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Residents Remember Four Towns Drowned For Reservoir 50 Years Ago

April 28, 1988

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ Their steps may be a bit slower, their eyes dimmer, but oh how they remember the night 50 years ago when residents danced away the last hours of four towns that died to provide drinking water for Boston.

More than 100 former residents - the oldest in her 90s - and 300 descendants of the Swift River Valley towns gathered Wednesday for the 50th anniversary of the last dance at Enfield Town Hall.

And they remembered the night of April 27, 1938, when the towns of Dana, Prescott, Enfield and Greenwich flickered out of existence at midnight to create the Quabbin Reservoir.

The reservoir took 20 years to build and cost $53 million and the lives of more than 20 workers. Today, it provides drinking water for 2.5 million people, half of the state’s population.

It’s not the nation’s largest reservoir, though none larger has been built strictly to provide drinking water. But for 2,500 people, the land under the water had been home. The ball marked the end of that life.

″My mother was crying. The older people were heartbroken,″ recalled Lucille Webster Thresher, dancing with Harrison, her husband of 50 years. They were the last couple married in Enfield. They remember the ball.

″There was such a crowd at Town Hall that night we young people couldn’t get in,″ she said. ″We climbed the fire escape and looked in the windows.″

A hush fell over the crowd in the ballroom at the University of Massachusetts as the bell that had once hung in the Dana Town Hall struck midnight.

Robert Garvey, the High Sheriff of Hampshire County, dressed in top hat and tails, led the former residents in singing ″Auld Lang Syne″ just as the dancers had in 1938.

Men who had been young then bowed their heads. Tears glistened in many eyes as the sound of ″Taps″ echoed across the stilled ballroom.

″Our home was in the center of town. It now lies under the deepest part of the reservoir,″ said Joy Dickinson Bock, a South Hadley elementary school teacher, who was in grade school back then.

″My parents had six children and they couldn’t afford to go to the dance. But we kids went down to the Town Hall and watched the people arriving,″ she said.

Her brother, Richard Dickinson, came from Indianapolis for the event as did three sisters and another brother.

″I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,″ said Trudy Ward Stalbird Terry, 78, of Enfield, as 38 former residents who had been at the Farewell Ball led the Grand March around the hall.

Many of the women wore heirloom pins and other mementos of parents and grandparents. Some wore black as did many of the women at the dance 50 years ago.

Their reminiscences, jotted down on their dance programs, were read aloud between dance tunes.

″My son is 50 now. He was one of the last babies born in Enfield,″ said Gladys Hanks of Somers, Conn.

She and her husband Roy, 75, married others when they lived in Enfield. They did not meet again until they both began attending the weekly teas held for former residents at the Quabbin Visitors Center.

They were married on Valentine’s Day in 1987.

″We didn’t think we ought to waste any time,″ she said.

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