There are holes all over Salem, granting access to traces of our infrastructural past below. Lots of utility projects this summer, and even now, and each time I see men’s (it is always men) heads semi-submerged I run over to see what I can see. Generally, it’s just road layers and cobblestones–not very exciting. So when a friend posted a picture of the wooden water pipes uncovered during a big project on Boston Street, I got over there as quickly as possible. And there it was, just one pipe in pieces, except where it opened up into the property from the street. Amazing!
I am fortunate to have an archaeologist/historian and an architectural historian among my colleagues, so I obtained the essential information about how this pipe came to be on Boston Street relatively quickly. Apparently Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire were laying such pipes in the 1790s, initiatives of incorporated aqueduct companies which were formed by the merchant communities of all three cities. In the case of Salem, the Salem and Danvers Aqueduct Company was established in 1797, “for the purpose of supplying the inhabitants generally of Salem and Danvers with pure spring water”, and in the spring of 1799 water began running through wooden pipes (pine was preferred) to the properties of its subscribers. The first reservoir was on Gallows Hill, in relatively close proximity to Boston Street. According to the Company’s history, demand was ever-increasing: the 3-inch-wide pipes were replaced by 5-inch pipes in 1804, iron replaced wood in the 1850s, at around the same time that the still-beautiful Spring Pond, bordering Salem, Lynn and Peabody (then South Danvers) became the primary reservoir, supplying the city of Salem with “the elixir of life” as author Samuel W. Cole observed in 1858. There were many leaking issues too, and the extraordinary craftsman/engineer Benjamin Clark Gilman (1763-1835) from Exeter, New Hampshire was called in to fix them, based on his experiences in Boston, Portsmouth, Exeter, and New London, Connecticut. Industrial demand kept the pressure on the Salem system, and in 1869, the private Aqueduct Company transferred the ownership of its corporation to the city of Salem.
Subscriber receipt, 1844, Peabody Institute Library. Note the stipulation about wasting water! 1893 Map of part of Lynn and Salem, including Spring Pond, which indicates the main water route–Wenham Lake soon replaced Spring Pond as Salem’s reservoir; The famous Lynn Mineral Springs Hotel at Spring Pond–later the Fay Estate–from Alonzo Lewis’s History of Lynn, 1844; 1831 advertisement for the Hotel, Boston Evening Transcript.