Wicked Good Guides / Boston Cityviews /

Mother Brook

In history-mad Massachusetts, it's wicked weird that not even a simple roadside marker notes the oldest canal in the country. Instead, thousands of people every day just whiz by the little turnoff across from the Dedham Mall where you can see the start of the Mother Brook, which was built in 1639 to divert water from the Charles River to power mills on what was then called the East Brook (which in turn fed into the Neponset). The mills are mostly gone (and the ones that remain are now apartments), but the brook is still there, diverting up to 25% of the Charles' water to the Neponset (although now to help control flooding in the Charles River Basin).

For much of its course, the Mother Brook is a quiet, forgotten backwater (in some cases, even hidden - it runs in a culvert under the parking lot for the Pizzeria Uno in Dedham) that runs through Dedham and Readville before entering the Neponset in Hyde Park.

Echoes of the mills remain (Saw Mill Lane and Stone Mill Drive, which cross the brook). Centennial Dam now sits beside an apartment complex built out of a former mill on Stone Mill Drive:

The dam has created a large pond:

In Readville, a spillway has created another pond:

I've been shopping at the Hyde Park Star Market for more than 10 years and never knew until I started taking photos for this page that the Mother Brook runs right behind it:

The Mother Brook (on the right, below) joins the Neponset off Dana Avenue in Hyde Park:

Comments

This is pretty cool! I've passed over Mother Brook hundreds of times on The Road Formerly Known As Route 1 in Dedham, near Pizzeria Uno. I never knew it's significance though. Thanks for this!

slim on March 29, 2004 01:25 PM.


I heard about the Mother Brook when I was in college. A friend of mine used to enjoy pontificating that it made Boston an island. Nice pictures, thanks!

Leslie Turek on March 30, 2004 05:38 PM.


Wow, that`s really a great thread! If that made Boston an island, wouldn`t it also make Newton one?

scott on March 31, 2004 07:23 AM.


Mother Brook runs right behind my boyfreind's house in Dedham and I look at it all the time. I always knew it was there but never knew where it comes from or where it goes. Thank you for filling me in!

Susan on April 1, 2004 03:10 PM.


I GREWW UP FISHING MOTHER BROOK.I LEARNED ITS STORY.AND ITS NICE TO SEE THAT ITS HISTORY IS GETTING OUT TO THE MAINSTREAM. EVEN AS ACHILD GROWING UP I WOULD STAND ON THE BANKS OF MOTHER BROOK AND TRY TO IMAGINE WHAT AN INCREDIBLE UNDERTAKING IT MUST HAVE BEEN.IT WAS THE ORIGINAL BIG DIG. THANKS SO MUCH.

MICAEL M on April 6, 2004 10:58 AM.


This is an excellent little capsule of an interesting piece of New England history. I am now more curious than ever to find out how it got the name Mother Brook. If I find anything, I will be sure to post it to this page. Thanks again for a wonderful piece.

Jon Allen on April 6, 2004 11:03 AM.


This has to be what is called Father Brook in Thayer Cousins' "The Boner Boys of Boston". He says:

The Boys were right opposite from the bad guys’ hide-out at the outlet of a stream called
Father Brook when Byte intercepted the call. “They’re loading at four this morning,” he said
hoarsely. “I mean tomorrow morning, technic’ly.”

“Wicky way out, Byte!” said Commander Bang. “Now I ask, are we to confront them
stark naked?”

The Boys hadn’t brought so much as a church key with them.

It was Butch who knew the lay of the land. “I got an idea …,” he said. It just happens that
this isn’t a brook at all. It’s really a mighty river! We’ll wash ‘em away!”

“Aww, get off the bah stool,” said Bonky. “This’s a river,” he said pointing to the broad
estuary they were on, “and that’s a brook!” he said vehemently, pointing across the small stream
that had once powered the old stone mill that served the bad guys as headquarters.

“How can we flood ‘em with that?” Boots asked, incredulous.

“Power up your bikes, Boys!” said Butch, taking command right from under the
Commander. “We’re off to Dedham!”

“You stay here, Hoaring, and report failure or success.”

At 4:00 AM, perhaps a minute after, the Boys pulled the boards off the head of Father
Brook, and diverted the whole flooded Charles River into it.

“Boy,” said Bang, “these guys are in for a wickie wet surprise!”

