The Charles River (sometimes called the River Charles or simply the Charles) is an 80-mile-long (129 km) long river in eastern Massachusetts. From its source in Hopkinton the river flows in a northeasterly direction (after first coursing due south through Milford), traveling through 23 cities and towns before reaching the Atlantic Ocean at Boston. The Native-American name for the Charles River was Quinobequin, meaning "meandering".
Charles, Mystic, and Neponset river watersheds
|Cities||Hopkinton, Cambridge, Boston|
|- location||Hopkinton, Massachusetts, United States|
|- elevation||350 ft (110 m)|
|Boston, Massachusetts, United States|
|0 ft (0 m)|
|Length||80 mi (130 km)|
|Basin size||308 sq mi (800 km2)|
|- average||302 cu ft/s (8.6 m3/s)|
|- minimum||0.1 cu ft/s (0.0028 m3/s)|
|- maximum||4,150 cu ft/s (118 m3/s)|
The Charles River is fed by approximately 80 streams and several major aquifers as it flows 80 miles (129 km), starting at Teresa Road just north of Echo Lake ( ) in Hopkinton, passing through 23 cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts before emptying into Boston Harbor. Thirty-three lakes and ponds and 35 municipalities are entirely or partially part of the Charles River drainage basin. Despite the river's length and relatively large drainage area (308 square miles, 798 km2), its source is only 26 miles (42 km) from its mouth, and the river drops only 350 feet (107 m) from source to sea. The Charles River watershed contains more than 8,000 acres (32 km2) of protected wetlands, referred to as Natural Valley Storage. These areas are important in preventing downstream flooding and providing natural habitats to native species.
Harvard University, Boston University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are located along the Charles River. Near its mouth, it forms the border between downtown Boston and Cambridge and Charlestown. The river opens into a broad basin and is lined by the parks of the Charles River Reservation. On the Charles River Esplanade stands the Hatch Shell, where concerts are given in summer evenings. The basin is especially known for its Independence Day celebration. The middle section of the river between the Watertown Dam and Wellesley is partially protected by the properties of the Upper Charles River Reservation and other state parks, including the Hemlock Gorge Reservation, Cutler Park, and the Elm Bank Reservation.
A detailed depth chart of the lower basin of the Charles River, from near the Watertown Dam to the New Charles River Dam, has been created by a partnership between the MIT Sea Grant College Program and the Charles River Alliance of Boaters (CRAB). Online and hardcopy charts are available as a public service.
The river is well known for its rowing, sculling, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, dragonboating, and sailing, both recreational and competitive. The river may also be kayaked; depending on the season, however, kayakers can only navigate the Charles by getting out and dragging their kayaks for significant stretches. The "Lower Basin" between the Longfellow and Harvard bridges is home to Community Boating, the Harvard University Sailing Center, and the MIT Sailing Pavilion. The Head of the Charles Regatta is held here every October. In early June, the annual Hong Kong Boston Dragon boat Festival is held in Cambridge, near the Weeks Footbridge.
The Charles River Bike Path runs 23 miles (37 km) along the banks of the Charles, starting at the Museum of Science and passing the campuses of MIT, Harvard and Boston University. The path is popular with runners and bikers. Many runners gauge their distance and speed by keeping track of the mileage between the bridges along the route.
For several years, the Charles River Speedway operated along part of the river.
Long before European settlers named and shaped the Charles, Native Americans living in New England made the river a central part of their lives. The native name for the Charles River was Quinobequin, meaning "meandering".
Captain John Smith explored and mapped the coast of New England, naming many features, originally naming the Charles River the Massachusetts River, which was derived from the tribe living in the region. When Smith presented his map to King Charles I he suggested that the king should feel free to change any of the "barbarous names" for "English" ones. The King made many such changes, but only four survive today, one of which is the Charles River which Charles named for himself.
In portions of its length, the Charles drops slowly in elevation and has relatively little current. Despite this, early settlers in Dedham, Massachusetts, found a way to use the Charles to power mills. In 1639, the town dug a canal from the Charles to a nearby brook that drained to the Neponset River. By this action, a portion of the Charles's flow was diverted, providing enough current for several mills. The new canal and the brook together are now called Mother Brook. The canal is regarded as the first industrial canal in North America. It remains in use for flood control.
