On Columbia Point, a 350-acre peninsula two miles south of Boston in the neighborhood of Dorchester, lies a mysterious and abandoned castle-like structure so lovely looking that most visitors would never guess what it was used for.
The historic peninsula is now home to the University of Massachusetts, and there are newly erected campus buildings sprawling all over the area. However, this gem of a building, the only remaining 19th-century structure on the point, stands out in stark contrast to its shiny new neighbors. Between 1630 and 1869, the marshlands of the peninsula were used as calf pastures (hence the name) and no, not used as a pump station for cow’s milk like some may think. Instead, this site was the first waste treatment facility in Boston.
That’s right, this alluring granite structure that exudes extravagance from the days of yore once cleaned all of Boston’s fecal matter before it was pumped out into the ocean. We can thank architect George Clough for designing this beautiful home for the waste coming from our “royal thrones,” which was officially granted National Historic Site distinction in 1990.
The main building has incredible architectural details to marvel at, as well as two notable plaques. One reads “B.I.S.,” meaning “Boston Improved Sewer,” and the other is the pumping station’s construction date, 1883.
The dilapidated structure is interesting in and of itself, but its historical significance is also important. It is a symbol of the efforts and great lengths it took to acquire proper sanitation and waste management systems in a time when cholera and typhoid were rampant illnesses that threatened the lives of citizens. The facility helped pioneer systems that nowadays we largely take for granted. The station was an example of hygienics and healthful living for major cities all across the U.S., until it was eventually abandoned due to the creation of a newer facility in the late 1960s.