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The History of Water in Boston

Water played a crucial role in shaping the early regions of Massachusetts when the settlers first immigrated. The Puritans first landed and settled in America around the Charlestown area, but had issues accessing fresh water in 1620. They later acquired land on the Shawmut Peninsula from English settler William Blaxton, in the area known today as Boston. A great spring was located there and quality water bubbled out of the ground.

Although the water supply was plentiful for a small community, the colony had to accommodate for expansion and growth. This led to the first waterworks system in 1652. According to This system consisted of “wooden pipes and a reservoir for drinking, as well as putting out the fires that often occurred from houses built mainly of wood.” In the 1700’s, the city of Boston began selling fresh water from the system to residents. The size of the system grew large enough that it required pressurization and iron pipes were substituted (invented in Philadelphia).

The Tremont House, a hotel in Boston from 1829 and 1895, was the first American hotel to feature indoor plumbing, indoor toilets and baths, and free soap for guests.

At one point in time, Boston passed an ordinance that banned bathing in the winter except under doctor’s orders. This was during the time cities were trying to get a better handle on outbreaks of diseases.

The developments of the flush toilet and the sanitary sewer system meant that residents didn’t throw their waste outside into the streets. Boston was often at the forefront of plumbing innovation because they were a port city, serving as a distribution point for inventions from England. In turn, the success of Boston’s water projects led other cities in the US to incorporate water and sanitation facilities into city plans.

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