The year was 1901. The Bridgeport Hydraulic Company hired a 27-year old Lehigh University graduate by the name of Samuel Palmer Senior to serve as superintendent in charge of the company’s planners. It didn’t take long for the young engineer to envision the need to greatly expand the company’s reservoir systems to meet the growing needs of the greater Bridgeport area. After completing his first large project, Trap Falls, in 1905, he turned his attention to Easton, Weston and Redding. By 1910 there was a plan in place to build 4 more new reservoirs that would serve the company’s needs for decades to come.
The Hemlock Reservoir came first in 1911, followed shortly by the Aspetuck directly to the north. Plans were in place for a greatly expanded Easton Lake with a much larger, concrete dam when the First World War broke out in 1914. Shortages of materials put the company’s plans on hold. It wasn’t until 1927 that the project was finally completed. The Saugatuck, the final piece in Senior’s great master plan, came on line in the summer of 1942.
What made Sam Senior’s plan so unique was his vision to take the relatively sparsely developed lands of the river valleys to the north of Bridgeport and turn them into massive watersheds, making them devoid of human contamination to then provide billions of gallons of fresh, pure water to meet the company’s future demands. Through his brilliant planning, it was possible to deliver the waters from the Saugatuck all the way to the pipes at the base of the Hemlock using only a mile and a half of piping through the company bored tunnel under the mountain at Flirt Hill. That water flowed into the Aspetuck and then through the Hemlock before it saw the first set of pipes that required disturbing the surface of the ground.
Sam Senior also believed in natural conservation, overseeing the planting of thousands of fir tree seedlings grown at the company’s own tree farms to provide a layer of needles that would naturally filter the water that crossed the banks of the rivers and shorelines of the reservoirs. The cleaner the water that sat behind those massive concrete dams, the less need for chemicals to assure its quality.
Mister Senior’s intentions were no doubt meant to provide the largest amount of clean water at the lowest cost for a company that made its money by doing just that. Throughout the process of acquiring the necessary lands to build the reservoirs and protect the riverways, there was much controversy as the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company exercised its state given authority to take those lands by eminent domain. But now, over 100 years later, we who call Easton, Weston, or Redding our home can look back and thank Samuel Palmer Senior for the serendipitous results of his vision and his actions, as we enjoy the bounty of the massive amounts of undeveloped land in each of our towns. While other communities came late to the idea of preserving open space for future generations, one man’s great vision for supplying Bridgeport with enough water to sustain its needs for over 100 years gave us a massive and essentially cost-free head start in our efforts to prevent unbridled growth and preserve our open lands and forests.