One Half Century of Water Supply for West Boylston
By James J. Matera, P.E., D.E.E.
Originally published in the 50th Annual Report of the West Boylston Water
District of West Boylston for Fiscal July 1, 1988 to June 30, 1989.
"The Board of Water Commissioners are pleased to present this narrative or
history of the West Boylston Water District on its 50th anniversary of
continuous public service. A compilation of records and biography has been
brought up to date, which includes accounts of the thirty and forty years of
operation previously published in the annual reports for 1969 and 1979.
Brief biographical accounts of individuals are given as each have contributed
to the formation, management and general operation of the Water District over
the past half century. This list could be increased with names of many
others, not filling official positions but as members of the District that
participated patiently and indicated genuine interest in Water District
activities. A community effort motivated by improving the quality of life
in West Boylston initiated the beginning that has continued for the past fifty
years. Therefore proper acknowledgement must be directed for any of the
achievements of the West Boylston Water District to the community itself from
which initial approval and support was obtained.
One half century of continuous public service has been rendered in the finest
traditions of American water supply practices. Therefore, we relate for
our citizens and especially those of recent domicile in West Boylston, the
historical background and chronological development of your public water supply
In reality, this story must begin at the time of the Town's inception in
1808, by Ezra Beaman and others, when West Boylston was initially incorporated.
West Boylston, at that time, was an agricultural community, which prospered and
grew through the remainder of the nineteenth century.
Abundant water resources flowing in the Stillwater and Quinapoxet Rivers,
which formed a confluence at the south branch of the Nashua River, provided good
opportunities for harnessing the power that was needed by the manufacturer.
Coupled with fertile soil and abundant timber, this community was indeed "nature
Looking back to 1890, we can visualize the citizens of West Boylston, working
diligently, building together a growing community in which we are certain they
took great pride in their accomplishments. From a handful of people in
1808, the population numbered 3000 in 1890. Six manufacturing mills
provided employment for many of its citizens, with others employed here from
The future certainly looked bright for the citizens of West Boylston at the
beginning of the last decade of the nineteenth century. Yes, the records
we read today clearly indicate their state of prosperity and promise for the
future, - undoubtedly one of the more progressive communities in Central
Massachusetts. This was the era of the "bel epoch" and definitely
applicable to West Boylston because of its numerous amenities of living it
provided for its citizens.
West Boylston was one of the first communities in Central Massachusetts to
recognize the health advantages of a public water supply for its citizens.
In 1892 they voted at town meeting to approve an article to organize a Water
Works Investigating Committee. Its duties were to determine the
feasibility and cost as might be necessary, to obtain a system of water works,
that would service the entire town and provide adequate fire protection, as
This Investigating Committee of citizens consisted of W.A. Earle, H.E. Morton
and J.C. Hastings. The committee engaged consulting engineers, Shedd and
Sarle of Worcester, who submitted during February, 1893, a most comprehensive
report. It is interesting to note that the engineers also looked into
sources of water supply located outside geographic limits of the town as
Almost concurrent with this work, and unknown to many of its citizens, the
Massachusetts State Board of Health was engaged in a preliminary investigation
of the Nashua River valley as a potential source of water supply for Boston and
several of its contiguous communities.
This enormous project was not clearly defined nor understood at its
preliminary stages by many, nor could they envision the threat to their land and
homes by the proposed Wachusett Reservoir.
An aura of sadness and disconsolation pervaded the area in 1895, when the
legislature passed Chapter 488 of that year. The shadow of threat that had
loomed over the community for the past two years had become a reality. A
feeling of doom penetrated this not too long ago happy and progressive
The law created the Metropolitan Water Board as an agency of the
Commonwealth, whose duties were to construct a dam in Clinton, acquire lands in
West Boylston and in abutting towns, for the building of a storage reservoir
that would cover an area of six and one-half square miles.
