[Edit 16 May 2006: More information on the Stony Brook Sewer is found here.
The Boston Globe recently reported on a long standing disagreement between Doyle’s and the Midway Café in Jamaica Plain. It seems an anonymous bidder has outbid Doyle’s owners by $95,000 for a parcel of city-owned land upon which part of Doyle’s stands. It also turns out that Doyle’s leases the remaining land for $10 a year from the city. Which bid will Boston Water and Sewer accept? I will let you form your own opinion. I should state that I am in favor of expansion for the Midway Café, a place where I have spent many a pleasant night listening to bands. Second,and this is the reason for my post, the Stony Brook sewer runs underneath Doyle’s. According to the Globe, one can access the sewer via a door in the basement of Doyle’s. I had no idea.
When we envision what Boston looked like one hundred or two hundred years ago, we generally neglect to add in the topographical features that have been obscured by development. Numerous waterways, some large, some small, drained into Boston Harbor, or the Neponset and Charles Rivers. For the most part, these waterways have been filled in, paved over, or diverted into sewers. Being diverted into a sewer was the fate of the Stony Brook.
The Stony Brook made possible the small industrial boom along its path--going through the Stony Brook corridor today one can see the remains of some of the industrial buildings which were built because of the proximity to the Stony Brook. Early settlers used the Stony Brook to power mills, as I have noted here. Other industries followed suit, especially breweries. With more intensive use of the Stony Brook however, came flooding. The great Stony Brook flood of 1886 led the Sewer Division of the Boston Street Department to begin a project to divert the Stony Brook into underground sewers.
The following is from the Annual Report of the Street Department of the City of Boston (Boston, 1892).
“Stony Brook, the largest of the city’s watercourses, is now provided with an ample outlet, and gives little trouble. The effect of the development of its water-shed can be seen, however, in the increasing rapidity and height to which it rises now at every rain, compared to what it did eight years ago, although now its outlet is ample in size, and then it was not. There has been a movement already to have the new channel, recommended by the commission of 1886, extended from the inlet chamber on Pynchon Street to Green Street. When this is done, provision must be made for continuing the supply of brook-water to the Boston Belting Company.
There are considerable areas of land near the brook which are too low to be drained by the existing Stony Brook Valley sewer system. Since the brook improvement of 1880-84, this land has been available for building. When the new channel is extended above the inlet chamber, it would be comparatively easy to design its sections, so as to carry upon its haunch a sewer for these districts; it would not be large, being for house sewerage only. From the inlet chamber down to the Roxbury crossing, there is a twenty-foot channel occupied only by the stream, which flows through a six-foot opening; a sewer could be built cheaply here.”