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By 1825, there was consensus in Boston that a new water supply system should be built, but no agreement on the form it should take. Should the system be privately or publicly owned, and how much water should it provide? What sources should be tapped?
These questions remained unanswered for two decades. Finally, in 1845, Boston turned to John Jervis of New York, the nation’s leading water supply engineer, hoping that he could resolve the water supply debate. Jervis had served as chief engineer of the 363 mile-long Erie Canal, the most elaborate public works facility in the United States. He had also overseen the construction of New York City’s Croton Waterworks System, which was completed in 1842.
Jervis recommended that Boston build a publicly owned system that would meet its water needs until about 1870. He advised that the supply come from Long Pond in Natick (now Lake Cochituate) and that a sizeable holding reservoir be built outside the city.
In March 1846, the Massachusetts legislature approved Jervis’s plan by enacting the Boston Waterworks Act, which established a three-member Waterworks Board, and authorized Boston to borrow up to $3 million to bring the plan to completion. In April 1846, Boston’s voters added their overwhelming approval.
In May 1846, the Boston City Council named its first Boston Water Board, consisting of Nathan Hale, James Baldwin (younger brother of Laommi II), and Thomas B. Curtis. The position of President of the Water Board went to Hale, head of the Boston & Worcester Railroad and owner/editor of the influential Boston Daily Advertiser.
Exercising vigorous leadership at every stage of the project was Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy, Jr., son and namesake of the “Great Mayor” who had built Quincy Market in the 1820s. Quincy held office from December 1845 to January 1849, from just before the inception of the project until just after its completion. His financial acumen was key to the success of the project.
Ground was broken for the new waterworks at a lakeside ceremony in which the mayor, with the assistance of Josiah Quincy, Sr. and former President John Quincy Adams, turned the first shovels of earth. At a reception following the ceremony, Mayor Quincy said that the name "Long Pond" lacked distinction, and he proposed that an Indian name, “Cochituate,” be substituted. His suggestion was immediately adopted.
Under Jervis’s direction, an aqueduct capable of delivering 18 million gallons of water a day was constructed between Lake Cochituate and a receiving reservoir in Brookline (the present Brookline Reservoir), from which pipelines were constructed to several smaller feeder reservoirs in Boston. The project took 26 months to complete and cost almost $4 million.