The role of Bridgeport Hydraulic Company

The remains of one of the early dams along the Mill River can still be seen in the woods near the intersection of Old Oak, South Park, and Buck Hill roads, below the current Easton Reservoir Dam. We don’t know for sure if these are the remains of P.T. Barnum’s original Dam #1 or BHC’s 1896 Dam #2. Most likely it’s the latter.

The remains of one of the early dams along the Mill River can still be seen in the woods near the intersection of Old Oak, South Park, and Buck Hill roads, below the current Easton Reservoir Dam. We don’t know for sure if these are the remains of P.T. Barnum’s original Dam #1 or BHC’s 1896 Dam #2. Most likely it’s the latter.

In the years from 1870 to 1910 Bridgeport’s population exploded from 20,000 to 100,000 people as industry boomed there. The growing city demanded large quantities of potable water.

The Aspetuck Landways Survey reveals that “…in 1885 the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company (BHC) bought its first land in Easton from Elihu N. Taylor, who once owned a gristmill along the Mill River.”

The Survey goes on to tell us that P.T. Barnum came to town in 1886 and bought land along the Mill River. Mr. Barnum had started a company called “Citizens Water Company” (CWC) to compete with Bridgeport Hydraulic. He built CWC dam #1 on the Mill River. But within two years the courts denied CWC the right to lay pipes under Bridgeport streets, and CWC sold its assets to BHC. BHC replaced the CWC dam with Dam #2 in 1896. BHC continued to acquire land in Easton to meet the growing water needs of Bridgeport as its industry and population grew.

In 1914 BHC built the Hemlocks Reservoir along Cricker’s Brook and bought upstream properties in 1920, including the mill that had been located behind what is now Greiser’s Store at Center and Westport Roads. In 1915 the Aspetuck Reservoir was built.

In 1926 the Easton Reservoir dam was built, flooding the Mill River valley. Through the depression, BHC continued to acquire land in the Saugatuck watershed in Weston, Easton, and Redding, and in 1940 the Saugatuck Reservoir was built, drowning Valley Forge in Weston.

Nearly every former mill site in Easton and along the Saugatuck in Weston was acquired by BHC. The mills were demolished. Many historic and prehistoric sites were inundated by the new reservoirs, but BHC’s land acquisitions brought other wonderful advantages to our town, including comprehensive pollution abatement programs.

While we might feel today that it would be nice to have those sites back and to have some of those mills as historic structures, the truth is that BHC and its activities in Easton have left us with one of the most bucolic towns in the country. Mills were sources of pollution along the waterways and also blocked the spring spawning runs of fish along those rivers. Now those problems were gone. Farms and homes along the watershed were also sources of pollution so they, too, were removed in most places.

Samuel Senior, who was president of BHC, lived here in Easton. He can be credited with the implementation of strong conservation efforts in our town. The coniferous woods that surround the reservoirs were planted by BHC and BHC personnel. Some of that, too, was driven by pollution and erosion concerns. As the level of the reservoirs changed seasonally, the exposed shorelines would erode and affect the purity of the water. The trees that were planted abated that erosion.

 

Next week — The forests grow back and the Easton that we have today takes shape.

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