Documentary History of American Water-works

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South Central States
Alabama Mobile

Mobile, Alabama

Mobile was founded in 1702.

The Mobile Aqueduct Company was incorporated in 1820 by Addin Lewis, Archibald W. Gordon, William H. Robertson, and Francis W. Armstrong to "have and enjoy the exclusive right and privilege of conducting and bringing water for the supply of said City for a period of 40 years."  After that period the works were to become the property of the City.  The company did not build a system within three years as required by the charter, and in 1824 the legislature transferred the franchise to the city.

In 1824 Henry Hitchcock had a canal dug from Three Mile Creek to convey water to the city. The extent of this canal is not known, and whether any water did flow through Mobile to the river is problematical.  (1973:14)  Hitchcock was one of the first lawyers in Alabama and serves as the first Attorney General of the state and later as chief justice of the Alabama supreme court.

The city authorized borrowing $30,000 to build water works in 1829, and entered into an agreement on December 12, 1830 "by and between the Mayor and Aldermen of the city of Mobile and John L. Martin, William McCullan, John S. Glidden and Thomas Torrey, that they shall, on or before the first day of January, 1832, construct and finish an aqueduct, for the introduction of water into the city of Mobile from a spring, near the late country residence of Judge Lipscomb at Spring Hill, to the city of Mobile." (1913:588)  These men installed a system that by 1836 included "about sixteen thousand feet of three-inch caliber, and six thousand feet of six-inch caliber" wood and iron pipes installed in fourteen streets. 

On December 1, 1836, the City of Mobile leased the water works to Henry Hitchcock and he was given a franchise to provide water for a period of 20 years in return for $26,000 to be paid over five years.  At the end of the term the city could purchase the system by paying the actual costs expended by Hitchcock.

Hitchcock secured a charter for a new Mobile Aqueduct Company in 1837 and he offered to convert the $26,000 he owed the city for the water works lease into stock in the company.  The city agreed to this, and Hitchcock agreed to begin work as soon as $100,000 in stock subscriptions were secured.   Hitchcock also asked Albert Stein to report on the feasibility and cost of building water works in Mobile, which Stein did on January 29, 1838.  Hitchcock unfortunately died of yellow fever on August 11, 1839 before he could bring his water works into fruition.   

The city then entered into a contract with Stein on December 26, 1840 that gave him an exclusive franchise to supply water "from Three-Mile Creek" for 20 years. On January 7, 1841, the agreement between the City of Mobile and Albert Stein was confirmed by the state legislature.

Stein built a system that included a pump at Spring Hill, about 7 miles west of the downtown area, and an elevated tank about 2 miles from town. From the elevated tank, a system of pipes distributed water throughout the City using cast iron and bored pine logs.  Stein was tried and convicted in 1860 of providing "poisoned water" due to the use of lead pipes, but the conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Alabama in 1861, finding that he had no intent to poison anyone.  Albert Stein died on July 26, 1874 at his Spring Hill estate near Mobile.  His son and executor, Louis Stein, continued to operate the water system.  

The Bienville Water Works Company was incorporated in 1866 by W. G. Clark, John Reid, Samuel Battle, Duke W. Goodman, T. J. Riley, Jones M. Withers, Moses Waring, C. K. Foote, Augustus Brooks, and A. H. Gordon.  The charter rights would revert to the city if the company had not been organized within six months. This company was granted several extensions of time but did not build a system.

The Bienville Water Supply Company was incorporated in 1883 by George A. Ketchum, William H. Pratt, A. C. Danner, Thomas Henry, Sr., Duncan T. Parker, William Butler Duncan, and Peter Stark "to have an enjoy the exclusive right and privilege of conducting and bringing water from any other source than Three Mile Creek, in the county of Mobile, for the supply of said port and village."  This company was organized on April 9, 1886 with Ketchum as president and on December 13, 1886 entered into a contract with Samuel R. Bullock and Company to construct the water works. 

