The pump in the market place; and other water supplies of Medford, old and modern.
[Read before the Medford
Historical Society, January 2, 1909.]
HE meeting-house and the village pump have been conspicuous objects in the New England
towns of the past, and each of these widely different institutions has been necessary to the community, and around them the waves of life have rolled and surged.
At the meeting-house the spiritual needs of our ancestors were filled; there they obtained soul refreshment that carried them through
The strain of toil, the fret of care,
of each succeeding week.
There too was mental stimulus obtained, not only from the long and weighty sermons often timed by a more than once turned hour-glass, but also from the debates in the town meetings, when church and state being one, the New England
freemen met in the sacred edifice to plan civil benefits and set in motion the machinery of public affairs.
The pump ministered to the physical needs of the people in a two-fold way, for the great treasure it dispensed refreshed and cleansed the outer and the inner man.
In a hill town the meeting-house was placed upon an eminence, to teach the worshipers within its walls by way of suggestion, perhaps, that the heavenly walk was one of struggle and climbing.
With its honest, enduring white paint and its simple, dignified architectural lines, the building was a landmark for miles around.
The pump was generally placed where the highways crossed each other, or in the so-called square, where the roads converged.
A wooden pump is a very ordinary looking object, having no beauty or grace of its own, and only attractive as it is the medium of giving to us one of Nature's most valuable gifts.
, with so prosaic a theme for a subject, by the magic grace of his pen has given us a fanciful and also truthful description of the value and uses of this necessary and homely article.
Personifying the town pump of his native place, he leads it into a soliloquy in which it indulges in a few ‘historical reminiscences’ and relates its own incalculable benefits to the public in a charming sketch which the author has happily called ‘A Rill from the Town
What that pump was to Salem
people the one in Medford square must have been to the people here.
Similar events and scenes described by one must have been realized in the existence of the other.
Ours had an added dignity bestowed upon it when it was designated as the point from which the roads running east, west and south should be severally called Salem, High and Main streets.
The town pump, which many of us remember from having seen it day after day without its service appealing to us, and which many of an earlier generation recall vividly as they had a more intimate acquaintance with it, stood in the square, as it is now called, or the market place of the early days, on the southerly side of Salem street, a few feet to the north and west of the entrance to the store now occupied by William F. Bartlett
The history of the supply of water from the settlement of the town would be an interesting story, but we are to concern ourselves with some comparisons of the nineteenth and twentieth century water ways and supplies, and a brief account of the pump in the market place.
The town owned another well not far from the market [p. 27]
place south of the river, which we shall notice later on, one at the junction of Main street and Mystic avenue, one at the almshouse and some at the schoolhouses, as they were built at different times.
was slow in coming into her privileges in this last direction.
She had had three buildings for the housing of one school, the third, a brick one, dating from 1795, and it is not till March 2, 1807, that we find any record of an attempt being made to furnish water for teacher and pupils.
At that time the town passed the following votes: ‘To have a Well dug in Suitable place for the use of the School
‘That the Committee
to enlarge the School house
be a committee to dig a Well and Fix a pump in the same with a Bason chained on.’
5 August, 181, the selectmen approved the bill for a pump for the well at the school-house, and the bills of several people for digging, stoning and bricking a well at the school-house.
Shall we infer from this that it took four years to accomplish what the town had voted to do?
It is evident that there had never been a well at the three meeting-houses, for had there been one near the third building, which was erected in 1770, it would not have been necessary to have provided a well for the old brick school which was in the rear of the former and close to it, as both were town property.
The only reference to the meeting-house in this connection is found under date of May 7, 1827, when it was ‘Voted To pass Darius Wait's acct.
for repairs of Town pump near the meet g house & making 3 new ladders & repair boxes.’
No water was provided for the school on Back street, the Union street of today, nor for those on Cross street, Ship street and the early Park street school, which later became the Swan school
In the yard of the first High school on High street was a pump that stood very near the street, at the head of the present easterly flight of stone steps.
At the Everett school
the pump was in the cellar.
In the early days not every household was provided with a well, and it was the custom for the people to depend upon the public well or some neighbor for water for household purposes.
The nearness of the house lots in Medford
to a tidal river was a good reason why many were without wells, as the water was unfit to drink.
The town pump furnished the only good water on Main street as far as the river.