“Yeah!” said Buster on his computer. “Even Hoary will be washed away!”

“Oops!” said Bang.

Richard Dey on April 7, 2004 05:55 PM.


Whoever is responsible for posting the photos of Mother Brook has made a wonderful contribution to the recorded history of the Boston area. Thank you.

For years I've been seeking a photo of Putterham School, the one-room, three-grade school house my mother attended in Brookline circa 1906-1909. I know it was moved to Lars Anderson Park, but can find no picture. I'd appreciate hearing of any references to a source. TThank you. EWA

Edith Andrews on April 12, 2004 02:19 AM.


When I was a boy I swam at a small sandy beach in Mother Brook. Next to the bridge on Bussey St. Great skating in the winter too. All overgrown now. Too bad.

Jerry on June 10, 2004 10:36 AM.


it's all the more remarkable when you think how the was built by just two men.
they connected the charles to a stream that ran to the neponset for much of it and they received mill rights as payment.
readville was part of dedham for the first 150 years and the canal was the border between dedham and boston. readville split from dedham in 1867.

reoh on August 27, 2004 01:56 AM.


Great work! I too fished mother brook as a child, and have always been amazed by its twisted through East Dedham and Hyde Park. Thanks so much for posting this. Inspiring stuff.

andrew m. burton on September 29, 2004 04:24 PM.


I'm a retired employee of the MDC (also the MWRA) and when I was much younger,I was in a field party which was assigned to survey Mother Brook for proposed flood control work which would have cleaned it of all the sediment and trash. I don't know if the work was really done, but getting to know all about the Brook was very interesting to me. I can see by the photos above that a lot of work with small dams has been done since I've left Mass.( I now live in Colorado) I often think about those days and just on a whim I typed "Mother Brook" in Google and lo and behold there it was! Now my wife doesn't have rely on my old stories about it. She can read all about it for herself.

Norman Saulnier on March 26, 2005 10:32 AM.


Great pictures. I agree that Mother Brook has a persuasive claim at being the oldest canal in the U.S. If you want to read about other oldest canals in the U.S., I have a list at http://www.sover.net/~daxtell/bf/bfcanal2.html.

Dan Axtell on April 24, 2005 09:50 PM.


Thanks for the nice photos and stories about Mother Brook. The centennial Dam you mention and show in one of the pictures is at the Mother Brook Condominium complex in East Dedham. I live there, and we love the sound of the water coming over the dam, and the sight of the mill pond. That dam is at what was the fourth of five sites authorized by the town fathers in 1639 when the diversion from the Charles River was built. The dam in Hyde Park is at the 5th and last of the sites. The 3rd site is at Bussey St. in East Dedham, and I suspect that one or more of the existing adjacent buildings was once a mill. I think, but am less certain, that the second dam site is at the AliMed building (the old Dedham Envelope Co. building), just above the head of the mill pond formed by the Bussey St. dam. I do not know where the first dam site was, or if it still exists. Does anyone else? It was certainly an amazing accomplishment in an era that we do not usually associate with tecnological achievements. I plan to read more about the brook, the diversion canal, and the mills "one of these days..."

David B on September 29, 2005 12:23 PM.


great story about mother brook. i am a major history buff on dedham history.along colburn street if you look over to bussey street you will see the bridge near old mill,this leads to dam but also there is another opening along the wall on bussey street.this opening goes under bussey street to condon park.it supplied water to a mill called merchants wollen mills.the water also went into the building that was formely know as the karate studio(mill #2).the mill on milton street (stone mill)was called cochranes mill.this was on the fourth dam.a great book for you get is images of america DEDHAM.this book is published by the dedham historcal society.

david r on October 23, 2005 09:53 PM.


Thanks Jean,
Your camera is like the
eye of a poet.
You are truly gifted...!

Brendan on October 28, 2005 10:18 AM.


Someone wanted information on the Putterham School in Brookline that was moved from Putterham Circle to Larz Anderson Park. My father, who passed away a while back, used to take photos of Brookline. I believe I have an old photo of the school maybe from the 60's. I will look for it and if you want can email you a copy. I believe the name was Edith Andrews?

Susan on October 31, 2005 07:44 PM.


