No Water Shortage Here . . . College Buildings Float on It
Galveston, Texas is located over oil fields; Jim Cronin's Place covers barrels of beer and ale, Harvard University sits on millions of gallons of water.
One hundred feet or so under College ground lies the Cambridge "water level". Those old timers of the of the local maintenance departments who have encountered it call it "Creeping Sam" because it has no fixed bounds and shows up where it is least wanted and expected.
Plateaus of water underground are not uncommon occurrences. They exist under most of the surrounding territory . . . but many Cambridge residents are firmly convinced that their water plateau is peculiar. The distinctive taste of water noticed by a few connoisseurs in the College, the sinking of the Lampoon building and the quality of Harvard Ale have been attributed to "Creeping Sam."
A delving into the Harvard Archives and reliable Geological Reports show that there is some truth in Sam's uniqueness. Much of the University was once swamp land and it is common to find water levels near the surface in such areas. In addition, this region was once dotted by small streams. As the land was filled in, these were driven underground. Their present courses are unknown.
Foremost among these streams is one whose source was a muddy pond, where Sever Hall now stands, and which ran across the square and down what is Brattle Street today. This muddy creek was marked by a tiny foot bridge where the kiosk now stands.
The present site of the CRIMSON was a stream that ran past the Town Wharf into the Charles River. Dunster House has replaced the wherry.
Both the CRIMSON pond and the one in the yard were filled in over 80 years ago as proven by maps of the University made in 1260 that do not show either the ponds or the streams running from them. Maps of this period, however, do show still another creek, coming from the direction of Somervill and passing across the present site of the biology building and Peabody Museum.
This streams was forced underground when the Zoological Museum and Jarvis Field were built. A blueprint of the proposed museum dated 1868, with the stream on it can be checked against a plan of the area after construction (1885) in which the creek is missing. The water evidently sank down as far as the water shelf when the stream was filled in. The Biology department uses this water for its air conditioning system today.
The last time "Sam" was heard from was two years ago when he threatened to flood the foundations of Lamont Library while they were being laid. He was stayed off by suction pumps that ran 24 hours a day.
Several years ago a maintenance crew man thought he detected oil in underground water beneath the Yard while working on a water main. He kept the secret to himself, although he realized there was little chance of buying the property and setting up oil wells in the Yard. After six months he had another chance to work on the water pipe lines and cheek his suspicion of oil. He discovered oil again, leaking from a supply can this time. The worker, who wants to remain anonymous, is still around the College, but he's given up all dreams of oil.
One Dam Improvement
All Harvard's difficulties with water have not come from "Creeping Sam." Most of the area on which the Houses were built is filled-in swamp-land that used to flood at high tide. Even after the new living quarters were finished, exceptionally high tides would inundate the area. The situation was not improved until the course of the Charles River was altered and a dam built at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
If you stand at the side of Leverett House and look toward Adams you will note that the land rises just in front of the old Gold Coast. The rise marks the end of the filled in area, just as Beach Hill in Metropolitan Boston marks the end of the reclaimed Back Bay district.