Documentary History of American Water-works

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New England States Connecticut Hartford

Hartford, Connecticut

Hartford was first settled in the 1630s.   

The first water system was built by Elisha Babcock and William Hull, whose petition for incorporation was granted to the Proprietors of the Hartford Aqueduct in May 1797. They hired Nahum Cutler from Guilford, Vermont to install the piping, and he met his future wife, a daughter of a presumed water-taker, Captain Levi Robbins.  Cutler and Robbins later engaged in a partnership in Hartford until 1803.  The water system served more than two hundred customers for several years, but the business eventually failed, perhaps because the pipes could not deliver the promised flow of water.   

Chauncey Gleason and Elias Cowles petitioned for incorporation of the Gleason & Cowles Aqueduct Company, which chartered in October 1801 "for the purpose of conducting pure and wholesome water into the city of Hartford.  Gleason, of Hartford, had been in business with his brother-in-law Elijah Cowles and Elijah's cousin Elias Cowles from Farmington since about 1794 and they installed about five miles of wooden logs but encountered difficulties with owners of the property they crossed.  They sought and received a revision to their charter in 1803, but it was too late to prevent the failure of the enterprise.

American Mercury, May 18, 1795, Page 4. Connecticut Courant, November 9, 1801, Page 3.

In May 1830, Archippus Morgan of Springfield, Massachusetts and Isaac Damon of Northampton, Massachusetts received a charter for the Hartford Aqueduct Company.  This firm appears to have done nothing.

The Hartford Water Company was incorporated in May 1851 by Joseph Trumbell, Calvin Day, E. G. Howe, James M. Bunce, William T. Lee, E. K. Hunt, Daniel Buck Jr., R. D. Hubbard, William D. Ely   This triggered a two-year debate about ownership of the water supply, resulting in a vote for city ownership.  A Board of Water Commissioners was created in 1853 to oversee the water system and construction began in 1854 on a system that pumped water from the Connecticut River from a pumping station at the foot of pleasant street to a reservoir on Asylum Hill which became known as the Garden Street Reservoir.  A 16 inch cast iron water main 6,879 feet in length connected the pump to the reservoir, and the remainder of the system was a combination of cast iron and cement-lined wrought iron pipe.  Operation began on October 20, 1855 and a public celebration was held on July 4, 1856..  The steam engine was designed by William Wright and built by Woodruff and Beach Iron Works in Hartford.  The reservoir was 125 feet above the mean low water level of the river and had a capacity of 8 million gallons, which soon proved insufficient.  Years of study and public debate about a solution led to an 1864 vote to build a new gravity supply.  A new dam and reservoir were built and water was introduced in January 1867.  A heavy rainfall in September 1867 resulted in a failure of the reservoir, resulting in great damage, but it was quickly repaired and additional reservoirs were built.

The water system in Hartford is owned by The Metropolitan District which was created in 1929 and has a history page.  A 1946 map of the Water Supply Sources of the Metropolitan District.

Hartford is also home to the nation's fire insurance industry, which played an important role in promoting growth of water systems for fire protection.

1797 Petition for incorporating the Proprietors of the Hartford Aqueduct.  May 15, 1797.

1797 An act incorporating the Proprietors of the Hartford Aqueduct.  May, 1797.

1801 Petition of Chauncey Gleason and Elias Cowles for incorporation of the Gleason & Cowles Aqueduct Company.  October 5, 1801.

1801 An act incorporating Chauncey Gleason, Elias Cowles, and their Associates.  October, 1801.

1802 Hartford Courant, January 4, 1802, Page 4.
Notification.  Notice is hereby given to the members of the Gleason & Cowles Aqueduct Company.

1803 An act in addition to an act entitled "an at incorporating Chauncey Gleason, Elias Cowles, and their associates."  May, 1803.

1809 Cedar Aqueduct Pipes, wanted, Hartford Courant, March 1, 1809, Page 4.
Any person wishing to furnish one hundred rods of white Cedar Aqueduct Pipes, will please to leave their terms at this office.  Hartford, 14 Feb.

1830 Resolve incorporating Hartford Aqueduct Company, May, 1830.

1851 Incorporating the Hartford Water Company. May session, 1851.

1856 New York Evangelist, July 3, 1856, Page 5.
The citizens of Hartford are preparing a great demonstration, on the 4th, in honor of the completion of the water works which have cost the city some $300,000.

1860 Special report of the water commissioners and report of the joint select committee to whom the report was referred : together with votes as passed the Common Council Board on the project for additional facilities for supplying the city of Hartford with water.  April 16, 1860.

1861 Prof. Silliman's Report on the Water Supply for Hartford by Benjamin Silliman, October 30, 1861.

1862 Reports on additional water supply for the City of Hartford  Note:  The original document included the reports of Engineer McRee Smith and Prof. Silliman's 1861 Report, but since the latter was printed separately and is available immediately above it was not included in the scanned copy..

1862 Rules and regulations, Hartford Board of Water Commissioners, April 14, 1862.

1863 In Addition to and in Explanation of an Act entitled An Act to Alter the Charter of the City of Hartford, and to Combine sundry Public Statutes relating thereto.  July 1, 1863.

