Documentary History of American Water-works

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Northwestern States
Iowa Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa

Standpipe, erected 1891, demolished 1939.

Des Moines was chartered as a city in 1851.

The city awarded a 40-year exclusive water works franchise to the Des Moines Water Company in May, 1871.  The company built a Holly water works system that began service on July 31, 1872 with eight single-acting gang pumps and two No. 10 rotary pumps.

The owners reincorporated in 1881 as the Des Moines Water Works Company.  Frederick M. Hubbell sold the company in 1895 to Charles F. Park, who had formerly been with the partnership of Wheeler & Parks of Boston, but he defaulted on a note and ownership reverted back to Hubbell.  Charles H. Payson bought a majority of the stock in 1901 and re-incorporated the company in 1907 as the Des Moines Water Company in Maine. 

The city purchased the water system on November 17, 1919 for $3.557,992.89, and hired existing manager Charles Denman to continue operating the system.

The waterworks are currently owned by the City of Des Moines, which has an excellent history page. | pdf |

1864 "Notice," Daily Iowa State Register, December 8, 1865, Page 2.
A meeting will be held at the office of the undersigned, over Redhead's Store, On Cout Avenue, this evening, at 7 o'clock, for the purpose of organized the "Des Moines City Water Company" as an Incorporated Association.  W.M. Ashley, Jr.

1871 "April Session of the City Council," Daily Iowa State Register, April 4, 1871, Page 4. | Part 2 |
Presentation by Mr. Keep of the Holly Water Works Company, which offers to to pay the expense of the members of the City Counctil to visit the city of Peoria to inspect the works there.

1871 "Leave To-Day," Des Moines Register, April 5, 1871, Page 4. | also proposed water works ordinance with fifty-year term |
Mayor and Aldermen visiting Holly water works in Peoria and Indianapolis.

1871 Ordinance No. 106 authorizing the Des Moines Water Works Company to construct, maintain and operate water works to supply water to the city and citizens of Des Moines, and Defining their powers and privileges. May 1, 1871

1871 "Water Works," by Thomas G. Orwig, Des Moines Register, May 2, 1871, Page 1.
Report from Holly water works in Binghamton.

1871 "Water Works Ordinance," The Des Moines State Register, May 3, 1871, Page 2.
Exclusive rights for 40 years; yearly rent of $2,000 per mile for the first five miles of water mains laid; $1,500 per mile for the second five miles; rate to be negotiated for each additional mile.

1872 "Holly Water Works," The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa), April 4, 1872, Page 3.
Visit to Des Moines water works.

1872 Milwaukee Weekly Sentinel, August 6, 1872,
The Des Moines Holly Water Works were tested on Tuesday last, and found to be all that was promised of them, and more too.

1872 "City Council," Daily Iowa State Register, August 10, 1872, Page 4.
The question of accepting the Water Works was taken up and the following report adopted.

1876 Centennial History of Polk County, Iowa, by J. M. Dixon
Pages 270-272:  Des Moines Water Works
The first effort to supply the city with a system of Water Works, was made in 1868. A Company was organized at that time, to whom the city granted a charter, and with whom it made a specific contract. G. W. Clark had the executive management of the enterprise. This Company, however, forfeited its contract, and the work was abandoned. We are indebted to Fred. M. Hubbell, of this city, for the following clear and satisfactory history of the present
The Des Moines Water Company was organized, April 3, 1871, by the following gentlemen: B. F. Allen, J. C. Savery, William Braden, J. M. Tuttle, Hoyt Sherman, P. M. Casady, J. S. Polk, George Whitaker, John A. Elliott, and F. M Hubbell, who adopted Articles of Incorporation
The corporate directors were: B. F. Allen, William Braden, J. M. Tuttle, P. M. Casady, and J. S. Polk, who were instructed to procure the necessary charter, granting to said Company the right to erect, maintain, and operate Water Works in the city of Des Moines.
The capital stock of the Company was fixed at $150,000; but was afterwards increased to $300,000. B. F. Allen was elected President and Treasurer, and J. S. Polk, Secretary. The Executive Committee were: B. F. Allen, J. S. Polk, and William Braden.
The charter was passed by the City Council, May 2, 1871; and the erection of the works was immediately begun. The Company had ten miles of mains laid by November, 1872. The buildings were erected in the year 1871, upon Block 49, of J. Lyon's addition to Des Moines.
The total number of miles of mains is now 15, ten miles of which are on the West, and five on the East Side.
Number of consumers on West Side, 400; number on East Side, 156. Engine, 300-horse power. Two tubular boilers, one of which is horizontal. Number of gallons pumped daily, 800,000. They supply all the railroads in the city, to-wit: Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, Keokuk & Des Moines, Des Moines & Fort Dodge, and Des Moines & Minnesota. They supply, East Side: Eagle Iron Works, McDonnell & Meara (boiler makers), Shepard & Perrior (grist mill), Williams & Brothers (grist mill), Ankeny Brothers (oil mill), Capital City Gas Light Company, Engines at the Capitol, and the Plain Talk newspaper. Steam engines on West Side furnished with water, are as follows: Register, Leader, and Journal offices, Mills & Company, Carter, Hussey, & Curl, Skinner Brothers, J. H. Given & Co., Dan. Tyrrell's grist mill, Brooke, Wilson & Stein, Piatt & Spieth, Des Moines Gas Works, H. M. Bush's warehouse, and a large number of business houses and private families.
The officers of the Company for the present year are: J. S. Polk, F. M. Hubbell, S. Van Cleve, George H. Maish, and Joseph Deming, Directors; J. S. Polk, President; P. M. Hubbell, Secretary; George H. Maish, Treasurer: S. Van Cleve, Superintendent.
Total cost of the Works, June 1st, 1876, $273,873.81.

