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Mystic Waterworks

Mystic River Pump Station

Mystic c Di Mella Shaffer 3
Mystic Waterworks | Courtesy DiMella Shaffer
Mystic c Di Mella Shaffer 2
Mystic Waterworks | Courtesy DiMella Shaffer
Mystic c Di Mella Shaffer 1
Mystic Waterworks | Courtesy DiMella Shaffer
Mystic c Di Mella Shaffer 10
Mystic Waterworks | Courtesy DiMella Shaffer
Mystic c Di Mella Shaffer 8
Mystic Waterworks | Courtesy DiMella Shaffer
Mystic c Di Mella Shaffer 7
Mystic Waterworks | Courtesy DiMella Shaffer
Type Affordable Housing
Location Somerville, Massachusetts
Built 1862-1865; additions 1870, 1895, and 1920

Somerville Community Corporation



The Somerville Housing Authority (SHA), committed to creating affordable housing for senior and disabled residents, seized on a unique opportunity to adapt the former and long vacant Mystic River Pump Station into new affordable units. Federal and state historic tax credits were integral to the feasibility of the project and were managed by MHA Boston.


The Romanesque Revival Style Mystic River Pump Station was Somerville’s first water supply. Construction of the load-bearing masonry building on a granite foundation began in 1862 after the City of Charlestown constructed a dam at Mystic Lake. By 1864, the station was in service and pumped water from the storage reservoir to a network of distribution pipes. It had two steam-powered engines that were capable of moving up to 13 million gallons of water per day. In 1870 and 1895, the station expanded with two wings to house two additional steam engines. The expansions reflect the station’s growing service coverage; the City of Charlestown was annexed by the City of Boston in 1874. In 1898, Somerville’s water supply was unified with Boston’s under the Metropolitan Water Board.

The building operated as a pumping station until 1912. The machinery was sold for scrap and the originally open interior (plastered walls in the current attic space suggest the building was open from floor to ceiling) was partitioned during World War I. At that time the building was renovated and repurposed for use as a research office and a mezzanine and attic spaces were added. Another renovation in 1921 further altered the interior.


In 2016, after decades of vacancy, the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the Mystic River Pump Station began. The rehabilitation transformed the 24,000-square-foot property into Somerville Housing Authority’s Waterworks with 25 affordable housing units for elderly and non-elderly disabled families.

Creative and strategic planning between MHA and architecture firm DiMella Shaffer resulted in a sensitive renovation plan that included the insertion of a new floor in the high bay spaces and parts of the mansard to create the necessary number of units to make the project feasible. This created a challenge as the new floor intersected the building’s existing large-scale windows below the transom. Site lines were considered, and every effort was made to design and remodel according to The Secretary of Interior’s Standards. The property’s remaining historic windows were retained and repaired. Non-historic windows were replaced with energy efficient windows that were designed to be compatible with the historic character of the property. Other energy conscious additions included LED lighting, spray foam insulation (to reduce energy costs), an efficiency heat pump system, and an energy recovery unit (to reduce heating and cooling loads).

  • Preservation Massachusetts | 2020 Mayor Thomas M. Menino Legacy Award
  • City of Somerville Historic Preservation Commission | 2018 Preservation Award