Two houses in this vicinity were supplied in a very ingenious and convenient way. August 2, 1802, the following vote was passed by the selectmen: ‘To allow Messrm Ebenr Hall
& Samuel Beul
to lay a Suction from the Town
Pump Well to each of their houses, on condition that if the water fails or proves insufficient for the Towns
use, then their pumps shall be rendered useless & regulated by the selectmen-And also the street shall not in any way be injured by laying said Suction.’
Ebenezer Hall's house was on the site of the Boston & Maine Railroad station, and Samuel Buell
's lot is the site of our City Hall.
Was this the precursor of the present system of piping premises and houses, and is there then nothing
new under the sun?
On the south side of the river on Main street, as far as South
streets, were five wells, and here were several dwelling houses, stores, offices, three blacksmiths' shops, a lumber yard, a stone cutters' yard, and at one time a hotel.
These wells supplied all the families in this locality with water for housework, excepting laundry.
pump said: ‘I shall say nothing of my all important aid on washing days; though, on that account alone, I might call myself the household god of a hundred families.’
for this purpose was stored in hogsheads and cisterns, or brought from the Middlesex canal
, who carried on a jobbing business, was a familiar sight in the '40s as he went back and forth with [p. 29]
his white horse and hay rigging to and from the canal with water for the different families.
Sometimes a few were favored by getting water from the distillery on Ship street, which could be obtained there warm.
It is said the excellence of Medford
rum was due, among other things, to the purity of the water used in the making which came from a spring on Pasture Hill
, off that part which today we call Governors avenue, beyond the estate of Harry Dutton
The first of these wells south of the river was on the west side of Main street, about forty feet from the highway, in the track of the boulevard now being built.
This was owned by James Gregg
The water was not fit to drink.
A second was south of where Hartshorn
's harness shop stands today, on the right of the passageway and about forty feet from the street.
In a house on the site of the one standing north of the Engine House
lived George W. Symmes
, where his father Daniel
had lived, and probably also his grandfather, Timothy.
The third well was on the premises of the Misses Hannah
and Emily Tufts
, who lived in a fine old house on the corner of Main and South
streets, where our Central Engine House now stands.
After their house was burned in the great fire of 1850, the Misses Tufts
lived on Salem street, corner of Fulton.
On the east side of the highway there was a well on the premises of the Parker
family, who lived in the Admiral Vernon Tavern
, and later in a house built on its site.
The public was free to use the water of all these private wells except that of the Misses Tufts
The fifth well was a town one with pump and trough put in at the curb.
It was called the Hyde well from being in front of the estate of James Hyde
, the grocer, and was commonly supposed to have been a private well.
It was located near the building now numbered 56, about where a telephone pole is standing.
1 July, 1811, the selectmen voted ‘To have a new pump placed in the Town
's well on the South
side of [p. 30]
the river near the house of Tim
and a good trough fixed to the same.’
5 August, 1811, they voted ‘To pass Samuel Townsend
for a pump in the well opposite the Hotel
Without doubt these two orders refer to the same well, it probably being situated as near Blanchard's Tavern as it was to Timothy Symmes' house.
street on Main street there was a well on the premises of Nathan Wait, where now stands the Police Station
; one on the estate of Capt. John Sparrell
, whose house is still standing, numbered 101, and another across the street in the yard of the Medford House
Sixty years ago this was a region of homes of industrious, well-to-do citizens with pretty gardens and good orchards.
Beyond Swan street the house lots extended from Main to Back street, and on the latter the lots on the east side extended back to the Branch canal
Over this region we may write as we do today over the once aristocratic North End of Boston
‘The glory has departed.’
The younger people of today, accustomed to a lavish and even prodigal use of water at home and in the gymnasium, can scarcely appreciate the limited supply of their earlier ancestors; neither can they appreciate the value of the simple wooden pump, nor realize the laborious way of getting water from a well by means of a bucket and rope, or by working a wheezy pump handle, when today by a simple touch of the fingers and a turn of the wrist a stream of water is at their service in copious measure.
A dear writer of fairy tales has said ‘Life is the most beautiful fairy tale,’ and does not the telling of the wonderful things science and invention have placed at our disposal today, brought into our modern life for use at home, at our places of business, in sickness and health, for pleasure and work, for use on the land, in the water and in the air, seem like a fairy tale in very deed, and [p. 31]
has not the trite saying, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction,’ been proven over and over again?
