DCR Archives / MWRA Library

Institution Profile

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) oversees 450,000 acres of parks and forests, beaches, bike trails, watersheds, dams, and parkways. DCR’s mission is to protect, promote, and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural, and recreational resources. Materials relating to this history are kept by the DCR Archives.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) is a public authority to provide wholesale water and sewer services to 61 metropolitan Boston communities. Materials relating to this history are kept by the MWRA Library.

Both agencies share a common lineage in the context of the Metropolitan Water Works System.

Description of Digitized Collections

A collection supplied jointly by the DCR Archives and the MWRA Library, with cooperation from the MA State Archives, was digitized in the fall of 2012 through summer of 2013. The Massachusetts Metropolitan Water Works Photographic Collection, comprising of more than more than 8,000 photographic images dating between 1876 and 1926, the majority of which are glass plate negatives beginning in 1895, was digitized.

Highlighted Items

Massachusetts Metropolitan Water Works Photographic Collection


This collection is the culmination of over a decade (if not over a century) of careful documentation and preservation of the photographic records of one of the oldest water supply systems in the United States.

The earliest photographs from the Boston Water Works, dating back to 1870’s, were often taken by well known professional photographers. Soon after the Metropolitan Water Board was formed in 1895, they absorbed the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, Spot Pond, and Upper Mystic Lake facilities along with some of their photographs. Between 1895 and 1926, a combination of engineers and professional photographers diligently documented the construction of the Wachusett, Sudbury and Weston Reservoirs, and Aqueducts in between, resulting in a series of 7,600 labeled photographs primarily using 6.5 x 8.5 dry plate glass negatives and two official sets of photographic albums.

During the mid-1960’s these photographs became dispersed, until 2000, when the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) Archives, now DCR, initiated a collaboration with the MWRA, Massachusetts State Archives, West Boylston Historical Society, the Boylston Historical Society and the West Boylston Public Library to gather and re-integrate the series for preservation and safe storage at the State Archives. Over 135 volunteers participated in cleaning and rehousing the dry plate glass negatives between 2000 and 2001. Data entry of descriptive information from each of the images continued from 2001 to 2003. Although the ultimate goal was to digitize the collection, the cost was prohibitive, and the project went on hold until 2012, when DC/BPL agreed to take it on.

With luck, this story will continue to include photographic documentation of the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir, the 1920s-1940s metropolitan water supply expansion of the MWW!

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