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Time Travel – Dana Common

Historical sites and artifacts are spread throughout the Quabbin Reservoir. Few locations, however, provide a more powerful reminder of what happened here than Dana Common.  (Click on the images for a better view.  You can see a full size version of the first panorama here.)

Dana Common is just under a two mile walk from the entrance to Gate 40, on Route 32A in Petersham.  I doubt that images can effectively convey what it is like to reach the Common for the first time.  New Englanders will know that feeling well.  You ARE in an old New England center of town. The layout of the roads and sidewalks make that crystal clear.  But, there are no buildings and there are no people.  It’s very peaceful there, too peaceful.  A cold December day seems fitting for a visit there. If you’d like to know more detail about the Common and the walk along the Petersham Greenwich Road from Gate 40 to the Common, I’d strongly recommend you consult J.R. Greene’s Historic Quabbin Hikes, which is available from most bookstores in the area.  (Unfortunately I don’t have a good web link for the purchase of the book.  If any reader can suggest one, please do so.)

There’s plenty of parking available at Gate 40, and the experience begins immediately.  Though it is now difficult to see, and nearly impossible to photograph effectively, there’s an old cellar hole from the residence of one Asa “Popcorn” Snow who led a colorful life, and death.  He was very concerned about premature burial it seems.  So prior to his death, he had a coffin, with a window, prepared, so that the undertaker could double check his work.  Mr. Snow, as is the case with many of the residents of Dana who passed prior to the building of the Reservoir, is now interned in the Quabbin Cemetery just off Route 9 in Belchertown.  To the left, however, is a beautiful brook, which I believe is known as Moose Brook.  Water is always key here and like history, you can find it everywhere.  This was something like the view Popcorn might have had from his back window.

The walk along Petersham Greenwich Road is classic New England in and of itself.  The old shade trees, now character trees though, share the landscape with the millions of pines that were planted when the Reservoir was built.

They also share the landscape with artifacts of the people who once lived here.  Little details tell the story.

Along the Road are numerous cellar holes and foundations.  This one from the Carter home, which had been the Dana Poor Farm up until the 1920’s. Yes, such institutions once did indeed exist.

There had been a garage here once.

The road itself was straightened in the eaerly 1900’s.  It is actually still paved, though the pavement is crumbling. The old road that is visible as you approach the Common runs parallel.

Arriving at the common, one of the first sites you come to is the old Town Hall.

Not far to the right, is the old School.

The town Cemetery also bordered the Common, the only reminder now being the old stone fence.

Houses, or rather cellar holes, ring the Common.  This was the Dunn homestead.

Evidently the Dunn’s didn’t feel it was worth the effort to remove the safe you see.  Hopefully they did remove the contents.  A different kind of cellar hole is just down the street.

This was the Cooley Langley home where smaller stones and cement were used.  The stories are too numerous for this blog, but I could go on.  Perhaps as a lap stop, we can revisit the Common itself.  Again as every New Englander knows, the town common is where you’ll find memorials to those who fought in the Civil War.  Those monuments are gone from Dana Common. We can only see where they were…  (They can be seen at the Quabbin Cemetery in Ware.)

The Memorial you will find here, placed in 1996, reminds us of the enormity of the sacrifice that the families of Dana endured.

The Town of Dana ceased to exist on April 28, 1938.  It was one of four towns (including Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott) taken to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir, the main source of drinking water for the people of Metropolitan Boston.  By that time, the residents had all been moved off the land. There was compensation involved, but it was generally considered to be inadequate.  Besides, can you compensate for the loss of a “way of life?”  When I look at that Memorial, I’m struck by just how many times people from eastern Massachusetts have said to me “people in Boston have no clue” as to the origins of their water.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sandra #

    The small rock wall is lovely. Sad and unusual stories these. My father-in-law cut and burned trees at the Quabbin after folks left their homes.

    December 8, 2010
    • jameshuntphotography #

      Hi Sandra,
      Thanks for viewing. Your Father-in-Law must have been one of the thousands who worked on the construction of the Reservoir which really picked up in pace around this time. Everything below the waterline had to be demolished and then burned, including trees and dwellings. The task was enormous. J.R. Greene actually has a new book out that describes this period, “From Valley to Quabbin 1938 – 1946” in which he talks about that activity, among others, in detail. Ironically of course those jobs came during the Great Depression.

      December 9, 2010

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