New Salem resident presents history of North Prescott

  • New Salem resident Don Flye explored the history of North Prescott at Quabbin Reservoir Gate 20 Saturday morning. A church and two general stores were located at the area before Prescott was abandoned and razed to make way for the reservoir’s construction. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • New Salem resident Don Flye explored the history of North Prescott at Quabbin Reservoir Gate 20 Saturday morning. A church and two general stores were located at the area before Prescott was abandoned and razed to make way for the reservoir’s construction. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • This stone marker is the only remaining indicator of the Prescott Church’s presence. The church was moved to Orange in 1947 and then to New Salem in 1985. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2021 11:51:01 AM

NEW SALEM — Standing among the trees outside Gate 20 at the Quabbin Reservoir, it’s hard to imagine there once was two general stores and a church only several yards away occupying a land now covered in forest.

New Salem resident Don Flye offered a history presentation about North Prescott — a village of the disincorporated town of Prescott, which was abandoned to create the Quabbin Reservoir.

Flye’s presentation focused on the history of the Prescott Church, which he said was sold by the Metropolitan District Commission in 1947, preserving it by changing its location.

“On Jan. 8, 1947, the MDC sold it to the Prescott Historical Society for $5 with the stipulation that it be removed from the property before Dec. 1, 1948,” Flye said. “The church was then taken apart and moved to Orange.”

The church remained in Orange until 1985 when the Prescott Historical Society merged with the Swift River Valley Historical Society. At that point, the church was moved a second time to its current location in New Salem. Because of its multiple relocations, the Swift River Valley Historical Society’s website says the church is “arguably, the best traveled church in the country.”

Flye also noted the presence of two general stores, one next to the church and the other across the street. In a discussion with one of the audience members, they concluded people would purchase items from the store they couldn’t get from the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog — the 19th-century mail-order service of present-day retailer Sears.

The presentation was the fourth of its kind, with others given on the villages of Puppyville and Millington, both of which are mostly submerged in the reservoir. A significant portion of North Prescott is still above the water, but the disincorporation of the town required every building to be razed or moved.

The Quabbin Resorvoir was created between 1930 and 1939 because Boston and other towns in the eastern part of the state needed a larger water supply. It reached its full volume in 1946 and the project cost more than $50 million, according to the 1991 book “Quabbin Facts and Figures” published by the Friends of Quabbin and the Metropolitan District Commission.

Flye, a mechanical engineer by trade, has lived in Petersham and New Salem for his entire life. He said he loves history and hearing the stories of people losing their homes inspired him to look further into the Quabbin Reservoir’s construction.

“Prescott was the first town taken,” Flye said. “The town was mostly elderly and couldn’t put up too much of a fight. They took the money and moved. Most farmers in the area in the 1800s moved out west.”

He started giving these presentations as a way to add another event to New Salem’s Old Home Day because it allowed people to “get to know the history of the area.” Old Home Day is an annual town-wide event celebrating the town and history of New Salem. Flye said the celebration had to be canceled this year because of a lack of volunteers.

“It’s the first time without volunteers,” Flye said. “Small towns are changing and losing that sense of community.”

New Salem resident Jerry Schone, who lives near Gate 20, stumbled upon the presentation when he was going out to pick blueberries and strawberries. He said he enjoys learning about the town and its neighboring reservoir because of its unique qualities.

“I love the history, in part because so much of it is preserved in place, it doesn’t change,” Schone said. “It’s the combination of houses that still exist that are standing next to cellar holes.”

Schone said the history of New Salem is “more accessible” than other places and it is “fascinating” to learn about.

“We find stability, sense of place and local history,” Schone said. “It’s a smaller, slower world.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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