Quabbin Reservoir

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Quabbin Reservoir
Quabbin Reservoir, Massachusetts.jpg
November 2005
Location Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°21′33″N 72°18′00″W / 42.35917°N 72.30000°W / 42.35917; -72.30000Coordinates: 42°21′33″N 72°18′00″W / 42.35917°N 72.30000°W / 42.35917; -72.30000
Lake type Reservoir
Basin countries United States
Max. length 18 miles (28.9 km)
Surface area 38.6 mi² (99.97 km²)
Average depth 51 ft (16 m)
Max. depth 150 ft (46 m)
Water volume 412,000,000,000 US gal (1.56 km3)
Shore length1 181 mi (189.9 km)
Surface elevation 522 ft (159 m)
Settlements Belchertown
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

The Quabbin Reservoir is the largest inland body of water in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and was built between 1930 and 1939. Today along with the Wachusett Reservoir, it is the primary water supply for Boston, some 65 miles (105 km) to the east, as well as 40 other communities in Greater Boston. It also supplies water to three towns west of the reservoir and acts as backup supply for three others.[1] It has an aggregate capacity of 412 billion US gallons (1,560 GL) and an area of 38.6 square miles (99.9 km²).

Structures and water flow[edit]

Quabbin Reservoir water flows to the Wachusett Reservoir using the Quabbin Aqueduct. The Quabbin watershed is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, while the water supply system is operated by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. The Winsor Dam and the Goodnough Dike form the reservoir from impoundments of the three branches of the Swift River. The Quabbin Reservoir is part of the Chicopee River Watershed, which in turn feeds the Connecticut River.

The Quabbin Spillway (which follows part of Quabbin Hill Road in Belchertown), allows water to bypass the Winsor Dam and join the Swift River when the reservoir is full.

In 1947, the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the construction of the Chicopee Valley Aqueduct to deliver Quabbin water to three communities in Western Massachusetts: Chicopee, South Hadley, and Wilbraham. In 1951, with the Quabbin-Wachusett system sufficient to meet foreseeable needs, the Cochituate Aqueduct was abandoned, and the Framingham Reservoir system was placed on emergency stand-by. The present Lake Cochituate is the so-called Framingham Reservoir and now serves as a major swimming and boating resource but is no longer part of the potable water supply.


Demand for water exceeds local supplies[edit]

Metropolitan Boston's demands for fresh water began to outstrip its local supplies in the early part of the nineteenth century. Many possible sources of water were explored, including groundwater and rivers, but none were considered adequate in quantity and cleanliness to meet the needs of the rapidly growing city. After several years of controversy, the Massachusetts General Court (the official name of the state legislature) authorized the construction of the Cochituate Aqueduct to bring water to Boston from Lake Cochituate in Wayland and Natick.

This established three important policies, which remain in force today:

  1. Public, rather than private, ownership of the public water supply system.
  2. Use of upland reservoirs, with gravity-fed rather than pumped supply systems.
  3. Watershed protection, rather than filtration, as the primary mechanism of ensuring wholesome supplies.

By 1875, with demand again on the verge of exceeding supply, the Boston Water Board was established to take over the operations of the Cochituate Water Board, construct five new reservoirs on the Sudbury River in Framingham, Massachusetts, and a new Sudbury Aqueduct to deliver that water to the city.

Recommendation for establishment and related construction[edit]

In 1895, the Massachusetts Board of Health issued a report analyzing population and water-use trends, and recommended the creation of a Metropolitan Water District, serving several suburban communities in addition to Boston, and the construction of two new reservoirs: one on the Nashua River northeast of Worcester, and one in the Swift River Valley.

The General Court acted to establish the Metropolitan Water District, including 26 communities within ten miles (16 km) of the Massachusetts State House, later in 1895. The Wachusett Reservoir was completed in 1908. The Board of Health study had anticipated that Swift River water would be required by 1915, but this prediction had proven overly pessimistic. The introduction of mandatory water metering in Water District communities, and other efforts to reduce waste and inefficient uses, made it possible to delay construction of new water sources until the 1930s.

Frank E. Winsor was chief engineer for the Metropolitan Water District from 1926 until his death in 1939. He was closely involved in the design and construction of Winsor Dam, Goodnough Dike and the Quabbin Reservoir. Winsor Dam is named for him.[2] He had previously been chief engineer for the building of the Scituate Reservoir in Rhode Island.

A 1922 study officially endorsed the Swift River Valley as the next extension of the water system and created the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), now the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA), to oversee the construction and maintain the system after its completion. In 1926, construction began on the first stage of the project, a tunnel connecting Wachusett Reservoir with the Ware River. This is called the Ware River Diversion. During the 1930s, this tunnel was extended to the Swift River. The complete tunnel is now known as the Quabbin Aqueduct.


