No. 10066 Pumping Station
Received National Register designation in 1990
[Note: this reproduction of the information in the National Register Nomination Form may have typographical errors, and for technical matters, the reader may want to consult a copy of the original, which is available at the Boston Landmarks Commission or the Dorchester Historical Society]
The Calf Pasture Pumping Station is located on Columbia Point, a 350 acre peninsula, two miles south of Boston in the neighborhood of Dorchester. The pumping station and two related outbuildings, a gate house and shaft entrance, share a 9.5 acre lot and face northeast onto Dorchester Bay. The landscape of the peninsula is generally flat, with the exception of a hilly area to the east of the pumping station. A modern building, the switch house, is located north of the pumping station complex, and is not included in the nomination. Columbia Point was the landing place in Dorchester for Puritan Settlers. Native Americans called the site “Mattaponnock”. Between 1630 and 1869, the marshlands of the peninsula were used as a cow or “calf pasture.” Its land mass originally totalled only 14 acres, however, numerous landfills from the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries have increased the acreage to its present size, 350 acres. Calf Pasture’s pumping station shares Columbia Point with several notable buildings. To the northwest is the recently renovated Harbor Point Complex, originally built in 1953 as one of nation’s first public housing projects, it is now a mixed income development. Calf Pasture’s rear facade faces the University of Massachusetts Boston Harbor Campus, constructed in 1970. It is a large red brick complex which has a total of 1.6 million square feet of classrooms, offices and recreation space. In 1979, the John F. Kennedy Library was constructed from designs by I.M. Pei and Associates. The dramatic white concrete and glass structure stands at the eastern tip of Columbia Point, facing Dorchester Bay. Finally, the Massachusetts Archives building, designed by Jim Batchelor and completed in 1986, is located to the east of the Pumping Station. This structure houses the Commonwealth Museum, the State Records Center and the Central Microgaphics unit. The plan of the structure is L-shaped. The engine room, the main section, measures 201 feet by 72 feet. The boiler room, an ell off of the engine room, measures 80 feet by 60 feet. The main elevation is divided into 5 sections, arranged in a step fashion. The lowest sections are 23 feet high and are on the outside. The intermediate sections measure 45 feet, and, the center section is 84 feet. The central section has a very steeply pitched gable-on-hip roof; the roof on the four remaining sections is flat. Copper flashing is evident on the main facade. This central section on both the front and rear elevations is framed by narrow castellated turrets which functioned as ventilators for the steam driven pumps. The roof on the one story ell, which served as a boiler room is a gable-on-gable, featuring a row of clerestory windows. The exterior walls are constructed of rough cut, rock faced granite. Dark colored granite is used for most of the exterior; light granite is used to highlight certain architectural elements. Decorative detailing in lighter granite includes the belt courses, window and door frames and the castellated cornice. The central section of the main elevation has two plaques; the one to the left reading “B.I.S.” (Boston Improved Sewer) and the one to the right with the construction date, 1883. All original granite appears to be intact and in excellent condition. However, years of accumulated dirt hide the polychromatic scheme. The structure’s foundation is made of granite. The structure is articulated by round arch and rectangular windows, spaced evenly throughout the elevations. The central section of the main elevation is dominated by a huge round-arch window, measuring 26 feet in diameter. This window is set directly above the large double doors which serve as the main entrance. The intermediate sections each contain four round arch windows, two on the first story and two on the second. The outer, one story sections each contain four rectangular windows. The fenestration of the rear elevation is similar to the front. This pattern continues on the sides of the lower section. A prominent belt course at the second story of the central section becomes the cornice line of the intermediate section. It is highlighted by rough cut, exaggerated dentils, giving the structure a castle-like appearance. Enhancing that sense are the castellated turrets which rise above the cornice line. The ell housing the boiler room is one story with long rectangular windows along its length. A round arch loading bay is placed at the center of the ell. Remnants of the coal room, partially demolished in the 1940s are clearly evident at the rear of the ell. The gatehouse and filth hoist is a compact one story rectangular structure with a hipped roof. Copper flashing is visible on all elevations. It is constructed of rough granite in a style similar to the pumping station. Each elevation, with the exception of the main elevation, is dominated by two large, round arch windows. The main elevation has a door in place of one window. A granite chimney rises above the cornice line. The west shaft entrance is a rectangular building with a hip roof. The rectangular structure has two windows on each side bay, one window on one end bay and a door on the other. Unlike the other structures, it is built of brick with granite accents. Granite voissoirs over the round arch windows, a heavy granite belt course and clasping buttresses highlight the exterior.
