dam and the Walter Baker Dam were induced to raise the day sluices
to their full openings in order to lower the depth ipstream.
In his report for the year of 1957, the Engineer of the
Water Division was able to report the end of a project which had
gone on for almost one hundred years: "The Stoney Brook has been
entirely closed with a concrete conduit on September 28, 1957."
Robert P. Shea succeeded George Hyland as Commissioner of
PvLblic Works in 1958. He pointed out to Mayor Hynes that the
City every year routinely borrowed $1,000,000 for sewer work
and that the Sewer Division usually received a $150,000 down
payment by July 1st from taxes. But the proceeds of loan came so
late in the year that projects started had to be carried into the
following year. Would the Mayor, he asked, send the request for
authority to borrow to the City Council earlier, or better still,
could he not have a two year appropriation instead of one?
When John Collins took office as Mayor in 1960, his choice
from Commissioner of Public Works was James W. Haley. Edward G.
Powers was Sewer Divion Engineer and Daniel M. Sullivan continued
as Water Division Engineer*. Commissioner Haley's first business
was to reorganize the department. He created four divions,
Engineering, Highway, Sewer and Sanitary. There was also a
central office. Under the Water Division there were to be three
sections, Construction Maintenance and Revenue. Under the
Sewer Division, two. Construction and Maintenance.
Haley divided the City into three areas, each having a
*Daniel M. Sullivan came to work in Water Division, August 23, 1911
and was Division Engineer for many years. His son John P. Sullivan
arrived on April 22, 1948 and himself was Division Engineer, until
being appointed as Director of Operations for the newly created
Boston Water and Sewer Commission in 1977. On May 24, 1972 John's
son, John P. Sullivan, Jr. went to work with the Water Division,
and is now Director of Engineering, or in effect Engineer for
both the Water and Sewer Divisions.
supervisor for each of the divisions and a foreman for the garage in
Up to that time, tax exempt property was being afforded the sewerage
service free on charge. In 1962, the City Council passed an ordinance
charging each of those estates discharging into the City's Sewers at the
rate of $1.00 per cubic foot of water used.
In the early part of the 1960's, Boston was in the midst of a building
boom and that presented an opportunity. For years there had been an on-
going attempt to convert those sewers being used for both water and sewer
discharge to a separate system, one for water and one for sewage, but,
a substantial area of the City still had a combined system that had
not been converted because of the cost to the property owners of changing
their plumbing to accomodate the separate systems. Now, with large sections
of the City being demolished for renewal, particularly the Old West End,
separate systems could be easily built and that was done even in those
sections where no Works would be needed until a later date. This method
would also save money when the anticipated tying in of the Metropolitan
District Sewer took place.
By the decade of the 1960's, Bostons Sewer Works had grown to 1,303.19
miles of common sewers and 40.93 of interceptors; pumping stations at the
Calf Pasture, Union Park Street, Symphony Station, Summer Street and
Sullivan Square. Thepunping station at the Calf Pasture was raising
27,813,000,000 gallons, an average of 76,000,000 gallons of waste each
day at a cost of $7,240,000.
The Water Works had 1,045.5 miles of pipes including 18.64
miles of High Pressure Fire Service, ranging in size from 48 inches and
included gates valves, hydrants and other appurtenances.
After some years of debate as to its location and financial feasibility
a three- level garage with a capacity for automobiles was being constructed
under Boston Common. The Contractor, The Foundation Company of New
York, had piled excavated dirt some twenty-three feet high on thQ base-
ball field there. The weight proved too much for the 42 inch main below
the surface. On Thursday morning, April 21, 1960, it gave way, denying
water to a large section of the City. The contractor worked around the
clock and had normal service restored by 3:00 a.m. on Saturday, the
3rd. The expense, with the exception of $6,000 paid by the City was borne
by the culprit.
As the Federally sponsored Works Project Administration played a
hand in the Water and Sewer Works during the depression, Federal
agencies, looking to refurbish urban areas, would again play a role.
In 1965, using an interest free loan of $211,220.28 granted to the City
by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of
Public Works commissioned the Engineering firm of Camp, Dresser and
McKee to develop the first comprehensive plan for the upgrading of its
system of disposing of sewage, including elimination of its contribution
to the pollution of the Harbor and adjoining waters from its combined sewers.
The consultants offered four alternatives:
1. Complete separation of all sanitary sewage and storm drainage
2. Construction of chlorination detention tanks
3. Construction of surface iiolding tanks
4. Construction of the aeep tunnel plan.
The last one was judged the most efficient and least costly.
