Geology of AGM and its Role in Human History. Eskers, vernal pools, and glacial erratics in
AGM provide evidence of substantial glacial influence. After the glaciers receded, the growth
and death of marsh plants over thousands of years in the former glacial lake bottom resulted in
substantial accumulations of peat.
In pre-colonial times, the land that is now AGM was used as seasonal hunting ground by
local Native American tribes. When the colonists arrived, they started using oak, pine, and
maple from the upland portions of the land to supply shipyards in Medford. In early colonial
days, AGM was known as Alewife Meadows, named after the small herring, or “alewife,” which
made their way up the Mystic River to spawn in the Meadows. The property was mainly used
for grazing as the soft peat would not support the weight of buildings.
In the 1860’s, the Winship family operated a small dairy farm that occupied much of the
meadows, and there was a mill on Monroe Brook near what is now Fottler Avenue. Milk and
hay, as well as peat mined from the meadows, were carried over the oxcart roads that can still be
seen throughout the area.
In 1871, through an act of the state legislature, the Town of Arlington acquired the land
for use as a reservoir. To create the reservoir, the marsh was dammed and flooded, and a central
pumping station and 25 wells were built alongside the railroad bed that is now the Minuteman
Bikeway. William Brewster, the highly regarded local naturalist, recorded shorebirds and ducks
that he saw in AGM in the late 19th Century. The reservoir did not last long as the current
Quabbin Reservoir was built at the turn of the century and Arlington joined the regional water
supply. AGM was drained in 1902 and the area reverted to marshland. Subsequently, ditches
were dug to provide further drainage for the sake of mosquito control. Frances Clark observes
that although the area has been disturbed multiple times, the natural topography, soils, and
hydrology, have remained essentially the same.