Category Archives: Building a Major Sewer System

Inside the Calf Pasture Pumping Station, 1888.

View of the Shaft building and Pumping Station circa 1880's. Photo from Main Drainage Works of Boston and its Metropolitan Sewerage District.
The shaft building and Pumping Station circa 1880’s.
(Source: Eliot C. Clarke, Main Drainage Works of the City of Boston, 1888.) (Click to enlarge image)

Boston’s new sewerage system, built in  the 1870s and 1880s, was designed to take waste from the city and dispose of it miles away from the local population. The map below shows the newly constructed sewers that drained into the one sewer that led down to the Calf Pasture. Gravity allowed waste to travel from downtown Boston neighborhoods that sat on higher land, to Dorchester’s Calf Pasture on a lower elevation.

After the sewage reached the Calf Pasture Pumping Station, it still had a great distance to travel before reaching its final destination, Moon Island, west of the peninsula in Quincy Bay. To make the last leg of this journey, the station’s massive pumps  lifted the sewage thirty-five feet to enable its journey away from the heavily populated city, past the oscillating tides, towards Moon Island.


This map shows the intercepting sewer that was built to take waste away from the old harbor outlets. (Click to enlarge image)
The layout of the interior of the Calf Pasture Pumping Station. (Click to enlarge image)

What’s in the pumping station?  How does it work?  An 1888 blueprint of the building illustrates the various functions of the large building.  

The coal house held giant bins to store the coal  that created steam power to run the boilers and power the integral pumps.  The pumping station was large enough to store 2,500 tons of coal at once, since the pumping station burned over six tons of coal each day.  Ships docked nearby on the peninsula to deliver new coal shipments to the pumping station’s elevated coal run.

This huge measure of coal fueled two major Leavitt pumps, which ran continuously throughout the day. Each engine could  pump up to 25 million gallons of sewage per day. In the mid-1880s, the two engines pumped an average of just under 37 million gallons each day.

One of the two main pumps which propelled the sewage up and out to complete its journey to Moon Island. (Click to enlarge image)

In some cases, excess storm water pushed the pumps to their limits. In preparation for this possibility, the engineers installed two additional emergency pumps. These two smaller storm duty pumping engines were used sparingly, because they were less fuel efficient than the major Leavitt engines.  Still, they proved crucial when unexpected amounts of water came through the station.  

The two large main pumps and the two smaller back-up pumps housed inside the Calf Pasture Pumping Station.(Click to enlarge image)

Sources Consulted:

  1. “The Boston Sewer System and Main Drainage Works.”Scientific American. no. 28 (1887): 351.
  2. Clarke, Eliot C. Main Drainage Works of the City of Boston. Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, 1888.

Photo Credits:

  1. Clarke, Eliot C. Main Drainage Works of the City of Boston. Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, 1888.


George Albert Clough, Boston’s City Architect 1874-1883

George Albert Clough
Source: S. Eliot, 1911, Biographical History of Massachusetts 1911. (Click to enlarge image)

Architect George Albert Clough designed the Calf Pasture Pumping Station. Appointed the first City Architect of Boston in 1874, Clough oversaw the design, construction, and renovation of a number of prominent public structures in Boston during his nine-year tenure.  These included:  Boston Latin School, Boston English School, Suffolk County Courthouse,  Congress Street Fire Station, and the Prince School on Newbury Street. Clough also submitted the first plans to be accepted for the Boston Public Library in 1880, and oversaw the first restoration of the Massachusetts State House in 1881. He played a role in the design of the waterworks systems in Chestnut Hill and Framingham, which provided Boston with a much needed alternate water source.

Born on March 27, 1843 in Blue Hill, Maine, Clough began his career working as a draughtsman for his father, who was a shipbuilder.  After his father’s death in 1863, Clough moved to Boston to formally study architecture. He was employed and trained at the firm of Snell and Gregerson, where he stayed until 1869, when Clough left to open his own architectural office. He held the office of City Architect from 1874 to 1883.


The Prince School on Newbury Street, designed by George A. Clough.
Source: (Click to enlarge image)

The Calf Pasture Pumping Station was George Clough’s final project as Boston’s City Architect, as its construction was awash with controversy. Clough and the Superintendent of Sewers, William H. Bateman, approved the plans for the Main Drainage Works System presented by Ellis S. Chesbrough and his commission in 1876, and construction began on the Calf Pasture in 1879.

The City Council expected the construction of the facility would be carried out by skilled craftsmen from Boston. But, Clough dismissed the primary laborers and replaced them with men of his choosing; this sparked controversy, as the members of Boston City Council believed Clough’s new men were poor craftsmen.

Earlier, in 1881, an alderman on the City Council had accused  Clough of neglecting improvements in the ventilation of the Council Chambers of City Hall, and called for his replacement as City Architect.  On April 9, 1833, Clough lost the council re-election as city architect; he was replaced by Charles J . Bateman (1851-1940) who oversaw the completion of the pumping station.