On April 25, 1887, Louis Stein sued the Bienville company to enforce the monopoly granted to Albert Stein and sought an injunction to prevent the Bienville company was constructing a competing water works.  Stein pursued the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held in 1891 that his only exclusive right was to distribute water from Three Mile Creek.

The City acquired the Stein system on May 15, 1898 after some litigation, and constructed their own water works which was put into operation in 1900.  The Bienville company sued the city to stop construction, claiming infringement on its charter and contract with the city.  The Federal district court dismissed the suit, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that decision.

The Bienville and City systems operated as virtually parallel but separate systems until January 8, 1907, when the city acquired the Bienville assets for $350,000 and interconnected the two systems.

Water is provided by Mobile Area Water Service System, which came into being on October 1, 1952. Raw water was purchased from the City Water Works Board from 1952 to 1968. The two Boards were merged on January 1, 1968, with the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners taking over the raw water system.  MAWSS has an excellent history page.

1820 An act to incorporate an Aqueduct Company in the city of Mobile, December 20, 1820

1824 An act to alter and amend the Charter of Incorporation of the City of Mobile, December 24, 1824.
Sec. 18. And it further enacted, That the act, entitled an act to incorporate an aqueduct company in the city of Mobile, passed December twentieth, eighteen hundred and twenty, be, and the same is hereby declared null and void; the said corporation having failed to comply with the requisitions of said act; and all the rights, privileges and immunities, powers, prerogatives and authority which appertained to the said company by virtue of the aforesaid act, are hereby transferred to and vested in, the corporation of the city of Mobile, for. the use and benefit of the inhabitants thereof.

1829 Baltimore Patriot, January 27, 1829, Page 3
The city authorities of Mobile have passed a resolution, declaring the expediency of borrowing $30,000, reimbursable in ten and fifteen years, to constitute a fund for defraying the expense of supplying the city with pure and wholesome water.  This is a good work.  And the Register says--"The present seems to be an auspicious period for the undertaking--The city is entirely free from debt, has many permanent sources of revenue, and could afford the most ample security for the prompt payment of the interest, and redemption of the principal."

1833 Mobile Register, October 22, 1833
An Ordinance To provide for the punishment of persons making an unlawful use, or waste of the Water from the City Water Works. May 15, 1833

1836 Agreement between Henry Hitchcock and the city of Mobile, to establish water-works, December 1, 1836. (Included in 1859 Ordinances, below)

1837 An act to incorporate the Mobile Aqueduct Company, December 25, 1837 (also included in 1859 Ordinances, below)

1838 Letter from Albert Stein to Henry Hitchcock concerning Mobile Water Works, January 29, 1838 (included in 1859 Ordinances, below)

1840 Agreement between the City of Mobile and Albert Stein, December 26, 1840.  (Included in 1859 Ordinances, below)

1841 An act for the promotion of the health and convenience of the city of Mobile by the introduction of a supply of wholesome water into said city, to be used for domestic purposes and the extinguishment of fires, January 7, 1841.

1841 An act to be entitled an Act to amend an Act passed the 7th day of January, 1841, entitled An Act for the promotion of the Health and Convenience of the City of Mobile, by the introduction into said City, of a supply of wholesome Water, to be used for domestic purposes, and for the extinguishment of Fires, December 25, 1841.

1843 A Memoir of the Construction, Cost, and Capacity of the Croton Aqueduct: Compiled from Official Documents : Together with an Account of the Civic Celebration of the Fourteenth October, 1842, on Occasion of the Completion of the Great Work : Preceded by a Preliminary Essay on Ancient and Modern Aqueducts by Charles King
Page 82:  Richmond, the capital of Virginia, derives water from the James river by works planned by Mr. Albert Stein, who was among the engineers originally employed to survey the courses of, and make estimates for, the Croton Aqueduct.
An engine house 56 feet long and 58 wide, built of stone, on the banks of the river, cover two wheel pits and two pumps, constructed like those at the Fairmount works.
The water-wheels are of cast iron, with the exception of the buckets and soling, 18 feet in diameter to the point of the buckets, 10 feet wide between the shroudings, and 14 inches depth of shrouding. The cast iron shaft of the water-wheel is 10 inches in diameter in the journals, and 16 feet 6 inches long.
The head and fall of the water is 10 feet. Each pump is calculated to raise in 24 hours, 400,000 gallons into the reservoir 160 feet above the pump. The reservoir will contain one million gallons, and is divided into four apartments, two of which are for filtering.