If the people of this town a century or seventy-five years ago had then been told what their descendants would be enjoying and using today in way of water supply would it not have seemed an incredible tale even though they knew of the aqueducts and luxurious baths of old Rome
Would they not have marveled at the immense reservoirs, at the great mains that thread our streets, the smaller pipes that run through streets and lofty houses; at the ponderous hydraulic machinery that is the great moving power of the Metropolitan Water System
This elaborate service of the State
supplies nineteen cities and towns with water, the main source being located in Clinton, Mass.
, in the middle of the Commonwealth
, nearly fifty miles away.
Several cities and towns within the prescribed circle, the radius of which is ten miles from the State House
, are furnishing their own water, but at any time, any within this circle are privileged to become a part of the Metropolitan service.
, outside of this district, is supplied by a special arrangement.
The Metropolitan Water District comprises three water sheds, the Nashua
and Cochituate, drawing from an area of 212.30 square miles.
The number of people supplied is close to the million mark, the latest estimate given at the office of the board being 980,900.
Through open channels, and by aqueducts, water is conveyed from one reservoir to another, so the water you draw today from your faucet is a composite, a mingling of many distant springs and sources.
The area of the district supplied is 171.7 square miles.
The system has five great pumping stations besides smaller ones, ten distributing reservoirs and ten storage reservoirs.
, within the district, with a population of nearly 21,000, supplies every house with drinking water, furnishes each family enough for household needs, every [p. 32]
public building, each manufacturing plant, provides for the extinguishing of fires, has fountains in parks and by the roadside, and going even farther, lays the dust in our streets and allows water for gardens and lawns.
We have in our streets 56.54 miles of city water mains, and 12.3 of Metropolitan; 513 hydrants for use of the fire department.
The daily consumption per capita is one hundred gallons.
The amount used by the railroad helps to bring it up to this high mark.
One of the best bon mots
of recent years is that of the brilliant author who said, ‘Give me the luxuries of life and I will dispense with the necessities.’
With the present generation water is a luxury
and a necessity
If the spirit of the Salem
pump could only give us another soliloquy!
Another difference between the centuries is that the water from the town pumps was absolutely free, while today we pay our price for what we use so freely and we are glad to do so. For who of us, much as we admire many customs and things of the past, and as much as we like to imitate colonial styles, would go back to those good old days when we wish to indulge in the luxury of a bath, or when our house-cleaning season comes on, or the laundry work is heaped up in hot weather when immaculate white is the fashion from top to toe?
We expect and shall find as great a difference in the expense of the old and modern systems as we do in ways and means.
The printed reports of the City of Medford
for 1907 are in a book of 424 pages; the report of the Water
and Sewer Commissioners comprise 26 of these pages.
There was spent for Water Construction $20,271.81, for Water Maintenance $16,130.42; add to this the Metropolitan Water Tax
of $35,126.98, and we have a total of $71,529.21. There was received from Water Construction $2,128.75; from Water Maintenance $71,657.44, a total of $73,786.19, leaving a balance of $2,256.98; and though we are paying interest on a water debt, the local system is self-supporting.
The earliest printed report of the Town of Medford
on file at the City Clerk's office
bears date of 1838, and consists of 24 pages.
Previous to that time the expenses and receipts were printed on detached sheets of paper.
From the printed
reports of succeeding years and the manuscript
records of the Selectmen
of previous years, we can find, not accurately but nearly so, the cost of supplying the town with water annually.
I say not accurately, for some times the bills approved included other items besides repairs to the pump, digging wells, etc. Charges for setting glass, warning town meetings, repairing windows in the meeting-house and procuring wood for the school appear occasionally.
In some instances the price of labor per day is given.
Under the same date it is expressed in the two forms of $1.25 and 7s. 6d.; in another place as 10s. 6d. This was for digging wells.
A fair estimate for the first half of the last century will not bring the yearly expense up to $13.50, and alas!
there were no cash receipts to the credit of the old system.
These records of approved bills furnish us with the names of the craftsmen of former generations, the skillful workmen in iron and wood, the blacksmiths, carpenters and masons, who kept the bridge and pumps in repair.
