Stories from the Bedford Historical Society Bedford’s Big Dig ~ 1908-1909


Congress just signed passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.  This seems like the perfect time to introduce a new feature to The Bedford Citizen.  The Bedford Historical Society has agreed to share some of the Bedford History stories that they have written over the years that give a look back into Bedford of a different era.

The first story is what the Historical Society titled – Bedford’s Big Dig, 

Bedford Historical Society

Bedford’s Waterworks Project, 1908-1909 

Bedford Preservationist – March 2007

At Town Meeting later this month Bedford  residents will be asked to vote funds for the Shawsheen Well Field Pump House in order to carry out “preservation of the slate roof, and related exterior work on this historic 98-year old building on Shawsheen Road.” This seldom-noticed building, which even the Water Works engineer of the day could praise only as “plain but substantial in appearance,” is one of the few visible elements in one of the town’s most complex undertakings. A lengthy report by the Water Commissioners in the town report for the year ending February 1, 1909 summarizes the work done on the arduous project. A town-wide water system was needed both to provide pure drinking water and to ensure a plentiful, reliable source of water to fight fires. 

Bedford Historical Society

To accomplish this, the town and the Water Commissioners had to carry out a wide range of tasks: 

  • determine the best source of water
  • drive a well 
  • build a reservoir to feed the well, 
  • find a high point for a water tower to deliver water under pressure throughout the town, 
  • acquire land for the reservoir, well, and water tower, 
  • build a pumping system to send water from the source to the tower, 
  • lay water mains throughout the town, 
  • connect houses to mains,
  • install fire hydrants, 
  • establish regulations for use of residential water and fire hydrants,
  • put all the work out to bid, then accept bids and oversee the work, and
  • find a way to finance it all.

Finding the best source of water was the first task. Locations along the Shawsheen River seemed the most likely. The Kenrick family, who owned land along the east side of Shawsheen Road, had on their property a small ice pond which drained into the Shawsheen River. Test wells were driven in several locations near the pond and it was determined that 150,000 gallons of water a day could be drawn from the brook running into the ice pond. Tests showed the water to be “of most excellent quality, being as pure as any water in the state used for a water supply.”

Bedford Historical Society

There was a slight wrinkle in purchasing the necessary 49 acres of land from the Kenrick family. The family was in favor of the project but there was a trustee who was difficult to contact. To simply matters the town acquired the land by eminent domain with the intention of coming to a settlement with the family at a later date. Another small parcel of land was purchased from Frederick Mahoney.

The summit of Pine Hill was chosen as the ideal place for a standpipe (water tower). Acquisition of this property was simplified by an offer of the owners, Mr. and Mrs. James R. Poor, to donate the land to the town. This offer was gratefully accepted.

The 1909 Water Works building and plaque. Water Commissioners Dimond, Lyons, and Burke are commemorated for their work in providing Bedford with a modern, town-wide water system

Work began at the Kenrick ice pond to convert it to a reservoir. A dam was built to increase the water depth to 10 feet and the surface area to 2.6 acres. Below the dam, a well was built. The well presents an odd appearance today, being a low, circular structure with a conical roof standing on a tiny, overgrown island in its own small pond. This pond was designed as a supplementary source to feed the well when the normal supply from the ice pond was inadequate.

Construction of “Bedford Reservoir” The water tower on Pine Hill was built to endure. “The standpipe is of mild steel 100 ft. high and 20 ft. in diameter and strongly riveted. When full it will contain 225,000 gallons… The foundations are of solid masonry seven feet thick…” The Water Works building on Shawsheen Road must have been the engineer’s pride. Though the modest little building was only 36 by 19 feet and unornamented except by curved roof brackets, it was impressive inside. It held “two units, each consisting of a 25 horse power Olds gasoline engine and a Smith-Vaile triplex power pump, of a capacity of 250 gallons per minute, or 15,000 gallons per hour…” Two duplicate units meant that one could back the other up in case of failure. “The gasoline engines can be started very quickly and in case of fire they should be started and kept running during the time the water is used from the hydrants in order to maintain the supply” to the standpipe, “thus ensuring a supply of at least 3,000,000 gallons… over four days…” The town would now be ready to battle a major blaze.

To complete the project, water mains had to be laid throughout the town. The bridge over the Shawsheen had to be reinforced to carry the main from the pump house on Shawsheen Road to the standpipe on Pine Hill. Fire hydrants had to be installed as well. Finally, some 60 lines had to be placed from the water mains to the basements of everyone who signed up for residential water service.

Work of constructing the water system had begun on May 29, 1908. Eight months later when the Town Report was published, the Water Commissioners could proudly state that they expected the system to be “put in operation before the month was ended.” They admitted that “vexatious delays” had occurred toward the end of the project but still the work been carried on “as expeditiously as was consistent with good workmanship.” It was quite an accomplishment. Soon it was all over but the paying. The Town Report gave a full accounting of the expenses, from the $9,184.81 paid to Bruno & Petitti for laying pipes down to the $.46 paid to John Proctor for labor (we hope he got a nice lunch break as well). The total cost up to February 1, 1909 was $58,485.62. Water pipes being laid


Please visit our web site:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.