A Page from North Quabbin History: Quabbin Reservoir photo archives

Carla Charter pf Phillpston.

Carla Charter pf Phillpston. Paul Franz

The main cabin of Harry Hackett in New Salem is one of the photos which can be found online at Digital Commonwealth. This photo was taken on June 2, 1938.

The main cabin of Harry Hackett in New Salem is one of the photos which can be found online at Digital Commonwealth. This photo was taken on June 2, 1938. PHOTO CREDIT/Massachusetts Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission AND STUART D. PIKE.

Published: 04-14-2024 5:00 PM

By Carla Charter

When the work on the Quabbin Reservoir began, photographers began documenting the project – from real estate, to cemeteries, to the construction of the reservoir itself. Their photos, snapshots in time, can be seen at Digital Commonwealth thanks to an ongoing joint project by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), in partnership with the Massachusetts State Archives. DCR Quabbin/ Ware Watersheds Interpretive Services and Engineering staff are also contributing partners, according to DCR Archivist Sean Fisher.

The idea to digitize the photos and share them on Digital Commonwealth was that of Fisher and Karen Ware, an archivist for MWRA.

“Sean provided the technical expertise and between 2018 and 2022, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority paid for and hosted five full-time graduate student interns from the Simmons University Graduate School of Library and Information Science as metadata catalogers for six-month intervals,” said Interpretive Services Supervisor Maria Beiter-Tucker with the DCR Department of Water Supply Protection. “This project could not have happened without the MWRA funding these six-month, full-time paid graduate student interns.”

The Quabbin Reservoir photographers’ dark room was set up in what was then still Enfield – first in downtown Enfield at the Felton Bartlett Blocks through 1928 and then in 1930 at the Joint Chemical Soil and Photo Laboratories at the former Barlow house. The approximately 10 photographers documented their work daily in diaries, according to a talk given by Fisher at the Quabbin Administration Building in February 2020.

The subjects of the Quabbin photographs include the Swift River Valley Cemeteries, with each headstone being documented before they were moved. Real estate photographs documenting houses in their original location can also be viewed online.

“If you pan in, you can see people in some of the photographs as well,” said Beiter-Tucker.

“All surviving real estate and cemeteries photos are online, and all contract photos are also online, except those associated with the construction of the Quabbin Dam/Dike (Winsor Dam/ Goodnough Dike),” said Fisher.

Now online are 2,085 cemetery photos, 3,000 Swift River Real Estate & General Engineering photos, 2,028 Ware River Watershed Real Estate & General Engineering photos, and 3,784 photos spanning all Quabbin construction, except dam-making, Fisher said.

Many people have interest in the Quabbin photos, according to Beiter-Tucker, including those with family ties to the Quabbin and those with a general interest in the Quabbin. This includes hikers who see cellar holes and may be curious as to who lived there and what the house looked like.

There are state-created photographs that are still missing. If anyone has photos that look similar to those that are online, contact Fisher at sean.fisher@mass.gov to review what they have. Anonymous donations will be accepted.

The collections of Quabbin photographs can be found at https://tinyurl.com/478rnpwt. In February 2020, Fisher made a public presentation about this project at the Quabbin Administration Building, and a narrated version can be found at https://tinyurl.com/5n7yafdj.

Other local organizations which have Quabbin photo collections – including photos of Swift River Valley families – are the Friends of the Quabbin, and more information can be found at www.foquabbin.org.For more on the Swift River Valley Historical Society, visit swiftrivermuseum.org.

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on the history of the North Quabbin area. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.