Wellesley hikes — the Waban Arches and Sudbury Aqueduct

Tucked away in the back of beyond of Wellesley there’s an obscure landmark of such importance it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Waban Arches, beautiful and little-known, is a 145-year old stone bridge located behind the privately-owned 9-hole Nehoiden Golf Course. The nine-arches structure rises over 50 feet above above Fuller Brook and Waban Brook, and is a popular spot for in-the-know walkers and bird watchers. Graffiti artists (or defacers, depending on your point of view) are also drawn to the relative remoteness of the area. It’s against the law to use the Arches as a canvas, of course, but scofflaws are just that. Even though the hum of vehicles traveling Route 16 traffic can be heard, visitors to the area can’t be seen, making the spot feel wild and abandoned.

All maintenance on the Arches, and the Sudbury Aqueduct which runs beneath, is done by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA).  According to Denny Nackoney, chair of the Wellesley Trails Committee, “The agency mows periodically, and they also do all the clearing of any blowdowns. A couple of years ago they repointed the masonry on the Arches, and they’ve also resurfaced the top.”  A chain link fence was installed in 2013 for safety reasons (certainly not for aesthetics).

To access the area, park at the Wellesley Centers for Women Center lot, located at the Cheever House, 828 Washington St. From here it’s easy to find the path that will take you onto the Sudbury Aqueduct and to the Arches. The parking lot is located on Wellesley College property, which has posted signs reminding guests that dogs must be leashed.

Look for the trail marker at the far end of the lot. The marker will point you to a wide and level pine-needle strewn path:

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduct
The wide and level pine-needle strewn path is the first section on your way to the Waban Arches.

After a short distance, take a left onto the Sudbury Aqueduct:

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc
The next section on your way to the Waban Arches is to walk along this stretch of the Sudbury Aqueduct. Massive pipes beneath the Aqueduct once carried water to Boston, but the facility is now used only in emergencies.

The Sudbury Aqueduct was constructed by the Boston Water Works between 1875 and 1878. The Aqueduct’s purpose, which it served for almost 100 years, was to carry water from the Sudbury River watershed to Boston and its surrounding communities.

In 1978, the Aqueduct was taken out of regular service, but is maintained as part of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s emergency back-up system. Underneath the aqueduct are massive cast-iron pipes that can take water to Boston in an emergency. The last time the Aqueduct was pressed into service was during the May 1, 2010 Boston Water Emergency, when a pipe in Weston broke and water flooded into the Charles River.

Time Tracking: I spent less than an hour on this hike but several hours converting my observations into prose and processing photos. If this sort of local journalism is valuable to you, please consider contributing to The Swellesley Report.

Although a fix was accomplished by the next day, enough untreated water flowed downriver into the greater Boston area that Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and put out an order for residents and businesses to boil drinking water. The boil-water order was lifted on May 4, 2010. Still, enough damage had been done that President Barack Obama signed an emergency disaster declaration. The declaration allowed the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts with Massachusetts.

MWRA executive director Frederick Laskey called the break “catastrophic” and “everyone’s worst nightmare in the water industry.”

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc
Look up as you walk along the Aqueduct toward the Waban Arches. Squirrels have made their nests in many of the tallest trees.

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc
The top of the Waban Arches, looking in the direction of Dover Rd.

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc
Waban Arches railings, monogrammed. The BWW on the original part of the railing stands for Boston Water Works. In 1895, Boston sold the BWW to the Metropolitan Water District, making the Aqueduct a State concern. This angle looks toward Wellesley College-owned Nehoiden Golf Course. The Arches, built in 1875, were posted to the National Register of Historic Places on January 18, 1990. It wasn’t just the Waban Arches that made it onto the Register. The entire 16-mile Sudbury Aqueduct route from Farm Pond at Waverly St. in Framingham to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Newton along with the many buildings and structures associated with the aqueduct were added to the list.

Waban Arches, Wellesley
View from the Waban arches, heading toward Dover Road. To the right, Waban Brook makes its way through marshland on its way to the Charles River.

As walkers approach the mid-point of the Arches, they’ll find themselves about fifty feet above Fuller Brook and Waban Brook. Looking toward the right is a marshland, which Waban Brook cuts through on its way to the Charles River. In high-water times like now, a kayak could easily make it from beneath the Arches to the Charles.

