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Online Historic Water System Photos and Plans

You can view photos and plans of old water systems in the Commonwealth.


DCR, MWRA, and the Massachusetts State Archives have made available 8,800 photos that document the Metropolitan Water Works System (MWW; predecessor to both DCR and MWRA) between 1895 and 1926.  Working with the Boston Public Library Digital Services, through its partnership with Digital Commonwealth, federal and state grants were used to digitally transform the collection at no cost to the inter-agency collaborators.

This treasure trove of photographs documents the construction and early operation of the water supply distribution system throughout metropolitan Boston at the start of the 20th Century.  The collection covers the:

  • Wachusett Reservoir
  • Wachusett Dam
  • Wachusett Aqueduct
  • Sudbury Reservoir
  • Sudbury Dam
  • Weston Aqueduct
  • Weston Reservoir
  • Associated pipe lines, pumping stations, reservoirs, and standpipes.  

The images include homes, businesses, mills, town buildings, schools, churches, cemeteries, and railroad stations. About 50 different cities and towns, as well as several Boston neighborhood districts, can be seen in this collection.  These pictures, mostly derived from 7,839 glass plate negatives, represent the Boston area’s drinking water system prior to the 1926-1940 expansion that culminated in the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir.

Accessing the photos

To access the pictures, go to the MWW Photo page.

Once you are on the MWW Photo Collection page, there are a various ways to search the files:

  • Browse by topic or by place (city/town) from the right
  • Search by a word, or phrase.  Be creative! Many more words are searchable than in browse by topic (note: land owner name most likely spelled with a 's, so if no result is found, try variations of the 's)
  • After results appear, you can sort by date; and, if needed, change number of images per page
  • Clicking on a single result, the top portion of the page will be the image and bottom portion the catalog record of the image.  Click on the image, and a scale-able image appears.

Accessing water system plans

Associated with the MWW Photo Collection is a set of 72 Wachusett Reservoir land survey blueprints. These blueprints were annotated by the MWW engineers with the photo number of 1,432 real estate images.  There are links on the survey page and the photo collection page to connect to each other. You can find the place of a picture from the photo collection on the survey, or vice versa:

  • Search by MWW image number.  That number can be found in the catalog record obtained by the instructions above.  Look for either the accession number or identifier.  The image number is the digits that follows "EN4.05/2630X" in the accession field; it is the same number, without the leading zeros and without the leading MWW, in the identifier field.
  • Click on the image result, and in the catalog record below, verify that the image number is located on that blueprint sheet (image numbers are listed in the notes field).
  • Click the blueprint image to enlarge.  Scroll around to locate the image number, which are annotated in red ink.

Utilize two separate windows – one for the blueprints and the other for the photos – to compare the image to its location on the map!

MWW Photograph Collection

DCR Archives has compiled a comprehensive history of the MWW Photograph Collection along with a PowerPoint summarizing the archival preservation of this collection:
MWW Photograph Collection History 
MWW Photograph Collection Preservation 
Downstream Spring 2015 - Digital Archives 

You can go to the DCR Archives web page for more information about the entire agency’s documented history.


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