Documentary History of American Water-works

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North Central States
Illinois Decatur

Decatur, Illinois

Decatur was incorporated as a city in 1856.

The city enticed a rolling mill with the promise of a four-inch stream of water, had a well dug and installed a Cameron pump, but the water supply was inadequate.  The city then contracted with the Illinois Central Railroad Company for the necessary supply, but at a high cost.  The city then decided to build a complete steam-driven water works, and decided to adopt the Holly water works plan. 

The city advertised for bids in July, 1871, planning to use the existing Cameron pump along with a new Holly rotary pump.  After the Chicago fire of October 8-10, 1871, the city added another Holly pump to the plant, which was demonstrated in March, 1872.  A second Cameron pump was installed in 1874 along with a filtration system.

Water is provided by the city of Decatur.

1868 "The Water Works," Decatur Weekly Republican, December 24, 1868, Page 4.
Report of the committee send to examine the Holly System of Fire Protection and Water supply.

1869 "The Water Works," Decatur Weekly Republican, November 18, 1869, Page 1.
Committee visits Holly water works in Peoria.

1871 "The Water Works," Decatur Weekly Republican, February 23, 1871, Page 1.
Failed attempt to supply the Rolling Mill with a four-inch stream of water, contract made with Illinois Central Railroad Company for water, but at a high cost.

1871 "Proposals Solicited," Decatur Weekly Republican, June 1, 1871, Page 4.
For building and furnishing materials for Decatur Water Works!

1871 "Water Works," Decatur Weekly Republican, June 22, 1871, Page 1. | Part 2 |
Water works contracts awarded.  The pumps will comprise the Cameron pump now in use at the city well on Wood street, and a No. 7 Holly's patent elliptical rotary fire pump.

1871 "Council Proceedings," Decatur Weekly Republican, July 13, 1871, Page 1.
Dodson & Holmes informed the city that they intend to put in a Silsby Pump at the City Water Works, instead of a Holly Pump.  Council advises that the city will not receive any manufacture of any other pump except manufactured by Holly Mf'g Co.

1871 "The Water Works," Decatur Weekly Republican, October 26, 1871, Page 1.
Contract for two Holly water pumps to replace single pump previously ordered..

1871 "An Ordinance," Decatur Weekly Republican, October 26, 1871, Page 4.
Establishing water works department and rates of water rents.

1871 History of Decatur, Illinois, its resources, advantages for business, and attractions as a home, with a brief sketch of its manufactories, prominent business and professional men. Also, a complete classified business directory
Pages 16-18:  General Water Supply, by C. H. Fuller
The Sangamon River running from a northeast direction, passes a point due east from northeast corner of city, on a line running southwest, about three miles distant. A short distance south and east of corporate limits it bears by a graceful bend almost due west, and passes a point south of centre of city, about one mile distant, when it bends gently to the northwest, thus almost encircling the city at no point in distance exceeding three miles, and reduced on south side of the city to about one mile.
At the nearest practicable point near river above and east of natural city sewerage deposit, the city has located the pumping house, engines, etc., to which from the river by means of conduit pipe 16 inches diameter, is lead to a pumping well, and from thence lifted and forced through iron mains 12, 8, 6 and 4 inches internal diameter, through the central portion of the city, and hence to Railroad Crossings, Rolling Mills, etc. Street hydrants are placed at given points for fire protection. Domestic and manufacturing supply is made by tapping mains whenever desired. The water is lifted and forced through mains, by means of stationery engines at pumping works, with sufficient power to answer all purposes, especially so for fire protection, by a direct connection at hydrants with hose, thus obviating any necessity for steam or hand fire engines, and saving yearly a large expense thereby, and rendering every hydrant an engine wherever located when connected with hose and pipe.
The city has expended in pipes, engines, etc., (already in operation) about 15,000 dollars, and the contract to complete at river 35,000 dollars, making a total of 50,000 dollars, which machinery is capable of lifting and forcing (if required) one million gallons of water every 21 hours, sufficient in its capacity to furnish a population of forty thousand inhabitants with water for all purposes required. The Sangamon River water, except at its extreme low stages, is soft, and not impregnated with lime deposit of any importance to make it objectionable, but preferable for steam or manufacturing purposes. For domestic or culinary purposes it is not anticipated to be preferred by all, to good limestone water procured from wells, of which there is an abundant supply, and easily obtained by digging from 25 to 40 feet ; but for general use, viz ; fire protection, manufacturing purposes, sanitary purposes, fountains, hotels, livery stables, etc., it meets all possible demands, and is in its effect and advantages equal to a stream of living water quietly pursuing its way through the streets of the city, with the advantage of not being made a receptacle for street and vault washing, the natural reservoir of a city's uncleanliness, as the sequel proved by Chicago river coursing its streets until otherwise diverted.
This important item of water supply to a city, especially so to all manufacturing and railroad interests, puts Decatur on an equal footing with inland river cities as to water demand and supply, being fully equal to any and all requisition in the natural growth of the city. It is carefully estimated that an additional expenditure of $50,000 would so place water through the streets within the city, as to protect with 2000 feet of hose, every domicile within the corporate limits from fire, and admit of its daily use by a population of 30,000 people.
The works now under contract are to be in successful operation by the 1st day of November, 1871, but will undoubtedly in present forwardness of work, be anticipated in time. With this artificial means of a Water Supply, direct from a fountain at all times equal to demand, the citizens of Decatur rest content, so far as its uses are required, and with justifiable pride point out this permanent improvement as one worthy of its cost, and beneficial to all without exception, and especially so to manufacturing interests, seeking investment and location at a centre, touched by radiating lines of railroad accessible to market here or hence.  And with this Water Supply and all other advantages of a business centre, educational, religious and social privileges, and a beautiful and healthy home, no city in Illinois can, with argument, in truth designate a location more desirable on all grounds considered, than THE CITY OF DECATUR, the "Indianapolis of Illinois."

