Old lives and memories lie silent beneath the blue water.
August 20, 2007 7:02 AM   Subscribe

When the Quabbin Reservoir is low, they say a church steeple rises from the water, a ghostly reminder of the towns submerged by the flooding of the Swift River Valley in 1939.

Enfield: "The residents of Enfield held a farewell ball in the town hall for their lost community."
Prescott: "The youngest of the four towns and the first to give up its identity in 1928"
Greenwich: "Where eastern Massachusetts saw four luckless, shabby towns, the residents saw a home."
Dana: "The Rabbit Run was used by school children. It was the only means of getting to daily classes at Athol High School"

'I had one guy in here who swore he remembered being a little kid on a boat with his dad, paddling around the steeple,"... He tries to set such visitors straight, but 'you can't just tell people they're crazy."
posted by jessamyn (44 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Nice post jessamyn (annoying that I've been planning one on this topic for a while, but nice nonetheless). I love this sort of thing, drowned places like the original town of Jindabyne in Australia.
posted by biscotti at 7:10 AM on August 20, 2007

I used to fish the Quabbin often, and I bought this fishing map that had the sites of the old houses and towns on it. I swaear the biggest oldest lake trout used to haunt the old cellar holes 40-100 feet down.
I never saw the steeple, though you still can see the rods that lead to nowhere under the water.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:15 AM on August 20, 2007

More profiles of the towns on this page and a side note that most students at Hampshire College know this because there is on-campus housing named Enfield, Prescott and Greenwich and a function room called Dana House. Here's a folk song about the Farewell Ball (lyrics) that Mark Erelli got to play for surviving residents in 2004.
posted by jessamyn at 7:19 AM on August 20, 2007

The church steeple story would be true of Haweswater in the Lake District, had they not demolished the village first. The walls that surrounded fields are still there though and they can be seen when the water is low.
posted by vbfg at 7:23 AM on August 20, 2007

posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:25 AM on August 20, 2007

more inside
posted by Joeforking at 7:27 AM on August 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I loved hiking around the quabbin (when my ass was sore from the motorbike especially). Seeing old roads leading into the water is awesome and eery.
Lovecraft's Color Out of Space handles the subject exceedingly well, in my opinion.
posted by Busithoth at 7:34 AM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fun post. One year when the water was real low we spent an afternoon exploring Marcus, Washington, a drowned town beneath Lake Roosevelt in Washington State. You could still walk on the sidewalks that had spent the last half-century 30-40 feet under water.

Now I am pretty close to Truman Lake and other Missouri/Arkansas/Oklahoma lakes with flooded towns beneath them and I am thinking of getting my students to do some research projects on the topic. Years ago a student told me that his uncles had worked relocated several cemeteries in advance of the rising waters and that they had "some interesting stories." Wish I had pressed him further!
posted by LarryC at 7:36 AM on August 20, 2007

Great post. I have family in Amherst and Northampton, I should check out the reservoir next time I'm up there.

reservoir is really hard to spell
posted by octothorpe at 7:37 AM on August 20, 2007

This is an excellent post. I get caught up in thinking about these towns whenever the Quabbin comes up.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:45 AM on August 20, 2007

Fascinating. Reminded me first of this film, and then of this one. And there's a plot on the Quaddin reservoir in this one. (Films presented in decaying order of watchability.)
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 7:48 AM on August 20, 2007

My uncle is in Northfork, actually. Between that, growing up in Massachusetts, and going to Hampshire College, these towns are on my mind a lot. This is the movie I'd like to see: Under Quabbin the search for the lost towns.
posted by jessamyn at 7:54 AM on August 20, 2007

Most stunning of all are the dark mysterious streets of submerged downtown Manhattan.

Oh, wait, that hasn't happened yet.
Sorry, I really suck at time travel etiquette.

posted by CynicalKnight at 8:06 AM on August 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

an outstanding fictional treatment of a reservoir-drowned village in the detective genre is reginald hill's on beulah height, featuring a memorably creepy account of serial child disappearances told in thick mid-yorkshire dialect.
posted by bruce at 8:17 AM on August 20, 2007

In Dreams kind of dealt with the Quabbin factor, while filming in Western Mass to boot. Too bad I can't recommend it, really, even with all the cool location shots of places I personally love.

they even fixed the sign at my favorite diner so it'd look all spiffy.

the families from the town used to meet on UMASS Amherst campus. They were a strange lot, understandably.
posted by Busithoth at 8:17 AM on August 20, 2007

I was going to lament the lack of a Hampshire shout out, but I see you covered it inside.