Land acquired by eminent domain in West Boylston for this purpose was about
2100 acres. Reflecting today upon the significance of this project, we
cannot begin to gauge or imagine the concern, inconvenience and disruption
created at that time to the inhabitants, as well as to the manufacturers in West
Boylston. Appeals, petitions and other manifestations of compromise and
objections fell upon deaf ears. The great and general court had spoken.
Work started on the reservoir. Shortly thereafter, homes and factories
were demolished. Many of the structures were moved from the river valley
to higher ground. The result was that many of the West Boylston citizens
left the community and settled elsewhere, which contributed to the decline in
the number of people living here. From a population of 3,000 inhabitants
in 1890, the count in 1910 had decreased to 1,270.
By 1915, a reestablishment and reforming of the physical characteristics of
the town had taken place. The older generation still living here had not
become reconciled to the disruption in their lives. However, the new
generation taking part in the activities of the rejuvenated town would not dwell
on the past and, therefore, pursued a creative course.
This is manifested by the Town's action in 1915 of appointing a committee to
investigate the possibility of constructing a public water supply.
Although no tangible progress was made from this, the committee did engage a
qualified engineer to study and report as to the needs of a public water supply.
From what we can ascertain major portions of the ground-work for the study
made in 1939 were based upon several proposals offered by Mr. William S. Johnson
C.E. in 1917, which resulted by the town's action in 1915.
Once again, the population curve started upward and so continued for the new
twenty years. The Metropolitan Water Board had long since completed its
work. Large areas adjacent to the reservoir were planted with trees, a
forerunner of the green belts, highly desired by many communities. Old
wounds had been healed and memories were fading over the passage of years.
The transition had changed the environmental characteristics of West Boylston.
Many found it appealing as a residential community.
Great interest prevailed in 1933, which provided the impetus for the passage
of Chapter 352 by the legislature. This law, contingent upon its
acceptance by the townspeople of West Boylston, allowed its citizens the right
to establish the West Boylston Water District. A time limit of four years
was allowed for its acceptance. No action was taken by the town within
this period of time.
At the annual town meeting February 6, 1939, the voters authorized the Board
of Selectmen and Moderator to appoint 25 voters of the Town of West Boylston to
assemble and elect a committee to make a survey for a Town Water System for
household purposed and fire protection.
On February 18th, 1939 the following voters assembled in the Selectmen's
office for this purpose -
||Chester D. Denton
|Freeland M. Bancroft
||Charles T. Fawcett
|Robert P. Barnes
||William T. Holmes
|Oscar M. Bellis
||Raymond S. Huntington
|Alfred H. Blake
||George R. Keith
|Emmons M. Burdett
||Julius F. Lovell
|Elbert H. Carroll
||Francis N. Luce
|John A. Cavanaugh
||Charles H. Parker
|Elmer I. Christenson
||William M. Severance
|Walter E. Clark
||Water H. Sharpe
||Raymond L. Soule
|William N. Cole
||Edgar A. Whitcomb
|James A. Cooke
From this group Messrs. William N. Cole, Raymond L. Soule, Chester D. Denton,
Freeland M. Bancroft, Raymond S. Huntington, George R. Keith and Oscar M. Bellis
were elected by ballot to execute the provisions as stated in article 18 of the
warrant at the annual town meeting of February 6, 1939. Several groups of
engineers were interviewed and the firm of Whitman & Howard, Consulting
Engineers, Boston Mass. was selected.
It was decided at the first meeting that the 25 men appointed by the
Selectmen and Moderator be retained as an advisory committee. The advisory
committee has been called together on tow occasions to hear reports of progress
of the Executive Committee and to give advice on various matters. Later
Chapter 55 of the Acts of 1939 was passed by the Legislature which, in effect,
contained the original provisions of the legislation of 1933 with updating and
Another town meeting held later that year accepted the legislative act, which
officially formed the West Boylston Water District. Elected at this
meeting was the first Board of Water Commissioners, consisting of Louis C.
Campbell, William N. Cole and Walter H. Sharpe.
A report of Whitman and Howard, Inc., consulting Engineers was accepted.