Waltham was the site of the first fully integrated textile factory in America, built by Francis Cabot Lowell in 1814, and by the 19th century the Charles River was one of the most industrialized areas in the United States. Its hydropower soon fueled many mills and factories. By the century's end, 20 dams had been built across the river, mostly to generate power for industry. An 1875 government report listed 43 mills along the 9 1⁄2-mile (15 km) tidal estuary from Watertown Dam to Boston Harbor.
From 1816 to 1968, the U.S. Army operated a gun and ammunition storage and later production facility known as the Watertown Arsenal. While it was key to many of the nation's war efforts over its several decades in operation, not the least of which being the American Civil War and World War I, its location in Watertown so near the Charles did great environmental harm. The arsenal was declared a Super Fund site, and after its closure by the government it had to be cleaned at significant expense before it could be safely used again for other purposes. Likewise, the many factories and mills along the banks of the Charles supported a buoyant economy in their time but left a legacy of massive pollution.
Today's Charles River basin between Boston and Cambridge is almost entirely a work of human design. Owen A. Galvin was appointed head of the Charles River Improvement Commission by Governor William E. Russell in 1891. Their work led to the design initiatives of noted landscape architects Charles Eliot and Arthur Shurcliff, both of whom had apprenticed with Frederick Law Olmsted and Guy Lowell. This designed landscape includes over 20 parks and natural areas along 19 miles (31 km) of shoreline, from the New Dam at the Charlestown Bridge to the dam near Watertown Square.
Eliot first envisioned today's river design in the 1890s, an important model being the layout of the Alster basin in Hamburg, but major construction began only after Eliot's death with the damming of the river's mouth at today's Boston Museum of Science, an effort led by James Jackson Storrow. The new dam, completed in 1910, stabilized the water level from Boston to Watertown, eliminating the existing mud flats, and a narrow embankment was built between Leverett Circle and Charlesgate. After Storrow's death, his widow Mrs. James Jackson Storrow donated $1 million toward the creation of a more generously landscaped park along the Esplanade; it was dedicated in 1936 as the Storrow Memorial Embankment. This also enabled the construction of many public docks in the Charles River Basin. In the 1950s a highway, Storrow Drive, was built along the edge of the Esplanade to connect Charles Circle with Soldiers Field Road, and the Esplanade was enlarged on the water side of the new highway.
As sewage, industrial wastewater and urban runoff flowed freely into the river from the surrounding city, the Charles River became well known for its high level of pollutants, gaining such notoriety that by 1955, Bernard DeVoto wrote in Harper's Magazine that the Charles was "foul and noisome, polluted by offal and industrious wastes, scummy with oil, unlikely to be mistaken for water." Fish kills and submerged vehicles were a common sight, along with toxic chemical plumes that colored parts of the river pink and orange. The Standells sang about the sorry state of the Charles in their 1965 song "Dirty Water".
Once popular with swimmers, awareness of the river's high pollution levels forced the state to shut down several popular swimming areas, including Cambridge's Magazine Beach and Gerry Landing public beaches.
Efforts to clean up the river and restore it to a state where swimming and fishing would be acceptable began as early as the 1960s, and the program to clean up the Charles for good took shape in 1965 with the creation of the Charles River Watershed Association. In 1978, a new Charles River Dam was constructed downstream from the Science Museum site to keep salt water out of the basin.
In 1995, the United States Environmental Protection Agency declared a goal of making the river swimmable by 2005. In 1996, Governor William Weld plunged, fully clothed, into the river to prove his commitment to cleaning up the river. On November 12, 2004, Christopher Swain became the first person to swim the Charles River's entire length, in an effort to raise public awareness of the river's environmental health. In July 2007, the river hosted the Charles River Masters Swim Race, the first sanctioned race in the Charles in over five decades.
A combination of public and private initiatives helped drastically lower levels of pollutants by focusing on eliminating combined sewer overflows and stormwater runoff. Since Weld's stunt, the river's condition has improved dramatically, although it was not deemed entirely swimmable by 2005.
The Conservation Law Foundation opposes the permit given to Mirant for the Veolia Energy North America Kendall Cogeneration Station, an electricity plant near Kendall Square, charging that the water it releases causes blooms of hazardous microorganisms because of its warm temperature.
