The initials MDC in northwest Connecticut are well known and well understood: the Metropolitan District Commission, an opaque title for the corporation that supplies Hartford, and much of the upper central Connecticut valley, with its water. This water, it should be noted, is some of the finest in the nation in terms of quality and cost. A large portion of this water comes from the complex of reservoirs built on the Farmington and Nepaug watersheds. The state’s biggest reservoir is Barkhamsted, which was built by the MDC.
However, if one visits the Nepaug reservoir, one will not see the MDC initials on the original stone for the pumping controls and other work. Rather, it is HWW: Hartford Water Works. It was this company which actually built the Nepaug and Compensating Reservoirs, both of which are partially within New Hartford. HWW was created in 1855 to serve Hartford; in 1930 the MDC was created, the following year, HWW was absorbed into the MDC.
Today, although the MDC serves a much larger region; this earlier association is still strong in people’s minds. It was, and remains, a matter of ‘water for Hartford’.
We don’t tend to think much about who owns river bottoms, ponds, or lakes. The body of law, riparian, surrounding these properties is massive, and the legal issues continue to be contentious. However, for the general public they tend to fall into that somewhat grey area of being neither explicitly public nor private. The Farmington River’s West Branch above the center of New Hartford definitely falls into this area. This large floodplain is accessed by hikers, fishermen, hunters, and (of course) the innumerable canoers, kayakers, and boaters.
What appears to be a floodplain is actually an artificial lake bottom. The Greenwoods pond was created during the 1800’s (the first dam was around 1816, by 1880 it was a thirty plus foot dam.) It failed in 1936 destroying a large portion of the industrial center. The dam was never rebuilt.
The water rights to the dam and the pond, including the immediate watershed, totaled some 250 acres; the rights also included the rights to any power generated by the dam, which included the ability to control the flow of the river. These rights had originally belonged to the Greenwoods Company, a large textile firm. Following their departure from the area, the rights were passed through several companies until they ended up being owned by Landers, Frary, & Clark.
In the 1930’s the Metropolitan District Commission, the water company in charge of Hartford’s water supply, was in the process of purchasing as much land as was possible in the upper Farmington River watershed. Most of their purchases were focused on the east branch and the Nepaug River, where the three main reservoirs were constructed, a fourth (Hogback) was later built on the west branch. However, following the dam failure they were able to purchase what had been the Greenwoods Pond, as LFC had no interest in rebuilding. Today the MDC continues to own the property.