The interior of the main engine room is large and spacious. Above the floor level are several wrought iron catwalks supported by decorative iron brackets. Reached by circular stairs in the turrets, these were originally constructed so that the steam pumps could be serviced. The engine room has partial flooring at the grade level; stairs lead down to where the pumps are now located, below grade. The interior features decorative red and buff brickwork in the upper central section of the engine room.
The only category of archaeological resource that may be present at the Calf Pasture Pumping Station property is prehistoric. Prehistoric archaeological resources may be covered by landfill at the site, but no archaeological survey has yet been conducted. There is no specific documentation for potentially significant historic period archaeological work. A survey of 17th century archaeological resources of Dorchester (Boston University, 1979) and the Pelham Map of 1775 indicate no structures in the location of the Calf Pasture Pumping Station site.
In 1968, the majority of the windows were bricked in to prevent vandalism. Since that time, the rear coal storage room collapsed and was removed. A brick wall was erected at the end of the adjacent boiler room. In general, the structure has not been well maintained, evidenced in a leaking roof and rusting ironwork. Exterior and interior walls require cleaning as they have lost the distinction between light and darker colored granite.
Access to the pumping station is from Mount Vernon Street through the Harbor Point development, and via the University of Massachusetts access road which provides a route to all buildings on the eastern side of Columbia Road from Morrissey Blvd.
The significance of the Calf Pasture Pumping Station is manifold. Historically, it is the first sewage pumping station, and represents the city’s first major effort to establish a comprehensive public sewage system. It is an excellent example of Richardsonian Romanesque designed by city architect, George Clough and represents an evolving industrial building type to house innovative equipment. The pumping station is the only remaining 19th century building on Columbia Point. Columbia Point Pumping Station retains integrity of location, design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association, meets criteria A and C of the National Register of Historic Places on the local level.
In 1872, the Board of Health for the City of Boston reported that “large territories have been at once and frequently enveloped in an atmosphere of stench so strong as to arouse the sleeping, terrify the weak and nauseate and exasperate everybody.” Such conditions were prevalent in post Civil War American Cities with the increase of immigrant populations, living in close cramped quarters. Cholera and typhoid were two diseases which threatened the residents of poorer sections of the city as the public drinking water was contaminated by private sewer disposal pipes. With specific reference to the North End, a report entitled “The Sewage of Boston” found that this neighborhood had many “open mouthed” cesspools. Consequently, the report wrote, “no dispensary physician who has (the haymarket) district can have failed to notice the deleterious influence of such conditions upon the health of people who are absolutely powerless to help themselves.”
Joseph P. Davis, the City Engineer, was sent to Europe in September, 1876, to examine the sewage systems of other major cities. After his return in 1878, he presented detailed suggestions for Boston’s new system. Davis’ plan recommended that all established sewer pipes be connected to a central, but distant-point via a series of intermediate connecting pipes. At that central location, sewage would be pumped through pipes to holding tanks on Moon Island and then discharged into the ocean with the retreating tide.
The Boston Improved Sewage Commission decided that the Old Harbor Point in Dorchester, with its salt marshes, low land values and remote location would be an ideal site for this main drainage center. The Old Harbor Point provided an immediate route to Moon Island in Dorchester Bay, where sewage was to be stored until it could be released with the outgoing tide. In addition, it was close to the ocean, allowing coal filled barges to have easy access to the building. Therefore, as planned, the Calf Pasture Pumping station was built at the Old Harbor Point as the keystone of the sewage disposal network known as the Boston Improved Sewage System.