This report gave direction and estimate of costs of construction for the system
planned. Among the many items contained in the report was the
recommendation that the source of water supply be provided from an elevated
section of town off Lee Street from which an adequate yield and good quality
water was available. This location, because of its elevation, could
furnish water more economically because of the shorter pumping heights.
Invariably questions are asked, which are valid. Why did we not take
water directly from the Wachusett Reservoir? In answer to this question
the report of 1917 and 1939 are referred to which read as follows:
"Perhaps the most natural place in which to look for a supply is the
Wachusett Reservoir of the Metropolitan Water Works, the upper end of which
is almost the centre of the portion of the town to be supplied with water.
The Legislature has provided that the town should have the right to take
water from this source for water supply purposes."
"There are, however, several serious objections to the use of this water.
The water at this end of the reservoir, just below the entrance of the
Stillwater and Quinepoxet (sic) Rivers, the principal feeders, is highly
colored, at times of high flow of the rivers is turbid and otherwise of
"A supply from the Wachusett Reservoir would not be perfectly
satisfactory and the cost of obtaining the supply, taking into consideration
the difficulty in pumping from different depths is likely to be as great or
greater than the cost of a supply from wells."
In 1939, the report contained the following:
"You have a reservoir in your town, viz, the Wachusett Reservoir, which
has served as a principal water supply for the Boston Metropolitan District
for many years, from which you may obtain water to be extent of two million
gallons per day. However, since West Boylston is located at the upper
end of the Wachusett Reservoir the water would be highly colored at times
and might contain objectionable bacteria as the water would not receive the
benefits from a long period of storage but a water supply might well be
taken from this reservoir at this location, if filtered. Since there
is no other reservoir or suitable location to form a reservoir and since
West Boylston is located at the upper end of the Wachusett Reservoir, we do
not recommend obtaining a water supply in this manner if a good ground water
supply can readily be obtained."
Construction was started in 1941, after considerable preparatory work was
accomplished, involving original financing, application and approval for
financial assistance from the Federal Government. Plans and specifications
were prepared and construction contracts were advertised and awarded.
Force account labor was used in conjunction with the Works Progress
Administrative program of the Federal Government.
Wells No. 1 and No. 2 of the original supply off Lee Street were driven.
Pumping stations were built and equipment installed. Pipe lines were laid
along the main streets. The reservoir was constructed at Lawrence Street,
which was not at that time a public way. Land was acquired where needed.
A great deal was accomplished by the end of the year. Records indicate
that thirteen miles of distribution pipe was laid, ninety hydrants were
installed and sixty-eight house services were connected. In spite of
handicaps due to the prevailing war conditions many phases of the work
The immediate post war years, 1945 to 1949, indicate a marked growth.
The number of services grew in this period to 414 from 205.
Further, this increase reflects a 50% rise in the amount of water pumped for
consumption within the corresponding period.
With industrious planning in 1950, the Board of Water Commissioners sought
additional funding in order to finance the cost of supplementing the source of
supply, and also to reinforce the distribution system. At the original
site at Lee Street, Well No. 3 was driven, the first well of the gravel-pack
type classification. Needed improvements were installed in the system,
which included recording devices, surge relief valves and other items that
assisted in the efficient operation of the system.
The decade of the fifties brought more people to West Boylston, subsequently
more housing, therefore greater demand for water supply.
In 1956 additional funding was necessary. The sum of $125,000 was
raised to again improve the system. A large gravel-pack well was driven,
equipment installed and a pumping station constructed at Oakdale. A
storage tank of pre-stressed reinforced concrete with a capacity of one-half
million gallons was erected at a high point adjacent to the Training School of
the Youth Service Board off Beaman Street. Appurtenant pipe lines
connecting the installations were laid. These facilities provided a
significant improvement to the system. The system now had an alternate
source of supply as well as additional reservoir capacity capable of relieving
the high demand upon the original works. It further provided a desirable
dual system to which future improvements readily integrated with the original
system with the more recent work. Each year and also concurrently with
major improvements the Board installed pipeline extensions in order to provide
with water many of the citizens in the District who heretofore were not
The work was planned and implemented each year in a schedule that would not
cause extreme variations in the tax rate. Much of the work was financed on
a pay as you go basis.
