Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
New England States Connecticut Birmingham

Derby, Connecticut

Birmingham was originally settled in 1834 by Sheldon Smith and Anson G. Phelps and was known as Smithville until being renamed Birmingham in 1836 after the English industrial city.  It was chartered as a borough in 1851 and became part of the city of Derby when it was incorporated in 1894.

The first water works in Derby were built by Smith and Phelps around 1836 and pumped water from a well below a grist mill to an elevated tank, from which it supplied other customers.  The mill was built by Sheldon Smith, but later occupied his brother, Fitch Smith.  An 1873 court case reports that this system was known as the "Birmingham Water Works."   Sheldon Smith was also involved in building the water works in Newark, New Jersey, installing the first iron pipes there is 1828.  The grist mill is shown on an 1848 map at the corner of 3d and Caroline Streets, or about 119 Caroline Street, where the existing building dates to 1900.

The Birmingham Water Company was incorporated in 1859 by Wm. E. Downs, Ambrose Beardsley, Sidney A. Downs, Wm. B. Wooster, Lyman L. Loomer, Charles B. Alling, Edward N. Shelton, Foster P. Abbott, Henry Hubbard, John J. Howe, David W. Boyd, and William Whitney "for the purpose of supplying the borough of Birmingham with an abundant supply of pure water, for public and domestic use."  This company built a gravity system distributing water through cement-lined wrought-iron pipe, which was later replaced with cast iron.

The Birmingham Water Company merged into the Ansonia Water Company on January 1, 1972, which was renamed the Ansonia Derby Water Company.  This company was renamed Birmingham Utilities, Inc. on July 16, 1993.  The Ansonia Division of Birmingham Utilities was sold to the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority on January 16, 2008.

Water is provided by the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority

1837 Connecticut Historical Collections: Containing a General Collection of Interesting Facts, Traditions Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, Etc., Relating to the History and Antiquities of Every Town in Connecticut, with Geographical Descriptions, Second Edition, by John Warner Barber.
Pages 198-199:  The engraving above shows the appearance of Birmingham, from the shore at Derby Landing. This village was commenced in 1834. There are at present, (July 1st, 1836,) about 20 dwelling houses, and 3 mercantile stores: there is in, and about to be put in operation, 1 factory for making sheet copper and copper wire; 1 for making augers; 1 for making carriage springs and axles; 1 for making nails or tacks; 1 for flannels and satinets, with some other minor manufacturing establishments. The water by which the mills and factories are put in operation is taken from the Naugatuc, by a canal which extends upwards of a mile and a half northward of the village. A small round structure is seen on the right: this is the Reservoir, from which water is supplied to the inhabitants of the village. It is raised fifty feet, from a well under the grist mill, on the canal below. 

1848 Map of Derby, Birmingham, and Huntington Landing

1859 Incorporating the Birmingham Water Company.  June 1, 1859.
SEC. 15. Said company is hereby authorized and empowered to purchase of Fitch Smith, his water works, and his business connected therewith, in said borough of Birmingham, with all the pipes, machinery, property, land and buildings connected therewith, and take proper conveyances of the same, for the purposes herein before set forth in this act.

1859  Republican Farmer (Bridgeport, Connecticut), October 18, 1859, Page 2.
The Birmingham Water Company, have commenced operations.

1861 Extending the Corporate Powers of the Birmingham Water Company.  May 24, 1861.

1873 Town of Derby and Borough of Birmingham vs. Amos H. Alling and another, 40 Conn. 410, November, 1873, Supreme Court of Connecticut
All the land on which the borough of Birmingham is located, except a small piece known as Bridge lot, was, prior to the year 1834, common farm land, owned by Sheldon Smith and Anson G. Phelps. Some time between 1834 and 1837, John Clewes, the engineer and agent of Smith and Phelps, laid out the present village of Birmingham, designating the width and direction of the streets and roads in the village, which lay-out was on a map then and for many years thereafter kept in their office, then called the office of the " Birmingham Water Works," Smith and Phelps having then recently constructed some extensive works at that point known by that name.

