I grew up with the Quabbin but didn't understand its story until I was a little older and had moved away from central Mass. The Quabbin I knew was a beautiful body of water we'd drive 20 minutes to get to, and then picnic near its shores. There are various entrances (set apart as numbered "gates") scattered throughout the Hardwick, Ware and Petersham area. Most often we'd visit the Ware entrances, where there was a stone tower that overlooked the water and a huge slanting grassy hill (one side of a dam) that we kids loved to take cardboard boxes and slide down. At some point I began to understand the Quabbin was there to provide drinking water for the Boston area. And later, I learned that in order to create the reservoir back in the 1930s, they had to flood four towns.
Enfield, Prescott, Greenwich and Dana. Maybe that's what got me thinking about the Quabbin -- as we were driving to the other Enfield, the Connecticut Enfield which is very much still here, of course. They call them the Lost Towns of the Quabbin, those rural towns that lay at the bottom of a valley that needed to be filled, and every once in awhile when I lived in Mass. I'd read about a reunion of former town residents or come across a book chronicling the towns' demise.
I've often tried to imagine what it would be like to watch your history dissipate before your eyes. As the story goes, the state took the land and told the people they had to go. Of course there were some that hung on until the very end; until they had no choice. And so they watched men come in and destroy homes, schools, shops. Some of the more noteworthy or historical buildings were picked up and painstakingly moved to towns across New England. The cemetaries were dug up and bodies moved. Then the land was completely stripped bare...and the waters began to rise. It took seven years to completely fill the reservoir.
One of the towns, Dana, is not completely underwater. The town green remains not far from the water's edge and you can park at one of the gates in Hardwick and walk several miles down through the woods to see. You can peer into the cellar holes and see the faint traces of former roads. There is something that hangs in the air, as you walk and try to imagine. It's a peaceful yet haunting place.
There is a well-known story about the town of Enfield putting on a Farewell Dance as the town reached the final night of its existence. Everyone left gathered at the town hall and danced the night away...until midnight, when many tears were shed. Every time I think of the story, I want to cry myself. I'm not sure why. I don't know why the Quabbin haunts and inspires me. I've often dreamed about writing some sort of fictional book about the Lost Towns, maybe a young adult novel. I don't know.
Maybe it's something about history and memory and the solace and connection we sometimes take in the familiar. Maybe it's that there are always stories behind the story, or in this case, literally below the surface. I'm amazed that the Quabbin Reservoir was my childhood --I have warm memories of skipping stones into the water, picnics, tumbles down the mighty hill, and leaping along ancient stone walls. The Quabbin was a constant, a familiar friend. Yet so many others' childhood memories from long ago lay lost under those waters. Something about that seems almost wrong.
Maybe: in every progression there is pain and loss, but some kind of beauty that remains or is formed in the process. Someone else is helped, or changed.