The following names are those of men whose lives were a part of Medford
's history, and some were known personally by many living today: William Bradbury
, Timothy Dexter
, Nathan Wait, Daniel Symmes
, Darius Wait, John T. Cram
, William A. Egery
, Thomas Pratt
, Oakman Joyce
, Nathan W. Wait
, Benjamin Moore
and R. G. Pinkham
's name occurs most frequently as having had bills approved for repairing the pumps.
The Waits and Symmeses were blacksmiths; Thomas Pratt
, Oakman Joyce
, R. G. Pinkham
The last named did a good deal of work on pumps also, and died a few years ago, the last of those here mentioned.
John T. Cram
was a pump maker and lived on [p. 34]
the southerly side of Ship street, opposite Pleasant street, in the little house still standing.
He furnished a pine pump in 1843 for Malden
's town well, at a cost of $16.67.
‘Dec. 7, 1801 Voted To have guide Boards put up in Market place in Medford
, in most suitable place.’
‘25 May 1812 Voted To allow Field Vining's account for clearing Water course in market place last winter.’
‘July 26, 1814 Voted To pass Timothy Dexter
for making 16 3/4 rods of drain in the market place at $7.63 per rod $127.80.’
‘5 Mar. 1825 Voted To allow Wm. C. Pratt
for Stones to spread in market Place.’
The term Market Place recalls a phase of life very different from that today in our square: when mercantile affairs were more active, when the citizens relied upon home stores for the necessities of life, and people from great distances came here to barter or sell; when feminine shoppers were not lured to Boston
by seductive advertisements in large daily papers; when they walked to Boston
to do their shopping instead of being able to go by rapid transit two or three times a day if they choose.
For the first fifty years of the past century what picturesque, what busy scenes were enacted here!
How attractive to the imagination those days, in comparison with the prosaic aspect of the square today.
One of the most interesting chapters in Usher
's History of Medford
is that which describes the trade and manufactures and opens up to us that picture of life when trade, manufacturing, river traffic and ship building were increasing decade by decade, and giving our town a more than local reputation.
From this chapter I quote a few lines: ‘The increase of business, and the gathering of traders in the marketplace, became so great at the beginning of the century, that it was deemed advisable to appoint a clerk of the market.’
It became necessary to make rules and regulations regarding the conduct of affairs, and for the town [p. 35]
by-laws on this subject see Medford Historical Regis-Ter, Vol.
X, No. 2, page 53.
Three clerks were appointed at a town meeting March 3, 1800, viz.: Nathan Wait, Sr., Joseph P. Hall
and Ebenezer Williams, Sr.
The next year two were appointed, and May I, 1843, we find the selectmen attending to the matter, when Samuel Blanchard
was the appointee.
His successors in office were John T. White
, Nathan W. Wait
, Thomas D. Rice
, Timothy Rich, Stephen H. Bradlee
, Isaac Sprague
, Edward P. Alexander
, Silas F. Wild
, William A. Egery
The clerk also acted as police officer and was elected annually, later for a period of three months at a time, with instructions ‘to enforce the By Laws
and to preserve the peace of the town, and to make return, to the Selectmen
of the time spent by him in said service and his charges for the same, at the expiration of said term.’
A greater number of trees than we have today in the center of our city lent beauty and shade to the place fifty years ago and more.
There was a gigantic willow on the sidewalk at the end of Jonathan Porter's building, great buttonwoods in front of the Turell Tufts house
, corner of High and Forest streets, and fine trees and a garden in front of the Secomb house
During the time of Medford
's great activity in trade the duties of the pump in dispensing its cooling liquid to high and low, rich and poor, man and beast, must have been unremitting as the thirsty and dusty drivers and teamsters stopped at its trough.
It must have lived a strenuous life and have been much worked.
In the 40s the pump in the market place was of peculiar construction.
There were two wooden pump logs.
Water was raised by an iron rocking shaft placed at right angles to and above the pumps.
Attached to the rear end of the shaft was a straight, tapering, heavy iron handle which hung plumb, and being moved sideways like the pendulum of a clock brought a continuous flow of water.
This handle, placed in line with the spout, [p. 36]
was somewhat unwieldy to work, taxed the muscle of the urchins, and it took two small boys to get one good drink.