I'll try canoeing it and report back, unless someone wants to say "can't be done" or "I've already done it and here's the facts"

canoist on July 23, 2006 11:31 PM.


this is all beautiful but the part near condin park off bussey.st is filled with people throwing trash and car parts in it and the fishing is good there .the town should inforce the litter laws because they are ruining this great water way.I think the idiots in dedham don't care because its in east dedham and not there part of dedham.the park dept should be cleaning this every week and stop letting these kids and adult throw trash in it.this is what I think and I'm ashamed by this .take a roll and stop the destruction of this water way.

eddieT on September 13, 2006 02:51 PM.


There is a well hidden marker overlooking the water by the Reservation Rd skateboard park in Hyde Park. Walk under Res. Rd. at end of park. Good bass fishing between carwash & Reservation Rd.

bucky on July 15, 2007 09:05 AM.


I travel over Mother Brook on the train now. If you look by the skate park and behind the Stop and Shop, the water is completly gone due to construction nearby. It it weird to see a completely dry Mother Brook. I wonder if this is the first time its been dry in that section sice it was made. Take a look if you get a chance- it is only gonna be like that for a very short while.

mike on October 4, 2007 02:53 PM.


I'm glad you posted those wonderful pictures of the Mother Brook. Unfortunately, the brook looks nothing like that now. What was once a beautiful lush green forest-like refuge for untold varieties of flora and fauna, including a daily parade of waterfowl, is now a sad, cold and sterile gully made of gray stone. The city came in one day and systematically cut down every tree along the water. All the greenery, from the shrubs to the grass, was removed and replaced with materials devoid of life. Unable to sustain it or even mimic it. Just the other day, I saw a pair of canada geese land in the now barren stream. They fumbled their way toward the rocks looking for food. Less than a year earlier, these same birds would stay for hours dipping their heads underwater to feast on the aquatic vegetation. They would ascend the green banks for grass to nibble and rest under the thick foliage that provided shelter and safety. Now, unable to find any food in the water or even a bank to climb, they eventually flew off. I'm glad that there are people who appreciate the Brook for it's past history and beauty but now I only feel sadness at the way our natural resources are destroyed. With such beauty disregarded in our own back yard, how can we ever hope to save our planet?

Andrew on March 26, 2008 01:59 AM.


I'm glad you posted those wonderful pictures of the Mother Brook. Unfortunately, the brook looks nothing like that now. What was once a beautiful lush green forest-like refuge for untold varieties of flora and fauna, including a daily parade of waterfowl, is now a sad, cold and sterile gully made of gray stone. The city came in one day and systematically cut down every tree along the water. All the greenery, from the shrubs to the grass, was removed and replaced with materials devoid of life. Unable to sustain it or even mimic it. Just the other day, I saw a pair of canada geese land in the now barren stream. They fumbled their way toward the rocks looking for food. Less than a year earlier, these same birds would stay for hours dipping their heads underwater to feast on the aquatic vegetation. They would ascend the green banks for grass to nibble and rest under the thick foliage that provided shelter and safety. Now, unable to find any food in the water or even a bank to climb, they eventually flew off. I'm glad that there are people who appreciate the Brook for it's past history and beauty but now I only feel sadness at the way our natural resources are destroyed. With such beauty disregarded in our own back yard, how can we ever hope to save our planet?

Andrew on March 26, 2008 01:59 AM.


I'm glad you posted those wonderful pictures of the Mother Brook. Unfortunately, the brook looks nothing like that now. What was once a beautiful lush green forest-like refuge for untold varieties of flora and fauna, including a daily parade of waterfowl, is now a sad, cold and sterile gully made of gray stone. The city came in one day and systematically cut down every tree along the water. All the greenery, from the shrubs to the grass, was removed and replaced with materials devoid of life. Unable to sustain it or even mimic it. Just the other day, I saw a pair of canada geese land in the now barren stream. They fumbled their way toward the rocks looking for food. Less than a year earlier, these same birds would stay for hours dipping their heads underwater to feast on the aquatic vegetation. They would ascend the green banks for grass to nibble and rest under the thick foliage that provided shelter and safety. Now, unable to find any food in the water or even a bank to climb, they eventually flew off. I'm glad that there are people who appreciate the Brook for it's past history and beauty but now I only feel sadness at the way our natural resources are destroyed. With such beauty disregarded in our own back yard, how can we ever hope to save our planet?

Andrew on March 26, 2008 02:33 AM.


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