Massachusetts Archives

Massachusetts Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission, Quabbin Reservoir, Photographs of Contract Construction (selections from), 1928-1947

After years of engineering study and debate, the Commonwealth created the Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission (MDWSC) to build an improved water supply reservoir and system to serve metropolitan Boston, in the valley of the Swift River, a tributary of the Connecticut River. The Ware River Act (St. 1926, c. 375) and the later Swift River Act (St. 1927, c. 321) directed the flood waters of the Ware River to be diverted, and the Swift River Valley dammed and flooded for a new water supply reservoir. Known as the Swift River Reservoir from 1926-1932, the MDWSC officially renamed it the Quabbin Reservoir on October 25, 1932. The word “Quabbin” is from the Nipmuck, the Native American tribe that historically inhabited the valley, which roughly translates to “the place or the meeting of many waters”.

Between 1927 and 1947, the MDWSC executed more than 60 construction contracts to undertake this work. The structures the MDWSC constructed through these contracts included the 24.6 mile-long Quabbin Aqueduct tunnel and related shafts and shaft buildings, the main Quabbin Reservoir dam (the 2,640 feet long Winsor Dam) and dike (Greenough Dike), the Quabbin Reservoir baffle dams, various intake and outlet buildings, 36 miles of highway and roadway construction (in addition to access roads), reservoir clearing, construction of the Quabbin Administration Building Complex, Quabbin Observation Tower, the Quabbin Park Cemetery Building, a work boat (designed by a MIT naval architect), the Rutland-Holden sewer infrastructure (for Ware River Watershed), amongst other lesser contracts.

Contract construction started in spring 1927. The first diversion of flood water from the upper Water River Watershed was made on March 20, 1931 (eastward, through the Quabbin Aqueduct, into the Wachusett Reservoir). The first flow of water from the Quabbin Reservoir into the Wachusett Reservoir was made on September 17, 1941.

In addition, following an extensive engineering study in 1936-1937, the MDWSC was authorized in 1938 to construct additional structures to improve the distribution and water quality of metropolitan Boston’s water supply system (St 1938, c 501). Spanning about 12 construction contracts these structures included the Pressure Aqueduct (the 18 mile-long Hultman Aqueduct), Norumbega Reservoir at the terminus of that aqueduct, and the enlargement of the Fells Reservoir within the Middlesex Fells Reservation, a state park north of Boston. The construction of these structures was completed in 1940, with the new aqueduct opening on October 23, 1940.

The MDWSC employed engineering photographers to document the work under these contracts, taking 5”x7” photographs. Some of these images were published in the MDWSC Annual Reports.

All of these subjects are photographically documented in this specific photograph collection, spanning thousands of photographs. [The work of cataloging and digitizing these photographs remains in progress and not all construction contracts and the structures documented are available at this time, including those for the Quabbin Dam, Quabbin Dike, and for the Hultman Aqueduct.]

The photographic prints in this specific set were backed with linen cloth (and stamped in red with the MDWSC name and Boston mailing address on back) and were bound in numbered volumes, 50 prints per volume (2-hole punched, bound with brass fasteners). The photo prints were numbered first by the contract number, followed by the print number, each contract starting at print number 1.

Multiple official and reference sets were created (a “Secretary” set, a “Chief Engineer” set, etc.) with some contract volumes now lost. The photos have a caption along the bottom (called ‘titling’ by the photographers) with changing formats, with the photographer’s last name nearly always stated. For some contracts, the photographic prints were annotated on the back (in type) by the MDWSC with more specific engineering and construction details.

Per the Acts of 1947, chapter 583, the MDWSC was abolished, and the operation of the Quabbin Reservoir, upper Ware River Watershed and its associated aqueduct and facilities, was transferred to the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), Water Division (1919-1985), Quabbin Section. In 1985, the operations of the MDC Water Division were divided between two new entities: the MDC, Division of Watershed Management (1985-2003), and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Since 2003, Quabbin Reservoir and its upper Ware River Watershed are managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Water Supply Protection, Office of Watershed Management, Quabbin Region.

See also,

The digital access project was led jointly by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (Archives) and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (Library), co-operators of the water supply system for greater Boston, and in cooperation with the Massachusetts Archives, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Water Supply Protection, Office of Watershed Management.

Locations in this Collection: