The History of the Arlington Reservoir

Time Line


15-20,000 years B.C.

Wisconsin Glacier recedes for the last time. Mystic Lakes and Spy Pond formed as kettle ponds. Hills formed from exposed bedrock and moraine. Icemelt redistributes glacial material. Waterways, like the Mystic River and Mill Brook, are formed.


Native Americans catch alewives in the Munroe Brook to fertilize fields in the Alewife Meadows later to be renamed Great Meadows.


First European settlers in the area construct drinking wells.


First water pipes constructed in Arlington.


The Winship family operate a dairy farm on Great Meadows until 1860. Livestock use Great Meadows for grazing.


West Cambridge gains independence from Cambridge.


Spy Pond Water Company pipes water to West Cambridge.


American Peat Company mines peat for residential fuel from the Great Meadows until 1867.


West Cambridge is renamed to Arlington. Spy Pond Water Company is renamed the Arlington Lake Company.


Town purchases the Arlington Lake Company. For $120,000 it gets the waterworks, Great Meadows, and the land rights to construct the Reservoir. The Reservoir is created by damming the "North" Brook and diverting streams through the Great Meadows to ensure the summer water supply. Great Meadows flooded. Reservoir constructed with three 12" supply pipes: first to the town center, second through the dam for unspecified purposes, and third for the removal of impure bottom water.


Town constructs an iron standpipe for a second reservoir in Arlington Heights. Water from 25 wells along the gravel edge of the Great Meadows supplies the standpipe. The brick pumping station was also located near the Great Meadows.


Arlington joins the Metropolitan District Commission Water Supply (MDCWS) which is linked to the Quabbin Reservoir. Local water supply deemed low quality and linked to fire hydrants along Massachusetts Avenue (painted black), Anderson’s greenhouses, watering systems of the Library and Town Hall, and to raise the water level of Spy Pond.

June 30, 1899

MDCWS water flows for the first time into the Arlington pipe system. Water flows through the Wachusett, Sudbury, and Norumbega reservoirs and enters Spot Pond via a 50’ main. A 5’ main supplies Arlington Center with 70 lbs. of pressure. Arlington town government assumes control for the repair and maintenance of all public lands associated with the local MDCWS properties.


Great Meadows is lowered to pre-1871 level.


Standpipe to the Arlington Heights Reservoir is renovated. This water supplies Arlington, Belmont, and Lexington. Stone fašade covers a 2 million gallon tank and cost $2 million.


Arlington Board of Park Commissioners request the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to develop a beach on the eastern shore of the Reservoir.


Underground reservoir on Bellington St. built to hold 2 million gallons. Supplies homes from Highland Ave. to Pleasant St.


New standpipe constructed to Turkey Hill and supplied by 20" main off Brattle Street.

Turkey Hill tank holds 2 million gallons.

Jan. 1969

Arlington Conservation Commission (ACC) outlines comprehensive plan for improving the Arlington Reservoir in a memo to the Town Manager. Plan includes a recreation area, bridge renovation to Hurd Field, circumnavigable paths, path extensions to Great Meadows, expanded parking, dredging, and better maintenance of the stump dump.

The History of the Arlington Reservoir (continued)

Time Line


Dec. 1980

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) inspects Reservoir dam.

April 1981

Town Planning Department submits proposal to the Zoning Board for swimming area. Reservoir water is pre-filtered and treated to remove discoloration and bacteria. Bathing water escapes via a sluice gate into the Reservoir.

Sept. 1981

USACOE classifies the Reservoir impoundment as "unsafe, non-emergency" because it cannot adequately regulate water during severe storm events. The impoundment suffers from slumping, displacement of riprap, toppled trees and ponding in the spillway. Department of Public Works (DPW) required to promulgate an "assessment, recommendations and remedial measures" between 9/8/81 and 9/8/82.

April 1982

DPW responds to USACOE classification with plans to widen and contour the crest of the spillway, repair erosion to the embankments, establish a warning system for up to 3 miles downstream and lower water level seasonally. DPW reclassifies the Reservoir as a recreational resource and not a drinking water supply. This reclassification lowers the maintenance performance standards for the water body.

April 1983

Construction of swimming area begins.

Jan. 1988

ACC approves improvement plan for Arlington Reservoir. Plan includes new lights for Hurd Field, bridge renovation to Hurd Field, expanded parking, vegetative screen for stump dump, playground equipment, granite benches every ╝ mile and a map.

Feb. 1989

DPW submits Notice of Intent for repair of the filter system for the swimming area.

Mar. 1992

Arlington and Lexington Conservation Commissions plan a linkage between the Reservoir and Great Meadows along the Munroe Brook. Half of the trail is completed but the final stretch is halted by Lexington abutters.

May 1997

Arlington Parks Department improves the handicapped accessibility to the Reservoir.


Addenda since 1998:

June 1998

Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Management Office of Dam Safety, quoting a 1987 report by Camp Dresser and McKee, Inc. which mentioned "serious structural and/or hydraulic and/or emergency action plan deficiencies," inspects Reservoir dam, finds some wear and erosion damage, and recommends removal of trees and brush which are considered hazardous on an earthen dam.

May 1999

Reservoir Committee formed under the Vision 2020 Environment Task Group.

Summer 1999

DPW hires Weston & Sampson, consultants, to study the dam safety problem and to make recommendations.

Fall 1999

Committee takes surveys on residents’ use of the Reservoir at Town Day (87 responses) and Peirce and Dallin schools (119 responses)

Jan. 2000

Presentation of consultant’s preliminary report with several options including one that would save the trees by keeping the water level low year-round and isolating the swimming area.

Spring 2000

Survey on Reservoir included in annual census mailing; 2000+ responses show strong support for preserving the swimming area and the recreational and habitat values of the Reservoir.

Fall 2000

Revised consultant’s report does not include any option that would save the trees.

Feb. 2001

Test wells dug to investigate subsurface conditions.


Further explorations proceed on what to do about the dam and the Reservoir area.

Arlington Conservation Commission - Original version: September 1998 - Revision: May 2001

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