The water quality of the Charles River is often at its worst after a large rainfall because of pollutants carried by runoff, and sewage overflows. For 2011, the EPA reported that the Charles met state bacterial standards for boating and swimming 96% and 89% of the time on dry days, and 74% and 35% of the time on wet days, respectively. Overall boatability and swimability of 82% and 54% in 2011 compare with 39% and 19% in 1995. In June 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency graded the river's 2017 bacterial water quality "A−".
A study published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association in April 2008 and completed by researchers at Northeastern University, found high concentrations of E. coli bacteria in the Charles River after a long period of no rain. Using a mathematical model, the researchers then determined that two major tributaries, the Stony Brook and Muddy River, are the predominant sources of E. coli in the lower Charles River.
Oysters have been used to filter and clean Charles River water.
As of 2013, boating is allowed on the Charles but swimming without a permit is punishable by a fine up to $250. Starting in 2007, the Charles River Swimming Club has organized an annual race for its members, but obtains a special permit and must monitor water quality and rainfall in the days leading up to the race. The "first public swim" in the Charles since the 1950s was conducted on July 13, 2013, by the Charles River Conservancy[Note 1], Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA), Esplanade Association, and DCR. Both the annual race and the Conservancy event have been held in deep water with swimmers jumping in off a dock, to avoid the toxic sediments on the bottom of the river that still make beach swimming dangerous.
Boston University (commonly referred to as BU) is a private research university in Boston, Massachusetts. The university is nonsectarian, but has been historically affiliated with the United Methodist Church.The university has more than 3,900 faculty members and nearly 33,000 students, and is one of Boston's largest employers. It offers bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and doctorates, and medical, dental, business, and law degrees through 17 schools and colleges on two urban campuses. The main campus is situated along the Charles River in Boston's Fenway-Kenmore and Allston neighborhoods, while the Boston University Medical Campus is in Boston's South End neighborhood.
BU is categorized as an R1: Doctoral University (very high research activity) in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. BU is a member of the Boston Consortium for Higher Education and the Association of American Universities. The university was ranked 42nd among undergraduate programs at national universities, and 46th among global universities by U.S. News & World Report in its 2018 rankings.Among its alumni and current or past faculty, the university counts eight Nobel Laureates, 23 Pulitzer Prize winners, 10 Rhodes Scholars, six Marshall Scholars, 48 Sloan Fellows, nine Academy Award winners, and several Emmy and Tony Award winners. BU also has MacArthur, Fulbright, Truman and Guggenheim Fellowship holders as well as American Academy of Arts and Sciences and National Academy of Sciences members among its past and present graduates and faculty. In 1876, BU professor Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in a BU lab.
The Boston University Terriers compete in the NCAA Division I. BU athletic teams compete in the Patriot League, and Hockey East conferences, and their mascot is Rhett the Boston Terrier. Boston University is well known for men's hockey, in which it has won five national championships, most recently in 2009.Bridge Island Meadows
Bridge Island Meadows is an 80-acre (320,000 m2) nature reserve owned by The Trustees of Reservations on the floodplains of the upper Charles River in Millis, Massachusetts. The property was a 1974 gift from Dr. and Mrs. John D. Constable to the Trustees of Reservations. The property is surrounded by wetlands, and is only accessible by boat.Broad Canal
Broad Canal is a short canal in East Cambridge, Massachusetts, previously larger and part of the now-vanished canal system that made Cambridge an active seaport.
The canal began in 1806 when Henry Hill, Rufus Davenport, and others laid out a canal system in the land and tidal flats along the Charles River. Broad Canal was dug before 1810, and 80 feet (24 m) wide from the low-water mark to Portland Street. In 1874 the lower part of the canal, between First and Third Streets, was 100 feet (30 m) wide. Connecting canals ran through much of today's East Cambridge.
No visible trace remains of that system, and extensive landfills have removed all remnants of Cambridge's seaport docks and wharves. Broad Canal's truncated remnants can now be found just north of Broadway, entering the Charles River immediately north of the Longfellow Bridge.Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge ( KAYM-brij) is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and part of the Boston metropolitan area.
Situated directly north of Boston, across the Charles River, it was named in honor of the University of Cambridge in England, an important center of the Puritan theology embraced by the town's founders.Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), two of the world's most prestigious universities, are in Cambridge, as was Radcliffe College, one of the leading colleges for women in the United States until it merged with Harvard on October 1, 1999.
