Newton filmmakers recount history of Chestnut Hill waterworks

Waterworks Museum
Linda Rosenthal
Waterworks Museum

Ellie Goldberg had lived in Newton for almost 25 years before she found out the purpose and significance of the impressive Romanesque building opposite the Chestnut Hill Reservoir on Beacon Street.

In the two years since she began researching the building, which houses the Waterworks Museum and stands on the site of the original Chestnut Hill Reservoir pumping station, she has been consumed by the desire to bring its story to the public — starting with other local residents who, like her, may drive or walk past it every day without knowing its history.

Visitors will have a chance to learn about the building’s history at 7 p.m. Wednesday, when the museum will screen “The Metropolitan Waterworks Museum: Big Buildings, Big Machines, Big Stories,” a 12-minute film that Goldberg completed in collaboration with fellow Newton resident Laura McCarthy Johnson.


The documentary celebrates the designers, architects, and engineers who built Boston’s first public water system, as well as the grass-roots group dedicated to preserving its legacy.

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Goldberg’s interest in the Waterworks Museum came about somewhat circuitously. For the past two decades, she has devoted much of her free time to pursuing environmental awareness.

“I live to promote the mission of Rachel Carson,” Goldberg declared, evoking the woman considered to be the founder of the contemporary environmental movement. She even writes a blog called “What Would Rachel Say?”

And as a member of NewTV, the city’s nonprofit community-access cable TV organization, she decided to take up filmmaking in order to further promote her message.

“The original idea was to showcase aspects of Newton that are beloved in the community, which may not sound like a strictly environmental message, but my idea is that you protect the things you love, whether they are landmarks, community institutions or the environment,” Goldberg said. “I prefer to motivate people to action through inspiration, rather than scaring people with bad news.

Photo by Linda Rosenthal
Filmmakers Laura McCarthy Johnson (left) and Ellie Goldberg.

“When I found out about the museum, I became very excited about it as a wonderful example of a time when public money went to public good in the public interest. The people who built these waterworks, the architects and engineers, did so from both pride of purpose and pride of place. They wanted clean water for the people of Boston.”

The preservation project that culminated in the 2011 opening of the museum also presents an inspirational example, Goldberg said.

The waterworks at Chestnut Hill was in operation from about 1880 to 1970. By the start of the 21st century, “this was a derelict building about to be demolished,” according to Goldberg. Through a grass-roots effort, a group called Friends of the Waterworks came together to preserve it.

“I thought that was an amazing story that deserved to be told,’’ Goldberg said. “This building is a local treasure, a legacy of a time when form and function worked together to create something masterful.”

By profession, Goldberg is an education consultant, and she says that even with the resources available to community members through NewTV, she could never have made a film if she had to rely on her own abilities. She put out a call for other volunteers, which brought in Johnson as her fellow filmmaker.


“The movie wouldn’t be what it is today if it hadn’t been for Laura. Simply the hours she put into doing historical research and finding archival photos were beyond anything I ever could have done,” Goldberg said.

Unable to find any photos of the building’s lead architect, H.H. Richardson protégé Arthur Vinal, Johnson eventually traced her way to Vinal’s great-grandson in Maine, and was given a family photo for inclusion in the film.

Tickets to the screening at the museum, at 2450 Beacon St., are $5, and can be reserved by calling 617-277-0065 or e-mailing info@waterworksmuseum.org. The museum is open to visitors Wednesdays through Sundays; for hours and more information, go to www.waterworksmuseum.org.

ODE TO HONEYBEES: Fountain Street Fine Art presents “Bee Buzz,” a new show by artist Scout K. Austin, who used mixed media to explore both the beauty of the honeybee’s life and the environmental threats to its existence, opening Thursday and running through Oct. 6.

A public reception will be held Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. and will include a honey tasting at the gallery, in a former factory building at 59 Fountain St. in Framingham.

For hours and more information, call 508-879-4200 or go to www.fountainstreetfineart.com.

CLOSE INSPIRATION: Oil paintings by Carol Rabe are on exhibit through Sept. 29 at the Weston Public Library, 87 School St., with an artist’s reception scheduled for Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.

The Natick resident says she takes inspiration from direct observation of her immediate surroundings and the visual relationships between shapes, values, colors, objects and canvas.

For hours and more information, call 781-786-6150 or go to www.westonlibrary.org.

ARTFUL VILLAGE: Celebrate local arts at the second annual Village AMP!, which takes place along Massachusetts Avenue in West Acton on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.

The festival, hosted by 3Rivers Arts, includes a pop-up gallery, live music, wine tasting, food, and children’s activities.

For more information, go to www.3riversarts.com.

FOCUS ON PHOTOS: The Bedford Center for the Arts Photo Group kicks off a new season with a talk by Mark David Bailey at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Old Town Hall, 17 South Road in Bedford.

Bailey, a Bedford resident, is best known for his unusual photographic perspectives on nature and for his images of balanced rocks. The arts center’s photo group meets once a month and welcomes new members. For more information, go to www.bcaphotogroup.wordpress.com.

Send ideas to nancyswest@ gmail.com.