1864 "Great Fire in Hartford, Connecticut," Lowell Daily Citizen and News, February 6, 1864
Last evening's dispatches bring us the particulars of a fearful disaster by fire in Hartford, involving a loss of lives and the destruction of Colt's extensive pistol factory. The loss is stated at over a million dollars. The details are given below:
Hartford, Feb. 5.-The original building of Colt's Pistol Factory was destroyed by fire this morning, with all the machinery and a large amount of other property. The building was five hundred feet by sixty; L one hundred by sixty. The office, a large three story building, was also destroyed.  The new building, in which the Minie rifles are made, was saved. Seventeen hundred men were employed, halt of whom are thrown out of work.
The following is from an extra of the Hartford Times: 10.30 A. M.--At eight and a quarter o'clock this (Friday) morning a fire was discovered in the steam drying room, centre wing, of Colt's armory, which quickly spread to other parts of the building, and in a short time the fire was beyond human control.  The floors were full of oil, and burned like tinder. The steam gong sounded the alarm, and an immense concourse of people witnessed the terrible destruction. The firemen were promptly on hand and rendered all possible aid.  The loss cannot be correctly stated, but
it will probably be a million of dollars worth of property. The old factory is burned down--the new one, eight hundred feet long, will be saved. It is the most disastrous fire that ever took place in the state, and sixteen hundred poor men, with dependent families, will be thrown out of employment.  Immense masses of machinery are strewed about the grounds guarded by police.  Ten to fifteen thousand people are present.  There is reason to fear the loss of the lives of three workmen killed by falling walls; many workmen escaped by leaping from the windows.
Later.--The Springfield Union, extra, says the fire, when first discovered, could have been readily overcome, but it was found that the city water works, upon which the building mainly depended, had been tampered with and would not work.  The suspicion is therefore entertained that the fire was the work of an incendiary.
The last dispatch from Hartford says only one man is known to be killed; one is missing. Only one-half of the works were destroyed, yet the loss is said to reach the enormous sum or $2,000,000. The insurance is now placed at $600,000. Two engines, amounting to five hundred horse power, are among the losses. The works, it is said, will continue to give employment to seven or eight hundred men, but about nine hundred will be thrown out of work.  The disaster falls heavily on Hartford. No more serious fire ever occurred in Connecticut.

1865 Amending the Charter of the City of Hartford and Providing for an Additional Supply of Pure and Wholesome Water.  July 21, 1865.

1881 Hartford Water Works from Engineering News 8:293 (July 23, 1881)

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

1886 "Water Works" by William A. Ayres pages 455-462 from The memorial history of Hartford County, Connecticut, 1633-1884, Volume 1 edited by James Hammond Trumbull

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

1889 A Cutler Memorial and Genealogical History: Containing the Names of a Large Proportion of the Cutlers in the United States and Canada, and a Record of Many Individual Members of the Family, with an Account Also of Other Families Allied to the Cutlers by Marriage by Nahum Sawyer Cutler
Pages 147-148: Nahum Cutler ... was born May 14, 1776, in Guilford, Vt. He married in 1804, Martha, daughter of Levi Robbins of Hartford, Ct. He resided in Guilford until 1819, when he went to Sumner Hill, N. Y., thence to Girard, Pa., where he died September 10, 1840, and his widow Martha in 1879, aged ninety-eight years, retaining to the last her mental as well as physical powers. Mr. Cutler was a man of fine physique and gigantic strength, being six feet and four inches in height, while his agility was surpassed by few. His athletic feats are often rehearsed by people in Guilford where he lived. Although a merchant, he in company with his brother Thomas was much interested in the construction of aqueducts. While thus engaged at Hartford, Ct., he probably made the acquaintance of his future wife. He was possessed of more than the ordinary
amount of energy and perseverance and was influential in erecting the Episcopal church, hotel and several of the most prominent buildings in Guilford, there being at that time a strong rivalry between that village and Brattleboro, Vt. He was associated with Gale, Field and others in these enterprises, also in manufacturing, where opportunity was often afforded for exhibition of his muscular strength.

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

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

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

1907 Report of Committee on Auxiliary High Pressure Fire Protection Water Supply to the Court of Common Council of the City of Hartford, Conn. March 5, 1907

1909 "Chauncey Gleason," Genealogy of the descendants of Thomas Gleason of Watertown, Mass. 1607-1909 , by John Barber White

1911 An act increasing the powers of the Board of Water Commissioners of the City of Hartford.  August 2, 1911.

1917 "Hartford Water Works Past and Present (illustrated)" from Fire and Water Engineering, 62(10):171-184 (September 5, 1917)

1917 "Hartford Water Works Past and Present" by W. E. Johnson and "Hartford Distribution System" by Frank Brainard from Journal of the New England Water Works Association, Volume 31, December 1917 Note:  Other articles in this issue contain information about the Hartford water works.

1928 Water Works and Water Works Extension from History of Hartford County, Connecticut, 1633-1928: Being a Study of the First Makers of the Constitution and the Story of Their Lives, of Their Descendents and of All who Have Come by Charles Winslow Burpee.  | Also Volume 1 here | Volume 2 | Volume 3 |

2010 Water for Hartford: The Story of the Hartford Water Works and the Metropolitan District Commission by Kevin Murphy. | also here (subscription required) |  This is one of the best monographs about a water system and is highly recommended as a model for writing the history of a community's water system.

2012 Compiled Charter of the Metropolitan District

2015 Morris A. Pierce