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Mattison Field Water Tower Restoration

By Polly Reeve and Christine Rinaldo.

tower restored!The wooden stave water tank on the Mattison Field town conservation land is considered by many to be the defining feature of this beautiful historic agricultural landscape, and it was in danger of being lost forever. With each passing year, its condition deteriorated. However, an effort is nearly completed to preserve and restore the tower, the only visible remaining structure of its kind in town.

The Mattison Field water tower is a reminder of the days when such water tanks were characteristic of the Concord landscape and when farming was a way of life for many Concordians. As the only remaining visible mark of the dairy farm that flourished on the land for most of the past century, the water tower has become much more than a structure once used for pumping and storing water. It is a symbol of a bygone era when Concord was primarily a farming community.

cow barnHistory of the Farm Landscape
Some time between 1860 and 1876, an Irish immigrant farmer named John O'Keefe first assembled the land now known as Mattison Field into a farm. Between the time of Concord's settlement in 1635 and O'Keefe's ownership in the nineteenth century, the land was owned by at least two, and -- at one point by as many as five owners -- for tillage, pasture and woodlots.

When owned by John O'Keefe, the land supported a successful dairy farming operation. When he died in 1916, his son, David, sold the land and the business to Fred Jones, who built a farmhouse and barn on the farm's house lot in the 1920's. On this property he carried out every step of the dairy business, from growing silage to raising heifers, milking cows, pasteurizing, homogenizing and bottling milk and delivering it. The water tank was constructed, presumably early in his ownership, to provide water for the dairy herd.

bluebird!In 1963, the Mattison family purchased the farm from Fred Jones and continued to farm it until 1997 when they offered it for sale. A partnership of concerned citizens, the Concord Land Conservation Trust, the Trust for Public Land and the Natural Resources Commission, worked together to raise the necessary funds to enable the town to purchase the land and place it under permanent conservation protection. Through a private capital campaign which raised $1.34 million from individuals and foundations in a matter of three months, a grant from the Commonwealth for $400,000 for an Agricultural Preservation Restriction and an overwhelming vote at a Special Town Meeting and subsequent election, which approved spending $1.41 million, the town was able to purchase for conservation purposes the 43.375 acres which make up Mattison Field in January, 1998 for $3.15 million.

The Water Tower
water tower before restorationThe original Jones farmhouse and barn were not on the parcel of land purchased by the Town of Concord and have subsequently been removed to allow for the building of a new home on private property. The water tower, however, resides on the conservation land purchased by the Town and is now the only extant visible reminder of the land's history as a thriving dairy farm. The elevated wooden tank was part of an elaborate system that included a windmill that pumped water from a 500 foot well through a piping system that relayed water to a second tank inside the cow barn.

At one point, wooden stave water tanks such as the one on Mattison Field, and the cows they served, dotted the Concord landscape. Early in the 20th century, numerous farmers in town had dairy cows, either as their primary farming business or as part of a multifaceted farm. When laws were passed that required pasteurization, small farmers brought their milk to the larger farms such as the Jones farm, which had processing facilities for pasteurization, homogenization, bottling and delivery. Water towers such as the one on Mattison Field -- essentially an elevated barrel to which water was pumped from a well and from which it was dispensed as needed with the help of gravity -- were an efficient way of delivering water to cows.

rooster!Times have changed, however. Although Concord has managed to maintain a small but active farming community, it is no longer the agricultural center it once was. As the town became increasingly developed, dairy herds moved elsewhere. And as technology changed, the once-numerous water tanks began to disappear from the landscape. Today, the water tower on Mattison Field is one of only two still standing in town and the only one visible from a public road.

In 1999, as part of the Demolition Delay Bylaw approved by Town Meeting that year, the water tower was included in a list of significant historic resources that cannot be demolished without considerable effort being made to restore or relocate them. By approving the demolition review bylaw, the Town affirmed that there are certain structures that provide an important historical and cultural context for our town.

Restoring the Tower
farmer sowing his fieldsBecause the tower is on public land and has been formally recognized as worthy of preserving, Concord citizens had a unique opportunity to save this visual reminder of Concord's rich farming history. Restoring the structure was not easy -- it was in a state of serious disrepair and was difficult to approach because of its height.

With the assistance of Larry Sorli, an architectural historian, the Concord Historical Commission developed a plan for restoration which included strengthening, repairing, and replacing where necessary all the components of the tower: the concrete footings, the open steel base, and the wooden tank, roof, balcony and shaft enclosure. The wooden parts have all been rebuilt with historically-appropriate materials and treated to prevent insect, rot and water damage. The tank was anchored to its steel base to ensure that it will withstand even the most violent hurricane.

Do You Have a Story About This Water Tower?

Do you know something about the Mattison Field Water Tower? Do you have an interesting personal or family anecdote about it? An oral history of this tower is being collected. Please contact the Concord Historical Commission if you can help.

Working in partnership with the Natural Resources Commission, the NRC-appointed Mattison Field Stewardship Committee and the Concord Historical Commission, Historic Concord, Inc., a local nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Concord's historic resources, generously agreed to carry out this effort. Historic Concord is nearly done raising funds to restore the tower and oversaw the restoration work itself. Additionally, The Concord Land Conservation Trust made a challenge gift to inspire others to give generously: CLCT matched dollar-for-dollar every new gift up to $5000. Tax-deductible contributions to finish and maintain this project may be sent to Historic Concord, P.O. Box 235, Concord, MA 01742.

With the completion of the Mattison Field water tower preservation and restoration, future generations will have the chance to get to know this relic of times gone by and the slice of Concord's history it evokes. And it will serve a new purpose: rather than delivering water to cows, it will deliver a little bit of Concord's agricultural past to those who pass by or enjoy being at Mattison Field.

Photos: post-restoration - ©Larry Sorli; pre-restoration - ©Tony Rinaldo.
Other Images: Courtesy of Art Today.

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