Growth in West Boylston continued into the sixties. In addition to new
housing, the decade of the sixties brought with it new industries for West
Boylston. A creative Planning Board and competent town officials
effectively coupled their efforts in encouraging desirable industries to build
here. This again presented a challenge to the Water District.
Predicting once again a limited water supply and distribution for the needs
of the District, the Water Board proposed in 1963 further supplementing and
improving the system. Following is an excerpt from the report of the Water
Commissioners for that year.
"We experienced record making water consumption this year. This
severely taxed our water supply source at the Lee Street wells.
Because of the prevailing dray conditions experienced this summer and
fall, the water table elevation fell to its lowest grade in the records kept
for this location. This condition caused considerable concern as to
the adequacy of the supply. It was therefore necessary to restrict
water use for the first time since the 1956 additional water supply
facilities were completed."
On the basis of a study by the District's engineers, the Board presented to
the District the following recommendations to improve the water system.
- That a one million gallon capacity storage tank be constructed off
- That a booster pumping station be built off Worcester Street.
The District at its meeting in 1964 accepted the recommendations of the
Board. A sum of $200,000 was appropriated to finance this work.
At this time no one could foresee the lengthy period of drought later
experienced in central Massachusetts. Water bans were the mandatory
expedient for many communities. With the new storage tank and booster
pumping station in operation the District was one of the very few capable of
providing adequate water to its consumers. The voluntary water ban imposed
in 1963 was not repeated.
At the end of the year 1964 the records indicate that 1,400 services were
supplied with water. The daily pumping rate had increased considerably and
on July 27, 1963 the highest daily pumping rate of almost one million gallons
was reached. Worthy of review is the financial data that is also
summarized in the referenced tables.
Shortly thereafter, and because of the great demand imposed on the wells at
Lee Street, it became evident that all three wells were not yielding quantities
of water as expected. It was therefore necessary to surge and clean the
well screens, change pump impellers and generally overhaul the pumping equipment
at this location. However, in 1966 it became evident that the existing
wells could not be depended upon to provide sufficient water for the District's
needs in this area. Test were conducted and in 1967 well No. 4 was
constructed and pumping equipment was installed at Lee Street which provided an
additional source of water supply.
Concurrent with the above the District was engaged in testing for additional
sources. An excellent source of water was found at a site on land of the
M.D.C. off Temple Street. In 1968, funding for the well was approved.
This proposed source will provide for future water demands. The water
will be pumped to an elevation established by the overflow at the Oakdale and
Stockwell Road tanks. It provides a supplementary source to the Oakdale
well which can be pumped by the booster station, thereby augmenting the high
level supply at the Lawrence Street Reservoir.
Major improvements and growth implemented for water service facilities over
the years 1969-1979 involved completion of an additional source of water supply.
Well and Pumping station facilities located on M.D.C. land off Temple Street were
added to the system. Considerable amount of water pipe was installed,
closing loops and extending water service throughout the District. A
second storage reservoir was constructed at Lawrence Street, consisting of a
1,250,000 gallon capacity pre-stressed concrete tank, that will meet the water
requirements of a growing industrial area. All existing facilities have
been operated in an acceptable manner. The District operation and office
headquarters during this period have been moved from its former site at the
abandoned railroad station to the new Town facility on Worcester Street which
has enhanced and greatly improved the effectiveness of the Water District staff.
The decade of the 80's was ushered in with numerous significant events for
the West Boylston Water District. ... Of importance was the
elimination of the real estate tax for water use. With diligent and
prudent fiscal planning the long term capital debt was totally retired after
over forty years of application. Continued vigilance with fiscal matters
had precluded resorting to the reintroduction of this tax in spite of major
capital cost expenditures.