1846 An act in aid of a contract entered into between Albert Stein, and the Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of the City of Mobile,  February 4, 1846

1854 Stein vs. Ashby, 24 Ala.521, January Term, 1854, Supreme Court of Alabama

1854 Stein v. The mayor, Aldermen, &c., of Mobile, 24 Ala. 591, June Term, 1854, Supreme Court of Alabama

1857 Stein vs. Burden, 30 Ala. 270, January Term, 1857, Supreme Court of Alabama

1857 Stein v. Robertson, 30 Ala. 286, January Term, 1857, Supreme Court of Alabama

1857 Stein vs. Ashby, 30 Ala. 363, January Term, 1857, Supreme Court of Alabama.  Case for diversion of water from mill.

1857 Stein v. Feltheimer, 31 Ala. 57, June Term, 1857, Supreme Court of Alabama

1859 "Acts, Correspondence and Contracts for the Mobile City Water-Works," from The code of ordinances of the city of Mobile, with the charter and an appendix by Alexander McKinstry

1860 "An Important Decision," The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee), April 20, 1860, Page 2.

1860 Daily Confederation (Mobile, Alabama), April 22, 1860, Page 3.
An Important Decision.--The long pending suit of the State of Alabama vs. Albert Stein, accused of "supplying the citizens of Mobile with poisonous water," called in our Court some time ago and venue changed to Baldwin county, was closed before Judge Rapier on Thursday, and the defendant found guilty and fined $2,000--the highest penalty allowed by the statute.  We learn from parties who were in attendance at the trial, that the water of the Mobile Waterworks, of which Mr. S. is the proprietor, along with water taken from a brook in Baldwin county, was subjected to a chemical analysis before the jury, and that the effect produced upon the Waterworks water was exactly the same as upon the brook water after dropping a handful of shot into it.  Proof was also received of the poisonous qualities of lead.  Another point proved, as we learn from the same source, was, that in all cities into which water has been introduced through pipes, iron pipes are used a leading pipes universally, while the Mobile Waterworks have, in a great number of instances, used lead pipes for leads.
Another suit, Same vs. Same, for non-fulfillment of contract to supply a sufficient quantity of water for extinguishing fires, was called and laid over on account of absence of witnesses.
R. H. Smith and R. B. Armistead, Esqs., for the State; Dargan & Taylor for the defense.-- Mobile Advertiser.

1861 Stein v. The State, 37 Ala. 123, February 23, 1861, Supreme Court of Alabama.
"The obligation to the public, imposed on the defendant by his contract, was to supply water to the city of Mobile from Three-mile creek.  The contract itself stipulates nothing as to the quality of water that may be furnished, further than may be implied in the requisition, that it shall be brought from Three-mile creek. ... The indictment, therefore, shows no violation of any duty imposed on the defendant by the terms of his contract."
"The indictment charges, however, that the poisonous water was supplied to all the citizens of Mobile, and to those who might visit the city.  Such as act is sufficiently general and extensive in its effects to constitute a nuisance; and the poisoning of the water consumed by an entire community, and by all who might go that way, would certainly possess the quality of injuriousness to the community, requisite to constitute a nuisance.  If then, the indictment shows that the defendant is criminally guilty of inflicting the public injury alleged, it is a good accusation of nuisance.  The indictment does not charge that the defendant knowingly or intentionally supplied water of unwholesome or poisonous quality; nor that he poisoned the water, or imparted to it its unwholesome quality; nor that the same was done by his agents or servants. The defendant may, therefore, have done all that is alleged, and yet have been guilty or no known or intentional wrong."
"The theory of the law is, that a criminal intent is a necessary ingredient of every indictable offense.  The furnishing of poisoned water is not, of itself, a crime:  the criminality of the act depends upon the question, whether it was furnished with a knowledge of the poisonous quality; knowledge is an ingredient of the offense, and must be averred."

