A Charmed Life

Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider

As early as the 1890s the people of the Metropolitan Boston area through its water-rights agency, the Metropolitan District Commission or MDC, eyed the Swift River Valley in West Central Massachusetts for a massive manmade reservoir. Bills were drafted and introduced at the Massachusetts General Court in the early 1920s that would have allowed the Commonwealth to “disincorporate” four towns in that valley to create such a reservoir. Such bills were threats which the relatively few residents of that area would never have amassed the political might to defeat, even if other towns west of Boston already affected by similar, smaller reservoirs added their voices to such a fight.

Before the final vote could be taken at the State House, there were near-simultaneous discoveries of cheap, efficient and easily implimented desalinization processes which also treated waste water in 1926 and ‘27. These allowed for water treatment/desalinization plants of sufficient size to be built near Boston which would supply the growing city with the water it needed. Being easier to build and costing much less than moving four towns worth of people, these plants ended any talk of taking land in the valley. These plants soon flanked Boston, north and south; treatment plants based on the original design soon popped up across the country as the patent was not enforced. Worldwide adoption was stymied due to the use of certain pork-derived products in the original design; almost the whole Middle East and major portions of Africa would not use the purifier due to religious objections until well into the Twenty-first century.

These inventions were coupled with the gravity-fed reservoirs which the MDC built near Framingham, Sudbury and Worcester in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This helped ensure fresh, clean water would be available for the thirsty Metro Boston region for the foreseeable future, at least prior to World War II.

The residents of the cities and towns surrounding Boston soon began to push back at the urban planners. Successful “suburban revolts” of towns around Boston in response to highway plans there in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the environmental movement of the 1970s, assured the valley would remain largely as it was, despite Metro Boston’s growing population and water needs. Adding capacity to the original plants handled the water demand increase for a while. Improvements in the base technology and miniaturization allowed in-home units at an affordable price by the start of the 1980s. This sounded the death knell for any thought that Eastern Massachusetts would ever need another reservoir larger than a water cooler.

Greenwich (pronounced “GREEN-witch”) built a modern hospital in the mid-1930s with the help of the Work Projects Administration. Doctors vacationing from New York in the late 1920s noticed the appalling lack of adequate medical care in the region and helped establish it in the northeastern part of Greenwich Village. The Greenwich Village Hospital, now called Greenwich Village Medical Center, replaced the much-added to original hospital with a new complex in early 1983. It now owned an expansive three square-mile campus straddling the Greenwich-Dana town line and employed over twenty-five hundred men and women. A further two thousand people were employed by its parent company, Swift River Health Care, across three other hospitals in the towns of Ware, Gardner and Athol. GVMC kept as much of the flagship campus as untouched as possible, to allow it to blend into its surroundings while also allowing for future growth. Upon completion of the new hospital complex the site of the original hospital was returned to its pre-construction state and protected.

Prescott was the poorest of the four towns in the MDC’s sights. It was also the one which was ready to hand the MDC the keys to Town Hall early in the reservoir discussion. Due to its topography, it became the town of choice for GVMC’s doctors to build their homes in owing to the views from either side of Prescott Ridge. These medical professionals helped bring much needed tax and construction revenue to the area. They also committed to keeping much of the non-rural extras out of the area. Winter sometimes made it difficult to trek to Belchertown or Ware for serious shopping at department or specialty stores but it was a sacrifice they seemed willing to make, more so as transportation technology improved. This also translated into better facilities in the area than one might expect as those medical professionals also attracted the presence of other professionals to serve them.

Dana, the northernmost town in the original target area, remained almost untouched and much like it had been in the 1920s. Farming continued to dominate the town’s character through the middle of the twentieth century, which would be to its benefit later, as is explained below.

In the southern most of the four towns, Enfield, a private school was founded along the Greenwich town line in the last days of the Roaring Twenties. Named the Thompkins School for the tycoon who founded it, it was well-endowed enough to allow it to keep tuitions low and weather the turbulent years of the early- to mid-1930s as the Depression engulfed the United States. The school, which was a middle and high school as well as a mix of a boarding and a day school, was male-only until 1969 when the trustees opened enrollment to young ladies in the fall of that year. This fact drew a fifty-six percent increase in applications and ushered in a thirty-two percent increase in admissions, along with a concurrent rise in revenue. Despite the continual improvement in transportation, boarding enrollment continued to account for two-thirds of students. Valley residents made up the large percentage of day students.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Works, formerly the Massachusetts Highway Commission, which planned not to plan highways in the four towns due to their futures, found itself quickly drawing state highways across the valley. A thoughtful young man there possessed enough foresight not to use consecutive numbers for the route numbers. He also chose numbers that hadn’t already been assigned and would fill in gaps on the numerical list of route numbers in Massachusetts.

In contrast the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which coordinated the planning and numbering of the U.S. Route system, mapped out its U.S. Route 202 as if there was going to be a thirty-plus acre, man-made lake in West Central Massachusetts. Rather than running through Dana, Greenwich and Enfield on its way from Athol to Belchertown, U.S. 202 would be cut to the west of the valley and would act as a sort of bypass to the area, but one that somehow did not harm it.

The 1950s through the 1970s also brought a decline in the textile and manufacturing industries all across the New England region. Mills which had once dotted the valley began to close one by one, bringing economic hardships not experienced since the Depression. Fortunes began to turn for the area as people began to look away from the cities more in the waining years of the 1980s and 1990s. Organic farming took off, revitalizing the old, undeveloped family farms that still peppered the landscape as people yearned for the simpler life.

Into this world entered Jeffrey Andrew Knox in the latter half of 1969. A shy and unassuming boy for his first thirteen years, he would soon take charge of his life and make his mark on the world around him.

Chapter 1 »