THE QUABBIN RESERVOIR



At the Canadian border of New Hampshire, the Connecticut River begins its 410-mile journey to Long Island Sound as a small stream. As this stream flows southward through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, countless tributaries empty their waters into the mainstem, turning the small stream into the mighty Connecticut River.

One of the tributaries adding water to the Connecticut River snakes its way through the Swift River Valley in western Massachusetts, emptying water from the Swift River into the Ware River, which, in turn, empties into the Chicopee River and, finally, into the Connecticut River. In the late 1800s, the Swift River Valley was an isolated but prosperous farming and industrial area as well as a vacation destination.

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The valley was a beautiful, almost idyllic, spot.

The Swift River had been dammed to provide waterpower for such industries as palm leaf hats, textiles, shoddy, and piano legs. When the railroad came to the valley in 1873, the export of manufactured goods became much easier. The residents of the valley benefited also. Suddenly a larger world was open to them. Life was indeed wonderful.

Then, in the 1890s, rumors began to circulate that Boston needed more water to slake the thirst of its ever-increasing population. As more and more people flowed into Boston, its existing water supply simply could not keep up with demand. More water would have to be found. The Swift River Valley fit all the criteria for a large reservoir. Boston would get the water it needed. But what would the cost be to the people of the Swift River Valley?

. The cost would be the total annihilation of the valley. All homes, industries and farms would have to be sold, moved, or destroyed. Everyone would have to leave. Even the graves would be dug up and the bodies reburied elsewhere. Thirty-nine square miles of land would be cleared, burned, and flooded - total devastation of a beautiful area in western Massachusetts.

This Sword of Damocles hung over the valley from the late 1890s until 1927. Would the valley be turned into a reservoir? Finally, in 1927, the Massachusetts State Legislature officially declared the valley would become the source of Boston's water supply, the Quabbin Reservoir. In 1933 and 1935, construction of the Goodnough Dike and the Winsor Dam began. By 1939, the new reservoir began to fill, erasing four towns from the map.

Almost 60 years after the flooding of the Swift River Valley, Ed Klekowski and his team of divers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst gained permission to dive the waters of the Quabbin Reservoir. They would be the first to see what was "Under Quabbin." The UMASS divers would be joined by the Massachusetts State Police Underwater Recovery Team and the Metropolitan District Commission Rangers. Together, they would explore the bottom of the reservoir to see exactly what was down there. Ed Klekowski videotaped various dives, documenting the remains of the four towns and the cemeteries as well as the biology of the sixty-year-old body of water.

Now, you, too, can explore the Swift River Valley as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through old photographs. You can watch the reservoir being built and the water rising to flood the cleared valley. You can go down with the divers and see what remains of the four lost towns. You can visit the notorious Prohibition-era Dugmar Golf Club, which sold for $1,100 an acre while other local residents received only $100 per acre for their land. You can swim through a cemetery and see what was left behind during the clearing of the Swift River Valley. Finally, you can see the biological life that exists today, beneath the surface of the reservoir.

The hour-long exploration of Quabbin Reservoir, "Under Quabbin - The Search for the Lost Towns" is available for $24.99. Requests for copies of the program should be sent to: Heritage Interactive