Between 1875 and 1883, a series of citywide intercepting sewers were built to receive sewage from existing pipes. The new sewage system, including two pumping engines was $6,551,064. The two great steam pumping engines designed by Erasmus D. Leavitt of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts. Both engines raised sewage to 35 feet, a height which caused the sewage to flow to Moon Island by gravity. The Leavitt Pumps were the world’s largest at the time, their fly wheels each weighing 72.5 tons and measuring 50 feet in diameter.
In April, 1882, the City Council was petitioned for extra funding to construct a pumphouse of fireproof quality to house this large equipment. The City Architect’s department was given this commission, and $300,000 was allocated to the construction and design.
As designed, the layout consisted of an engine room, a coal room and two boiler rooms. The boiler rooms connected the larger engine and coal rooms, and thus created a square plan with a central courtyard. However, only the large engine room, one boiler room and a coal shed were built, hence the structure was shaped like an L rather than square.
The structure had been designed to accommodate eight pumps with boilers. On January 1, 1884, when the station began pumping, only two pumps were in place. At that time, only three quarters of the engine room had been constructed. The northeast wing was added in 1905.
The plans for the Calf Pasture Pumping Stations are dated August 1, 1881; when the structure was completed in 1883, several designed elements were not included. Originally the four turrets were designed with conical towers, however, they were built with castellated tops, most likely to accommodate a steam release ventilation system. The roof was more steeply pitched in the original design, and there was more detailing and articulation of the stone work.
At its completion in 1905, the Calf Pasture Pumping Station was a dramatic sight at Old Harbor Point. Its heavy proportions and castle-like silhouette dominated the slim peninsula. A gatehouse of compatible design and materials was built at the northwest side of the pumping station to house gates that controlled the flow of sewage into the station. The gatehouse also contained the filth hoists which measured the height of the sewage coming from the pipes to the pumping station and also screened the sewage for solids.
Another smaller structure, an entrance to the West Shaft, lies east of the pumping stations, along water’s edge. A very narrow peninsula once stretched from the pumping station to this small building, but the area has since been landfilled. The structure covers the West Shaft, which was used as an access way to the underground tunnel that carried sewage from Calf Pasture to Moon Island. This entrance allowed workers on small barges to scrape sludge from the bottom of the tunnel.
The plan and elevation of the structure indicate the functions which occur inside. The roof height is where two Worthington pumps, used in case of heavy rainfall where originally placed, and taller to accommodate Leavitt pumps. The decorative castellated turrets served as ventilation units, and the many windows provided adequate lighting for all areas on the interior.
Stylistically, the Calf Pasture pumping Station responds to the eclectic nature of architectural design in the late 19th century. The steeply pitched roof and crenellated turrets appear to be inspired by medieval architecture whose elements were often used in the Queen Anne Style. Also evident is the influence of Henry Hobson Richardson’s Romanesque Revival style. Although lacking the polychromatic stonework, the structure’s predominant features including supporting arches, rough cut granite and heavy proportions indicate Richardson’s influence.
In his book American City Planning, Mel Scott wrote that by 1915, Boston “had park, water supply and sanitation systems unmatched in the entire nation.” Within 35 years of its construction, the Calf Pasture Pumping Station was the keystone of a sewage disposal system that was a model for the rest of the country.
The architectural significance of the Pumping Station has often been overshadowed by the industrial importance of the complex as Boston’s first sewage pumping station. The designer of the pumping station, City Architect, George Albert Clough, had previously designed parts of the fresh water system for Chestnut Hill and Framingham.
Clough was born on March 27, 1843, in Blue Hill Maine. He attended Blue Hill Academy and worked as a draftsman for his father Asa Clough, a shipbuilder. In 1863, after his father’s death, Clough went to Boston to study architecture in the office of Snell and Gregerson. He stayed with the firm until 1869, when he opened his own office in the city of Boston. An 1897 directory of Maine business professionals, Men of Progress, wrote of Clough: “his life long and, thorough training, combined with his natural aptitude for the profession, made him successful from the start.”
