Charles River Basin in Boston

May 19, 2006

Charles_basin_winter_dawn copy

Provided and copyright by: Rob Sheridan
Summary authors & editors: Rob Sheridan

This photo of Boston across the Charles River Basin was taken from the north (Cambridge) side of the Basin as the Sun rose early on a cold morning this past February. The Charles River was named for King Charles I of England by Captain John Smith during his exploration of New England in 1614. The river takes a meandering 80 mile (128 km) course through eastern Massachusetts, separating Cambridge from Boston before emptying into Boston’s Inner Harbor. Called the “Charles River Basin,” the last 3 miles (5 km) of the river is a creation by civil engineers, and an amazingly successful example of a durable, planned urban landscape. These daring engineers essentially transformed tidal salt water mud flats into a fresh water lake -- the Charles River Basin.

Central to the effort to create the Charles River Basin was prominent Boston banker (and former Harvard oarsman) James Jackson Storrow. To create this urban lake, the Charles estuary had to be dammed. The first dam was completed in 1910 and is now the site of Boston’s Museum of Science. Closer to the sea, the current dam was finished in 1978 and includes six huge pumps capable of moving fresh water out to sea against a high tide to provide flood control for the Charles River Basin and watershed. It also includes a lock for boats and a ladder for fish to allow movement between the fresh water basin and the salt water harbor.

This construction transformed the distal Charles from a broad tidal estuary and extensive mud flats, into a large fresh water basin with a stable water level. The Charles River Basin remains a popular and increasingly clean tribute to those civil engineers who make urban environments more liveable.

The photo also features a Sun pillar and a glaze of ice forming on the quiet water.

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