Water Trough – History Mystery, May 2014

May 14, 2014 – Question

This image depicts the former Elm Park Hotel, c.1903-1908 at the intersection of Washington Street and Worcester Road in Wellesley Hills.  This triangular plot of land is now Elm Park and home to the Isaac Sprague Memorial Tower.  Note the ornate, cast-iron object that is prominently pictured in the center foreground of this photograph; any ideas on what this is?

Come back and find the answer on May 28th!  Or attend our lecture entitled “Wellesley Then and Now” by Curator Kathleen Fahey at the Wellesley Public Library on Thursday, May 15th at 7PM.  This lecture is free and open to the public.  You’ll learn about this object and much more about Wellesley’s history!

May 28, 2014 Answer

The ornate, cast-iron object is a water trough for horses.  Water troughs were a public necessity to keep horses and carriages running efficiently before automobiles came to town.  There were at least three public water troughs in Wellesley, a granite trough in Wellesley Square and two identical cast-iron troughs in the Hills and Lower Falls. The town appropriated funds to keep the troughs full of water and continued to keep the troughs in operation after automobiles were more prevalent.

In 1918 a series of Wellesley Townsman articles and letters to the editors debated whether or not to remove the troughs as some believed it was causing the spread of disease among horses.  Ultimately, it was generally agreed that the troughs did not spread disease and that “here in Wellesley if in no other place our patient, hard working horses can drink and be refreshed” (TM 3/29/1918).  It is unclear when all of the troughs were removed, but photographs and postcards in our collection indicate that the trough pictured above was removed before 1929 and replaced by a drinking fountain for residents.