According to the 2010 Census, the city's population was 105,162. As of July 2014, it was the fifth most populous city in the state, behind Boston, Worcester, Springfield, and Lowell. Cambridge was one of two seats of Middlesex County until the county government was abolished in Massachusetts in 1997. Lowell was the other.
Kendall Square in Cambridge has been called "the most innovative square mile on the planet", in reference to the high concentration of entrepreneurial start-ups and quality of innovation that have emerged there since 2010.Charles River Laboratories
Charles River Laboratories, Inc., is an American corporation specializing in a variety of pre-clinical and clinical laboratory services for the pharmaceutical, medical device and biotechnology industries. It also supplies assorted biomedical products and research and development outsourcing services for use in the pharmaceutical industry. According to its website, its customers include every major pharmaceutical and biotechnology company in the world, major academic institutions and government research centers.Charles River Peninsula
The Charles River Peninsula is a 30-acre (12 ha) nature preserve in Needham, Massachusetts owned and managed by the Trustees of Reservations. The Charles River turns nearly 180 degrees, creating the peninsula. A 20-acre (8 ha) field on the peninsula has been farmed for roughly a century. The original acreage was given in 1960; additional land was given in 1994.Charles River Reservation
The Charles River Reservation is a 17-mile-long (27 km) urban preserve and public recreation area located along the banks of the Charles River in Boston, Cambridge, Watertown, and Newton, Massachusetts. The reservation is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The portion of the reservation between the Charles River Dam and the Eliot Bridge is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. This includes the park in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston known as the Esplanade.
The Charles River above the Watertown Dam is managed as the Upper Charles River Reservation.Commonwealth Avenue (Boston)
Commonwealth Avenue (colloquially referred to as Comm Ave by locals) is a major street in the cities of Boston and Newton, Massachusetts. It begins at the western edge of the Boston Public Garden, and continues west through the neighborhoods of the Back Bay, Kenmore Square, Allston, Brighton and Chestnut Hill. It continues as part of Route 30 through Newton until it crosses the Charles River at the border of the town of Weston.Cutler Park
Cutler Park is a state-owned nature preserve and public recreation area that lies between Route 128/I-95 and the Charles River in Needham, Massachusetts. The state park's 739 acres (299 ha) contain the largest remaining freshwater marsh on the middle Charles River. Parts of its major trail run directly through the marsh via boardwalks; over 100 species of birds have been sighted here. The park is part of a plan by the Town of Needham to connect 18 public areas by 35 proposed trails. It is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.Hemlock Gorge Reservation
Hemlock Gorge Reservation is a state-owned, public recreation area and urban wild comprising 16 acres (6.5 ha) on the Charles River in Newton and Needham, Massachusetts. The reservation is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.Jamaica Pond
Jamaica Pond is a kettle pond, part of the Emerald Necklace of parks in Boston designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. The pond and park are in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, close to the border of Brookline. It is the source of the Muddy River, which drains into the lower Charles River.USGS 2005The pond has an area of about 68 acres (28 ha), and is 53 feet (16 m) deep at its center (MassWildlife map), making it the largest body of fresh water in Boston, and the largest natural freshwater body in the lower Charles River watershed. It is ringed by a 1.5 mile walking path, and is an extremely popular destination for Bostonians for walking, fishing, rowing, and sailing. Around Halloween each year, the pond serves as the site for The Lantern Parade. Participants dress in their Halloween costumes and walk around the pond.
The pond once served as a reservoir for the City of Boston and the Town of West Roxbury, and it supplied ice in the winter to Boston and beyond.
According to the USGS, the name Jamaica derives from an Indian name meaning "abundance of beavers".Lechmere Canal
Lechmere Canal is a short canal in East Cambridge, Massachusetts. It opens onto the Charles River and used to be an active port for Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.Medfield Meadow Lots
Medfield Meadow Lots are a group of wetland meadows—Pratt Meadow, Perry Meadow, and Hinsdale Meadow—located in the Charles River floodplain within Medfield, Massachusetts, United States. The lots, totaling 16 acres (6.5 ha), are accessible by canoe or kayak only. They were acquired as an open space reserve via land donation by Henry L. Shattuck in 1968.