Hampshire Football: Undefeated since 1970!!!
posted by OmieWise at 8:32 AM on August 20, 2007

I play in a brass quintet in the Pioneer Valley - we received payment from a church gig that I was told came from a trust fund that was set up for brass bands when the towns were to be flooded.
posted by plinth at 8:34 AM on August 20, 2007

St. Thomas, Nevada, was covered by Lake Mead in the 1930s but uncovered by low water in the 1950s and again in 2002. Some photos of foundations and artifacts uncovered in 2002, and a brief history of the area, are here.

(By coincidence some of my ancestors lived in St. Joseph before it was abandoned in 1870 and my wife's relatives lived there between 1880 when it was re-settled and the 1930s when it was abandoned again. Some of her relatives' graves were relocated to nearby Overton when the cemetery was moved in the 1930s.)
posted by flug at 8:41 AM on August 20, 2007

*St. Joseph. Sorry, I meant "St. Thomas". There is also a nearby St. Joseph, so it is confusing.

More photos of St. Thomas, more history & photos.
posted by flug at 8:50 AM on August 20, 2007

If I remember correctly there is a lovely sunken village at the bottom of the lake on the border between Syldavia and
posted by uandt at 8:58 AM on August 20, 2007

The Ladybower reservoir in Derbyshirem where they tested the bouncing bombs in WWII, is also the site of the village of Yorkshire Bridge (and has a monument to Tip the dog)

Other lost places in the UK and elsewhere...
posted by Helga-woo at 9:03 AM on August 20, 2007

Lewis: Do know what's gonna be here? Right here? A lake. As far as the eyes can see. Hundreds of feet deep. HUNDREDS of feet deep. Did you ever look out over a lake and think of somethin' buried underneath it? Buried underneath it. Well man, that's just about as buried as you can get.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:12 AM on August 20, 2007

I just moved to the Pioneer Valley and I'm looking forward to visiting the Quabbin. Great post, and the only reason it isn't a double is that I didn't want to overload my own flooded cities post!

Ritz crackers were served at the farewell ball. Yuck.

Yuck?! How dare you insult the crunchy, flaky, buttery goodness of Ritz Crackers! Ah well, all the more for me.
posted by languagehat at 9:13 AM on August 20, 2007

The Infinite Jest Connection:

Hal, of Enfield Tennis Academy, visits Quabbin Recovery Systems.
posted by mattbucher at 10:01 AM on August 20, 2007

Nice set of links. I knew about Prescott, Enfield and Greenwich from living at the Hampshire Farm - maybe if I'd been a student there I would have known about Dana too. It's such a sad story.

My grandfather actually worked on the damming project during the depression, shortly after he and my grandmother were married. She stayed behind in Boston. Come to think of it, that must have been the period when he transitioned out of being an impassioned socialist (he and my grandmother met it in some sort of young people's red social group) to being a typically assimilated, a-political suburban Jew. Somehow, when he came back they moved to Newton and he started a bookkeeping business. I don't know the details.

Anyhow, thanks for the links.
posted by serazin at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2007

The Infinite Jest Connection

You do know that David Fuckin' Wallace went to Amherst, right?
posted by jessamyn at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2007

In The World Below by Sue Miller, this place and these towns (or someplace very like them) serve as a metaphor (referenced in the title). The main character also remembers being in a boat with her dad looking down at the houses (and she is told this is impossible- the houses were torn down first).
posted by MtDewd at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2007

You do know that David Fuckin' Wallace went to Amherst, right?

I know that. I know that he had classes there with Harlan Coben, Mark Costello, and Dan Brown. That if you go to one of the subsubbasements of Frost Library you can get a look at some copies of a little Amherst mag called SABRINA he occasionally wrote for (although there were rarely bylines). I just see Enfield and Quabbin and I think IJ. That is all.
posted by mattbucher at 10:34 AM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Center For Land Use Interpretation had an exhibition of submerged towns in the US awhile back. Let us not forget Elbowoods, North Dakota, Kennett, California, Enfield, Massachusetts, Neversink, New York, Butler, Tennessee, St. Thomas, Nevada.
posted by quartzcity at 10:46 AM on August 20, 2007

Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico hides several settlements, including what was described to me as the hospital that served Hot Springs, NM (now known as Truth or Consequences).

