Monday, November 10, 2014

Early Boston City Documents Relating to the Pure Water Issue

As the city of Boston continued to develop and increase in population, supplying pure water to the city “for the domestic use of the inhabitants, as well as for extinguishing fires, and for all the general purposes of comfort and cleanliness”* became a pressing issue.

Earlier attempts by private developers had been made to address the need for an enhanced public water works, including the 1795 legislative approval for “The Aqueduct Corporation” to oversee the laying of “subterranean pipes” that would route water to Boston from Jamaica Pond in Roxbury.  In 1816, a preliminary look into routing additional water from Spot Pond in Stoneham was found “inexpedient.”

It wasn’t until May of 1825 that Boston’s city government first took action on the water issue and formed a commission, which was chaired by then-Mayor Josiah Quincy, Jr.  That same year, the Water Commission was authorized to conduct a survey to collect information, and Professor Daniel Treadwell, one of its appointed members, issued the first of many investigative reports that would survey Boston’s nearby freshwater sources and estimate the feasibility and probable costs of transporting water to the city.  Some of the later reports, authored by subsequent Boston commissions and by various civil engineers, included maps, plans for proposed pipelines, and examples of other domestic and foreign public water works.  The State Library has many of these reports within its collection, as well as additional Boston city documents, communications, and citizen testimony pertaining to the water supply issue during the 19th century.

"Plan of a proposed route of pipes from Spot Pond in Stoneham to Boston," issued in the 1837 report of the city's Water Commission. Spot Pond was one of the options Boston considered in its surveys of pure water sources.

One valuable resource compiled by a member of Boston’s Water Board, titled History of the Introduction of Pure Water into the City of Boston (1868), is available online and provides an early history on the delivery of pure water into Boston.

A past exhibit by the State Library, titled “The Time of Action Has Come”: Introducing Pure Water into the City of Boston, can be viewed online, and chronicles the history of Boston’s water supply up through the 20th century.

For further information regarding Boston’s water documents, please contact the library by phone at 617-727-2590, or by email at  The library is open from 9am to 5pm Mondays through Fridays.

*Quoted from Daniel Treadwell’s 1825 report to the mayor and alderman of the city of Boston.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department