Amethyst Brook, Massachusetts

In 2012, the 20-foot tall by 170-foot wide rock dam, known as the Bartlett Rod Shop Co. Dam, was removed from Amethyst Brook in Massachusetts after almost 200 years. The removal restored critical coldwater stream habitat, gave aquatic organisms uninhibited access to upstream and tributary habitat and eliminated a community safety hazard.

The Story

Bartlett Rod Shop Co. Dam Removal | Photo by Meagan Racey, USFWS
Bartlett Rod Shop Co. Dam Removal | Photo by Meagan
Racey, USFWS

Amethyst Brook is a coldwater stream located in Western Massachusetts near the town of Pelham. It winds its way through the serene Amethyst Brook Conservation Area until it joins with Fort River, a tributary of the larger Connecticut River. Amethyst Brook is home to many iconic species, including Atlantic salmon, eastern brook trout, American eel and sea lamprey. The upper section of the watershed is comprised of more than nine square miles of forested land with intact riparian corridors, much of it protected by the town of Amherst to provide safe and clean drinking water.

In 1820, Bartlett Rod Shop Co. Dam was constructed on Amethyst Brook, ironically by a fly rod manufacturer. The structure blocked migratory and resident fish from accessing viable upstream and tributary habitat that was vital to the success of many species. Eventually, the structure became a significant hazard due to risks of downstream flooding, erosion and potential loss of buildings if failure occurred. In 2010, a study concluded that the costs to repair the dam would far exceed the costs to remove the dam.

Amethyst Brook, MA | Photo by Amy Singler
Amethyst Brook, MA | Photo by Amy Singler

The dam was successfully removed in 2012 thanks to a partnership formed between American Rivers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, and the town of Amherst. The removal unveiled a second structure, Timber Dam, which had been buried under the Bartlett Rod Shop Co. Dam. This smaller dam was also removed from the river.

Dam Removal Benefits

  • Seven miles of upstream habitat and critical spawning grounds reconnected for migratory and resident fish. This is significant because at the time this was the largest number of miles restored by a dam removal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • Just six months after the removal, migratory sea lampreys were found spawning at the dam site.
  • Sediment that had accumulated behind the dam for almost 200 years was finally released, eventually settling out as the river returned to a more natural state.
  • Further land protection successes were achieved through land owner support for the project, contributing to the protection of drinking water.
  • In addition to ecological benefits, the removal provided the community with a public access point for recreation and offered an educational component through ecological monitoring by the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College.

Restoration of Amethyst Brook after the removal of Bartlett Rod Shop Co. Dam and Timber Dam.

The removal of Bartlett Rod Shop Co. Dam and Timber Dam was the first successful dam removal project in the Connecticut River Watershed in Massachusetts. The Division of Ecological Restoration recognized the ecological importance of the removal of this dam by awarding the project “Priority” status. It significantly raised awareness about dam removal benefits to river health and set a precedent for future removals in the area.

Amy Singler | American Rivers |