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Remember When: Fairview Reservoir

I remember when my Uncle Paul would take me for a drive to check on his company’s building near Ryan’s Sandbank on Sundays following the 9:15 a.m. mass at St. Pats. It was a time during which he would regale me about the wonders of Norwich. Following checking ‘the shop’ as he called it, we’d take the back roads to Taylor’s Dairy out on Route 82, where he would have a cup of their coffee or glass of buttermilk and I’d get a small coffee milkshake.

Often, we would travel to see Fairview Reservoir in Norwich Town, traveling up Scotland Road to Reservoir Road and park in front of its fence where you could see the layout of the lake and the dam.

Fairview was the main source of water for Norwich at that time in the 1950s, but its origin began in the 1860s.

There were no large reservoirs for the residents of Norwich, only springs, wells, scattered aqueducts, and cisterns. There was a shallow one-acre pond near the top of Jail Hill, but it was unable to supply water to the city. A blossoming population due to immigration and migration and the needs of manufacturing brought about the necessity for a consistent and clean source of water.

At this time the fire insurance cost was very high for the manufacturers and a hinderance to recruiting new industries to Norwich. This was the needed evidence that brought about meetings leading to the development of a reservoir to ensure a clean water supply and sufficient fire protection.

Three citizens, Jedediah Spalding, A.F. Smith, and Gardiner Green were asked to investigate the development of a large municipal reservoir. Following state mandates, the state legislature granted permission to issue a bond for $100,000 (excess of $2 million today), a very large amount in that era.

In 1867, the Board of Water Commissioners recommended that a reservoir be built on a tributary of the Yantic River between Scotland Road and Canterbury Turnpike about one mile east of Norwichtown Green and high enough to provide good gravity-fed water pressure. This area was on a portion of Fairview Farms.

The project had many obstacles including: housing the estimated 300 men, 60 to 80 teams of horses and oxen, stables, food required for men and horses, and even a blacksmith shop for repair of tools and the shoeing of horses. In all, over 20,000 stumps and trees had to be removed along with brush and fly ash from the burning of the material. Also 300,000 cartloads of material were removed by teams of horses. Walls to the dam were constructed and on Oct. 23, 1868, the gate was closed allowing streams and springs to fill the reservoir. It took 450 days to reach capacity, and then the chore of testing the water mains began. The Water Commissioners accepted the test of pressure in the lines. The water quality was checked and accepted.

There were some complaints that the water had offensive taste and smell. Professor Stillman’s report of the quality of Fairview Reservoir in January 1874, showed a highly accredited water source of “extraordinary purity.” A year later during the deep winter of 1875, pipes froze and leaked. They were ultimately replaced with piping placed deeper in the ground.

Water rates were as follows: 30 cents per 1,000 gallons per domestic, 25 cents per 1,000 gallons per manufacturer, and 20 cents per 1,000 for special purpose supply. Due to the availability of adequate water pressure, the cost of fire insurance plummeted, and this was touted as a very good reason for new industry to come to Norwich.

Unfortunately, drought showed an inadequacy in the supply from small streams and springs. Fairview’s 350 million gallon capacity in 1893 dropped to 50 million gallons. Private wells or even Spaulding Pond could not help.

The Water Commissioners asked the city fathers to allow them to find new sources of water for the city. Twelve streams and lakes were studied and they found only Stony Brook with the best quality site for a new reservoir. It could provide clean water and had an elevation higher compared to Fairview, therefore providing better pressure for the gravity fed pipes. In 1912, the construction began at the site 4.5 miles southwest of Norwich.

In 1926, the Water Commissioners of the City of Norwich began the process of building a new reservoir on Deep River in the Town of Colchester. In the 1970s, Deep River Reservoir was transformed into the state-of-the-art filtration plant and water source for Norwich. Three small reservoirs were acquired by the city from Ponemah Mill, adding to Norwich’s reservoirs capacity. The quantity and quality of Norwich’s reservoirs have come a long way in the last 150 years.

Bill Shannon is a retired Norwich Public School teacher and a lifelong resident of Norwich.

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