The Parthenon. Machu Picchu. The Pyramids of Giza. There’s a reason why these sites are among the most popular tourist attractions in the world. People love ruins, perhaps more so than well-preserved buildings and structures. There’s more mystique and ambiguity. We don’t see their original appearance so our imaginations must take over. And it’s this creative process that emotionally binds us to the past.
So what could be more fun than discussing ruins in Wellesley? If you didn’t know, there are actually a number of such sites in town. In this post, I’d like to focus on just one: the Waterway, a derelict canal and overgrown parkland that once made up the heart of Indian Springs Park, an ambitious — but unsuccessful — subdivision in Wellesley Farms at the turn of the 20th Century.
But before I discuss the history of Indian Springs Park, let me start by showing some photographs of the ruins of the Waterway (all taken by Joshua Dorin in March 2013).
I also made a movie of the ruins. Just a warning…I’ve heard from a few people that this video can be a bit dizzying. Unfortunately, I can’t alter the movie without compromising its quality.)
So what are the origins of the Waterway and why did it fall into ruins? As I mentioned, the Waterway was the centerpiece of the Indian Springs Park subdivision. It was the creation of Harry J. Jaquith, who in 1894-95 began to develop his 80-acre property that stretched from Washington Street to the Wellesley Farms railroad station between the Cochituate Aqueduct and Glen Road. (His large estate house, built in 1875 out of hollow concrete blocks and known as Heckle’s Castle after its original owner, William C. Heckle, was located on Washington Street to the northeast of where Hillside Road is today. It burned down in 1909.)
As you can see in the subdivision plans, the property was broken up into 73 lots and the following streets were laid out:
- Hillside Road
- Orchard Street
- Sylvan Road (originally known as Montvale Road)
- Springdale Avenue
- Indian Springs Way (originally part of Hillside Road)
- Glen Cross Road (originally part of Croton Street)
- The Waterway
It’s this last street — the Waterway — that led from Glen Road to the canal and a basin that funneled water from Indian Springs Brook. The canal was a brick-lined channel that divided the road for about 300 feet. On the other side of Hillside Road, there was the basin — a more elaborate brick structure designed to direct the flow of the water. Steps led down from Hillside Road to a semi-circular walkway around the basin and there seems to have been a footbridge over the brook. Adjacent to this structure was a large grassy park that backed up to the aqueduct. In addition, there was a lake between the canal and Glen Road that collected the water flowing from the canal. Not much is known about either the construction or the use of the Waterway. Local lore suggests that residents may have taken Sunday strolls around the canal in their horse-drawn carriages.
Unfortunately, the Waterway fell into poor condition soon after its construction, as it was reportedly in ruins by 1906. This was no doubt a result of the failure of Indian Springs Park — only a small handful of lots were sold within the first decade.
Today, the Waterway is in complete ruins. The brick-lined canal is falling apart. Much of the basin is either missing or buried under layers of leaves and dirt. And the entire area is overgrown with trees and weeds. In fact, the road on one side of the canal is now a wooded path. This post, therefore, serves an additional purpose beyond discussing Wellesley’s history. I propose calling for the restoration (or at least the stabilization) of the Waterway. It’s a unique piece of history.
I’d also like to inquire about other abandoned or ruined historical structures in Wellesley. Here are a few that come to my mind:
- The Wellesley Farms railroad station
- The railroad bridge that crosses the Charles River behind Waterstone (the former Grossman’s site) in Lower Falls — although it was recently paved over to serve as a walkway across the river.
- Remnants of the mill/dam and the ice house at the north end of Longfellow Pond. I also believe that part of the foundation of the Hastings farmhouse that stood to the east of the pond may still exist, but I’m not 100% sure.
- The Sudbury and Cochituate Aqueducts and their associated structures: the Rosemary Brook siphon chamber building on Wellesley Avenue, the Waban Arches, and two waste weirs and gatehouses located just north of Morses Pond and on the Crosstown Trail near Woodlawn Avenue.
- The Ellis stone barn just south of Route 9 adjacent to the Charles River near the Newton line.
- There may be a few relicts left from Ridge Hill Farms on the former Baker Estate on Grove Street near the Needham line. I’m pretty sure any ruins that still exist are on the eastern side of Sabrina Lake on private property.
If you know of any others, please leave a comment. I promise not to go snooping, but it would be of huge historical value to have an inventory of the ruins in Wellesley.
- Norfolk County Registry of Deeds
- 1897 Atlas of Wellesley
- Wellesley Townsman: 15 June 1906; 10 December 1909; 24 May 1956