1861 "The City Water Works," Mobile Advertiser and Register, July 3, 1861, Page 2.

1861 Mobile Advertiser and Register, September 19, 1861, Page 3.
Report from Joint Committee on "Public Water Works."

1861 "Mobile City Water-Works," Mobile Advertiser and Register, September 24, 1861, Page 2.

1863 Mobile Register and Advertiser, February 26, 1863, Page 1. | Part 2 |
Report of the Joint Committee on the Mobile City Water Works, which recommended the adoption of the following resolution: "Resolved, by the Boards of Aldermen and Common Council, that the contract between Albert Stein and the corporation of the city of Mobile, in relation to the City Water Works, ceased and determined on the 20th day of January, 1860; and that the said Water Works, under the acts of the General Assembly of Alabama of the 20th December, 1820, 24th December, 1824, and 7th January, 1841, are now vested in a Trustee, for the free use and benefit of the inhabitants of the city of Mobile."

1865 The Times-Picayune, May 11, 1865, Page 7.
The News pokes fun at the Mobile Water Works Company in this fashion:  Died of Extreme Thirst.--

1865 Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, December 14, 1865, Page 1.
At Mobile, on the 5th ult., John S. Triplett, formerly of St. Louis, more recently of Memphis, and now of Mobile, was married to Miss Bertha Steiner, also of Mobile.  The bride's fatehr is a very old gentlemen, formerly of Nashville, and among his possessions are the Mobile water works, which afford him an income of about $100,000 per annum.  Among the guests at the ceremony of Gen. N. B. Forrest.

1866 An act to incorporate the Bienville Water Works Company for the city of Mobile, February 23, 1866.

1867 An act to amend an act, passed on the 23d day of February, 1866, entitled an An act to incorporate the Bienville Water Works Company." February 5, 1867.

1871 An act in relation to the Bienville Water Works company of the city and county of Mobile, March 3, 1871.

1872 An act to extend the time within which the Bienville Water Works company, of the city and county of Mobile, may commence and construct their water works with out forfeit.

1873 Stein v. Mayor, etc., of Mobile, 49 Ala. 362, January and June Terms, 1873, Supreme Court of Alabama.  Action to recover Taxes paid under protest.

1875 An act to allow the Bienville Water Works Company of the city and county of Mobile five years from the passage and approval hereof, within which to cause to be conducted to said city water from the eight-mile creek, or some of the affluents thereof, February 25, 1875.

1875 An act to authorize the corporate authorities of the city of Mobile to contract with certain water works companies therein named for the supply of water for public purposes, March 10, 1875.

1882 Mobile, from "The Water-Supply of Certain Cities and Towns of the United States," by Walter G. Elliot, C. E., Ph. D.

1883 An act to incorporate the Bienville Water Supply Company, February 19, 1883.

1885 An act to amend sections one, five and eleven of an act to incorporate the Bienville Water Supply Company, approved February 19th, 1883,  February 14, 1885.

1885 Mobile, from Engineering News 13:318  (May 16, 1885)

1887 Stein v. Bienville Water-Supply Co., 32 Fed Rep 876, Circuit Court, S.D. Alabama (December 3, 1887)

1888 Stein v. Bienville Water-Supply Co., 34 Fed Rep 145, Circuit Court, S.D. Alabama (March 7, 1888)

1888 "Mobile," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 1.

1890 "Mobile," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 2.