I got my Open Water II scuba certification there. Diving through the old hospital was very eerie. Visibility was only 10 feet at best, with clumps of algae and other plants floating everywhere, and there was next to no light at the depth where the buildings were. We swam through them as much by feel as by sight. Even though I told my brain it wasn't really happening, it insisted that it could feel the algae enter my lungs as I breathed in.

ObRitzComment: I once made a recipe I found on the back of a box of Ritz crackers for "Mock Apple Pie", where a bunch of crackers took the place of apples. It was an abomination of all that was holy, but like many such abominations, it was absolutely delicious.
posted by ewagoner at 10:48 AM on August 20, 2007

I grew up in Belchertown (yes, that is what it is called for real) which borders the Quabbin. One of my third-grade teachers was an ancient lady who had taught generations of people in that area and she herself as a little girl had been one of the people that had to resettle when they decided to flood the valley. I cannot remember which town she was from, but even sixty years later she seemed very wistful about it.
posted by Oobidaius at 11:12 AM on August 20, 2007

All this Quabbiny goodness and nary a mention of Florentine Films excellent documentary on the place? Also, note the Ken Burns connection.
posted by william_boot at 11:17 AM on August 20, 2007

Previously: Underwater forest logging with robots.

There was also a great series of photos of a church on the UK North Sea coast, whose lower levels had been submerged for centuries already, but I can't find right now.
posted by dhartung at 11:41 AM on August 20, 2007

One hot summer afternoon when the water was especially low, my father rowed his canoe out, tied up to the minaret of the old mosque, and dropped a fishing line.
posted by pracowity at 12:08 PM on August 20, 2007

There's a reservoir in Thailand that submerged an old temple. The top of the bell towers juts out of the surface of the water and boats take visitors to peer into the remains of the monastery. It's spooky. Here are some photos: 1, 2, 3
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 12:16 PM on August 20, 2007

Dammit, I was hoping I could be the first one to make the "Enfield Tennis Academy" comment (for its eponysterical value)...
posted by hincandenza at 12:29 PM on August 20, 2007

When the water is low at Uribante, Venezuela, the steeple of what used to be the church in the town of Potosí emerges from the water.

That link goes to a photo gallery of the municipio, look for the picture that says "Iglesia de Potosí" or, here is the direct link to the picture of the church, emerging from the water.

Lovely, lovely post, Jessamyn.
posted by micayetoca at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2007

Dhartung, I also thought there was church beneath the sea, but my surreptitious googling at work couldn't find it. Most submerged churches seemed to be ones that fell in bit by bit because of erosion.

But it's been nagging me still, so I did a bit more googling, and turned up the Lost Town project in Walton on the Naze, which might have been what was creating that itch of recognition...

I also found this church which looks like it's submerged, but it isn't... (oh, and we funded that project, w00t!)
posted by Helga-woo at 3:01 PM on August 20, 2007

Hampshire shout-out! Our logo looks like pot!

This article made me really remember the land around our alma(n?) mater in a profound way.
posted by Riverine at 4:11 PM on August 20, 2007

Great story. There are several old towns in Kansas that were flooded over and/or moved during various reservoir projects in the 50s and 60s. I lived in Wakefield, Kansas, during my junior high years (early 80s), and I loved hearing the story of how all the graves in the town cemetery had been dug up and moved (headstones and all) to higher ground when Milford Lake was constructed. They also had a legend about a church steeple being visible during low water, but I lived there during a drought year and I never saw one.
posted by amyms at 7:37 PM on August 20, 2007

Hooray for Hampshire. I'm living in Greenwhich this year. Now I know how to properly pronounce it.

Also, this stuff makes me cry. I am a sucker for bittersweet stories.
posted by Arturus at 8:42 PM on August 20, 2007

A Piece Of The Storm

From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed.
That's all There was to it. No more than a solemn waking
To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly,
A time between times, a flowerless funeral. No more than that
Except for the feeling that this piece of the storm,
Which turned into nothing before your eyes, would come back,
That someone years hence, sitting as you are now, might say:
"It's time. The air is ready. The sky has an opening."

Mark Strand
posted by vronsky at 10:05 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I used to visit the Quabbin as a kid, and since returning to the area I've visited with my own family. The construction of the reservoir was awesome and compelling, but my heart breaks a little for the lost towns. Jane Yolen wrote a children's book about the drowning: Letting Swift River Go.

Thanks for another great post, Jessamyn.
posted by Songdog at 7:02 AM on August 21, 2007

I read a book that was set in the Swift River Valley just before they flooded it a month or so ago.
posted by hootch at 9:59 AM on August 21, 2007

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