CONCORD, Mass. – The town of Uxbridge and surrounding communities, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, and several other agencies and groups will join together to observe the 50th anniversary of the completion of West Hill Dam in a ceremony on July 23, 2011 at 10 a.m. at the dam in Uxbridge, Mass.
“This project is a remarkable achievement and a significant and important milestone for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the state of Rhode Island,” said District Engineer Col. Tom Feir, commander of the Corps’ New England District.
The 2,400-foot-long, 48-foot-high West Hill Dam is situated on the West River in Uxbridge, between Route 16 and Route 122 on East Hartford Avenue, about 14 miles southeast of Worcester. The project provides substantial flood protection in communities along the Blackstone and West rivers in Massachusetts, including Uxbridge, Millville, and Blackstone, and along the Blackstone River in Rhode Island, including Woonsocket and Pawtucket. West Hill Dam stores runoff from the West River, then releases it slowly to reduce flood damage downstream from Uxbridge, Massachusetts all the way to Providence, Rhode Island. The towns of Millville and Blackstone are along the Blackstone River and portions of Uxbridge are on the West River.
The West Hill Dam project covers 557 acres of federally-owned land in Uxbridge, Northbridge and Upton, Mass. Construction of West Hill Dam was started in June 1959 and completed in June 1961 at a cost of $2.3 million. The dam can impound a 1,025-acre reservoir capable of storing 4.1 billion gallons of water. This is equivalent to 8.3 inches of water covering its drainage area of 27.9 square miles. Through fiscal year 2010, the dam has prevented damages of $90.2 million.
"This dam has been helping to protect downstream citizens in Massachusetts and Rhode Island for 50 years. It has proven to be a very successful investment of time and money in preventing more than $90 million in flood damages since it was built," Col. Feir said.
A formal ceremony to observe the 50th anniversary of the completion of the construction of the dam will be held on Saturday, July 23, 2011 at the project located at 518 East Hartford Avenue in Uxbridge, Mass. The Corps’ New England District Color Guard will open the ceremony at 10 a.m. The Blackstone Valley Community Band will perform. There will be guided tours of the dam for visitors and a free pass to enjoy the afternoon in West Hill Park. Also, a time capsule will be unveiled. (In case of rain, the event will be held on Sunday, July 24, 2011).
At the ceremony, residents will share their memories of Hurricanes Connie and Diane in 1955 or memories of the project construction or other flood events. Gene Peloquin, retired and former Scout Master along with Ray Bacon (former Scout), have compiled their memoirs of the events along the Blackstone River during these floods. These collections will be unveiled at the anniversary event. Join the celebrants as they recreate the celebration of 50 years ago, including a live band, christening of the spillway, and invocation by a minister from the same church. Several survivors and honorees will share their memories and thoughts. Bring a blanket, picnic lunch and relax in the park setting.
The dam was built in response to several past destructive storms and flooding events in the region. In August 1955, Hurricane Diane blew across Long Island Sound and hit the southern New England shore. The countryside had already been soaked by an earlier storm when the hurricane blanketed 12 - 20 inches of rain from the Berkshires to the coast. Streams gushed and rivers jumped their banks, washing away bridges, roads, homes and businesses. Ninety people lost their lives and more than $540 million worth of damage was recorded. On Aug. 20, 1955, President Eisenhower declared many locations in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island as disaster areas.
This tragedy prompted state governments to work with the Corps of Engineers to hasten the building of several flood control dams that had already been authorized by the U.S. Congress. West Hill Dam, built from 1959-1961, is part of the resulting network of flood control structures. The dam is designed to hold back flood waters during heavy rains, until rivers begin to recede and the stored water can be safely released.
There is no lake at the West Hill Dam project. The flood storage area extends about 4.7 miles upstream into Northbridge and Upton. This area is normally empty and is used only to store floodwaters. The project and all associated lands cover 1,401 acres. The Corps operates West Hill Park at a small natural pool in the West River that offers two sandy beach areas, individual picnic areas with grills, 2 picnic shelters, a playground, grassy areas, drinking water, parking, a change house and sanitary facilities. The pool is approximately ½
acre and six feet deep. Approximately 4 ½ miles of trails for hiking, biking and equestrian use are available.
More than 90,000 annual visitors enjoy picnicking, swimming, hiking, cross-country skiing, fishing and hunting at the facility. There are two miles of stream fishing along the trout-stocked West River.
For more information call the West Hill Dam office at 978-318-8417 or 978-318-8410 or check the Corps’ New England District website at: www.nae.usace.army.mil/recreati/whd/whdhome.htm.
(Note to Visitors: Parking will be limited at the dam, so please park at West Hill Park and take one of the shuttle vans to the ceremonies. Shuttle vans will be available after the ceremonies until 1 p.m. to bring visitors back to their vehicles.)