The Medfield Meadow Lots are part of a cooperative effort of non-profit organizations and public agencies to protect the natural and ecological character of the Charles River. Including the meadow lots, The Trustees of Reservations has protected over 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) of land on the Charles River floodplain.Memorial Drive (Cambridge)
Memorial Drive (colloquially referred to as Mem Drive) runs along the north bank of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is designated as U.S. Route 3 or Massachusetts Route 3 for its entire length, and Massachusetts Route 2 over the portion west of the Boston University Bridge.Newton, Massachusetts
Newton is a suburban city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. It is approximately 7 miles (11 km) west of downtown Boston and is bordered by Boston's Brighton and West Roxbury neighborhoods to the east and south, respectively, and by the suburb of Brookline to the east, the suburbs of Watertown and Waltham to the north, and Weston, Wellesley and Needham to the west. Rather than having a single city center, Newton resembles a patchwork of thirteen villages. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Newton was 85,146, making it the eleventh largest city in the state.Stony Brook (Boston)
Stony Brook is a major watercourse, now almost entirely covered, in the city of Boston, USA. It runs through a culvert for 7.5 miles, along almost its entire length; despite being underground, it is the largest tributary stream of the lower Charles River. It originates at Turtle Pond in the Stony Brook Reservation; it flows through Hyde Park, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, and Roxbury. It empties into the Charles River Basin just upstream of the Massachusetts Avenue bridge; it formerly emptied into the Back Bay when that was a tidal estuary of the Charles River.
In the 18th century, water-powered industry grew up along it (including Pierpoint('s) Mill) and it served as the sewer (excluding human waste) for the neighborhoods it ran through.
The Boston and Providence Railroad (now the Providence/Stoughton Line) was built along the valley of Stony Brook in 1834.
In the 19th century, many breweries and other industries grew up along Stony Brook.In the late 19th century, various parts of Stony Brook were converted into underground culverts or sewers. In around 1882, the Back Bay Fens were dredged to convert them into a holding basin for storm overflow from Stony Brook, following Olmsted's plan, and at around the same time its waters were diverted into an intercepting sewer near the current Ruggles Station.Upper Charles River Reservation
The Upper Charles River Reservation is a Massachusetts state park encompassing portions of the banks of the Charles River between the Watertown Dam in Watertown and Riverdale Park in Dedham and the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. The park is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. It includes land in the communities of Watertown, Waltham, Newton, Weston, Wellesley, Needham, Dedham, and Boston. Some of the Charles River Reservation Parkways also fall within the park boundaries.York County, Virginia
York County (formerly Charles River County) is a county in the eastern part of the Commonwealth of Virginia, located in the Tidewater. As of the 2010 census, the population was 65,464. The county seat is the unincorporated town of Yorktown.Located on the north side of the Virginia Peninsula, with the York River as its northern border, York County is included in the Virginia Beach–Norfolk–Newport News, VA–NC Metropolitan Statistical Area.
York County contains many tributaries of the York River. It shares land borders with the independent cities of Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, and Poquoson, as well as James City County, and shares a border along the York River with Gloucester County.
Formed in 1634 as one of the eight original shires (counties) of the Virginia Colony, York County is one of the oldest counties in the United States. Yorktown is one of the three points of the Historic Triangle of Colonial Virginia. It is the site of the last battle and surrender of British forces in 1781 at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, when the patriots gained independence from Great Britain.
In modern times, several important U.S. military installations have been developed in the county. It also has miles of waterfront residential and recreational areas. York County adjoins the Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park and includes within its borders the affiliated Water Country USA water park, the Yorktown Riverfront area, Yorktown Battlefield and Visitor Center and Yorktown Victory Center. Yorktown is linked by the National Park Service's bucolic Colonial Parkway with Colonial Williamsburg and historic attractions at Jamestown, Virginia. Heritage tourism to the Historic Triangle draws international visitors and is a major economic activity for the county.York River (Virginia)
The York River is a navigable estuary, approximately 34 miles (55 km) long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. It ranges in width from 1 mile (1.6 km) at its head to 2.5 miles (4.0 km) near its mouth on the west side of Chesapeake Bay. Its watershed drains an area of the coastal plain of Virginia north and east of Richmond.
Its banks were inhabited by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. In 2003 evidence was found of the likely site of Werowocomoco, one of two capitals used by the paramount chief Powhatan before 1609. The site was inhabited since 1200 as a major village. Enormously important in later U.S. history, the river was also the scene of early settlements of the Virginia Colony. It was the site of significant events and battles in both the American Revolutionary War and the American Civil War.