Last weekend, I asked my wife if she would agree to a short stop for a few photos on our way to a social engagement. She agreed. Upon arrival, she jokingly said: “I should have known it would be a door.” Yes, my family members indulge me my habit. But this isn’t just a door, this is a beautiful wooden door. I’m not sure what lies behind that door, besides 36 billion gallons of water, that is.
As we were walking along the top of the dam, working our way to the best place to take the door photo, she asked: “what do you suppose was here before they flooded this valley?” That’s the kind of question she asks. She cares about stuff like that. I said: “this dam has been here since the 40s, I doubt there was much here at that time.”
Well, not really so silly. Barkhamsted, pronounced “Bark • ham • sted” by the people around here, but “Bark • emsted” by my British voice-enabled GPS, is a pretty sparsely populated area of Connecticut. I was imagining some deer, a few coyotes and a maybe a family of bears living here 75 years ago. Still, she did ask the question and she did give me the advice to: “kneel down on the ground” to get a better perspective on that beautiful door. I figured that the least I could do was to look up what was here before the dam flooded eight miles of the Farmington River valley.
People were here!
To my surprise, I discovered that there was a somewhat thriving, certainly viable farming community of about 1,000 people. There were farms and crops and animals and houses and barns here in 1927 and not all of them wanted to be moved.
But, Hartford, CT needed more water than the 9 billion gallon Nepaug Reservoir could provide. Since the State Legislature meets in Hartford, it probably wasn’t too hard for the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) to convince the legislature to let them “acquire” the land and build the dam.
In addition to moving those people, and building the dam, the MDC installed 8 miles of large-diameter pipe to connect the Barkhamsted and Nepaug reservoirs, relocated about 20 miles of highway and moved 4 cemeteries and the 1,300 bodies interred in them.
Saville Dam is an earthen dam with an uncontrolled spillway. In other words, it’s a well-engineered big pile of dirt, with something akin to the little hole in the back of your sink. Any water that rises above the level of the spillway, spills into the recreational lake below the dam and continues along the path of the Farmington River.
In fairness, the dam was very well-engineered by none other than Caleb Mills Saville, and the stone around the dam and spillway is quite attractive. The dam was completed in 1940. It was 1944 before water was flowing to Hartford and 1948 before the reservoir was full.
We drive over the dam when visiting friends who live along CT Rt-8. The alternative is to go south on I-91, west on I-84 and then north on Rt-8. The highway can be a little faster, but the “back way” is always a more pleasant ride. Having made this trip many times, I had a collection of photos. However, I didn’t have a door-photo.
There are so many places that I’ve been where I neglected to get a good door photo – what was I thinking back then?
The Farmington River is the longest tributary of the Connecticut River, and begins as two branches, both near the Connecticut-Massachusetts boarder. The West Branch of the Farmington is longer than the East Branch. As it winds its way south from Otis, MA, it passes over two small hydroelectric dams in central Connecticut. The East Branch begins in Hartland, CT but is impounded behind the Saville dam in its first 11 miles. The two branches join forces, just south of the dam, in New Hartford, CT.
From there, the Farmington River winds its way south, east, north and for at least a short distance, west, as it makes its way to Windsor, CT. In fact, according to the Farmington River Watershed Association (FRWA), “The Farmington River is the only river in the Northern Hemisphere to flow in all four cardinal directions.”
Please enjoy some photos from on and around the Saville Dam and other places along the Farmington River. Note that the photos in the gallery were taken at various point in time.
This post is part of the exciting and fun Thursday Doors series, managed by Norm Frampton. To learn more about this series and to see the other doors, please visit Norm’s page.
Thanks to Connecticut History.org for much of the information provided here.