Hometown History #77: The Decade of Drought


Most of the decade of the 1960s was unusually dry in Massachusetts. From 1962 to 1966, 34 out of 46 months had below-average precipitation. By the mid-1960s, the Quabbin Reservoir in western Massachusetts, upon which Boston and much of the eastern part of the state depend, was many feet below its normal level, allowing the foundations of villages long hidden beneath the water to be discerned again.

According to `Mass Moments,’ in 1965, the worst year by most estimates, Rockport, Mass., got approval to use water from a quarry, so long as it was treated twice with chlorine. Also in Massachusetts, Randolph, Holbrook and Braintree banded together to get water from a gravel pit. Fitchburg hired a rainmaker. The next month, 11 Massachusetts counties were declared drought disaster areas.  Additionally, the people of a a south shore town took to hand carrying herring to their spawning grounds since the streams were too low for them to swim.

In Franklin, according to Franklin, Mass.: From Puritan Precinct to 21st Century Edge City, “A bad drought in the early ‘60s forced Franklin to declare a water emergency, and turn to the builders of the I-495 for help. Plans were circulated for a special emergency reservoir in a swamp to the west of the new highway, with the steep slope of the highway’s edge serving as a dam. The plan never went forward.” And, the author added, “Another proposal floated for almost a decade, involved reestablishing Mine Brook Pond with a dam, in hopes that water seeping from the pond would replenish the town’s plummeting water table.

The drought ended with flooding rains in the Spring of  `67 and robust snowfall the next year. But Franklin’s unusual dependence on wells, and its literal flushing of its groundwater down the Charles River has made water ever-an-important topic.

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