See amazing 1901 historic photos from Bruce Roberts: Gloucester crews worked on Haskell’s dam

City of Gloucester officials are working towards a Phase 3 for the Haskell Pond Dam reconstruction which I wrote about last week (Part 1). I included information about the original monumental build. In response, Bruce Roberts was kind enough to share these amazing photographs of the impressive crews at the Haskell Pond construction site 1901. Bonus: they were annotated by his grandfather in 1958.  West Gloucester families may recognize a surname or two, maybe a family resemblance. Please help ID if you can.

Bruce Roberts explains: “My grandfather, Edward F. Roberts, identified the individuals back in 1958.  There are some folks he didn’t recognize, since he would have been pretty young when these images were taken.  The first picture has the most identified individuals. One thing that has always been remarkable to me in the second image is how much Chester Andrews, my g-grandfather, resembled my father, Eugene Roberts, at that age.”

 HASKELL’S POND CONSTRUCTION ca.1901-02 – (Individuals ID’d by Edward Roberts in 1958)

Clearing Haskells pond late 1901 © courtesy historic photo collection Bruce Roberts

Photo 1, Dec 1901 (in snow): “Wood Choppers at Haskell’s Pond, December 1901”
Front Row, L-R: 1. Otis Lufkin, 2. Matt Poland, 3. Loren (sp?) Harris, 4. Melvin Wilkins, 5. Jim White

Back Row: 1.Asa Sargent, 2. unknown, 3. Ed Lufkin, 4. James Chadbourne, 5. Joseph Abbott, 6. unknown, 7. Joshua Roberts, 8 & 9. unknown

Clearing Haskells pond late 1901 © courtesy historic photo from collection Bruce Roberts

Photo 2 (late 1901 or early 1902):

Front, L-R: 1. Loren Harris, 2 & 3. unknown, 4. Asa Sargent

Center, w/ white shirt: Eps Walter Haskell

3rd row: (Right side, behind Asa Sargent, in light coat): Chester Andrews

(2nd to left from Chester Andrews): Fred Jeffs

2018 July 2 Haskells Pond Dam reconstruction Gloucester Massachusetts Department of Public Works directing SumCo_ photograph ©c ryan (4)

read more:

Imagine the monumental job it was clearing and readying this pond for a water reservoir and dam. Excerpt from Gloucester Daily Times summarizing the work fall and winter 1901-1902- You can find all of the Haskell’s Pond published articles from 1902 in Part 1. Emphasis mine related to historic photos above

June 19, 1902 GOOD PROGRESS MADE. Work Accomplished at Haskell’s Pond. Basin Practically prepared. Will be in Readiness to  Store Fall Rains. “A visitor to Haskell’s pond early in last November would be considerably surprised in visiting the spot today to witness the changes which have been made as it approaches in appearance to that for which the city acquired it, a storage basin for its water supply.

As the work has now progressed so far that the dam construction will be commenced next month, it may not be uninteresting to review what has been done since the city voted to take Haskell’s pond.

The water commissioners took the necessary legal action October 26, 1901 and on the morning of October 30, 1901 Mr. Herman W. Spooner, the engineer of the board, had 89 men at work, all supplied with tools and placed at different designated localities on the easterly side of the pond and the work of actual clearing was commenced.

One division disposed of the small trees under ten inches in diameter, which were out and properly corded, all brush, et., being placed at the edge of the pond to be burned later and all stumps cut flush with the surface of the ground. Another party commenced stone splitting and outing, another attended to the location of wells and vaults, while still another party repaired the roadway leaving from Essex Avenue to the scene of operations.

On November 4 the working force was increased to 135 men and two days later 168 men were at work and later the number ran up to 182.

A permanent headquarters was built for use during construction and designed later to serve as boat and tool house.

A pair of experienced woodsmen was taken from among the laborers and under a competent overseer, felled the larger growth of trees, sawed the logs deemed suitable for timer into convenient lengths and corded the balance. The quarrymen and stone cutters were busily engaged in preparing cut and marked stone monuments, which now form a permanent and well defined boundary of all the property.

The general force was at work cutting brush and trees, piling the former around the bottom of the pond, while the wood from fallen trees was corded and later sold at public auction. The hard wood logs were sold to an Essex party for anchor stocks and the big logs were sent to the mill to be sawed, the lumber bringing a good figure. During the winter, when there was no chance of fire spreading, the big piles of brush were burned and thus disposed of.

The waters in the pond were allowed to escape during the week ending November 20th and upon examination the northerly half of the bottom of the pond was found to have a gravel bottom covered only by a thin layer of decayed leaves, etc.; at the southerly and, on account of the rapid accumulation of water from the four brooks leading into this part o f the pond, no particular examination was made.

