You can now read 10 articles in a month for free on Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

The Boston Globe


Boston’s water: public or private?

In the 19th century, the city fought over who should own our infrastructure—and made a choice that spoke volumes.

On the glorious late autumn afternoon of Oct. 25, 1848, Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy Jr. looked up from the text of his speech and surveyed the enormous crowd assembled around the Frog Pond on the Common. His listeners, including many visitors who came for the day from nearby towns, numbered in the tens of thousands. With coy courtesy, he asked “if it were their pleasure” to witness the arrival of the city’s newest resource. The response was an overwhelming “Aye!”

At Quincy’s signal, a valve slowly opened, releasing thousands of gallons of water from the city’s waterworks, just constructed, into a splendid fountain in the pond. As a reporter breathlessly observed, after “a moment’s pause...there was a gush of rusty-looking water, small and doubtful at first, then spreading, and gathering strength, then rising with beautiful gradations higher and higher, until it towered up a strong, magnificent column of at least seventy feet in height, flashing and foaming in the last crimson rays of the setting sun!” Spontaneous cheers accompanied the booming of cannons and the igniting of fireworks. People laughed and shouted, men threw their hats in the air, and some even broke out in tears.

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week