In 1927, the Metropolitan District Commission, which is the water works agency for the city of Hartford, Connecticut, purchased land on the Farmington River, northwest of the city, to construct a dam and reservoir. In order to build the dam, many people had to be moved off of the land around the area where the dam was being built and surrounding areas that were to be flooded. This was a difficult and controversial process, but the dam was seen as more important to the greater good of the region. As it turned out, when the Great Depression hit, many families who lived along the proposed reservoir area moved away anyway due to economic hardships, which actually opened up more land for the use of the dam and the reservoir. Construction of the project was assigned to the CCC in 1933 and lasted until 1940.
Caleb Mills Saville was the chief engineer for the project and therefore the dam was named after him. The Saville Dam has a stone wall that connects to the spillway, which is made out of concrete and spills over into the reservoir. The spillway was constructed so that the dam would not over flood. Excessive water is automatically diverted into the spillway when the levels are too high. Near the middle of the stone wall stands a small round tower made out of stone and bricks, topped with a cone roof, which is also constructed out of stone.This is the most well-known landmark of the dam and reservoir. The finished dam stood 135 feet high and 1,950 feet long.
The dam created the Barkhamsted Reservoir, which impounded over 8 miles of the Farmington River and holds approximately 36.8 billion gallons, The Barkhamsted Reservoir has a water surface of 3.63 square miles and has a maximum depth of 12 feet. The water is used primarily for drinking water and recreational use. South of the dam is Lake McDonough which is used for boating, swimming, picnics, and scenic hiking trails.
Although the Barkhamsted Reservoir was named after the town of Barkhamsted and the Saville Dam is in Barkhamstead, only a small fraction of the large reservoir is in Barkhamsted. The reservoir stretches out north towards Hartland, into the Tunxis State Forest, and almost reaches the Massachusetts border. The water from the reservoir mainly serves the city of Hartford. Under the reservoir there is a 48-inch pipe that connects the Barkhamsted Reservoir to the Nepaug Reservoir and Hartford metro area.
The dam and reservoir are well-known landmarks for the town of Barkhamstead. People are able to enjoy scenic trails with scientific information panels along the river side and surrounding forest. The dam is also a popular local site for taking pictures and bringing visitors. The Barkhamsted Reservoir and Saville Dam is an important historic location and a great source of pride for local residents.
“Barkhamsted Reservoir Construction Washes Away a Community.” CT Humanities. (accessed May 9, 2016).
Wheeler, Richard G. and George Hilton. Barkhamsted Heritage: Culture and Industry in a Rural Connecticut Town. Barkhamsted, CT: Barkhamsted Historical Society, 1975.
Project originally submitted by Brittany Martel on September 17, 2016.
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