Although the project was enthusiastically supported by lawmakers in the Boston area, it was bitterly opposed by residents of the affected towns, who took their case all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, but lost.[citation needed] The state of Connecticut sued Massachusetts, claiming waters that were rightfully meant to flow into the Connecticut River and subsequently through their state, were being illegally diverted. The lawsuit was unsuccessful, but Massachusetts was still bound by discharge minimums set under the regulatory authority of the Secretary of War over navigable waters.[3]

Reservoir formed[edit]

Before the reservoir’s construction, there was a hill in Enfield called Quabbin Hill and a lake in Greenwich called Quabbin Lake. Named for a Native American chief called Nani-Quaben, meaning place of many waters,[citation needed] these became the basis for naming the new reservoir. The Quabbin was formed by inundating the Swift River Valley, a drainage basin lying entirely within the state, by damming the river and a col, through which Beaver Brook would have otherwise provided another outlet for its water. When construction began in 1936 the Swift River was redirected from its riverbed through a diversion tunnel. On August 14, 1939, that tunnel was sealed with rock. Over the next seven years the waters of the Quabbin Reservoir slowly rose behind the newly completed Winsor Dam, an earth-filled structure 2,640 feet (800 m) long, rising 170 feet (52 m) above the riverbed, and the slightly smaller Goodnough Dike. The water gradually submerged the roads that had linked the towns. It swallowed all but the peaks of about sixty hills and mountains, transforming Prescott Ridge into Prescott Peninsula. They ended the forming of the Quabbin Reservoir around the 1940s.

During the time in which the reservoir was forming, the eventual bed of the reservoir was used as the Quabbin Reservoir Precision Bombing and Gunnery Range. The range was used by planes from both Hanscom Army Air Field and Westover Army Air Field.

Towns disincorporated[edit]

The Quabbin's creation required the flooding, and thus the disincorporation, in April 1938, of four towns: Dana (located in Worcester County), Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott (all located in Hampshire County). The land remaining from the disincorporated towns was added to surrounding municipalities, including Belchertown, Pelham, New Salem, Petersham, Hardwick and Ware. One additional town on the reservoir is Shutesbury, in Franklin County. Because of New Salem's annexation of the Prescott Peninsula, a large wedge of land shifted from Hampshire County to Franklin County. Today, the majority of the reservoir lies in either New Salem or Petersham.

In addition, thirty-six miles of the Boston and Albany Railroad's Athol Branch were abandoned (originally the Springfield, Athol and Northeastern Railroad). Route 21, formerly reaching Athol, was truncated to the south side of the reservoir, and new roads—now US 202 and Route 32A—were built on each side.

When the buildings in the towns flooded by the reservoir were destroyed, the cellars were left intact. Old roads that once led to the flooded towns can be followed to the water's edge. Not all elements of the towns were flooded, however. Town memorials and cemeteries in the four towns were moved to Quabbin Park Cemetery, located on Route 9 in Ware, just off the Quabbin's lands. Many other public buildings were moved to other locations. For example, the Prescott First Congregational Church was moved to South Hadley.[4]

Three student housing facilities at Hampshire College in Amherst are named after the discontinued towns of Greenwich, Prescott, and Enfield. In addition, Hampshire College named another facility on its campus Dana House, after the other discontinued town of Dana.

Four residence halls at the nearby Eagle Hill School are also named for the four towns - Greenwich, Prescott, Dana and Enfield.

Watershed land use and recreation[edit]

Because of state restrictions, most areas around the reservoir are accessible only by foot, through fifty-five surrounding gates. Few people ever go into the deep woods, and it has become a wildlife area. Bald eagles, moose, deer, coyotes, black bears, foxes, and bobcats share the habitat, among others. Large portions of Dana are on higher ground, and its remains, predominantly cellar holes, as well as the former town green (where a historic stone marker was placed) can be visited. Much of Prescott is also above water, on what is now known as the Prescott Peninsula, but it cannot be visited because of state restrictions, although there is an annual tour of the town conducted by the Swift River Valley Historical Society. A few houses and roads exist which were once part of North Prescott (now New Salem), and there is a town line marker just north of the gates, indicating the former town line for Prescott. Cellar holes have been filled near the center of what was once Prescott to accommodate the former Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory, once operated by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Commercial timber extraction[edit]

While Prescott Peninsula is off limits for hikers and visitors, the state has authorized commercial timber harvesting on the Prescott Peninsula and other portions of the Quabbin Forest.[5]

The state placed a moratorium on commercial logging at the Quabbin while it studied controversial clearcuts. The moratorium has been lifted and commercial logging resumed in 2014.[6]


Fishing is allowed in designated areas in the northern portions of the reservoir. There is a visitor center south of the reservoir, as well as an observation tower, and Enfield Lookout. This area is accessible by car from the south using State Route 9. The reservation is a popular spot for hiking and other outdoor activities. This area was formerly part of the town of Enfield, which was annexed by Belchertown.

