Why is there a big water tower on Cliff Road near Maxcy’s Pond?

It is the third water-storage facility there and all that is left on the site of the original Wannacomet Water Company. It is on a hilltop next to Washing Pond, the original source of piped water to the Town Of Nantucket.

Black Water Tank, 1962
Wannacomet Water Company black water tank, 1962 (P3169)

An elevated water tank on legs was erected there in 1878 with a capacity for 50,000 gallons of water. A pump and an engine to operate it were located on the edge of the pond. The pump sent water from the pond up into the tank, and gravity then fed the water down into pipes leading into town.

Nantucketers were skeptical that water could be made to flow uphill to reach the center of town, but demonstrations in 1879 and 1880 shot water from hydrants in front of the North Church on Centre Street and the Methodist Church at the corner of Centre and Main Streets high enough into the air to arch over the roofs of the churches. This was reassuring to Nantucketers for whom the disastrous Great Fire of 1846 remained in living memory.

Customers quickly subscribed to piped water provided by the Wannacomet Water Company, the brain-child of Moses Joy. Pipes were extended throughout the core town, replacing neighborhood wells and hand pumps.

In 1908 a new water tower replaced the first one. This black-painted 415,00-gallon standpipe was a landmark for vessels crossing Nantucket Sound. According to David Worth, former general manager of Wannacomet Water Company, “It was probably the only black tank in the U.S. They may have painted it black because it was the only color they had at the time.”

Its replacement, built in 1995, is painted fog gray. It is the same height as the previous standpipe, but it is two and a half times its diameter and has a two-million-gallon capacity.

Wannacomet Water Company has long since replaced pond water with well water that draws directly from Nantucket’s sole-source aquifer. The old pump house and associated buildings on Washing Pond are gone, and only the big water tower remains at the site.

To learn more about Nantucket’s municipal water supply, see Frances Karttunen’s book, Moses Tapped the Washing Pond: A History of Wannacomet Water Company, available from the NHA Museum Shop

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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