FALL RIVER — At the far east end of Bedford Street, a granite tower rises 120 feet to the sky like a turret from a medieval castle. It’s one of Fall River’s most distinctive historic buildings — but kept just out of reach of the public behind a “no trespassing” sign.
That doesn’t mean it’s off-limits, though. The Water Department cares for several historic properties unlike anything else in the city, and anyone can see them — you just need to ask.
“If anybody’s ever interested in a tour, they can contact any of the Water Department numbers,” said Paul Ferland, director of Community Utilities.
The city’s standpipe water tower, the old pumping station along the banks of the North Watuppa Pond, the remains of the Watuppa ice house, and what’s left of Spencer Borden’s mansion Interlachen — all of them belong to the public.
“All that area is posted and people aren’t allowed to trespass at their own will, but we do offer guided tours as long as staffing is available to provide those tours,” Ferland said.
Inside the old water tower, Watuppa Pond ice house, Interlachen and more
The city’s water tower stands along Bedford Street, a few hundred feet from Stonehaven Road. Built in 1875, the tower’s interior features a winding staircase leading to a balcony near its top, and it’s capped by a copper roof. It was used to pump water to some of the city’s highest-elevated neighborhoods.
Farther down Bedford Street are the city’s 1873 water pumping station and intake house. On Jan. 5, 150 years ago, the city started pumping water from Watuppa Pond through that pump station into the city’s water system.
The city’s waterworks buildings were constructed at a time when the population was soaring and the city embarked on a major expansion of water lines. The building still contains antique pumping equipment from its early days.
“We’ve invested a fair amount of our money, as well as grant money, to stabilize those buildings to make sure they don’t deteriorate to the point where they wouldn’t be able to be usable in the future if we decided to,” said Ferland.
The Cook & Durfee Ice House is visible to drivers headed north on Route 24, perched along the pond’s banks on Interlachen Island. Stone walls about 50 feet high soar above the overgrowth, the only remnants of the business. Built in 1864, the business harvested blocks of ice from the pond and carried them to customers in the city before there was household refrigeration.
Fall River Wonders: What was Spencer Borden’s estate Interlachen like, and where was it?
And elsewhere on the island is what’s left of Interlachen, an opulent mansion once owned by industrialist Col. Spencer Borden. The estate, dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was once home to a massive neoclassical house, two or three barns, an electrified bell tower, a stable, possibly even a tennis court. The Borden family sold the house in 1926, and within a decade the estate became neglected. It was demolished in 1938. What remains is the foundation — though a careful look can reveal decorative flagstone pavers still embedded in the ground.
All are on property owned by the Water Department around North Watuppa Pond, the city’s protected water supply.
Open house possible in spring; here’s how to get a tour
The Water Department has recently completed the construction of its new headquarters on Bedford Street, replacing an aging administration building built in the 1920s. That building will be demolished in spring of 2024. Ferland said he hopes at that time to hold an open house for its new digs along with tours of those historic properties.
But in the meantime — and at any subsequent time — Ferland said if there’s enough public interest, he’s happy to schedule public tours of the Water Department’s properties. The one bottleneck is making sure he has the staff to guide visitors. But Ferland said he enjoys using the chance to teach people about Fall River’s history and how its water supply works.
The Water Department is available at 508-324-2330 or by emailing [email protected].
“I like to use any type of tours that I do as an educational moment to try to teach people, when they turn the faucet on, how the water comes out,” Ferland said.
“Whenever I go and talk at schools, one of the first questions I ask the students is, ‘How many people have used the product that we make? How many people have used it today?’ Nobody ever raises their hand,” he said, laughing. “Who’s washing their hands or going to the bathroom? People just don’t understand what it takes to get the water to their faucet, and then take it after they use it.”
Dan Medeiros can be reached at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.