16-year-old author digs deep; Teen writes about construction of Wachusett Reservoir.


Byline: Karen Nugent

WEST BOYLSTON - One wouldn't think a book about a 115-year-old engineering project written by a 16-year-old would draw a standing-room-only crowd of all ages and interests.

But this project, the 1895-1908 construction of the Wachusett Dam and Reservoir, besides being one of the largest civil engineering feats in New England history, forever changed the four towns - Boylston, Clinton, Sterling and West Boylston - that sacrificed land for Boston's public water supply.

Author Eamon McCarthy Earls, 16, of Franklin, told the packed audience at the Beaman Memorial Library Wednesday evening that he first became interested in the dam, in Clinton, after a 2004 visit. That piqued his interest in the Boston-area water system, which the reservoir still supplies, and, at age 14, he decided to read all he could about the Quabbin Reservoir, which feeds the Wachusett.

The Quabbin, in Belchertown, was constructed in the 1930s - about 40 years after the Wachusett. But according to Eamon and several audience members, it gets all the publicity.

"To my surprise, there is hardly any mention of the Wachusett, and there were no published books that I could find," he said.

So, Eamon embarked on his own research, using material from the Clinton Historical Society, the Clinton Daily Item newspaper, with its day-by-day accounts of the project; libraries, and government documents, especially information from the-then Metropolitan Water Board, something he found fascinating.

"There are strange details, in there, and they (Water Board documents) are strangely literary in their own way," he said.

His 156-page book, titled "Wachusett: How Boston's 19th Century Quest for Water Changed Four Towns and a Way of Life," describes everything from the westward quest by Boston politicians to find bigger water supplies as populations and industry expanded in the late 1800s, to the squalid shanty towns that sprang up in the four towns around the Nashua River bed.

The $11 million project drew more than 4,000 immigrant workers from Italy, Hungary and Finland, and a group of African-Americans from Virginia, many of whom perished because black workers were often sent into tunnels to lay down explosives. There were 37 recorded fatalities in all, with 1896, the year a 12-mile-long aqueduct was built to connect the reservoir to the Sudbury Reservoir, claiming the most lives.

Many of the skilled laborers, such as stone masons, later moved on to a similar dam project on...

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