1880 The History of the Old Town of Derby, Connecticut, 1642-1880: With Biographies and Genealogies, by Samuel Orcutt and Ambrose Beardsley
Pages 386-387: 
In 1859 William B. Wooster and William E. Downes with laborious efforts obtained a charter for constructing the Birmingham water works, which being completed is proving to be a great blessing to the borough. The supply of water is abundant, with a fall of about two hundred feet; which not only accommodates the entire community, but is of incalculable value to the property owners in case of fire. The reservoir is located on Sentinel Hill, near the old Col. Daniel Holbrook place, now the property of Mr. U. H. Swift, but at first the home of Capt. Abel Holbrook, one of the early settlers. These works were constructed late in the summer of 1859 at a cost of $26,000, and the outlay since has increased the sum to $60,000. Prior to this public desideratum, the people were poorly supplied with water thrown into a small reservoir, from a force pump in the old grist-mill of Fitch Smith, one of the earliest enterprises of the place. This reservoir stood near the residence of Stephen N. Summers on Caroline street. The present officers of this company are: S. N. Summers, president, Col. David Torrance, secretary and treasurer, Chas. H. Nettleton, superintendent.

1881 Birmingham, from Engineering News 8:393 (October 1, 1881)

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

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

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

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

1894 Morning Journal and Courier (New Haven, Connecticut), January 11, 1894, Page 3.
Fitch Smith, a leading man in Derby, died yesterday, aged eight-eight.

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

1935 Tercentenary pictorial and history of the lower Naugatuck valley, compiled by Leo T. Molloy on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the settlement of Connecticut, by Leo Thomas Molloy.
Page 76: The Birmingham Water Company.  The City of Derby is furnished with water for fire and domestic use by the Birmingham Water Company, which was chartered in 1S59. Organization was affected the same year and, in the year that followed, water was first supplied.
The first officers of the company, chosen August 30, 1859, were: John I. Howe, President; William B. Wooster, Clerk; William F. Downs, Treasurer. The first directors included John I. Howe, Edward N. Shelton, Sharon Bassett, John Whitlock, Stephen N. Summers, William E. Downs, Robert N. Bassett, William Whitney and William B. Wooster.
The company has had the following presidents: 1859-1862, John I. Howe, 1862-1869, William E. Downs ; 1869-1865, Stephen N. Summers; 1885-1900, William B. Wooster; 1900-1913, Charles E. Clark; 1913-1925, Charles H. Nettleton; 1925, George E. Barber.
Charles H. Nettleton was appointed agent for the company April 1, 1874, which position he held until his death. He was also treasurer from 1890. It was through his efforts, mainly, that the company prospered as it did. He was greatly aided by George H. Scranton, who became affiliated with the company in 1883 and became general manager and treasurer at the death of Mr. Nettleton. Mr. Scranton had been elected secretary at the death of Judge David Torrance, who had served in that office from 1871 to 1906.
George E. Barber is now president of the company. He was first elected to this office in 1925. Malcolm M. Eckhardt is secretary and treasurer and general manager. He joined the company January 12, 1902, and was elected assistant secretary and assistant treasurer in 1929 and on October 19, 1934, was made secretary, treasurer and general manager, which positions he now holds.
Charles J. Redshaw is assistant secretary and assistant treasurer, to which offices he was elected
on October 19, 1934. He came to the company March 20, 1905.
Water is furnished to the city by three reservoirs, two of which are located on Derby Hill.  The lower reservoir has a capacity of 22,000,000 gallons and the upper reservoir 64,000,000 gallons. The third reservoir, built in 1909, at Great  Hill, has a capacity of 35,000,000 gallons.
At both the Derby Hill reservoirs and the Great Hill reservoir there has been installed modern apparatus for treating the water with chlorine, thereby protecting its customers from any water-borne disease germs.
In 1892 a steam pump was installed at the electric station of the Derby Gas and Electric Company on Housatonic avenue. This pump supplied water to the mains when the reservoirs were low, taking water from the canal which runs from above the dam. This source of supply was abandoned in 1927. At that time the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company laid a pipe line into Shelton from their Trapfall reservoir and an arrangement was made with them, by the Birmingham Water Company, so that an ample supply of water for a number of years could be procured, if occasion demanded.
The Birmingham Water Company supplies water through 24.507 miles of mains. There are 142 public fire hydrants and 10 private fire hydrants.

2007 Birmingham Utilities Announces Sale of Company to South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority and The Connecticut Water Company
RWA to acquire Ansonia Division, CWC to acquire Eastern Operations, June 29, 2007.

2008 Transaction to Acquire Birmingham Utilities Complete.  January 16, 2008.

The Fitch Smith business papers, 1814-1870, are in the Connecticut Historical Society Library.  Includes some records of the Birmingham Water Works.

2017 Morris A. Pierce