1872 "Water Works Trial," Decatur Weekly Republican, March 7, 1872, Page 9.

1872 "The Water Works," Decatur Weekly Republican, March 21, 1872, Page 9.
We notice that the temporary works, on Wood street, have been [dismantled?], and the Cameron pump which had been in use there, is to be removed to the river

1872 "Holly Water Works," Decatur Daily Republican, May 1, 1872, Page 12.
Description of system.

1881 Decatur, Engineering News, 8:510 (December 17, 1881)

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

1887 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Decatur, Macon County, Illinois. March 1887

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

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

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

1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Decatur, Macon County, Illinois. February 1892

1894 "Warren Filters at Decatur," Engineering News 31:7-8 (January 4, 1894)

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

1898 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Decatur, Macon County, Illinois. February 1898

1903 Past and present of the City of Decatur and Macon County, Illinois
Page 87:  The Water Works
The water works plant is in keeping with that of most cities the size of Decatur. The supply of water has always been equal to the demand, even in the greatest emergencies.  Four pumps are installed in the plant, two doing the work, except in case of fire, when it sometimes becomes necessary to use more.
The capacity is about l0,000.000 gallons, 2,000,000 gallons being the average daily consumption. The filter plant alone cost $40,000. The entire expenditure will approximate $400,000.
There are two principal water mains, a twelve-inch main extends north on South Main street to Lincoln Square where it connects with a sixteen-inch main that extends to the north part of the city: the other, a sixteen-inch main, extends on Broadway to Orchard street; smaller ramifications from these supply the entire city.
The water is pumped from the river; passing through a filter it reaches the reservoir, from which it is pumped into the mains.
About a dozen men are employed ; these arc subject to the directions of the chief engineer.

1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Decatur, Macon County, Illinois. December 1908

1915 "Filtration Plant, City of Decatur, Illinois," by Hary Ruthrauff, Journal of the American Water Works Association 2(2):455-464 (June, 1915)

1915 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Decatur, Macon County, Illinois.

