The Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts marks the ending of a long timeline of four towns that used to be there: Prescott, Greenwich, Enfield, and Dana. Last week,my re-published interview with Eleanor Griswold Schmidt, a former resident of the former town of Prescott, covered her childhood in the 1920s and 1930s, when the reservoir was being built. This year, 2013, marks the 75th anniversary of the official ending of the towns of the Swift River Valley.
But the ending did not just happen at the stroke of midnight on April 27-28, 1938. That moment had been only the quiet culmination of decades of events. You could take it back much further to a centuries-old problem of Boston’s chronic need for water. But for now, we’ll just concentrate on what the residents of the Swift River Valley experienced for themselves.
1895: A report came from Boston that a new source of water was needed for the burgeoning city, and the Swift River Valley was investigated for the site of a reservoir, but this is delayed and work commences instead on the Wachusett Reservoir, closer to Boston.
1898: The Wachusett Act ends the existence of town of West Boylston, and parts of the towns of Boylston, Clinton, and Sterling. It is the first forced removal of entire communities for the construction of a reservoir.
August 1901: Two thousand people gather to celebrate Dana’s town centennial.
August 1904: Greenwich (pronounced green-witch) celebrates its 150th anniversary.
Town Hall and Congregational Church, Greenwich
By 1909, the investigation by engineers of the Swift River Valley prompted a response from the Athol Transcript: “There has been more or less local talk of the town and other places being taken by the Metropolitan Water Board of Boston. But it is safe to say that the day is far distant when it will be done. North Dana people don’t need to move before the snow flies, at any rate.”
July 1916: Enfield celebrates its town centennial.
Main Street, Enfield, Mass.
1918: A preliminary study is conducted of the Swift River Valley, proposed by Xanthus Henry Goodnough, who had worked for the state health agency as an engineer. Today, Quabbin’s Goodnough Dike is named for him. Town meetings were held in Ware and in the Swift River Valley with resolutions passed opposing the taking of their property.
1921: The first survey is published. In April, Mr. Charles J. Abbott wrote an editorial poem to the Athol Transcript:
“Prescott is my home, though rough and poor she be,
The home of many a noble soul, the birthplace of the free.I love her rock-bound woods and hills, they are good enough for me:
I love her brooklets and her rills, But couldn’t, wouldn’t and shouldn’t
Love a man-made sea.”
August 1922: Prescott celebrates its town centennial. Attorney Vaughn addresses the crowed, urging citizens to “take up the torch of the men who had fallen in war, to rebuild the stone walls of their grandfathers, to till the soil and make the town prosper, despite the pending issue of the Swift River project.”
1925: Prescott’s population drops to 230, Dana’s drops to 657 under the threat of the impending reservoir project.
1926: The Ware River Act creates the legal entity of the reservoir and responsibility over the residents’ removal from the valley.
July 1926: Dana celebrates its 125th anniversary, but the party seems more like a wake.
1927: The Swift River Act decrees that the Swift River Valley will become a reservoir. The exodus begins – some leave willingly, others unwillingly. Some are determined to wait until the very last. One man, whose interview was published in the Springfield Union, April 26, 1938 spoke for still others who said, “I hope I’ll be carried out so I’ll never have to go.”
1928: Construction officially begins.
1930: There are 48 people left in Prescott. Schools here are closed by the early 1930s. The Prescott Congregational Church is purchased by manufacturer Joseph Skinner and moved to South Hadley to be used as a museum.
In October of this year, the MDWSC establishes that the project will be called the Quabbin Reservoir.
1933: The dedication of the Quabbin Park Cemetery in Ware, where 6,557 bodies from 34 Swift River Valley graveyards are re-buried.
1935: The opening of the Daniel Shays Highway, bypassing the Swift River Valley, ironically named for the area’s most famous rebel against the Commonwealth, and its most famous exile.
June: The last run of the local train called the Rabbit.
1937: Remaining farmers are told not to plant. The Eagle House in Dana and the Swift River Hotel in Enfield are torn down.
Eagle House, Dana
March 1938: Final town meeting in Dana.
April: Final Enfield town meeting. Final Greenwich town meeting.
April 27th, the Farewell Ball held in Enfield. At 12:01 a.m., April 28, 1938, the towns of Prescott, Dana, Enfield, and Greenwich are wiped from the map of Massachusetts.
Town Hall, Enfield, Mass.
1939: Flooding commences in August.
World War II: The Prescott Peninsula is used for bombing practice by Army Air Corps planes from Westover Field in Chicopee.
1946: The first water is pumped to Boston.
All photos in this post are postcards in public domain, currently available on the Image Museum website. For more history on the Swift River Valley and the Quabbin Reservoir, please visit the Swift River Valley Historical Society in North New Salem, and the Friends of Quabbin at the Quabbin Reservoir Visitors Center.
My novel, Beside theStill Waters, is a fictional account of the people in the “Quabbin towns.” I’ll be posting more about that in weeks to come in this, the 75th anniversary of the disincorporation of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott, Massachusetts in April, 1938.