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Political History of the Chestnut Hill Pumping Station

For many years, Boston residents expected that a pumping station would be built in Chestnut Hill. In the summer of 1876, the formation of the Boston Water Board signaled a major step forward. The new board replaced the Cochituate and Mystic Water Boards. In its first report, the board noted the importance of a high service station at Chestnut Hill. Such a station was needed to provide water to the higher regions of the city.

The prestige of the new board was heightened by the selection of Timothy T. Sawyer as its first chair. Sawyer was one of the most prominent men in Boston. He had served as mayor of Charlestown before its annexation to Boston. Sawyer had served in both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate and as Fire Commissioner of Boston. He supported the creation of a high service pumping station.

In 1880, the board appealed to the City Council for funds for high service, calling the need “imperative.” The board was particularly concerned that higher areas of the city have adequate water to fight fires. The Great Boston Fire of 1872 was fresh in the minds of the board.

The Boston City Council, however, had great demands put upon it. Boston had annexed several nearby towns and cities, and the major reason these communities had joined Boston was to receive city services. In addition, many immigrants and migrants from other areas of New England were flooding into Boston, and they needed basic services.

Finally, in March 1881, progress was made toward building the pumping station, when the governor signed a bill authorizing Boston to build the pumping station. The water board remained frustrated by the City Council’s unwillingness to appropriate money for the project and expressed its frustration in 1882.

Unlike the City Council, the mayors of the period generally gave strong support to the high service plan. In Mayor Frederick O. Prince's inaugural speech of 1879, he noted the limitations of the existing overtaxed high service and asserted it was “time to act.”

The wasteful use of water in Boston may have delayed the high service project. In 1883, Mayor Albert Palmer and others complained that Bostonians used more water than their counterparts in comparable cities. Mayor Augustus P. Martin and the water board agreed in 1884. Yet Martin and the Board considered wastefulness as a separate issue from the high service.

Finally, in 1884, the City Council approved the high service plan with “substantial unanimity.” The City Council appropriated $766,000 for the high service system, including the most important part—the Chestnut Hill Pumping Station.


Annual Reports of the Boston Water Board, 1877-1886

Inaugural Addresses of the Mayors of Boston, 1874-1888

Mayors of Boston. Boston: State Street Trust Co., 1904



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