Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
North Central States
Illinois Bloomington

Bloomington, Illinois

Bloomington was incorporated as a city in 1850.

The city built a water works system that began service in July, 1875 by pumping water from a well using steam engines.  A standpipe was added in early 1876.

Water is provided by the city of Bloomington.

1876 Standpipe, demolished in 1912. 1910 View from top of Standpipe

1872 Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), June 11, 1872, Page 4.
The Bloomington Water Works Company, capital stock $200,000 filed certificate of incorporation yesterday.

1875 Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), June 12, 1875, Page 2.
Last Wednesday the water mains of the Boomington water works were tested with a pressure of 165 pounds to the square inch.

1876 "Adam's Ale at Bloomington," Chicago Tribune, January 15, 1876, Page 7.
Bloomington, Jan 14.- The iron work of the stand-pipe of the Bloomington Water-Works was complated today at 3 o'clock, and the vent was celebrated by unfolding the Stars and Stripes to the breeze.

1879 The History of McLean County, Illinois; portraits of early settlers and prominent men
Pages 387-388:  WATER.
For many years after the settlement of Bloomington, no one supposed the town could ever obtain a supply of water for public purposes. Rival cities with a visible supply of muddy river-water, have delighted in taunting Bloomington with its condition in this respect. Various were the expedients devised and talked of for obtaining a supply of water sufficient to meet the public demand. One engineer, eminent in his profession, with a national reputation, proposed the most feasible scheme that was devised, which was nothing less than a pipe all the way from the Mackinaw River to the high ground north of Normal, where a reservoir could be made that would force the water all over the city of Bloomington. Another project was to "impound" the water of the low ground northeast of the city, by building a dam and thus retaining the surface water in a pond that might answer all purposes, similar to the Jacksonville plan.
This would, of course, render the neighborhood of the pond unhealthy ; would be very expensive and would not insure good drinking-water. The dry year of 1854 caused great distress for water in this part of the State, and Bloomington people were very much exercised with fears that the location and building of their rapidly-growing city might after all, have been a serious mistake. We find that a public meeting was called July 23, 1854, when Mr. J. W. Fell offered the following resolutions, which were unanimously adopted after a discussion, in which the mover, Judge Davis, Dr. Freese and others, participated.
Resolved, That a committee of five be appointed, whose duty it shall be having previously associated with them one or more persons of practical skill in hydraulics and civil engineering to institute an examination on the following propositions, to wit : 1st. The practicability of obtaining at Sugar Creek, or at any other point or points, in or near the city, an adequate supply of pure water at all seasons of the year, and for all wants of the community. 2d. The best method of elevating the same (should a supply be deemed advisable) to a reservoir of sufficient capacity to be located on the public square, or at some other suitable point in the central part of the city, whence it may be drawn off to meet the wants of the community. 3d. The probable expense attending the execution of such a system of hydraulics ; and lastly, the best method of defraying the expenses incident to such an undertaking ; and the probable length of time for its accomplishment. ,
Resolved, That in the execution of the duties intrusted to said committee, they be authorised to make whatever surveys and examinations may be necessary ; and that the Mayor and City Council be respectfully requested 10 co-operate with them and provide the necessary means to defray the expense attending the same.
Resolved, That said committee be requested to proceed with all practicable dispatch in the execution of the aforesaid duties ; and that they report the result of their examinations to the City Council or to a public meeting hereafter to be called by them, or both, as they in their discretion may deem most expedient.
Resolved, That we recommend our City Council to build six or more cisterns at suitable points in Bloomington, to hold 200 or 250 barrels each: provided, the city does not adopt the hydraulic system of obtaining water
The Chair appointed the following persons as committee : Jesse W. Fell, J. W. Ewing, F. K. Phoenix, James Allin, Sr., and William Wallace.
It will thus be seen that the question of proper water supply has long been before the public. Tn the twenty years intervening between this public meeting and the final solution of the problem, a great variety of projects have been discussed.
It appears that in digging the coal-shaft which was first sunk, the one northwest of the city, a vein of water was encountered of great volume so powerful that the first attempt was abandoned and a success only made after moving a few rods and procuring very heavy pumping machinery. This discovery led the Chicago & Alton Railroad Company, in 1869, to dig in the vicinity a well which struck the same vein, and proved sufficient to supply the immense amount of water needed for that large corporation. From this time the attention of our citizens generally was turned to that point, and public opinion finally settled on the advisability of attempting to obtain the city supply by digging a well, and experimenting still further with that wonderful underground reservoir.
In the summer and fall of 1874, at the end of a series of four very dry seasons, the City Council made the attempt. It proved remarkably successful. The water, found at a depth of only forty feet, was sufficient to keep three powerful engines busy, whose united efforts threw a solid six-inch stream, which removed the water as fast as it flowed into the well. On Christmas Day, 1874, the whole population that wished, examined the fountain the well having been finished the day before. As a sample of what had been discovered, the engines were kept at work, throwing the water in a stream which, as it flowed off, was equal to a good-sized brook. There was but one opinion, and that was that the fountain was large enough to justify the erection of a system of water works ; and in the summer of 1875, the stand-pipe was erected, 200 feet high, an engine and pump placed in position at the well, two miles and a half of pipe laid in the streets, and a full system of water works inaugurated, which has since been enlarged by additional pipes and more machinery. The total cost of the whole, up to April 30, 1878, has been $86,944.83. This includes about eight miles of water-mains, the engines and machinery, the stand-pipe, four drinking-fountains, seventy hydrants and everything connected with the Water Department.
The water is of a medicinal nature, rather heavily charged with mineral deposits, but is very healthy and much liked by those who have been using it for any length of time. Its value to the city can only be reckoned by millions.
The Water Board consists of Peter Rockwell, J. W. Trotter and John W. Evans. M. X. Chuse is Superintendent.  
The present city well is on the same tract where the first coal-shaft was attempted, which enterprise in reality demonstrated the existence of our valuable supply of water.

1881 "The Source of Power," The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) May 26, 1881, Page 3.
An accurate and interesting description of the finest and biggest standpipe in the world. 

1881 Bloomington, Engineering News, 8:488-489 (December 3, 1881)

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

1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. August 1886

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

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

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

1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. January 1892

1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. July 1896

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

1901 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. June 1901

1907 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois.

1920 "The Outbreak of Typhoid and Dysentery at the Chicago & Alton Shops at Bloomington," by M. C. Sjoblom, Journal of the American Water Works Association 7(4):560-568 (July, 1920) | also here |

1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. July 1950

1953 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois.

2017 "Standpipe once towered over Twin Cities," The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois), Page A11

2019 Morris A. Pierce