1878 "Des Moines (Iowa) Water Works," Engineering News 5:214 (July 4, 1878)

1879 "An Ordinance Repealing Ordinance No. 110 passed June 5th, 1871," The Des Moines Register, August 12, 1879, Page 3. | Related article |

1880 The History of Polk County, Iowa: Containing a History of the County, Its Cities, Towns, &c., Biographical Sketches of Its Citizens, War Record of Its Volunteers in the Late Rebellion, General and Local Statistics, Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men, History of the Northwest, History of Iowa, Map of Polk County, Constitution of Iowa, Miscellaneous Matters, &c., &c
Page 698:  The Des Moines Water Company was organized April 3, 1871, by B. F. Allen, J. S. Polk, J. C. Savery, J. M. Tuttle, Hoyt Sherman, P. M. Casady, John A. Elliott, George Whitaker, F. M. Hubbell and Wm. Braden.
The capital was originally $50,000, but was increased to $300,000. The Holly system was adopted, works were erected, and the city supplied with water in 1871. The works subsequently passed into the hands of Polk and Hubbell, and during the present year were sold to a joint stock company.

1881 Des Moines, from Engineering News 8:425 (October 22,  1881)

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

1883 "The Water Fight Settled," Iowa State Register, June 5, 1883, Page 2.

1883 "For Sale," Iowa State Register, June 5, 1883, Page 3.
Original Holly pumps and boilers for sale.

1884 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa. March, 1885

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

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

1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa.

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

1892 "The Regulation of Private Water Rates," Engineering News 17:201-202  (February 27, 1892)

1892 "The Des Moines, Iowa, Stand-Pipe," Engineering News 27:346-347 (April 9, 1892)

1895 The City of Des Moines, Appellant,  v. Des Moines Water Works Company. 95 Iowa 348, October 1, 1895, Supreme Court of Iowa

1895 "Des Moines Water Works Sold," Daily Inter Ocean, November 5, 1895, Page 4.
Boston firm pays, it is reported, $1,000,000.

1895 "Sold the Water Works," The Iowa State Register, November 5, 1895, Page 6.
Mr. F. M. Hubbeell who owned a majority of the stock has sold out to Chas. F. Parks, of Wheeler & Parks of Boston.

1895 "Des Moines Water Plant Sold," Omaha Daily Bee, November 17, 1895, Page 7.
Litigation over rates forces a big transfer.

1895 "Asks for an Injunction," Omaha World Herald, December 5, 1895, Page 1.
The Savings and Trust Company of Cleveland, O., filed a bill of complaint asking an injunction against the city of Des Moines and the Des Moines W1ter Works company to restrain them from putting into force the water regulation ordinance of 1893.

1895 "Another Water Ordinance," Iowa State Register, December 10, 1895, Page 5.
Substantially the same as the proposed amendment of 1893 ordinance recently rejected.

1896 "Raises a New Point," The Des Moines Register, January 7, 1896, Page 3.
City Demurrers in the Water Works Case.  Makes Charges of Collusion.  Says Water Company and Trust Company are agreed -- Questions the jurisdiction of the court.  Affidavits of J. T Fanning and P.H. Linneen

1896 "Waterworks cause a sensation," Union County Courier (Elk Point, South Dakota), January 23, 1896, Page 9.
Engineering News editor A. K. Baker showed that the Des Moines Water company would make sufficient money even with a reduction in rates.