1891 Stein, et al. v. Gordon et al., 92 Ala. 532, Supreme Court of Alabama (April 16, 1891)

1891 Stein v Bienville Water Company, 141 U.S. 67, United States Supreme Court, (May 11, 1891)

1891 "Mobile," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 3.

1893 Wood et al. v. Holly Manufacturing Company, 100 Ala. 326, Supreme Court of Alabama, (November 7, 1893)

1897 Stein, et al. v. McGrath, 116 Ala. 593, November Term, 1897, Supreme Court of Alabama

1897 "Mobile," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 4.

1898 An act to authorize the City of Mobile to make and issue bonds for building, purchasing, or otherwise acquiring systems of Water Works and Sewerage for the said city, and to mortgage said works to secure said bonds.  November 30, 1898

1898 An act to authorize the City of Mobile to provide, maintain and operate systems of Water Works and Sewerage. November 30, 1898.

1898 An act to authorize the City of Mobile for the purpose of aiding in the erection of its municipal water works, to condemn by eminent domain the outstanding interest in what is known as the Mobile City Water Works. December 10, 1898.

1899 Bienville Water Supply Co. v. City of Mobile et al., 95 Fed Rep 539, Circuit Court, S.D. Alabama, May 22, 1899

1899 Bienville Water Supply Co. v. City of Mobile, 175 U.S. 109, United States Supreme Court, November 6, 1899

1904 Hieronymus Brothers v. Bienville Water Company, 138 Ala. 577, Supreme Court of Alabama, March 4, 1904.

1906 McGrath, et al. v. Stein, et al., 148 Ala. 370, 42 So. Rep. 454,  November 22, 1906, Supreme Court of Alabama

1908 Burke v. Wood, 162 Fed Rep 533, Circuit Court, S. D. Alabama, April 25, 1908.

1913 Mobile Water Supply, by Edgar B. Kay, Proceedings of the Thirty-Third Annual Convention of the American Water Works Association, 33:587-596, (1913)

1913 "Water Supply of Mobile, Ala.," by Edgar B. Kay, Fire and Water Engineering, 54(1):58-59  (July 2, 1913).  Note:  This article is similar to the AWWA article but includes more detail.

1973 History of Water Supply of the Mobile Area, Alabama, by Joseph F. Ricco and Conrad A. Gazzier, Circular 92, Geological Survey of Alabama | Text enabled pdf |

1988 From Fort to Port:  An Architectural History of Mobile, Alabama, 1711-1918, by Elizabeth Barrett Gould, The University of Alabama Press, 1988
Page 32:  Eight years later, on December 5, 1828, the mayor and aldermen authorized further provisions for water by ordering a "head of water, at the spring below Judge Lipscomb's, and bringing the water from thence to the City on Royal Street, through pine logs of sufficient caliber to afford an ample supply for the use of the city."
Page 77-78:  Without an adequate water supply, the fire companies could do little, so in 1830 the city borrowed $35,000 from "Capitalists of Philadelphia" for the purpose of enlarging the supply of water.  A new system was established at the old 1828 site at Judge Lipscomb's spring.  A large "setting reservoir" was excavated near the spring, from which wood pipes, hollowed out from yellow pine logs and banded with iron, would carry the water to two main reservoirs in town, each reservoir holding 14,000 gallons of water.  From these two sources the water was carried to locations convenient for the people and two twelve "cast iron hydrantts" for the attachment of fire hoses.  This system served the community until Albert Stein took over the equipment and founded the Stein Water Company.

1999 "Introducing…clean Water," by Darwin H. Stapleton, Invention and Technology, 14(3):24-35 (Winter 1999) | pdf |

2007 "Henry Hitchcock," by Herbert J. "Jim" Lewis, Birmingham, Alabama, Encyclopedia of Alabama

2011 "Albert Stein," by Greg O'Brien, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Encyclopedia of Alabama

© 2016 Morris A. Pierce