Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stony Brook Imprisoned!

Standing at Jackson square or Amory street, it's hard to imagine that sea-run brook trout once returned from Massachusetts Bay to the open waters of Stony brook to breed each year. Of course the greatest difficulty comes from the lack of a brook at the site. Or at least the lack of a proper brook. Stony brook is there, at least as a passageway for stormwater. Stony brook still runs the length of Jamaica Plain, from Hyde Park to Roxbury, in a concrete and brick conduit. Telling the whole story of Stony brook would take a book, but it's nice to get the basic story out and remind people of what was once one of the most important features of Jamaica Plain.

Boston Daily Globe October 23, 1901

Stony Brook Being Imprisoned. Progress of the Work of Building the Conduit - Stream Has Been Costly.

Stony brook, in which our grandfathers waded and caught minnows when it pursued it tortuous way through old Roxbury, and after sluggishly moving through low marsh lands emptied into a tidal estuary of the Back Bay basin at what is now Elmwood st, became about 1880 somewhat of a nuisance.

The growth in population, with increased land value, made its changeable course the cause of numerous disputes and difficulties. Aside from this, however, as Stony brook drained an area of 14 square miles with changed conditions it became unable to perform its duties satisfactorily.

As is well known, when civilization encroaches upon nature and gradually changes her aspect,the natural drainage that sufficed for the forest primeval becomes inadequate.

So it was found necessary to straighten and widen the bed of Stony brook. In 1884 a channel was completed 18 feet wide, with high walled sides. Through this new and shorter route the brook babbled sometimes peacefully at a depth of 18 inches and again tumbled at a depth of five feet.

Apparently the old brook was fixed for live and was contented with its environment, but not so. From a state of purity, when as a rural brook it delighted the eye and quenched the thirst of the wayfarer, it had degenerated, and was now a receptable for rubbish of all kinds.

The fish that sported in its ripples and eddies and the wild flowers that bloomed along its banks were replaced by the flotasm of the neighboring back yards. When high it was unsightly, and when low it was odoriferous.

After a couple of years of brooding over its fallen estate, it could stand it no longer, and so in February 1886, old Stony brook rose in its wrath, burst its bonds and got gay.

It rained from 7:45 a.m., February 10, to 2:45 p.m., February 13. The rainfall with the melted snow and ice aggregated about nine inches; the culverts were too small to carry the water, the brook overflowed its banks and flooded an area of 700 acres.

Above Tremont street the water entered 191 buildings, 63 acres were overflowed in the vicinity of and below Elmwood street, where 1437 buildings occupied by 3090 families were affected.

Once Mayor O'Brien appointed a commission of three eminent hydraulic engineers to make a report of the disaster and form plans to prevent its recurrance. The commission included James B. Francis, Eliot C. Clarke and Clemens Hershel.

These gentlemen made a very accurate and complete report and reccommended a conduit in the shape of a half-horseshoe with a capacity of 2000 cubic feet per second, measuring 17 feet extreme width and 15 feet 6 inches extreme height.

This was to be laid on a bed of concrete, the bottom, or invert and the sides of brick, 8 inches thick, and the arch of brick 16 inches thick. Where necessary the sides were to be strengthened by a wall of rubble.

Foreseeing that the same causes that made this conduit a necessity, might at some future time demand still larger facilities for disposing of the water the commissioners formulated a plan for another outlet from Canterbury st to Neponset bridge. This will not be needed for a great many years if at all, but the contingency is provided for.

Work was commenced very soon and about 4500 feet of the conduit were built in 1887 and 1888, affording immediate relief from Roxbury Crossing to Back Bay park.

On account of a proposed change of grade by the Providence division of the NY, NH & H RR, the city and railroad company jointly built another section from Roxbury Crossing to Boylston station in 1893 and 1894.

Between 1897 and the present time the secion from Boylston station to Green street has been built.

As may well be imagined, the damages paid by the city in the prosecution of this enormous work have been considerable. Up to 1894 the total amount paid for damages and land taking was $400,000. Of this $250,000 was paid to Boston Belting company at Elmwood street alone.

At one time this same water right, now owned by the belting company, was offered to the town of Roxbury for $1500. Paul Curtis, one of the selectmen, recommended that it be bought but no one anticipating the trouble it would afterward cause the city, nothing was done.

At present about 1000 feet of the conduit between Cornwall and Green streets are under construction. The work is being prosecuted in three sections.

The stream is diverted by a flume around the work. Then with a derrick, two cable machines and steam drills, an excavation is made 28 feet wide, 10 feet wider than the walled channel of the brook, and about 12 feet below the present bed. A tiled drain is laid under this to carry off the ground water.

Then on a bed or concrete, where there is not already a good bottom, the brick bottom of the conduit is laid. To get the best flow the brick is laid carefully and smoothly as in a house front, and all joints are scraped and pointed.

Then the brick walls are built, backed by a five foot wall of rubble and cement, which support is necessary. Above this wooden centering, which runs on casters, is erected the 16-inch arch, which at the center has to stand a pressure of 10,5000 pounds to the square foot, and will stand 28 times this strain.

Nearly on a level with the top of the conduit is added the Roxbury low level sewer, which is intended to accommodate the low lying districts which cannot be drained by the regular sewerage system.

This is egg-shaped, with a long diameter of 36 feet 6 inches and two feet wide.

The capacity of the conduit is five times as great as that of the old walled channel. The old double culverts under the streets would only accomodate a flow of 400 cubic feet per second. About 13,000 feet of the conduit are now completed, about one-half of the distance to the Hyde Park line, where the work terminates.

It costs $75 to $100 per running foot to build.

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