1897 "The Des Moines Water Works Controversy," Municipal Engineering 12(5):324-325 (May, 1897)

1897 "New Cases Filed," The Des Moines Register, March 14, 1896, Page 8.
Suit on C. F. Parks' Notes.  The Des Moines National bank commence suit yesterday against Charles F. Parks on a promissory note for $6,000 given by the defendant to F. M. Hubbell as part consideration for the water works plant at the time he purchased it and was elected president, and for the failure to pay which he he forfeited his contract for the delivery of the Hubbell stock and was obliged to turn the plan back for Hubbell.

1897 "His Foot In Deep," The Des Moines Register, March 23, 1897, Page 6.
Another suit has been instituted against Charles F. Parks of Boston, who bought the stock of F. M. Hubbell in the Des Moines Water Works company and executed his note on it.

1897 "Hubbell Talks on Thrift," Iowa State Bystander (Des Moines, Iowa), July 2, 1897, Page 2.
Men to be successful should learn to live on $1.50 per week.
Sioux City, June 30. - F. M. Hubbell, the Des Moines water works and railway magnate, while in this city gave a dissertation on the possibilities of thrift.  He said any may who gets $15 a month ought to save half of it.  Nobody has solved the problem of live who cannot live comfortably on $1.50 a week.  He was asked how much it cost his family to live, and he replied about $30,000 a year, but that this was caused by the extravagance of the women folks.

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

1899 Water-works for Small Cities and Towns, by John Milton Goodell
Page 841:  Des Moines Standpipe

1901 Letter referring to purchase of controlling interest in Des Moines Water Company by Charles H. Payson.  June 11, 1901.

1901 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa, Volume 1 | Volume 2 |

1902 An act to authorize the loaning of funds accumulated and to legalize a contract between the city of Des Moines and the Des Moines Water Works company for a loan of such funds.  February 17, 1902

1903 R. L. Polk & Co.'s Des Moines City Directory, November 17, 1903
Page 307:  Des Moines Water Works Co.
Charles H. Payson, Pres; Charles S. Denman, Sec and Mngr; Joseph G. Rounds, Treas

1906 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa. Central business district

1910 Moody's Manual of Investments 11:1621
Des Moines Water Co.:  Inc.  Maine March 26, 1907, Maine and on Dec. 23, 1907 took over the properties of the Des Moines Water Works Co.  Franchise expires May 1, 1911, and provides that the city may purchase the plant at any time.

1911 Des Moines Water Co. v. City of Des Moines, 192 Fed Rep 183, September 16, 1911, Circuit Court Southern District of Iowa

1911 Des Moines: The Pioneer of Municipal Progress and Reform of the Middle West, Together with the History of Polk County, Iowa, the Largest, Most Populous and Most Prosperous County in the State of Iowa, Volume 1, by Johnson Brigham
Page 289:  1880. The Water Company was reorganized in May with the following incorporators: Messrs. Clapp, Dennan, Perkins, Gilmore, Ankeny, Maish, Wyman, Beckwith, White, Love, Windsor, Dickinson, Redhead, Bowman, Dewey, Fuller, Hippee, Parsons, Kauffman, Andrews, Runnells, Randall, Ewing, Dickey, Ogilvie and Smart. The following directors were chosen: Messrs. Clapp, Windsor, Runnells, Wyman, Redhead, Kauffman, Dickinson and Dewey. The directors organized with J. N. Dewey president, A. N. Denman secretary and George H. Maish treasurer. Messrs. Polk and Hubbell at that time estimated that the works had cost them $334,882.32.
Page 315:  1889. On July 19, Judge Bishop refused to enjoin North Des Moines from voting on the waterworks question. Recorder MacVicar was now mayor of North Des Moines. At a meeting later in the month, the council appointed the mayor and two councilmen of his selection to secure the services of an engineer to make preliminary plans and specifications for the erection of water works. It also appointed the mayor and two councilmen to confer with the then existing North Des Moines company, also with the Des Moines company to ascertain what terms could be made with them for future water supply—the resolution including the possibility of purchase of the plant of the first named company.
Pages 359-360:  1898. Another final settlement of the waterworks question! It was announced, June 17, that the Citizens’ Committee and the Water Works Company had reached an agreement by which the city would get the works for $850,000; possession given Tuly 1, 1900; the company to pay the taxes of 1897-99, on an assessment basis of $100,000, etc. It only remained for the council to approve the deal, and for the voters to ratify it!
In the summer of ’98, the citizens’ committee made a strong campaign for the purchase of the water works at the price agreed upon, namely $850,000.
The city had already accumulated about $70,000 from the proceeds of a two-mill tax. It had been shown in the courts that the yearly revenues of the water works at the time were at least $105,000. With the operating expenses estimated at $30,000, half of which to be expended in maintaining and extending the system, the citizens committee estimated that at the end of the eleventh year the city would have paid for the plant and would have a surplus. 
Page 603: The Des Moines Waterworks Company is an incorporation, with headquarters at Portland, Me. The company had a franchise which expired May 1, 1911. The city held an election on June 19, 1911, in which it was decided by the decisive vote of 3,330 to 1,242 that the city should either buy or build a water¬works plant. The city council has petitioned the Supreme Court for a board of appraisal, with the expectation of condemning the company’s property. This board of appraisal, according to the Iowa law, consists of three District judges from districts outside of Polk County. They will hear the testimony as to the value of the plant and fix the price. The city will then vote on the purchase of the property at the price fixed and the issuance of bonds to pay for the property. 

