Rare Photos of Boston’s Metropolitan Works, 1893

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

As our very large Bradford Family Collection continues to be processed, unexpected items come to light.  Today, as I was organizing the many photographs in the collection, I came across an envelope addressed to Laurence Bradford (1842-1909) containing twenty-five images depicting the building of a portion of the early sewage system on Deer Island. Many of the photographs are of the dredging of Shirley Gut.  As a civil engineer, Laurence Bradford worked on the project. He was part of the initial planning phase as early as 1888 and conducted hydrographic surveys around Deer Island.  He was also in charge of building the bulkhead and “of dredging and preparing the channel across the Gut for reception of the sewer pipe.”[1]

Diver H.W. Phillips at Shirley Gut with the Deer Island Alms House in background, Oct. 1893.

Diver H.W. Phillips at Shirley Gut with the Deer Island Alms House in background, Oct. 1893.

Deer Island, so called because of the deers that swam to safety on its shores when pursued by wolves, is actually no longer an island. It is a peninsula stretching into Boston Harbor from Winthrop. The Shirley Gut that had separated the island from the mainland was filled in by beach erosion during the devastating hurricane of 1938. Today it is home to the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant. In 1893, however, when these photographs were taken, it was still best known for the large gothic-looking Alms House that loomed over the shoreline. The “deserving poor” of Boston began being ferried out to the island in 1853.  In 1896 the Alms House became Deer Island House of Correction (the prison was closed in 1991).

Center Section of Siphon at Shirley Gut, Oct. 1893

Center Section of Siphon at Shirley Gut, Oct. 1893

In April, 1893 the Board of Metropolitan Sewerage Commissioners received approval for plans to construct a sewer and siphon across the Shirley Gut between Point Shirley and Deer Island.  The photographs of this work are wonderful. It was obviously no small task to dredge and create this system. The image of the diver, H.W. Phillips, suited up in his primitive (and heavy) equipment, about to don his helmet, with the Alms House in the background, is particularly interesting. Of equal note are the workers and children sitting in the large center section of the siphon.

Mason lining the siphon pipes with brickwork before launching, Shirley Gut, July 1893.

Mason lining the siphon pipes with brickwork before launching, Shirley Gut, July 1893.

Laurence Bradford, the son of Rev. Claudius Bradford and Maria Weston Bradford, was one of the owners of the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society’s Bradford House, located at 931 Tremont Street, Duxbury.  He inherited the house after his aunts, Lucia and Charlotte Bradford, passed away in 1893 – coincidentally, the same year these photographs were taken.  Laurence and his wife, Hattie Phipps Bradford, used the family homestead only during the summer months. Their sons, Gershom and Edward Bradford, donated the home, its contents and its vast archival collection to the DRHS in 1968.

[1] Letter from H. A. Carson, Chief Engineer of Metropolitan Sewerage Commission to “Whom it May Concern,” Feb. 28, 1894. Bradford Family Collection, Drew Archival Library.

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