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.
November 8th, 2015 at 10:04 am
Strawbery Banke Museum, where I used to work, has a few of the Portsmouth pipes on display. They’re still found there during excavation projects. If I recall correctly, they’re made of lignum vitae – despite having been displayed outdoors in all weather for 50 years now, they are still in excellent shape. http://billyeaton.zenfolio.com/p173708807/hD0A01EA#hd0a01ea
November 8th, 2015 at 10:24 am
Thanks Michelle! Kim Alexander gave me the tip about Gilman–what a guy!
November 8th, 2015 at 10:34 am
My father kept a section of wooden water pipe on the fireplace mantle in his office at Phillips Exeter Academy. It came out of a street in Exeter, NH. c. 1955?
Probably part of water works by Gilman? I will see if my father had more information.
November 8th, 2015 at 10:40 am
No doubt! Gilman was an Exeter native. A wonderful clockmaker too: he seems to have been a Renaissance man.
November 8th, 2015 at 10:54 am
Terrific photos! I wish we’d had these images or some pipe segments to show when I was at the PEM. The Gardner-Pingree House was an early subscriber to the aqueduct and we always talked about the wooden pipes when we showed visitors the kitchens–but it was difficult for most audiences to imagine water being carried in wooden pipes!
November 8th, 2015 at 11:01 am
Well the owner of the house has saved these pieces–he might be willing to donate them to the PEM (wish it was still functioning as a historical society).
November 8th, 2015 at 2:43 pm
Very interesting and great photos. Thank you.
November 9th, 2015 at 7:16 am
Fascinating. Not an hour ago, a friend sent me a link to a story about pipes made from tar and wood pulp used in post-war Canada. Much more interesting than I’ve made it sound. Promise.
November 9th, 2015 at 7:22 am
Well that is late for wood. But this super-impressive Gilman guy actually preferred wood and he had metal options.
November 9th, 2015 at 1:55 pm
Large sections were dug up on Aborn street when I was a kid. Some appeared to be still in use, along with rusted out iron pipes. We routinely got brown water during rain storms until they replaced them.
November 9th, 2015 at 8:11 pm
Thanks Sean! Love these first-hand accounts!