This double pump was incased in wood 34 inches by 16, the back and front having the greater width, and this tower-like structure was about 9 feet high.
It is not known when a pump of this description was first put in, but perhaps the following order may shed some light on the subject:—
‘7 Sept. 1812 Voted To put another pump in the well in the square and repair the old one and set posts and a rail about the well &c.’
pump said ‘I am at the head of the fire department,’ so it was fitting for Medford
to put her pumps and reservoirs under the charge of the fire department, and the history of them is best told as we quote quite fully from the reports of the chief engineers
Under the expense of the fire department of 1844 is an item of $25 for damage done to Rebecca Cutter
's well at a fire in October, 1843.
In 1845 for the first time reports by the various departments of town government were included in the yearly published pamphlets of expenditures and receipts.
That year it was recommended that a ‘Reservoir be made in Washington street, so called, between the dwelling house of Joseph W. Mitchell
and Rev. H. Ballou
was then chief engineer.
We see from this that the town was growing and her increasing needs were being made manifest.
From the report of 1846: ‘Your Board of Engineers have examined the Town
Pumps and find them in a very decayed state, and would recommend not to have any more expense laid out on them, but when they cease to give us a supply of water, to take them out and put in their place one good pump with a side handle, and have a scuttle in the platform, for the purpose of putting a Suction into the well, that water may be had easily in case of fire.’
In the school expenses of this year is an item of $2.85 for cleaning well at New School House.
1847. ‘Reservoir at the head of Ship Street
, is in good order, having been made so the past year, with a good supply of water.’
‘Reservoir at the corner of Cross and Washington Streets is thought by your Board will not give a very bountiful supply of water, till something more is done, which had better be left with the Engineers
‘The pump in the square has performed its duty the past year, better than for ten years previous, not getting out of repair but once.
Your Board have caused a new pump to be made expecting as usual
the old one would be out of repair, and when so your Board wish to replace it with a new one, which they hold in readiness.’
1848. ‘Reservoir at the head of Ship Street
is in good order.
do. at junction of Cross, Salem, and Washington streets, it is thought, has been slightly improved the last year by perforating the curb, and putting on strainers.’
‘The pump in the square, remains in the same condition as it did one year ago, without any expense to the Town
1849. ‘The Reservoir at the head of Ship Street
, is in good order.
The Reservoir at the junction of Cross and Salem streets, is in the same condition as last year—not to be depended upon for a great supply of water—although it may be of great service in the first stage of a fire in its vicinity.’
‘The two old pumps in the square have been removed and one new one set in their place.’
These three reports were signed by Benjamin H. Sampson
, chief engineer
It has been the custom in road building when a stream crossed the road to have the grade such that cattle could be watered there and teams driven through.
These natural watering places are frequently seen in the country, and Medford
had a number in her territory.
When we remember that the amount of travel through here for many years was very great, and that large droves of cattle [p. 38]
passed through to and from the cattle yards at Brighton
and Willow Bridge, we can realize the benefit these water-ways were to the drovers, especially when there were crowds around the two troughs in the center of the town.
One of these ways I knew well, and it was a pleasure to pass through it when driving.
It was the last to disappear and gave way to the march of time, perhaps fifteen years ago, when the boulevard through Valley street was laid out and changes made as it came into Forest street. It was on the westerly side of Forest street, north of Kidder's hill, its water coming from Pine hill
, the little stream called Gravelly creek
Some of these driveways were quite shallow, being used more for carriages to pass through than for watering cattle.
They were located on Main street, foot of Winter hill
; High street, foot of Marm Simonds' hill; another on High street near Canal street; one also at Weir bridge; a second over Gravelly creek
on Salem street, near our present common; and one on Winthrop street near the estate of the late Peter C. Hall
, commonly called Chardon Hall, whose dwelling-house is now the farm-house on Gen. S. C. Lawrence
The streams thus utilized were Winter, Meeting-House
brooks, in addition to Gravelly creek
, before mentioned.
When the increased demands of modern living made it evident that a better supply of pure water was needed in Medford
than that furnished by wells and cisterns, it was natural that the attention of our citizens should turn to that fine body of water partly within the limits of the town.
The Spot Pond
Water Company had been incorporated in 1867 by a committee from the towns of Medford
, with a view to the future needs of these places, and two years later the franchise was purchased by them.
