Massachusetts Woods

This was the name of my very first web page, so I've retained this section in memoriam.

From the language of the Massachusett Indians a tribe of the Algonquians, Massa adchu es et, meaning, "At the big hill", most probably referring to the Blue Hills near Boston, homeland of the this tribe once upon a time. Woods, from the Old English word, wudu, meaning tree or trees.

When folk think about Massachusetts what probably comes to mind is Sen's. Kennedy and Kerry, or the City of Boston, Tanglewood, the Boston Pops, the Theatres, the many famous colleges. But, there is another side of Massachusetts, ...the woods.

Even around Boston there are the woods of the Blue Hills. But nothing like the incomparable woods that magically appear near the middle of the State and grow expotentially in grandeur, westward through the Berkshires to the N.Y. border. The primary focus of this site is the geography of, what Geologists refer to as, the Acadian Orogeny, but more specifically the Swift River Valley and places surrounding that area.

Q u a b b i n

A very special place, QUABBIN, a Nipmuc Indian word meaning, "Meeting of the waters".

Located in western Massachusetts, Quabbin is a massive manmade reservoir, 18 miles long, containing 412 billion gallons of water, the largest untreated drinking water supply in America, serving Boston and other communities along its journey there. It is a secret place, not known to many.

Yesterday, Quabbin was a place called home to a thousand residents who managed to tame the wilderness, and attempt to overcome the unfortunate, but inevitable misunderstanding with the natives. Astonishingly these hearty original Valley settlers fell only to ultimate defeat by their own kind as the City of Boston looked once again for a place where there was more pure water to meet their needs.

In 1930, four towns in the Swift River valley, Dana, Enfield, Greenwich (pronounced Green-which, not Gren-itch), and Prescott, were 'legally' taken by 'eminent domain' and subsequently inundated to supply water for the City of Boston and its suburbs. And so it was, and so it is today. Encompassing an 18 mile long reservoir with 118 miles of shoreline, 60 islands and 55,000 acres of watershed, it exists, to many of us living here today, more a monument to a stolen time then to a grand engineering enterprise.

The aborigines, Indians, native Americans, unlike our ancestors, had no concept of personal ownership. But, they did have favored sites, recognized and respected by other tribes. And so it was in those days long past, the tribe known as Nipmucs did favor the valley plain adjacent to the confluence of 'Three Great Rivers', renamed later by the first Settlers as the East, Center, and West branches of the 'Swift River'.

Did you ever wonder why the inhabitants encountered by the settlers were called, 'Indians'? It emanates from the belief of early explorers that this land was actually that part of Asia known as India. Interestingly, however, America's Native Indians are scientifically referred to as 'aboriginal Americans'. The word aboriginal meaning, "any of the first or earliest known inhabitants of a region." Personally, I like the phrase, 'Native American'. It sounds most honorable, as well it should.

Knowing where to begin to tell 'the story' of the folk and of those times is the difficulty. But, perhaps a quick overview could be had by vicariously joining a Red Tailed Hawk as it slowly glides through the valley those many years ago. As I watch these Red-tails today, I am fascinated by this special species whose generations live on in the memory of time, and I often wonder, if somehow....they remember?

As early as 1765, we see Greenwich with its 434 residents. Dana, later in 1810 with 625. In 1820, Enfield, 873, and in 1830 on Prescott hill 758 residents lived, worked and played. It was a time of the developing of America. Plain folk, hard working, honest, religious, with character and integrity. A man's word was his bond and common sense prevailed.

The clearing of the land, the building of walls, subsistence farming to market farming. Grist mills, lumber mills, cattle, oxen, sheep, goats, chickens, horses, churches, dirt roads, dances, turnpikes, school children, sunshine and rain, births and deaths, happiness and sorrow. Certainly, my vicarious sorrow for the pain still expressed today by a few remnant survivors. Sorrow felt as I walk the empty, lonely roads.

When Windsor Dam and Goodnough Dike where finally completed and the bypass gates closed in August of 1939, that favored Indian site, "Quabbin", succumbed to the waters that had been its life, to become its death. Can we possibly imagine the heartache, softly shed tears as the former residents returned from time to time to watch, from barren hillsides cut clean by the loggers axes and saws, cellar holes upon which there homes were built, slowly and steadily filling with water? It took nearly seven long years for the Valley to become fully inundated.

T h e   I n t r u d e r

Sometimes, as I stand quietly over a long forgotten cellar hole, I inexplicably hear hauntingly familiar sounds, seemingly distant, but ever so close. I breath quietly, straining to sift through the rhapsody of the forest, the music of the wind embracing the boughs of the mighty White Pine. Chickadees, their always delightful, cheery chirps, inconsiderate of sorrow. What is it I hear? Could it be, the voices of children laughing? Ever so distant, as in a great divide.

Suddenly, the call of crows, alarmed, interrupts my reverie. The voices cease and there is absolute stillness. I turn to walk away, and a shiver runs up my spine. I sense invisible eyes upon me.

I am an intruder in this hallowed place.

Sometimes the very bowels of my being well up in an overwhelming yearning to be there then. And, if it were possible, to return in some small measure what was taken from these families, the inheritance of their children, stolen, those many years ago.

This then is Quabbin, in the Swift River Valley. A grand engineering feat. A monument to precious moments of a time and place that can never be again.

©Richard H. Cooper 2002.

For up-to-date information on Quabbin, phone the Quabbin Visitor's Center at 1-413-323-7221.