Quabbin Reservoir Stone Sign.jpg

2013 trespassing incident[edit]

Shortly after midnight on May 14, 2013, a group of seven individuals from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore, were caught trespassing by Massachusetts State Police in a no-trespassing zone of the reservoir. The members of the group of five men and two women told police they were chemical engineers and recent college graduates who were visiting the reservoir because of their educational and "career interests." The group was released by police at the scene, and an investigation found no connection to crimes other than trespassing. State officials tested the waters, and determined everything was safe. Each of the seven people were allowed to leave after being issued a summons for trespassing. It was after midnight on Tuesday morning when a state trooper on patrol at the reservoir spotted two cars parked on the grass near one of Quabbin’s entrances.[7] The FBI investigated the matter, and precautionary inspections of nearby public water supplies were increased, CBS Boston reported at the time.[8] The seven individuals, whose identities were not released because there was no formal arrest, were summonsed to appear in a district court for trespassing.[needs update][9][10] Patrols at public water supplies were increased in response.[11]

Popular culture[edit]

  • The novel Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara (Penguin Books, 2013, ISBN 0-143-12351-3) takes place in the fictional town of Cascade, Massachusetts in 1935, as the state "water board" deliberates on whether to flood that town or a nearby community in order to create a new reservoir to meet Boston's water supply needs.
  • The novel Someday by Jackie French Koller (Orchard, 2002, ISBN 0-439-29317-0) is based on the eviction (1938) of the remaining residents of Enfield.[12]
  • The novel Stillwater by former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld (Harvest Books, 2003, ISBN 0-15-602723-2) depicts the flooding of the Swift River Valley and the creation of the reservoir through the eyes of the novel's 15-year-old protagonist, Jamieson Kooby.
  • The children's picture book Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen[13] is about the creating of the reservoir through the eyes of a young girl who lives in one of the towns "drowned" to provide water for Boston.
  • The present-day reservoir and the history of its construction both figure prominently in Jane Langton's murder-mystery novel, Emily Dickinson Is Dead.
  • The reservoir is featured as a prominent plot element and set in the 2003 movie Dreamcatcher, based on the Stephen King novel.
  • H.P. Lovecraft, an American science fiction and horror writer, wrote "Dunwich Horror" and "The Color Out of Space", two short stories which took place in the valley before it was flooded for the reservoir.[14]
  • In the forty-fifth issue of the comic-book series Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 2, titled "Rocks", written by Jim Lawson, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Donatello recites a tale of the Quabbin River flood.[citation needed] The issue includes attacks by monsters that draw heavily from Lovecraft stories.
  • The 1985 movie Return was filmed partly at the Quabbin Reservoir. It featured actress Karlene Crockett.
  • The Quabbin-related songs, "Swift River Lullaby" and "Good Folks of Boston" were written by Massachusetts songwriter, Rick Ledford. "Swift River Lullaby" was recorded by Pat & Tex LaMountain on their 1991 album, "Songs From Western Massachusetts."
  • One of the Logan International Airport standard terminal arrival routes is named in honor of the reservoir as QUABN3.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ MWRA Online
  2. ^ Water for Greater Boston
  3. ^ U.S. Supreme Court, Connecticut v. Massachusetts, 282 U.S. 660 (1931)
  4. ^ The Collection | Mount Holyoke College
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ "Boston reservoir tests safe after late-night trespassers nabbed". 2013-05-15. 
  8. ^ "7 Caught Trespassing At Quabbin Reservoir In Belchertown, Mass.; Patrols Increased Across State". 2013-05-15. 
  9. ^ "Boston reservoir tests safe after late-night trespassers nabbed". 2013-05-15. 
  10. ^ "State Police: Alleged trespassers at Quabbin Reservoir not connected to other criminal activity". Boston Globe. 2013-05-16. 
  11. ^ "7 Caught Trespassing At Quabbin Reservoir; Patrols Stepped Up Across State". 2013-05-14. 
  12. ^ Koller, Jackie French (2002). "Someday". The Book Report Network: KidsReads.com Reviewed by Tamara Penny. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  13. ^ Yolen, Jane. "Letting Swift River Go". Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Web Site. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  14. ^ Charles P. Mtchell, The Complete H.P. Lovecraft Filmography p.9 (2001).

Further reading[edit]

  • Tougias, Michael. Quabbin: A History and Explorer's Guide. Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts: On Cape Publications, 2002. OCLC 50812740.
  • Under Quabbin: The Search for the Lost Towns, A WGBY Production. 2001. Ed Kelkowski, UMASS Amherst Biology professor, Massachusetts State Police. DVD 974.423
  • J. R. Greene. "The Creation of Quabbin Reservoir; The Death of the Swift River Valley." The Transcript Press, 32 Freedom Street, Athol, MA 01331, 1978. ISBN 0-9609404-0-5

External links[edit]