Date of Completion
Environmental, Urban, Rural, History, Boston, Water, Landscape, Home
Field of Study
Doctor of Philosophy
From 1927 to 1940, the state of Massachusetts increased Greater Boston’s water supply by transforming the Swift River Valley into Quabbin Reservoir. To build this artificial lake—the largest in the northeastern United States—engineers designed two large earthen dams, planted ten million trees, and chopped and burned their way across the reservoir’s thirty-nine-square mile basin. In the process, they displaced more than 2,000 people, removed 7,561 graves, and erased four towns—Enfield, Greenwich, Prescott, and Dana—from the map. Following this upheaval, the watershed became a site for conservation, recreation, and preservation.
This dissertation examines the “watershed decisions” that led to the creation of Quabbin Reservoir as well as the environmental imaginations of the rural people, engineers, legislators, and recreationists who used and admired this land before, during, and after its construction. Delving into a rich archive of primary sources ranging from town records to poems to engineers’ reports to transcripts of legislative hearings, I consider various perspectives on this historical event. By carefully attending to the voices of rural people displaced by this expansion of Greater Boston’s waterworks, this dissertation challenges a prevailing assumption of environmental historians who have studied the ways in which urban elites, often backed by state and federal governments, came to modify and manage rural lands during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Whereas these scholars have largely framed the rise of the “environmental-management state” as an imperialistic exercise, a clash of cultures pitting powerful cities against powerless rural people, my study reveals that residents of the Swift River Valley were largely sympathetic to the underlying environmental values of the engineers and legislators who built Quabbin Reservoir. Even as they bemoaned the loss of their towns, many of these rural people found dignity amid their dispossession and some took the remarkably selfless view that their eviction was a noble sacrifice for the greater good of the Commonwealth.
Egan, Jeffrey, "Watershed Decisions: An Environmental History of Boston's Quabbin Reservoir, 1870-1988" (2018). Doctoral Dissertations. 1934.
Available for download on Wednesday, August 16, 2028