Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
on October 21, 2011
On a recent trip to Boston, we did a lot of walking around. We noticed lots of monitoring wells (round metal lids) set into the sidewalks all over the Back Bay neighborhood. Usually, these installations are associated with water pollution or oil spill monitoring, etc., etc. But they seemed to be everywhere.....there must have been scores of them on our walk from Copley Square to Fenway Park. After wondering what might be lying underfoot, we happened to take a tour of Trinity Church, where they explained about the reason for the monitoring wells.
Boston's Back Bay was actually a bay, up until 1857. For a variety of reasons, the City decided to use landfill to create an entire new section of town. By 1900, the entire bay had been filled.
Nearly every building built in the area prior to 1950 is supported by wooden piles that need to be kept wet, otherwise they will dry out and rot. The monitoring wells provide a method to ensure that the ground water level doesn't get too low.
Trinity Church actually built an underground moat, enabling a rowboat to float around their foundation and keep track of water levels.
The authors, two engineers who have had to deal with this situation (i.e., projects like the John Hancock Tower and the Prudential Center) write about the planning and execution of the landfill, from start to finish, including the construction of railroads and the leveling of several areas west of Boston. The narrative does not use engineering jargon but rather keeps a conversational tone that allows the most non-technically minded reader to stay interested.
Granted, the subject matter is more interesting for engineers, city planners and the like, but the general reader will get some good insights into life in Boston during the latter half of the 19th century.
A worthwhile read, especially for tourists visiting Boston's Back Bay.