Retired DCR employee takes guests on photographic journey of Quabbin Reservoir’s ‘lost’ towns

  • Photographer and ex-DCR employee Dale Monette presented “Quabbin, Then and Now.” Staff Photo/DOMENIC POLI

  • A slide depicting Clarence A. Moore’s Swift River Garage (where gas cost 15 cents per gallon on Sept. 27, 1937) in Greenwich, one of the four towns disincorporated for the Quabbin Reservoir. Staff Photo/DOMENIC POLI

  • A slide depicting Enfield Town Hall, taken on Feb. 19, 1930. Enfield was one of the four towns disincorporated for the Quabbin Reservoir. Staff Photo/DOMENIC POLI

  • A slice depicting Frank S. Grover’s property in Dana. Staff Photo/DOMENIC POLI

  • Many of Dale Monette’s slides consisted of a fade-away effect, with an old Department of Conservation and Recreation photograph disappearing into Monette’s updated images of the same location. This photo of a man standing near a cannon on Dana Center Common is fading into Monette’s updated photograph of the same spot. Staff Photo/DOMENIC POLI

  • Many of Dale Monette’s slides consisted of a fade-away effect, with an old Department of Conservation and Recreation photograph disappearing into Monette’s updated images of the same location. A photo of a man standing near a cannon on Dana Center Common faded into this photograph, taken by Monette, of the same spot. Staff Photo/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2022 5:00:15 PM
Modified: 9/25/2022 4:59:26 PM

GREENFIELD — Photographer and retired state Department of Conservation and Recreation employee Dale Monette is taking guests on a photographic journey of where homes once stood before they were abandoned to create the Quabbin Reservoir a little more than 80 years ago.

Monette presented “Quabbin, Then and Now” at the Masonic Center at 215 Munson St. on Sept. 19, using a slideshow presentation to share old black-and-white DCR images juxtaposed with photographs he took in the same spots to illustrate the differences between the Quabbin landscape of yesteryear and of today. The same program, which includes time for questions, will come to New Salem on Sept. 30.

“With that particular show, it always seems to bring a lot of interest in the Quabbin,” he said of his presentation.

Monette detailed slides of specific spots in the towns of New Salem, Pelham, Belchertown, Dana, Prescott, Enfield and Greenwich. The latter four towns were disincorporated on April 28, 1938, and every structure was removed so the valley could be flooded to make the primary water supply for Boston and some other communities.

“(The state) said, ‘Look, we don’t care what you do with your house now. You can take it down. You can move it. If you leave it, we’re just going to push it up in a pile and we’re going to burn it right to the foundation,’” Monette explained to 38 people at the Masonic Center on Monday.

Residents were paid fair-market value for their homes, which were dismantled or removed intact. If homeowners had refused, Monette said, their property would have been taken by eminent domain. Anyone with a business in one of the towns received no compensation for it. Today, the Quabbin Reservoir is the largest inland body of water in Massachusetts.

Many of Monette’s slides were presented with a fade-away effect, with an old DCR photograph disappearing into Monette’s updated images of the same location. The photographs included Enfield Town Hall, Dana Center Common, George E. Carter’s and Howard W. Cook’s properties in Dana, George Webb’s property in Pelham, and Clarence A. Moore’s Swift River Garage (where gas cost 15 cents per gallon on Sept. 27, 1937) in Greenwich.

Many of the original photographs have children in them. And Monette mentioned a town clerk once gave him the dog license issued for a pooch in one of the images in the presentation.

Theresa Holmes, chief officer of the Greenfield chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, said she thought the program was well received by those in attendance.

“They seemed to be very pleased with the program,” said Holmes, who reached out to Monette about “Quabbin, Then and Now” after reading about his presentation in a Greenfield Recorder article.

Monette is scheduled to deliver the same presentation at 7 p.m. in the New Salem Public Library’s Community Room on Friday, Sept. 30. A small selection of Monette’s photography is on display in the library’s miniature art gallery and will remain there through this presentation. For details, contact the New Salem Public Library at 978-544-6334 or n_salem@cwmars.org.

Quabbin history

An infamous and devastating 1872 fire in Boston prompted discussion about how the city was in need of better access to water. The Quabbin region was seen as ideal because it averaged 44 inches of annual rainfall and there are hundreds of small streams that flow into the valley. South Hadley, Wilbraham and Chicopee also get water from the reservoir. All photographs of the “lost” towns are either in the state archives in Boston or at the Quabbin Visitor Center at 100 Winsor Dam Road in Belchertown.

According to Monette’s statistics, 1,100 structures (including 650 homes) were removed for the reservoir’s creation. The disincorporation displaced 2,500 people. Thirty-four cemeteries, consisting of 7,613 graves, were removed, as were 31½ miles of railroad. Thirty-six miles of highway were relocated and 242 miles were abandoned.

Twenty-six people died during the reservoir’s construction. Monette said not much is known about those people, though he has heard one man was killed when a truck backed into him while men were working around the clock on the reservoir.

Monette, 73, retired from DCR eight years ago. His interest is ancestral, as two of his great-grandparents were displaced from Prescott.

Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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