It would involve the construction of deep rock storage tunnels,
shafts, transmission tunnels, surface connections, and a main pumping station
on Deer Island. Using this method, the sewage and storm water would be
disposed of well off shore into the Atlantic Ocean, thereby eliminating the
pollution of Boston Harbor and adjacent waters. The cost would be enormous, almost
one half a billion dollars, but the City would have to pay only
$30,000,000 the rest coming from the Federal and State Govern-
ments. The initial construction would be that of a Main
Interceptor and Tributory Conduit, a South Boston Pollution
Control Conduit, and the East Side Interceptor and the cost
would be $37,850,000 of which the City would be responsible
At the midway point of the 1960's, consumption of water in
Boston had risen to 210 gallons per capita daily. Using a HUD
grant of $900,000 the Department of Public Works asked their
consulting engineers to draw plans and specifications for
two 36- inch mains to be built, one in Charlestown and one in
(The system that finally evolved from the planning and
consulting of both the City of Boston and the Metropolitan District
Commission takes the sewage from Boston Proper, South Boston,
parts of Roxbury , Dorchester and West Roxbury to the Deer Island
plant where it is pretreated, primarily treated, chlorinated
and discharged. Sewage from Brighton, Hyde Park, and parts of
Roxbury, Dorchester and West Roxbury flow into the Metropolitan
System and after being treated at the Nut Island Treatment Plant
is discharged) .
(A small portion of the Dorchester and Milton sewage in the
Metropolitan Sewage Area, lying at an elevation too low to drain
into the Metropolitan High Level Sewer is discharged through the
Boston Main Drainage System).
(The Calf Pasture-Moon Island disposal plan is used only when
the weather is so wet that the Metropolitan District Commission
facilities have not the capacity to receive all the sewerage
and drain water. In that event, the effluent is discharged
into the Harbor at Moon Island. The polluting effect is not
too severe since the discharge is overwhelmingly water. The
danger of pollution rises when, for one reason or another, the
MDC facilities cannot take the sewage the City desires it to
and the City is forced to discharge the sewage directly into
the harbor, untreated.)
In order to qualify for the National Pollution Discharge
Elimination System Permit the City needed, the City was
required by the Environmental Protection Agency in 19 76 to re-
place several sewers including the Main intercepting sewer, east
side intercepting sewer (north and south branches) and the
Mt . Vernon Street Sewer. The total cost of the project was
estimated by the Consulting engineers to come to $58,000,000
75% of that sum in Federal Grants and 15% in State Grants.
The total consumption of water by the City of Boston from
July 1, 1976 to June 30, 1977 was 150,381,600 gallons per
The report covering that period from the 1st of July, 1976
to June 30, 1977 would be the last full report that the Water
and Sewer Divisions of the Department of Public Works, City of
Boston would ever issue.
One hundred and forty years had passed since that Saint
Patrick's day in 1837 when on Petition of the City of Boston,
the Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
had enacted a law creating a Commission of three to look into
the locating and procuring a supply of pure, fresh water for
its Capital City. On July 18, 1977, in response to a home
rule petition initiated by Mayor Kevin H. White and approved
by the Boston City Council, the Legislature passed in its
final form chapter 436 of the General Laws. That law created
the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.
The new Commission like the old, would be made up of three
Commissioners, and like the ones which evolved from the first
Commission, would have the exclusive responsibility and matching
power to operate the Boston Water Works and the Boston Sewer
John S. Howe, Chairman of the Commission, Melvin B. Miller,
Vice Chairman of the Commission and Michael J. Rotenberg,
Commissioner, were chosen by the Mayor with the approval of the
City Council to be the latest successors of Hale, Treadwell
and Baldwin. The term of the Commissioners was to be four
years, each one staggered. All three would have to be residents
of the City, one to have extensive experience in the world of
business, and one in the field of accounting and finance.
The Commissioners were to appoint an Executive Director and
they chose Charles Scales as the first one. The Commissioners
also appointed a Treasurer, a Chief Engineer and such other
officers as they deemed appropriate.
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The Executive Director was given the authority ^ with the
approval of the Commission, to employ legal counsel, financial
advisors and other experts he felt necessary to the successful
operation of the Commission. -
The Commission was given the poiver to sue, raise money,
hold property; the power of eminent domain, to set water and
sewer rates, to take whatever action it deemed proper to collect
water rents and sewer charges and to take possession of the physical
plant of the works as they then stood. Upon the signing of
Chapter 436, the Commission issued $45,000,000 in notes, using
$25,000,000 of the proceeds to pay off the accumulated deficits
of the City's water and sewer receipts accounts; pay the Metro-
politan Commission $18,900,000 owed to it for water supplied
and sewage treated. The remaining $1,400,000 was deposited
with the corporate trustee for necessary commission expenses.
From July 18, 1977 to December 31, 1977, the Works were
still operated by the Department of Public Works. On January
1, 1978, the Water and Sewer Commission began to operate them
and the employees of the now defunct Water and Sewer Divisions of
the Department of Public Works, became employees of the
Perhaps the best summation of the long and expensive history
of the Boston Water Works and the Boston Sewer Works is the
reason for its existance as stated in Section I of the law
creating the Boston Water and Sewer Commission:
"It is hereby declared that for the benefit of the people
of the City of Boston, in order that there be an increase in their
commerce, welfare and prosperity and an improvement in their
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living conditions it is essential that the City maintain a
sound, economical and efficient water supply and distribution
system and sanitary sewerage system. . ."