Original inquiry as to the feasibility to join with the Pinecroft Water
District was made in 1980. A great deal of time has been spent in
preliminary discussion with no progress accomplished to date. In the
meantime Pinecroft has been added to the West Boylston Water District service
system. They now receive their water from the West Boylston Water
District. Discussion continues and possibilities now seem favorable for a
Major state highway 190 was completed, requiring several location changes for
distribution pipelines. Considerable work was accomplished for this
Several new sub-divisions for housing were constructed adding numerous water
takers to the system. Considerable concern resulted as to the safety of
the Lee Street aquifer due to the encroachment of a new sub-division.
Because of this a hydro geologic study was made of the aquifer in order to assess
the impact of the sub-division. This matter culminated with the recent
acquisition of adjacent land area that added protection to the wells at this
Assisted by the Planning Board and Conservation Commission the Water Board
spearheaded the proposal for an Aquifer Protection Zoning By-Law that was
accepted by the voters at a Town Meeting. This changed existing zoning
parameters that will give added protection to the quality and quantity of ground
water throughout the community.
Reached was another significant milestone, by the purchase by the District,
of property at 183 Worcester Street for use as a headquarter facility.
This ended the former period for the District in being moved from pillar to post
in regard to a permanent base of operation.
To date this has proven to be a prudent decision, providing the Water
District with adequate office and headquarter area in addition to satisfactory
garage and maintenance facilities, centrally located that will serve the
community for many years at a minimum cost.
Major changes in the operating staff was the retirement on June 30, 1986 of
E. Arthur Bonci, Superintendent. He served in his capacity for 22 years
with dedication and distinction. He brought to the Water district a new
element of leadership and a high standard of performance that has established
the high regard given the West Boylston Water District by its peers. He
was succeeded as Superintendent by Donald S. Smith who had served as an
assistant to Arthur Bonci. Arthur Bonci was elected by the District as a
Commissioner and was shortly thereafter appointed Treasurer for the District.
Moderate increase in water rates were made in order to meet a period of
rising cost of operation. Recently started has been a comprehensive review
of existing rates and fees in order to bring revenues closer to actual
expenditures that have substantially increased over the past few years.
All are aware of large increase of cost for electricity, materials and annual
cost of living increments for employees, coupled with new expenditures for EPA
and State programs involving water quality parameters. Added restrictions
and regulations are further anticipated that undoubtedly will continue the trend
of higher cost of operation.
Enlargement of the distribution system continued throughout this period,
increasing the number of services. The elevated storage tank at Oakdale
was inspected and repairs were made. Equipment was installed and corrosion
control chemicals were added to reduce the corrosive quality of the raw water.
A worthy conclusion to this narrative may be a brief mention of individuals
who have made significant contributions in the development of the water system
over the past fifty years.
Of meaning and importance has been the Moderator of the District. Men
of high caliber have filled this position, Julius Lovell, James Moorefield and
the current moderator John H. Berg, have and are contributing to the finest
traditions of democratic town meetings. Another position of importance is
that of the District Clerk, Louis Campbell, Nathaniel Nash and others have
served with distinction.
Administratively the Board of Water Commissioners are the executive heads
that direct and manage the Water District. The list is long and is
contained as part of the Annual Report. All deserve gratitude of their
neighbors and citizens of West Boylston for their time interest and dedication
in this endeavor.
Together we have journeyed through the past 50 years - a half of century of
challenge. We have endured and as the period ended - thrived by the virtue
of the character and strength those challenges instilled in us.
What we face as the 90's dawn is a decade of opportunity, borne by change.
We face the rigors of a competitive ambience, one that values innovation and
efficiency, while punishing indecision and inaction. There are trends in
this changing water resource endeavor that must be anticipated. We must
remain confident enough to trust our ideas, and aggressive enough to see them
"Our goal therefore is to have sufficient water, sufficiently clean,
in the right place at the right time to serve the range of human and
industrial needs." John F. Kennedy