by A. Richard Miller
visits since 070628; last updated 150226.

Boston Celebrates Opening of Aqueduct, October 25th, 1848

A Ode: Celebration Of Introduction Of Cochituate Water Into Boston City
by James Russell Lowell, National Poet Laureate (1848)


My name is Water: I have sped
Through strange, dark ways, untried before,
By pure desire of friendship led,
Cochituate's ambassador;
He sends four royal gifts by me:.
Long life, health, peace, and purity.

(You can read the rest of this poem here.)


CochituateGate HouseCochituate Reservoir was Boston's first public drinking water reservoir, and in the second half of  the 19th Century it was highly celebrated. Between Cochituate and Boston lay the great Cochituate Aqueduct (history; photos; 1852 map). Between Cochituate's North Pond and the Aqueduct stood the Cochituate Gate House - the aqueduct's influent gate house, which regulated the flow of water. A city-sized water faucet! A granite wall shielded its underwater inlet door and the silt beneath from wave action, and thus kept that drinking water clear.

Cochituate Reservoir and Aqueduct were constructed 1846-1848. Later, to increase the capacity of this reservoir, higher dams were built - and the Gate House was taken down, the shoreline wall raised, and the Gate House rebuilt in place! Cochituate Reservoir continued to serve metropolitan Boston until it was placed on stand-by in 1931. By then Dug Pond in Natick and Dudley Pond in Wayland had been disconnected, Cochituate Reservoir was only 2% of Boston's water supply, and it was the most difficult 2% to keep clean. In 1947, it became Cochituate State Park.

You can still view the historic Cochituate Gate House, as you drive east along Route 30. But up close, one sees its derelict condition. The Gate House deserves repair, if only to celebrate the once-great Cochituate Reservoir. But its wrought-iron roof trusses, and those of the Brookline Gate House at the other end of Cochituate Aqueduct, have even greater historic significance - they may be the oldest ones of their type remaining in the entire USA! And once it is properly preserved, perhaps this old Gate House also will serve in new capacities.

1868 plan of Cochituate Gate House

The original north elevation of the Cochituate Gate House, as well as its floor plan and a cross-section of the aqueduct itself, are seen in the above portion of an architectural drawing which is reproduced in "History of the Introduction of Pure Water into the City of Boston", by N.J. Bradlee (1868). It was scanned into this image by Dennis De Witt of the Brookline (Mass.) Preservation Commission.

Cochituate Gate House RoofThis hole remained unrepaired until this web page pressed for more in 2007. A tarp went on soon, and a temporary patch the next year, to slow the destruction inside. The Gate House was completely re-roofed in 2014.

Cochituate Gate House (looking west)Here's the view looking northwest, with the south wall on the left. The steel door is locked, but its right edge is slightly ajar.

Cochituate Gate House (inside, looking west)Through that gap, one sees this interior view of the east wall, including the false ceiling and the gratings over two outer stilling wells.

Settling the Silt: The stilling wells did just that; they held the water still long enough to settle out any wave-generated silt (fine particles which suspend in water). To see how stilling wells work, just place some silty water in a clear bottle. Shake it. Then set it down, and see it slowly clear.

The designers of the Cochituate Reservoir intended to introduce "pure water" to the city of Boston, and that meant clear, colorless water without bad odor or taste. Silt - decomposed plant matter from upstream swamps and animal droppings from horses and cattle - was their enemy. They built a deep granite wall along this shore, so waves wouldn't wash against silt. They lined the boat tunnels with smooth stone, to reduce turbulence and erosion where water runs quickly.

On a larger scale, the reservoir designers placed the Gate House on North Pond for a similar reason. Lake Cochituate's chain of ponds flows northward. The most silt-laden water enters at the south end, from Pegan, Course and Beaverdam Brooks. By intaking aqueduct water from North Pond, the designers knew that Fisk Pond, South Pond, Middle Pond and several smaller connector ponds all would also act as settling ponds, making Lake Cochituate's water remarkably clear for the thirsty Bostonians. They further reduced the silt introduction to those ponds, by equipping Beaverdam Brook and Pegan Brook with settling ponds of their own. Those were occasionally cleaned out so they'd continue to function well. Like the water quality, that's no longer considered a priority.

Cochituate Gate House (inside, looking north)Here's an interior view of the north wall, including the main well -- the entrance to the Cochituate Aqueduct.

Cochituate Gate House (main well)Back outside, a near view of the lovely old stonework.

The Cochituate Gate House once was the "water faucet" for greater Boston. Its roof frame, and that of the Brookline Gate House at the other end of Cochituate Aqueduct, may be the oldest wrought-iron truss structures remaining in the USA. Today these historic structures cry out for preservation.

For related material, see my web page for Cochituate State Park.