1913 "Waterworks Deal is Closed As Forecast by the Evening Tribune," The Evening Tribune (Des Moines, Iowa) July 29, 1913, Page 1. | part 2 | Part 3 |
Price named by court accepted by owners, and city will ratify.  Officials in conference in Chicago Agree upon $2,302,522 as value of plant -- transfer to be made January 1 next.

1914 Des Moines Water Co. v. City of Des Moines, 218 Fed Rep 939, December 13, 1914, Circuit Court Southern District of Iowa

1916 Revised Ordinances of the City of Des Moines
Page 738:  Management of Waterworks, including rates

1917 Moody's Manual of Investments 8:1922
Des Moines Water Co.:  Incorporated under the laws of Maine March 26, 1907.  Purchased the property of the Des Moines Water Works Co. of Iowa,  Franchise expired May 1, 1911.

1919 "Get Price on Water Plant: City to Buy?" The Evening Tribune (Des Moines, Iowa), January 31, 1919, Page 1.
Negotiations again opened with view to taking over public utilities.  Could have bought once for $800,000.

1919 "Water Purchase Wins by 800," The Des Moines Register, August 26, 1919, Page 1. | part 2 |
Byers says city will take charge within six weeks.  Women vote "Yes" by greater majority then men.  Price not to exceed $3,525,000.

1919 "We Own Water Now," The Evening Tribune, November 17, 1919, Page 1.
Transfer made at 12 o'clock noon today.

1919 "We're Paying the Water Bills Now," The Evening Tribune, November 18, 1919, Page 1.
In addition to the "base purchase price" of $3,525,000, the city is paying the water company owners $32,992.89, under contract provisions for extensions since January 1, 1919, taxes and incidentals.

1920 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa. Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3 |

1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa. Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3 |

1955 The Little Man with the Long Shadow, The Life and Times of Frederick M. Hubbell, by George S. Mills.
Page 96:  The first water works pumping station was located at 17th  and Walnut Streets, built in 1871. The waterworks employed the Holly System to purify water. Large chambers excavated under the bed of the Raccoon River provided storage for river water, which was pumped as needed from the chambers through the city's water mains.
Page 100: In 1881, the waterworks corporation was reorganized as a stock company with Polk and Hubbell as primary shareholders. Six years later, the two men dissolved their partnership amid friction. It required two years to separate their entwined business interests.
Page 153:  In 1888, Hubbell incorporated the F. M. Hubbell & Son Company, Inc., to manage his holdings, including his stock in the Des Moines Waterworks along with Polk's shares in the firm, which he had acquired. Then, in 1895, Hubbell sold a portion of his stock in the waterworks. An eastern syndicate, headed by C. H. Payson of Portland, Maine, subsequently held the majority of the company's stock.

1957 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa. Volume 1 | Volume 1A | Volume 2 | Volume 3 | Volume 4 |

2004 Allen Hazen Water Tower, Des Moines, Iowa, National Register of Historic Places
Built in 1931, holds 2 million gallons of water, one of four water towers in the city.

2009 The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa
Pages 259-261:  Frederick Marion Hubbell (January 17, 1839 - November 11, 1930)
In 1871 [Jefferson S.] Polk & Hubbell, benker Benjamin F. Allen, and several others incorporated the Des Moines Water Works.  Hubbell served as the company's secretary for a number of years and later ended up owning the firm.  He ventually sold his shares in the waterworks but remained in control of a large portion of company bonds.  The city purchased the water works in 1919 for $3.45 million.  Hubbell netted approximately $1 million in the deal.

© 2020 Morris A. Pierce