As time passes and we drift further from the age of waterpower and industry in Glastonbury, the dams which harnessed the water for the many mills in town lose their purpose and are slowly reclaimed by the woods. Some dams are forgotten about and breach naturally, such as Hodge’s Pond. Others, like the dams at Cotton Hollow, are removed to restore the health of the waterways.
At their peak, the dams at Cotton Hollow were unrivaled in their size. There was a 60-foot and 25-foot, both stone, located right next to each other. The 25 foot dam would likely have been one of the three tallest dams in town, with Buckingham Reservoir and Hollister Grist Mill both close. However, the 60-footer was unmatched, nearly twice the height of the next tallest. The story goes that the 60-foot dam was built on its own, but there would be so much water rushing over the top that they decided to build the 25-foot to harness the overflowing water.
In the early 1900’s, the sheer size of the larger dam meant it needed to be removed or replaced. A 100-foot dam was proposed at one point but was quickly shot down. Leaving no other option, the 60-foot dam was removed on May 10, 1904. It is unknown how long the smaller dam survived after that but it would eventually meet the same fate.
Fortunately, the dams were not full removed and their remnants can still be seen.
Beginning with the 25-foot dam, much of the dam still stands. It sits just across the stream from the cotton mill ruins, towering over those standing next to it. Unlike the dams at Shoddy Mill and Smut Pond, it is not stunning masonry. The stones are rough and misshapen, meaning they don’t appear to completely fit together.
The dam slopes down like a staircase as it approaches the water, allowing visitors to climb to the top. Looking upstream with the keen eye, the vestiges of the larger 60-foot dam are visible.
The dam was built in between two rock ledges where the water squeezes through a narrow gap. The remains are located on the south side in a column-like formation. At the top, the rocks are still mostly in place and it’s easy to see the dam. But descending towards the water, the rocks become more loose and could be mistaken for a natural rock formation. On the opposite bank, the only remains are metal posts pounded into the cliff face to hold the dam in place long ago.
This dam would’ve flooded much of the area in Upper Cotton Hollow, showing that not all dam removals are a negative. Dams that size are too large to save for history, but that doesn’t mean they are lost forever. There are over 50 dams in Glastonbury, ~27 on Roaring Brook and it’s tributaries alone. Despite such a high number, few live on with the same legacy as Cotton Hollow’s.