The work progressed rapidly and without interruption until about December 1, when on account of the winter weather the force was materially decreased and during the investigation work was entirely suspended.

This was not for long, however, and during the winter the work of burning the brush and getting out logs was continued by a small force.

As soon as spring opened, the work of clearing the basin was continued and the task of preparing the bottom of the basin was begun. Trenches were dug over the bottom connecting , with the main brook thus practically drying the muck a the bottom as far as possible.

The work of properly preparing the bottom was a problem requiring serious consideration, and two good plans were presented by Engineer Spooner, one for removing the muck from the bottom of the pond, the other for draining and covering the bottom with gravel. Both plans were equally satisfactory, but the last named was less expensive.

The latter plan was endorsed by the state board of health and was adopted by the water commission. Excellent gravel for the purpose was found on the sides of the basin and the work of spreading it was begun early in the spring. At the present time 26 acres of basin bottom have been covered to the depth of a foot and only four acres remain to be covered.

The draining trenches were filled with stone and will act at all times as blind drains.

Previous to this all stumps, etc, had been removed from the bottom, so that every bit of vegetable matter is covered by a foot of live gravel. Two gangs of men with a patent stump puller are at work on the sides of the pond removing the stumps so that the basin when flooded will present none of the undesirable features of Dike’s meadow.

There will be work all summer and into the fall at the pond for a small gang of men, as there is yet quite a little to do in the way of removing stumps, clearing the side, burning debris, etc

Work on the main pipe line to the city along Essex Avenue will be begun immediately and this will employ a large force of men. The work on the Annisquam and the Lanesville extension may be commenced this season if there is an opportunity.

The work on the dam at the pond for which bids are advertised will be commenced by July 7 and with the progress made at the basin and the work which will be done by that time the basin will be ready to store water from the fall rains up to the 16 foot mark.

At present 180 men are employed at Haskell’s pond and the entire work is going on rapidly and without the slightest departmental friction. The trenches did good work in draining the muck, leaving it dry, and there is just enough clay in the top spreading of gravel to make the new bottom very smooth, dry and firm.

Already three or four contractors with an eye to submitting bids on the construction of the dam have looked over the ground. They all expressed their willingness to employ local men in the work. One contractor asked if he could get plenty of good help around here. He was shown the men at work on the pond and remarked, “Those are good workers, i would be willing to hire all the good men like them that I could get.”

The expenditures at the pond to June 1 (1902) have been so far as they are obtainable $23,700. Of this amount about $15,800 has been expended for labor and the remaining $7900 for material. The detailed account of the expenditures would be too long to publish and it would take a great deal of time to reach them.”

FAST STATS 1902 (Dam construction)

Scope: See above June 19 summary to date and prior post with every contemporaneous report published in 1902.

Contractor for dam construction: Coleman Brothers, Everett, Massachusetts
Mayor: Mayor French in his 6th term
City Engineer: Herman W. Spooner
Board of Waterways commissioners: W.A.Homans, Chair; David O Frost; Alphonso Tarr; H.W. Spooner, Engineer
Project start (historic): ca. 1895
Modern project start: 1901-1902
Location(s): West Gloucester
Priority:  Mayor’s Office-City  water high priority
Bid Open and contract amount: RFP advertised June 18, 1902; contract issued July 11 awarded $54,100 for this phase  (not including amendments)
Contract completion: 1902 construction phase of dam 50% completed by December anticipated completion after winter thaw spring 1903 (see entry from December above)

OVERALL COST: projected to be $350,000 in 1902 dollars though its specificty is not entirely broken down (includes basin prep and this contract labor and materials; I have not confirmed every expense nor if it includes eminent domain fair compensation and other legal costs. There was one amendment to the contract late 1902 for an added pipe line to Wheelers Point)

HIGH RES historic map indicating Haskell’s Pond Gloucester Mass_PDF courtesy Gloucester Department Public Works archives

HIGH RES vintage plans Gloucester Mass_PDF cross section Haskells Pond Dam courtesy Gloucester Department Public Works archives



7 thoughts on “See amazing 1901 historic photos from Bruce Roberts: Gloucester crews worked on Haskell’s dam

  1. So glad to see this. There is a lot of family history here. Melvin Wilkins, was my grandfather. He was the last child born in the Haskell House on Lincoln Street. I spent the majority of my childhood exploring Haskell Reservoir. Thank you Bruce for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s so cool, Audrey! Did you know that when you were exploring, common family knowledge that your grandfather had helped?


  3. It’s interesting to look at the old historic map that accompanies this article, and see how many of the folks pictured here working on the reservoir were local landowners that lived nearby…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great walk back and so much history the wisdom that we need in the walk forward and what life has taught us comes from before and after. Thanks Catherine and like the all the posts above what blog is all about sharing! 🙂 Dave & Kim 🙂


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