Looking to the left, you can see where Waban Brook and Fuller Brook meet. Fuller Brook, which follows the 2.5-mile Fuller Brook Park, flows under Dover Rd., and reappears on the Nehoiden Golf Course, where it flows beneath a small wooden bridge. As Fuller Brook moves along, it meets up with Waban Brook in the Arches area. In a confluence, the two brooks  join together on their way to the Charles River. From there, they will end up in Boston Harbor, and eventually the Atlantic Ocean.


Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc
The graffiti on the Waban Arches can tend toward academic, as seen above, but sometimes not. My favorite line, no longer visible, has always been, “Reading is for stupid.” Other long-faded gems: “Union busting is disgusting” and “Eat the rich.”

Once you reach the end of the arches, you can continue along the Aqueduct until you reach Dover Rd.  From here you can go left across the busy street Dover Rd. to access Fuller Brook Park. But don’t do it. I’d rather lead you along a much safer way to access Fuller Brook Park and its lovely 2.5 mile trail. Here’s how: once you cross the Waban Arches, look to your right for the wooden steps, a 2003 Eagle Scout project.

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc
About 15 wooden steps lead down a steep embankment and will take you under the Waban Arches. In June 2003 the steps were planned and built by Wellesley resident Rob Allison as an Eagle Scout project. Members of his Weston-based Troop 157 assisted in the construction.

Descend the wooden steps take a right, and walk under the Arches. Take a minute to admire the stonework and count all nine arches.

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc
Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduct

Stay to the right and pass under the aqueduct. Keep your eye out for wildlife. On the winter days I visited, I saw and heard chickadees. High up in a tree, a red-tailed hawk watched me like a, well, you know. I’ve also this winter seen Canada Geese and a Great Blue Heron in this area. Deer are frequent visitors as well.

There is plenty more to be seen in the area for those with a serious approach to wildlife watching. While researching this post, I came across the most fascinating article in Bird Observer magazine by former Wellesley College philosophy professor Ken Winkler. In the article Winkler, an avid bird-watcher who now teaches at Yale, listd the 133 species he observed during 100 visits to the Arches area that he made in a four-year period that spanned 1979 – 1982.

Winkler described seeing rarities such as “An ash-throated Fly-catcher, only the fourth ever recorded in Massachusetts, who spent two days here in 1980.” He also listed more commonly seen birds such as robins, cedar waxwings, white-throated sparrows, bobwhites, kingfishers, green herons, and black-crowned herons, all of which I’ve seen myself over the years while paddling the Charles in my kayak.

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc
Close-up of an abstract work on the Arches. Graffiti is prohibited on the National Historic Structure, of course, but that doesn’t deter those who see a canvas.

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc

After you go under the Arches, follow the path going toward Wellesley College-owned Nehoiden Golf Course. The dirt path will lead you to an asphalt walkway, which will lead you to Dover Rd. As you skirt the golf course, be mindful of those teeing off. At Dover Rd., cross diagonally to access Fuller Brook path, but be very careful as this stretch is heavily trafficked.

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc

As you walk along the path that will lead you to Dover Rd., notice the body of water on your right, known as Vernal Pool #241. Its 1992 certification by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife as a vernal pool affords the wetland certain environmental protections from the State., such as the prohibition of any discharges into the pool. 100 feet beyond the pool’s margins are protected areas as well.

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc

Above is the short, asphalt section that leads to Dover Rd. In spring through fall, expect to see golf carts and other vehicles on this private road. There’s a small parking lot on the right, but it’s for Nehoiden-connected parking only, not for the public.

Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc

This is the section where you will cross Dover Rd. Just beyond the house with the white picket fence is the entrance to Fuller Brook Park.


Waban arches, Sudbury aqueduc
Here’s the access point to Fuller Brook Park. From here, Wellesley is your oyster. The level path stretches 2.5 miles to Wellesley Hills.

I’ve taken a long time in this post to bring you along what shapes up to be a 30-minute walk starting from the Cheever House  and finishing up at the entrance to Fuller Brook Park, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of armchair travel. Those familiar with the Arches area know that this is just one way of many to hike the beauty spot. I encourage you to get to know this  tucked away stretch in a little-known corner of Wellesley.


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