After his removal from the post of city architect, Clough returned to private practice. In 1905 he established the firm Clough and Wardner and went on to design some 84 public schools in Massachusetts, New York, Maine, and Pennsylvania. He died in Brookline, Massachusetts in January 1911. Fourteen buildings designed by Clough, including the Calf Pasture Pumping Station, are now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sources Consulted:

Boston City Council. Reports for the Proceedings for Municipal Years 1876, 1883, 1885. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill.

Clark, Eliot C. Main Drainage Works of the City of Boston. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, 1885.

Engineering News and American Contact Journal, February 17, 1883, pg 163.

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for the Calf Pasture Pumping Station.

Obituary of George Clough, Ellsworth (Maine) American, January 11, 1911, p. 6.

Marwell, Stuart; Burke, Bryan; Hudak, Andrew, “Calf Pasture Pumping Station”, Boston Public Library, BRA (Boston Redevelopment Authority) collection

Photo Credits:

  1. Samuel Atkins Eliot, ed. “George Albert Clough.” Biographical History of Massachusetts: Biographies and Autobiographies of the Leading Men in the State, Volume 3. Boston: Massachusetts Biographical Society, 1911.
  2. Boston Luxury Residential:

Calf Pasture Pumping Station, a municipal building in Richardsonian Romanesque style

Boston’s Trinity Church, designed in 1872 by H.H. Richardson. (Click to enlarge image)

When Boston’s City Architect, George Albert Clough, set out to design the structure that would house the pumps that would power the Commission’s proposed Boston’s Main Drainage System, he choose the  prominent Richardsonian Romanesque style.  Named for the American architect who initiated the Romanesque revival in the United States–Henry Hobson Richardson– who designed some of Boston’s most significant structures such as Trinity Church. Regal and proud, the Romanesque style reflected the proud accomplishment of creating a brand-new modernized sewerage system. Unlike today, when municipal buildings are often created to blend in with their surroundings, the Calf Pasture Pumping Station was designed as a visual landmark, a testament to the city’s advances in technology and sanitation. Although it wasn’t accessible to everyone, it was a public building and could demonstrate that Boston’s huge sewerage treatment project had been successful.

Richardsonian Romanesque is a medieval and fortress-like design characterized by the use of rustic brick and granite in contrasting colors, heavy columns, and stone arches. Buildings designed by Richardson and in his style were constructed throughout the United States. Richardson designed Boston’s iconic Trinity Church, rebuilt in the city’s new Back Bay neighborhood in 1877 after the Great Boston Fire of 1872 destroyed its previous structure on Summer Street. Other local Richardson contributions include, what is today, the First Baptist Church (known in Boston as “Church of the Holy Bean Blowers” for the trumpeting angels on its bell tower), the Quincy Library, a suite of town buildings in the center of Easton, Massachusetts, as well as a number of train stations, commercial buildings, and private residences in Massachusetts.

Henry Hobson Richardson
Henry Hobson Richardson. (Click to enlarge image)

Henry Hobson Richardson was born in Louisiana and raised in the South. He came to Boston in 1855 to attend Harvard University and later when on to continue his architectural studies at Tulane and the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris. Strongly influenced by the French Romanesque style (itself a hybrid of Gothic and Romanesque architecture), he blended that sensibility with an enthusiasm for Medieval architecture when he returned to the United States from France in 1865. The result was a unique architectural style incorporating rough-hewn granite, stone arches, the mixed use of brick and stone, and castle-like peaked roofs rising above wide columns. Richardson’s first major commission came in 1870, the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane (today known as the Richardson Olmsted Complex) cemented him as a major American architect, and he steadily gained prominence, although it was discovered after his death that he had gravely mismanaged his finances and left his family in debt.

The elements of the Richardsonian Romanesque style are specifically incorporated and clearly noticeable in the Calf Pasture Pumping Station. Although the outside is mainly built of grey granite (the red brick window-infills are modern), there is extensive use of multicolored brick and stone to create designs and patterns inside. The squat, fortress-like structure is lined with square and arched windows and stone arches. Castle turrets adorn the corners on each level and an imposing peaked roof caps the entire structure.

Historic Photo of the Calf Pasture Pumping Station. (Click to enlarge image)

Although small changes have been made to the property over the years, it retains its essential character as a Richardsonian Romanesque building. Restoring and repurposing the Calf Pasture Pumping Station would be a valuable way to preserve a piece of H.H. Richardson’s architectural legacy and New England’s history.

Sources Consulted:

  1. Griswold Van Rensselear, Mariana. Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works. New York: Dover Publications, 2009.
  2. Marwell, Stuart. Calf Pasture Pumping Station. Digital reproduction, Nabu Press, 2011.
  3. Phaidon, The House Book. New York: Phaidon Press, Inc., 2001.

Photo Credits:

  1. Louisiana Architecture Bureau:
  2. Dorchester Historical Society:
  3. National Register of Historic Places: