Did you know there was once a massive granite reservoir in Beacon Hill?
Long before the Wachusett and Quabbin Reservoirs that now supply water to Boston, the city’s original municipal water supply was Lake Cochituate, a reservoir in Metro-west. Due to Beacon Hill’s high elevation, the city selected the site behind the recently completed Massachusetts State House, to store and distribute water to the city. The site was too steep, so it had to be graded. Therefore, the top of Beacon Hill, where the beacon had long been standing, needed to be lowered to accommodate the reservoir. The soil was dug by hand and hauled by cart down to fill the old Mill Dam in the Bulfinch Triangle area. The reservoir, which opened in 1849, was unique in its approach. The design of the structure needed to minimize its footprint and reflect well on its surroundings in the prestigious location. In lieu of earthen bermed walls, as was the convention in most period distribution reservoirs, the design chose to create a watertight tank within a masonry structure. This made the structure the first elevated storage tank constructed in New England. Sheet lead was used to make the reservoir watertight (which likely led to a lot of health issues (hindsight is 20/20). By 1870, the poor water pressure made the Boston Waterworks build the Roxbury Standpipe, which relegated the Beacon Hill Reservoir to being an emergency water source for use only in case of fire or accident to the pumping-mains. In 1883, Boston Water Works sold the structure to the Commonwealth, who demolished it for the addition to the State House.
The Town of Hull, Massachusetts was first settled in 1622 and officially incorporated in 1644, when it was named for Kingston upon Hull, England. The town juts out into the Boston Harbor, which historically had provided as a defense for approaching vessels into the harbor. As early as 1673, Telegraph Hill in Hull, was used as the highest point in the Boston harbor area from which signals could be sent warning the approach of vessels. The site was first used as a fort in 1776 to defend the port of Boston. Fort Independence was built on top of the hill in 1776-1777, to be succeeded by the much larger Fort Revere in 1903 (see next post). The first telegraph tower was built on the hill in 1827. Several other telegraph stations later occupied the site until 1938, when radio communications made the site obsolete. Though little of the original Revolutionary-era fort remains, the fort which began construction at the turn of the 20th century lasts as a stunning reminder to the importance of coastal defenses, high atop hills. At the highest point of Telegraph Hill this water tower which rises 120 feet off the ground was built in 1903 for the new Fort Revere as the first reinforced concrete water tower in the United States. At the top of the tower, an observation deck (now closed) was also used to send messages to other harbor defenses. The tower was restored in 1975 was designated an American Water Landmark in 2003. It was periodically open to the public until mid-2012 when it was closed due to safety concerns.
On October 25th, 1848, an estimated one hundred thousand people gathered on the Boston Common and saw a 95-foot high geyser of water from the Brookline Reservoir of the Cochituate Aqueduct gush into the air from the Frog Pond. This was the success of Boston’s first public water supply and aqueduct, and the second major municipally owned aqueduct in the U.S. At that time, beer was often more pure than most urban water, therefore with the introduction of clean drinking water into the city of Boston, it was an opportunity for celebration. This granite gatehouse structure at the Brookline Reservoir housed valve-like “gates,” screens, and meters controlling and measuring the flow of water from the reservoir into three large cast iron pipes which supplied other reservoirs in Boston, and especially one behind the statehouse on Beacon Hill (since demolished for the statehouse additions). The gatehouse was designed by Charles Edward Parker, an architect who was just 20 years old at the time! The surrounding reservoir is now a public park where you can walk on the elevated edge of the water source while learning about local history, whats not to love?!
An adequate water supply for the residents and industry of North Adams was from the late 19th century, an issue of paramount importance to residents. For the next several decades the population grew at such a high rate that a reservoir was required, and in 1914, the Mount Williams Reservoir was planned and constructed. Land was selected where a small Brook passed through and a concrete core dam was designed and built that year to impound the brook. At the waters edge, a gatehouse, once perched upon the shore like a castle, is decaying. The gatehouse is a cylindrical brick structure clad in stucco, capped with a red tiled conical roof. The structure remains active to this day with a more modern structure nearby providing support to North Adams’ waterworks system.
Spanning the Charles River between Upper Falls Village in Newton and Needham, the Echo Bridge, is one of the most stunning structures around Boston. While not technically a building, I couldn’t help but share one of my favorite off-the-grid places to explore in the region.
The bridge served as crossing for water to be transported from the Sudbury River to the growing City of Boston. The entire aqueduct transported water over 18 miles from Farm Pond in Framingham and was stored in the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Boston. Due to the topography of Hemlock Gorge in Newton, a large elevated bridge was required, creating one of the biggest engineering marvels around Boston. George W. Phelps, a contractor from Springfield, MA was selected as the builder of the bridge with a low bid. The 500′ bridge features a total of seven arches, with the largest spanning the Charles River being 137′, the second largest masonry arch span in the U.S. upon its completion.
Echo Bridge is constructed of large granite block and brick, which was held in place by wooden framework until the arches would be able to support their own weight at the top of the arches. Echo Bridge gets its name from the acoustical phenomenon when you stand at the base of the arch at the river and when speaking, the sound reverberates and echoes back and forth.