Clough was appointed Boston’s first city architect in 1874, five years after leaving the firm of Snell and Gregerson. Under his ten-year direction of that office, Clough was. responsible for an extensive number of public structures in Boston including the Latin and English High School, the Suffolk County Courthouse, the Prince School on Newbury Street, and the Congress Street Firestation in the Fort Point Channel. He also provided the first plans accepted by the trustees of the Boston Public Library in 1880 and carried out the first restoration of the State House in 1881. Clough designed 85 school buildings in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania.
The Calf Pasture Pumping Station appears to have brought an end to Clough’s term as City Architect. City Council records consistently indicated that the construction of the pumping station should be carried out by laborers from the city of Boston. Clough created controversy when he dismissed all masons working on the project, claiming they were actually from Maine. He replaced them with men of his own choice; the City Council felt these men were poor craftsmen. The City Aldermen believed that the fired men were from Boston, and not Maine as Clough contended.
After being removed from his city post, Clough resumed his private practice with an office at 53 Tremont Street. He designed numerous public buildings and homes in Blue Hill, Maine. In 1905, Clough established a firm called Clough and Wardner, which designed several homes in Boston and Brookline. Clough died in Brookline, Massachusetts in January, 1911.
In 1940, one of the two Leavitt pumps cracked. As a result both the Leavitt and the Worthington pumps were dismantled and removed. The entire system was changed from steam power to electric power. Today, the interior of the Pumping Station does not retain any of its historically significant engineering equipment, although the gatehouse retains its original filth hoist apparatus. After the 1940s, the station no longer required the enormous space designed to house the pumps and the coal room, which were no longer necessary. When the roof-of the coal room collapsed in 1946, this section was demolished. In 1954, after numerous break-ins, the building’s windows were bricked up. Until 1968, Calf Pasture Pumping Station was the system’s headworks, handling all of the city’s sewage.
A new sewage treatment plant was constructed on Deer Island in Boston Harbor in 1968. A new headworks near Columbia Circle was constructed as the primary gatherer of sewage to be transported to the new treatment plant. The new system proved to be inadequate, requiring that Calf Pasture and Moon Island remain open, on a stand-by basis, in case of heavy rains.
Although little maintenance has been done in recent years, the Calf Pasture pumping station is reported to be structurally sound.
Administration of the pumping station passed from the Boston Improved Sewage Commission to the City’s Street Department, later the Public Works Department. Sewage treatment and disposal were operated by Sewage Division of Public Works until 1977, when the Boston Water and Sewer Commission was established. At present, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission owns and operates Calf Pasture Pumping Station. With the new efforts of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority to clean up Boston harbor and update the Deer Island facilities, it is expected that the Calf Pasture Pumping Station will no longer be needed.
Archives. Boston Water and Sewer Commission, Boston, Mass.
-Collection of drawings of Calf Pasture Pumping Station
-Collection of photographs
-Collection of maps explaining history of sewers in Boston
Clark, Eliot C. Main Drainage Works of the City of Boston. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, 1885.
Eliot, Samuel A. Biographical History of Massachusetts. Volume 3. Boston: Massachusetts Biographical Society, 1911.
Herndon, Richard. Men of Progress: Biographical Sketches of Leaders in Business and Professional life in the State of Maine. Boston: New England Magazine, 1897.
Warner, Sam Bass. Streetcar Suburbs. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.
Engineering News, February 17, 1883.
Obituary of George Clough, Ellsworth (Maine) American, January 11, 1911, p. 6.
Society for Industrial Archeology. Thirteenth Annual Conference Tour Brochure: South Boston, Quincy, and Dorchester. Boston, 1984.
Boston City Council. Reports for the Municipal Years 1876, 1877, 1878, 1880, 1882, 1883. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill.
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Calf Pasture/Moon Island Feasibility Study Fact Sheet. Boston: April 25, 1986.
__________________________________. Report of the Combined Sewerage Overflow Scheduling. Boston: February 27, 1987.
University of Massachusetts at Boston, Pumphouse Advisory Committee. The Pumphouse: A Proposal to Recycle the Calf Pasture Pumping Station at Columbia Point as a Community/University Center, 1975.
Weidlinger Associates. Structural Evaluation of the Calf Pasture Pumping Station. Cambridge, 1983.