Ashley Ponds Reservoir was originally a pair of ponds in southwestern Holyoke. They were called Wright’s Pond and Ashley’s Pond. There was a need for clean water in Holyoke and thus these two ponds were made into reservoirs in 1873. The entire reservoir system is vast. Read about it at this LINK. There are many ways that you can get around the reservoir and get a good tour and hike in. Clockwise or counterclockwise. Walking on the smaller causeways and so on.
stop 1 – Causeway Crossroads
Four roads meet at this intersection of Ashley Ponds Reservoir. Formerly, the main road was called Rock Valley Road. The causeway to the north separates Wright’s Pond into two parts and likewise with the causeway to the south which separates Ashley Pond. The northwest body of water is Wright’s Pond and the northwest body is Wright’s Cutoff. The southwest body of water is Ashley Pond and the southeast body is that of Ashley’s Cutoff. There are 8 named reservoirs in the Ashley Pond system and 5 more without names.
stop 2 – Cedar Reservoir
Cedar Reservoir is to the west of Wright’s Pond. Note the drainage pipe between these two ponds close to the surface of the water. This allows the surface elevation to be the same between the two reservoirs. Thirteen reservoirs that make up the Ashley Pond Reservoir system has similar pipes between them. Cedar Reservoir once had an intake of water at its southern tip but now is fed by the breach of the Clear Reservoir Dam. Cedar Reservoir was most likely made in 1880 when the Bray Reservoir was made.
stop 3 – Bray Reservoir (Clear Reservoir)
Bray Reservoir is now called Clear Reservoir. That is since there is another Bray Reservoir in Holyoke and thus to avoid confusion, this body of water had its name changed. The Clear Reservoir Dam is the earthen structure in front of you. It was built in 1880 to allow for more storage of water. Its outlet now leads to Cedar Reservoir but once lead via pipes to Wright Pond. Hurricane Diane in 1955 breached the dam of Clear Reservoir so the water enters into Cedar Reservoir. The source of water of Clear Reservoir is Bray Brook which arises two miles to its north near Cherry Street.
stop 4 – Gates
The Ashley Ponds Reservoir system was constructed from its two ponds starting in 1872. This monument in front of you was placed here in 1907 to honor the Holyoke Water Works that made it. There are three true gates around Ashley Reservoir that block car traffic into the area. State Highway 202 that you see behind you was put in in 1923. The gate behind you was put in in the year 1914.
stop 5 – Water Distribution
The Rock Cut Canal leads to the water pipe system of Holyoke. Beyond it is the water storage vats. The are over 145 miles of water mains in the city. (Mains are the pipes below the roads and does not include the branches that lead to homes.) Rock Cut Canal was blasted from bedrock in 1872. Nitroglycerin was used since dynamite had not yet been invented.
A gatehouse was built in 1873 at the entrance from Wright’s Pond into the Rock Cut Canal. A reservoir guard lived at a house that was built in 1913 to the south side of the modern water tanks that are in front of you. Another gatehouse was located near here and was built in 1908.
stop 6 – Pump Houses
The West Holyoke Pump Station was built to transfer water from the McLean Reservoir to the West Holyoke Water District. This area includes Jarvis Avenue, Cherry Street, and Homestead Avenue. The McLean Transfer Pump Station was built to transfer water from Ashley Reservoir to McLean Reservoir. The State forced Holyoke to built this in 1994 in order to mix water from Ashley with that of McLean. The water from Ashley was slightly short of being clean enough.
stop 7 – McLean Reservoir
McLean Reservoir was built in 1903 from a high earthen dam. Its source of water is an underground aquifer to its immediate north and Tatro Brook along its side. The original name of this reservoir was the High Service Reservoir. The name was changed to honor the long time service of the water commissioner Hugh McLean. The High Service Water District of Holyoke is the area between Beech to Northampton Streets. It once was the area between Walnut to Northampton Streets. The volume of water in McLean is half that of Ashley. It is much deeper but less surface area.
Near this stop is also an abandoned home that was once owned by Amos Tatro. It is about 100 yards south of this site and to the east in the brush.
stop 8 – Old Stage Road
Behind the large boulder along the right edge of the road is an old stage road. This road still has its original character. It is similar to many such roads that still exist in the Connecticut River Valley. Imagine travelling on such a bumpy road.
stop 9 – Paucatuck Brook
Paucatuck Brook starts out of the southern end of Ashley Pond. It has two outlets now since you can see that there are two spillways on the earthen dam. This brook meanders 9 miles south of here to enter into the Westfield River. Along the way one mile from here it passes through the Lost Pond and two miles from here it passes through the Bear Hole Reservoir.
stop 10 – Dam and Gatehouse
If the drinking water of the Ashley Reservoir System flows out at the rock cut canal at the east edge of Wright’s Pond, then why is a gatehouse back here even needed? In 1897 Fomer Reservoir in Southampton, was joined via an 11 mile long pipeline to this southern point of Ashley Reservoir. This pipeline passes through East Mountain at the Bush Notch. It enters at the gatehouse here. There is a canal below your feet that helps the water enter Ashley. In that canal is a weir that slows down the water. In 1921 to 1923 another pipeline was added that parallels this one. Still later a third one was added that runs up to McLean from here. The second pipeline was placed into the same rock channel that held the first pipeline. This second pipeline was built a few years after the White Reservoir was finished in Westhampton in 1913.
stop 11 – Railroad and Ice House
Holyoke had its own city-owned railroad from where the Holyoke Heritage State Park is now into Westfield. The line is still active and is visible by the southern end of Ashley Pond. One of the heaviest users of this freight and passenger line was the Holyoke Ice Company. Their ice house is located about 40 yards from the back end of the road. The masonry section of the building is still there but the wooden roof and floor are long gone. This company harvested ice from Ashley Pond from 1900 to a little after WW2. It had a spike of the railroad come up along its side in order to load ice. Andrew Dibble owned this land from 1870 to 1900. The cellar hole of his house is found 20 feet to the east of the ice house.
stop 12 – Connor Reservoir
Connor Reservoir is cut off from Ashley Reservoir by Lower Westfield Road (formerly called West Road). It was formed by the raising of the road over many years in the early history of the reservoir system. At first, this was Ashley Swamp. But the road was elevated about one and one half feet. Both Connor Reservoir and North Railroad Reservoir were formed from that event. Connor Reservoir is at your feet and North Railroad Reservoir is now connected to Connor at the far left edge. A raising of the road caused there to be only one reservoir due to a breach in the causeway between them.
stop 13 – Ashley Cut-Off
The Ashley Cut-Off and the Wright Cut-Off were formed in 1897 to allow water to carry less sediment. Water still flows between these bodies of water but at a much slower rate. It had been found previously that the water was too murky.
Thank you for taking this tour of the reservoir system.