Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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Monday, March 20, 2017

The Quabbin Reservoir and its Lost Towns

From Ghost Towns 'Neath Quabbin Reservoir

The vast majority of land that makes up the city of Boston is man-made, and while those that live in and around New England’s largest city may take note of the way that Bostonians have altered their immediate environment to suit their needs, they may not be aware of environments farther west that were also drastically changed for their benefit.

The Quabbin Reservoir, which is located almost exactly in the middle of the state of Massachusetts in what was known as the Swift River Valley, was built in order to supply the city of Boston with water. The city had been growing at an exponential rate during the 1800s and the smaller water systems, aqueducts, and reservoirs in place had failed to keep up with the demand for water. In 1895, the Massachusetts Board of Health recommended the Swift River Valley as one of two potential sites for the construction of a reservoir, but nothing came of the recommendation initially. Residents of the towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott, all located within the valley, appeared to dismiss the possibility that such a project would affect them. One news correspondent from North Dana wrote in 1909: “It is safe to say that the day is far distant when it [the reservoir] will be done. North Dana people don’t need to move before snow flies, at any rate.” (The Creation of Quabbin Reservoir: The Death of the Swift River Valley, 18).

The State Board of Health's 1895 report that first recommended
the Swift River Valley as the site of a new reservoir, filed with
the General Court as House Bill 500

By 1922, the Swift River Valley was officially selected as the next extension of the complex water system channeling into Boston. The first stage of the project involved building a tunnel now known as the Quabbin Aqueduct, which connected the Ware River and Swift River with the Wachusett Reservoir. The diversion of these waters angered the state of Connecticut, who claimed rights to those waters since they ultimately joined the Connecticut River. The contention between the two states could not be settled and ultimately went to the Supreme Court, where the federal justices dismissed Connecticut’s bill of complaint in 1931.

The construction of the Windsor Dam and the Goodnough Dike began after the Supreme Court decision, but the people in the four Swift Valley towns were able to take their time leaving their homes. Some historic buildings, such as the Field House originally in Enfield and the Coldbrook Springs Baptist Church, were moved to other towns to escape destruction. By March 28, 1938, the Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission, formally took over all land in the Swift River Valley by eminent domain. Still, many townspeople continued to live and work in the valley until 1939.

The 1938 Farewell Ball from The Day Four Quabbin Towns Died

On April 27, 1938, the Enfield Fire Department hosted a ball, “the very, very last social affair” in the town. They expected only about 300 people like their previous annual balls, but more than 1,000 people squeezed into the ballroom, with another 2,000 outside. The raucous affair was punctuated with emotion, however, when the orchestra paused at midnight to play “Auld Lang Syne” in tribute to the passing Swift Valley towns:

'A reporter for the Springfield Union described the scene best: ‘A hush fell over the Town Hall, jammed far beyond ordinary capacity, as the first note of the clock sounded; a nervous tension… had been felt by both present and former residents, and casual onlookers… muffled sounds of sobbing were heard, hardened men were not ashamed to take out their handkerchiefs, and even children, attending the ball with their parents, broke into tears.'" (The Day Four Quabbin Towns Died, 47).

Flooding commenced in the Swift River Valley on August 14, 1939. Despite stories of whole buildings standing below the current water and former residents being carried out in boats as water rose on their front steps, there is no evidence that either of these things are true. Today, the Quabbin Reservoir is 18 miles long and holds 412 billion gallons of water ( The name of the reservoir comes from the name of a Nipmuc sachem, or chief, by the name of Nani-Quaben, whose name meant “place of many waters” or “well-watered place.” It appears that the name continues to be appropriate today.

Further Reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, March 13, 2017

Old Massachusetts Hospital Records and Patient Files

Old hospital medical records or patient files are a common request we receive at the State Library, usually from patrons who are researching their family history.  Questions such as these get even trickier when a particular hospital no longer exists—where did the records end up?  While the Library does not collect or house these types of records, over the years we’ve made note of the Massachusetts libraries and archives that do.  An important note before beginning your research: many patient records and other files have restricted public access due to medical privacy laws.  Some archived collections are restricted at the discretion of the librarian or archivist, and access may have to be determined on a case-by-case basis.  Make sure to contact the holding institution about record accessibility before your visit.

Danvers State Hospital circa 1880. The hospital permanently closed its doors in
1992. Many of its records are located at the Massachusetts State Archives

Massachusetts State Archives:  The Archives mainly collects materials produced by state agencies, and these include records from state hospitals and sanatoriums, mental health facilities, almshouses, and reform schools.  Here’s the best way to search their collections:  Visit ArchiveGrid and in the search bar type “contributor:33” (this is the number assigned to the State Archives) and then a search term (name of the hospital, “patient records,” “case files,” etc.)

Example of search results using ArchiveGrid

Contact info:
Secretary of the Commonwealth
Massachusetts Archives
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
Phone:  617-727-2816

Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine:  Use Harvard Library System’s HOLLIS+ catalog to search the types of records Countway has in their archives and manuscripts collection.  For example: type in a general or specific search term (ex. “patient records,” “hospital,” name of the institution, etc.) and hit Enter. Next, on the left side, you can narrow down your results by clicking “Archives/Manuscripts” under Resource Type, and then click “Countway Medicine” under Location.

