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It was 1898, three days after Christmas and three bitter, windy degrees outside on a Wednesday evening. R.F. Smith, the proprietor of the pharmacy on the corner of the Andrews Block (Fiske’s Building), and his friends were gathered for a visit. Shortly after stoking the fire in the basement furnace at 9:40, the men saw smoke rising from the floor grate. After a quick look downstairs, they ran from the building yelling, ”Fire.”

The Fire Department arrived with three trucks and started hauling water out of the Willow Brook (next to Superette and under Washington Street). There were fire hydrants nearby, but Chief Engineer George Hart hesitated to connect to them … maybe he hesitated too long. When the hoses were hooked up, the water froze before it hit the building. Ultimately the building was a total loss.

Chief Hart had hesitated because he anticipated a hefty price tag for the water and the rental of the hydrants from the privately owned Holliston Water Works Company.

In 1893, the Town had considered buying the Water Works for $95,000. But the outspoken budget “watchdog” Andrew Cass, the chair of the “study” committee, did not think the system was worth more than $51,000. Cass had learned that the company cut corners and had installed four-inch pipes in some areas instead of the 10-inch pipes customarily used in comparable towns. Furthermore, the tax rate was already $19.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The Article to buy the Water Company failed at Town Meeting in 1893, but townspeople continued to protest the service and costs.

Six months passed before the Water Company delivered a water bill of $1,800 for the Andrews Block fire to the town. That’s equivalent to more than $45,000 today. The town was charged an additional $114.21 for hydrant use from a two-year-old claim. Residents were furious… but the Water Works remained in place.

It took until 1945 for the town to finally decide to acquire the Holliston Water Works Company and operate it as a municipal system. At that time, it cost $120,000, which turned out to be a bargain since the original asking price would have converted to $192,418 in 1945 dollars. Of course, we don’t know what deferred maintenance cost in the meantime.

Holliston Water Today 

Town Meeting decides what money we spend, but voters typically rely on the research and recommendations of the elected and appointed officials involved in a project. There are residents among us who have said for the past 20 plus years that we needed to start replacing the underground water pipes. Some pipes are, after all, 100 years old. But the Town did not tackle the problem.

So now we pay a $300 annual fee to invest in replacing pipes that the Town did not or could not do. We kicked that can down the road.

Spend $8.375 million on Treatment Plant – 2018

The Director of the Holliston Department of Public Works recommends that we build a new treatment plant at Well #5 on Central Street for $8.375 million. We need to borrow the funds, because the $300 fee is for pipe replacements and is too new to have generated that much money.

The plant is needed to remove high levels of iron and manganese that occur naturally within the aquifer to eliminate the brown water that homes in that area of town frequently have. Photo of water from one home in target area.

There will be an article for the new treatment plant at Town Meeting, which starts at 7:30 on May 7th. There will also be a debt exclusion question on the ballot at Town Election on May 22nd, and it must pass at the election to move forward. Will we kick this can down the road or not?

Questions for you…share your thoughts, please

Do you support the Treatment Plant?

Does Holliston do the kind of long range planning you would like to see?


3 responses to “Holliston Yesterday: Fire & the Water System 1898”

  1. Mark Ahronian says:

    I absolutely support the water treatment plant. No one should have to drink or work with brown colored water !

  2. Jeff Weise says:

    I don’t know about the pipes that were over 100 years old 20 years ago – still there, still functioning, what were those made out of? However, I am still very concerned about the
    large number of pipes that are now about 70 years old, that were all put down in the 1950-60s, that are all made from asbestos-cement and which have been proven to have
    life expectancy of about 75 years. Of about 100 miles of water pipes that Holliston now has deployed about 70 miles are asbestos-cement. Reliable engineering estimates
    have pegged the replacement cost at $1million/mile. Truly the $300/house replacement fee that we have recently started to collect ($300 x 4,500 homes = $1,350,000 year) could
    prove minuscule if all of these asbestos-cement pipes stat to fail at about the same time. In no way should any or all of that $300 annual fee be diverted to the cost of a new
    treatment plan.

  3. Anne Buckley says:

    Holliston water is a huge issue and a great topic to start this blog with – thank you, Mary. It is essential that our water quality is improved and I support the water treatment plant. I also agree that pipe replacement is critical and this should not be an either/or discussion.

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