A piece of Northampton history: Cave-like rock structure along Mill River may have been drainage system

  • This cave-like rock structure along the Mill River is most likely a drainage tunnel that acts as a stone culvert. GAZETTE STAFF/AMANDA LEVENSON

  • This cave-like rock structure along the Mill River is most likely a drainage tunnel that acts as a stone culvert. GAZETTE STAFF/AMANDA LEVENSON

For the Gazette
Published: 11/9/2016 1:18:55 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A cave-like rock structure is nestled into the earth along the Mill River, and one citizen can’t help his curiosity about its purpose.

Thomas Tully of Northampton came across the site one day when he was walking through the woods photographing trees and the river. He said he believes the history of the structure is worth looking into.

“It took a lot to build that structure, each block weighs about a ton. Someone went through a lot of trouble to build it,” Tully said.

The spot is about a five-minute walk from the Mill River trail entrance via Federal Street in Northampton. When coming from that direction, it can be found on the right-hand side.

Because the structure is level with the water, Tully said his best guess is that it could have been some type of drainage system.

“I’d say it’s perfectly constructed,” Tully said.

Andrew Kuether from the Department of Public Works said he is familiar with the structure because he lives in that area.

“My impression is that it was probably built as part of the original State Hospital development, and that it is part of a water control structure to control the ice pond that they got their ice from,” he said.

Now that the leaves have fallen, the pond itself is in view to the right of the rock structure when facing uphill.

Kuether said that around the other side of the structure is a date from sometime during the late 19th century.

The cave is most likely a drainage tunnel that acts as a stone culvert, Kuether said, which is basically a tunnel under a road for a river to pass through.

He estimated that the culvert was built around 1890 when the hospital was in full swing. He said he believes its use stopped around the time refrigerators were invented, when there was no longer a need for the hospital to cut ice.

He said he thinks the dam, supported by the water outlet, was used to support the pond for the purpose of ice skating in the past, as well.

“I’ve always wanted to see it restored as a skate pond. It’d be a really cool spot for skating,” he said.

According to Kuether, the land the rock structure resides on is owned by the state, and is leased to the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.


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