Contact info:
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine
10 Shattuck St.
Boston, MA 02115
Email:  Ask-A-Librarian online form
Reference Phone: 617-432-2134

City of Boston Archives:  The city’s Archives also have record collections for Boston-area hospitals, including those for Long Island Hospital and the Boston Lunatic Hospital.  Users can keyword search their online catalog for other related record collections, too.

Contact info:
City of Boston Archives and Records Management
201 Rivermoor St.
West Roxbury, MA 02132
Phone:  617-635-1195

ArchiveGrid:  As mentioned earlier, ArchiveGrid is a great tool to use for searching collections at the State Archives.  However, it can also be used for searching other repositories in Massachusetts and across the United States.  If you’re still having trouble finding the location of certain records, try searches that cast a wider net to see if there are any not-so-obvious collections out there that may be helpful with your research.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, March 6, 2017

March Author Talk: Joseph M. Bagley

A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts, by Joseph M. Bagley 
Tuesday, March 21, 2017—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, 
Massachusetts State House

The State Library is pleased to announce the next speaker in our Author Talks series: Boston City Archaeologist Joseph M. Bagley. Join us at noon on Tuesday, March 21, to hear Mr. Bagley speak about his recent book, A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts.

As the City Archaeologist for Boston, Mr. Bagley manages over a million artifacts that have been excavated from dozens of sites throughout the city. He selected fifty of the most interesting artifacts from this vast collection for his book on the history of Boston, including a 17th-century bowling ball found in the North End, an 18th-century sail needle found in Charlestown, a 1788 Massachusetts cent coin found in the Boston Common, and a 1912 Red Sox pin found in Roxbury. Each of the fifty artifacts is accompanied by a description of both the artifact’s significance to its specific archaeological site as well as its significance to the larger history of the city of Boston.

At the conclusion of Mr. Bagley’s talk, copies of A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts will be available for purchase and signing, with all author proceeds going toward the Boston City Archaeology Program.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

Abiel Smith School

Image from Sketches of Boston, Past and Present, by I. Smith Homans. Boston, 1851.

This is the first building in the nation built for the sole purpose of serving as a public school for black children.

It is currently part of the Museum of African American History at 46 Joy Street, Beacon Hill, Boston. The National Park Service maintains the site, which is open to the public.

Description from Sketches of Boston, Past and Present,
by I. Smith Homans. Boston, 1851.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Presidential Popular Vote—More Controversy or Soon to be a Reality?

President’s Day 2017 is upon us—or as the federal government still officially calls it, Washington’s Birthday, even though it now falls on the third Monday in February. It was moved there by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971 and because of this quirk, will never again be celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday--February 22.  By calling it President’s Day, Presidents’ Day, or by its third option, just Presidents Day (with no apostrophe)—some states (interestingly, NOT Massachusetts, which also opts for “Washington’s Birthday”) and the mainstream media must debate the question raised: which president(s) is/are being honored (just Washington and Lincoln or ALL Presidents past and present?), is it just the OFFICE of President of the United States being honored, OR is it just a name for a marketing tool to sell new cars?

This unresolved minor debate aside, Presidents Day sales are not needed this year to remind us that our attention is still on the last Presidential election and the hot button issue of the Electoral College vs. the popular vote. Due to the crisis created by the contentious and deadlocked election of 1800, the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1804 and changed the voting process of the Electoral College for President and Vice-President. Massachusetts supposedly ratified it in 1961 after its initial rejection in 1804 (according to Wikipedia); however, I can find no evidence to confirm this in the State Library’s official legislative sources! From 1804 to 2016, each presidential election has been conducted under the terms of the Twelfth Amendment with regards to the Electoral College vote.

One might think that the rallying cry for the abolition of the Electoral College to be superseded by the national popular vote is a recent phenomenon—possibly dating back to Florida’s “hanging chads” of the Bush-Gore election of 2000? However, a review of the Massachusetts Legislative Documents reveals that this sentiment has been a long-standing wish of the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Dating back to bills proposed from the early 1900’s and continuing throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries there were Massachusetts legislative filings and/or resolutions seeking to abolish the Electoral College in 1911, 1912, 1913, 1915, 1925, 1937, 1938, 1941, 1969, and 1981.

With the enactment of Chapter 229, Acts of 2010, Massachusetts joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact—a more realistic path being charted by individual state governments to  banish the Electoral College forever and avoid the necessity of a new Constitutional amendment to change or repeal the Twelfth Amendment. Will this Compact between states pledging to award electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the OVERALL national popular vote become a reality by 2020?  It is definitely a possibility—as of last year, 10 states and the District of Columbia have joined and their combined electoral votes add up to 165 of the magic number of 270.  In the current 2017 legislative session, 19 other states have a popular vote bill pending with 221 electoral votes at stake. It will soon be determined if any of these states will decide to join the 11 current Compact members—but one thing is certain: Massachusetts has already been on this Presidential popular vote bandwagon for a very long time!

Every vote equal: a state-based plan for electing the president by national popular vote  / John R. Koza, 2013.

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services