1930 Centennial History of the City of Decatur and Macon County, Illinois, by Mabel E. Richmond
Pages 295-301:  Waterworks
First mention in city council records of a waterworks system is made in the report of the council meeting on Jan. 11, 1869, when an ordinance was passed to establish such a system.  It provided for borrowing $50,000.  However, Decatur did not get any waterworks then.  Mayor Isaac C. Pugh thought it was a bad move.  He complained that some of the rich citizens were not paying their taxes, and he did not want to burden the city with debt.  The ordinance was vetoed and the matter dropped.
After Franklin Priest had been elected mayor in the spring of 1870 the matter of a waterworks system came up again, due to the fact that Decatur had been selected as the location of a rolling mill, and ample water supply for the mill had been promised.
At a meeting Dec. 1, 1870, the council voted to lay pipe from the well on East Wood street to the Illinois Central tank at the depot, thence east to the rolling mill.  The well was located in what was known as Howell's Hollow, in the neighborhood of East Wood street and Broadway, on land belonging to Gilbert Howell.  This well had been dug during the summer of 1870.  It was 10 feet square and 30 to 40 feet deep.  On Feb. 6, 1871, the council again to action to lay pipe to the rolling mill.
At that same meeting, the council, realizing that the well would not furnish an adequate supply of water to the mill, decided to build a waterworks plant at the river, and bonds to the amount of $30,000 were issued.  Work was stopped then on some additional wells which had been started.
Considerable sentiment in favor of a waterworks plant had been worked up by this time, due mostly to the meeting of citizens held Jan. 16, which had been addressed by Honorable T. T. Flagler, president of the Holly Manufacturing company of Lockport, N. Y.  Promoters and opposers of the project had gathered at that meeting in such numbers that the council rooms would not hold them all and it was necessary to adjourn to the court room.  Mr. Flagler was a persuasive talker, and the citizens were so filled with enthusiasm over the prospect of the water system that they passed a resolution to the effect that the city council be asked to contract for machinery for the waterworks plant, and that the work be completed at a cost not to exceed $100,000.  The resolution was presented by E. O. Smith.
The city had already purchased a Cameron pump, which had been installed at the well on Wood street, on Dec. 1, 1870.  This pump had a capacity of 500,000 gallons of water daily, but it was soon found that it was not sufficient.  That pump had cost the city $1,460.
Ground for the pumping station on the river was purchased May 29, 1871, from Peddecord & Burrows.  It was known as the Priest distillery property.  It was voted to lay a twelve inch main from the station to Lincoln square, a distance of one mile.  Dodson & Holmes were given a contract to furnish a No. 1 Holly pump, two No. 6 Holly patent rotary fire pumps, and 5,280 feet of twelve inch main.  All of this was to be installed for $34,937.  This equipment was guaranteed to furnished 1,000,000 gallons of water  a day.
When the plant was completed Benson N. Henkle was installed as chief engineer.  H. Mueller was made city plumber at the same time.
When the first test of the plant was made, the entire town turned out to see it.  The test took place at the corner of Broadway and East Main, where a temporary fireplug had been installed.  The test consisted of throwing water over the old oil mill.
The next necessity was a reservoir, as it had been found that whenever the river was high, the water was too muddy for use.  In 1874 a reservoir 100 feet long, ten feet wide and six feet deep was furnished an excellent supply of filtered water, the water seeping through gravel from the river.  For emergencies, a direct connection was made from the reservoir to the river.
The building of a dam across the river, to provide a larger supply of water when the river was low, was the next step taken.  This was done in October, 1878.
Decatur was continually growing and was constantly using more water, making additions to the plat necessary.  On March 9, 1882, a Clapp & Jones pump was purchased, and installed to take the place of the Holly pump.  It had pumping capacity of 3,000,000 gallons of water a day.  Its cost was $7,550.
On Jan. 14, 1884, two pumps were bought from E. P. Allis and Company of Milwaukee, costing $14,500.  These two had capacity of 2,000,000 gallons each.  They are still in use.  These pumps raised the daily capacity to 7,000,000 gallons.
It was not long until the need of a more adequate filter plant was felt, and in the year 1894 contract was made for a Warren filter made by the Cumberland Manufacturing company of Boston.  This and other additions cost $50,000.
In 1908-1909 a new pumping station was erected at a cost of $225,000 and a 6,000,000 gallon pump put into operation.
In 1910 a new light plant was erected at a cost of $110,000, the city having installed a light plant about 25 years before.  A new dam also was built that year.
The city voted March 28, 1913, for a $135,000 bond issue to erect a new filter plant, and the contract was given later to the New York Continental Jewel Filtration company.  The contract price was $129,899.
The next few years saw the biggest development in the story of the water supply for Decatur - the water impounding project which included the building of a dam and creation of a lake.  This lake, called Lake Decatur, fourteen miles long and from one-half to a mile wide, contains enough water to keep Decatur supplied for two years without a drop of rain.  Eight billion gallons of water are impounded.  Decatur need never fear a shortage of water.  The total cost of the improvements was more than $2,000,000.
The dam was erected at a cost of $725,000.  The length of the spillway is 480 feet, and the total length of the dam is 1900 feet.  It is built to hold water at a 610 foot level above sea, and the addition of flash boards will raise the level to 612 feet.  The water level before the creation of the lake was 595 feet.
It was necessary to purchase 4,000 acres of land at a 615 foot level for the lake.  The land cost $599,000.  Other expenses in connection with the project were $109,558 for clearing the land, $450,000 for roads and bridges, and $128,000 for riprapping.  At the time of this development of county bridge was raised 14 feet, giving it a height of 16 feet above the lake level.
The dam itself was financed by the city, but the rest of the project was taken care of by the Decatur Water Supply company, a corporation of Decatur citizens formed to provide $1,000,000.  Stock in the company in five days was oversubscribed to $1,200,000.
According to the agreement made, the income from city water rents is used to pay for the operation of the waterworks plant, to pay dividends on preferred stock of the company, and to retire stock.  Within sixteen years from the date of organization all the stock will have been retired, and the land deeded to the city.
This project, under way for three years, was completed in 1923.  A five-day celebration marked its completion.
Improvements and additions have continued at the waterworks plant.  In 1926 additions costing $143,689.02 were made to the filter house.  This increased the capacity of the plant to 18,000,000 gallons of water daily.  Other recent improvements are a water softener, chlorinator, and new carbonator plant.
Water mains cover the entire city, and the number of water meters in use in 1929 was 13,625.  That year the average daily consumption of water was 7,000,000 gallons.
The name of Harry Ruthrauff was linked with the waterworks history for many years.  He was employed first in June, 1888, as a helper or calker of water pipe, then served as foreman and later as water inspector and plumbing inspector.  In 1911 he was elected one of the city commissioners and was made head of the department of public property, which gave him oversight of the waterworks.  He served in that capacity until 1927.

1945 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Decatur, Macon County, Illinois. September 1945

1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Decatur, Macon County, Illinois.


2017 Morris A. Pierce