Framingham Reservoir No. 1 dam and gatehouse

Yesterday after my office hours at Framingham State, I took a short walk to Framingham Reservoir No. 1, one of several reservoirs that dam the Sudbury River. I had hoped there’d be a path around the reservoir, but its shore was studded with houses—private property—so I limited myself to the tiny segment of public land abutting Winter Street, where the dam and gatehouse are located.

Gatehouse steps

All three of Framingham’s historic reservoirs were designed in the latter half of the 19th century to supply the greater Boston area with water. The water stored in these reservoirs would have flowed via the Sudbury Aqueduct toward Chestnut Hill, where a massive waterworks pumped it into the city. I’ve walked parts of the Sudbury Aqueduct in Newton, where these old waterways are now footpaths and Echo Bridge stands as a lingering reminder of an aqueduct that has since gone underground, and I’ve also walked around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and explored the Waterworks Museum housed in the old (and architecturally impressive) pump house. We all know you can’t step into the same river twice, but you can revisit the same watershed, so it felt somehow satisfying to think that the waterways I can reach via a short walk from my office in Framingham share a history with the waterways I’ve repeatedly explored near my home in Newton.

Sudbury River below Framingham Reservoir No. 1

The Sudbury River has a long history of mercury contamination from the Nyanza Color and Chemical Company in nearby Ashland, which used mercury to manufacture textile dyes in the early 20th century. The Nyanza plant closed in 1978, and its chemical waste dump was declared a Superfund site in the 1980s. After decades of cleanup, the Sudbury River is now clean enough to swim in, as I did one hot summer day in Concord several years ago when the parking lot at Walden Pond was full, but signs along the Sudbury still warn fishermen not to eat their catch. Aquatic invertebrates still ingest the settled solids on the river bottom, and these metals concentrate in the flesh of fish: a lingering history that human hands haven’t yet erased.

Framingham Reservoir No. 1 dam and gatehouse

The warning signs along the Sudbury show a pictograph of a big black X over a fish with a fork and knife, and the accompanying text is printed in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Vietnamese. For good or ill, these signs haven’t been translated into the language of great blue herons, so the prehistoric-looking fellow I saw fishing yesterday didn’t know the great big fish he’d caught presumably carries the history (and heavy metals) of a long-defunct industry.

Great blue heron with great big fish

Click here for more photos from yesterday’s short walk to Framingham Reservoir No. 1. Enjoy!