In 1870, by way of Salem street, and the year following by way of Forest street, Medford
was piped and supplied by water from this pond, and this [p. 39]
service continued until the needs of Greater Boston
for a supply of water became a great and burning question.
The Metropolitan Water Board was established in 1895.
became a part of the Metropolitan Water District
, and in conjunction with Malden
she surrendered Spot pond
to the State
The litigation and expense attending this transfer you all know.
In 1901 the consolidation of the Metropolitan Water Board
and the Board of Metropolitan Sewerage Commissioners took place, and we are now having the service of the Metropolitan Water
and Sewerage Board, which seems able to provide for Boston
and the towns round about for several years.
As we are now a part of Greater Boston
, and on account of the relation of Spot pond
to the subject, it is not inappropriate to speak briefly here of Boston
's former water supply.
A portion of it had been supplied from Jamaica pond
in West Roxbury
, through four main pipes of pitch-pine logs, by the Boston Aqueduct Corporation
, chartered in 1795.
In 1825, three years after Boston
became a city, on recommendation of the city council, a commission was appointed ‘to ascertain the practicability of supplying the city with good water for the domestic use of the inhabitants, as well as for the extinguishing of fires and all the general purposes of comfort and cleanliness.’
The report was made that a good supply of pure water could be obtained from the Charles river
, above Watertown
, and from Spot pond
The subject was discussed, but this important project was laid aside until taken up again by the city council in 1834.
In October of that year an engineer stated that there were 2,767 wells in the city; 2,085 were drinkable, 682 were bad, and only 7 of the whole number were occasionally used for washing.
Eighteen years had passed since Spot pond
had been recommended for Boston
's use, and that there were men [p. 40]
shrewd enough to see what valuable property it would sometime be, is shown by the following article on the warrant for the Medford Town
Meeting, February 13, 1843:
To hear and act on the order of notice By the General Court on the petition of James C. Odiorne
& others to be incorporated for the purpose of laying an aqueduct from Spot Pond
to the City of Boston
The action of the town is thus recorded:—
‘Voted, That the matter contained in the article be referred to the Selectmen
, and the Representative
to the General Court, with instructions to see that the interests of the town are protected in case a Co is incorporated to lay an aqueduct from Spot Pond
As the act of incorporation did not take place, the history of it closes here.
The subject of a proper water supply for Boston
was still further discussed, and it was the favorite theme of the different city councils through the administrations of many mayors.
At last the necessary legislative power was obtained, the great work begun, and amid great demonstrations of joy, with elaborate ceremonies, Cochituate water was let on for the use of Boston
, October 25, 1848.
After the introduction of Spot pond
water into Medford
the pump in the square reached the Oslerism stage of inanimate things, and on March 24, 1873, the decree went forth that sealed its fate, for on that date the selectmen voted that it should be removed by the highway surveyors and the well fixed as a reservoir, and May 18, 1874, Mr. Foster
was appointed a committee ‘to sell the Town
June 2, 1873, the highway surveyors were ordered to remove the pump at the head of Mystic avenue, and April 30, 1877, the board ordered the removal of the pump in front of the Hyde estate on Main street, and the filling up of the well.
The action of the town in filling up these three wells shows they were town property, [p. 41]
but the date of the digging of them is shrouded not perhaps in mystery, but in obscurity.
From the well-known position he takes in regard to the location of the Cradock house
, it is natural that John H. Hooper
should suggest that the well in the market place was dug and used by Matthew Cradock
For the convenience they were to the public the town may have kept some private pumps and wells in repair, for July 13, 1868, ‘the committee on Pump near Washburn's Store
reported the same could be repaired at small expense.’
's store was on the northwest corner of Salem and Park streets.
It was voted the repairs be made and a ‘cup and chain be procured also, a Bill of sale of same for Town,’ and it was also voted the care of the pump be in charge of Mr. Washburn
Thus has the old given place to the new order of things, and the memories of the simple past mingle pleasantly with the use of our up-to-date luxuries and conveniences.
From plans and descriptions furnished by Francis A. Wait
, Fred H. C. Woolley
has drawn a picture of the double pump of sixty years ago, which the former has presented to the Medford
Historical Society, and so another part of the history of the past is preserved for future generations.