Documentary History of American Water-works

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

Riverside, Illinois

Riverside was developed as a planned community by the Riverside Investment Company.  After the company went bankrupt in 1873 the Village of Riverside was incorporated on October 9, 1875.

Chicago city treasurer David A. Gage owned 1,060 acres west of Chicago known as the Riverside Farm.  Gate wanted to subdivide the property for development, and gained the acquaintance of Emery E. Childs of New York, who thought that about $500,000 would be needed to improve the property, including construction of water and gas works.  Childs indicated that he had friends who would fund the improvements if Gage would sell him the property.  Gage agreed, and Child bought another 500 acres from neighboring landowners and engaged noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the community and supervise its construction.   An artesian well was under construction by November and was demonstrated to visited the following March..  On March 11, 1869, Childs secured a charter for the Riverside Improvement Company. 

The Riverside Gas and Gas Works Company was incorporated in March 31, 1869 by David A. Gage, Emery E. Childs, Leverett W. Murray, J. Trumbull Smith, Elson T. Wright, Charles Stanton, Henry E. Seelye, and their associates "for the purpose of furnishing water and of manufacturing and supplying gas, for use in or upon the streets, avenues, parks and public places, and in the public and private buildings upon any lands now owned or leased, or which may hereafter be owned or leased, within the towns of Lyons, Cicero or Proviso, in Cook county, of this state, by the association known as “The Riverside Improvement Company.”

William LeBaron Jenney, who had been a young military engineer when he met Olmsted during the siege of Vicksburg, designed a striking water tower with an outside observation platform.  The tower enclosed a wooden water tank and  burned on New Years' Day of 1913, but was rebuilt.with an iron tank later that year..

The whole affair quickly ran into financial difficulty and the water works were essentially abandoned by July, 1872, when local residents filed suit and took over the operation of the works and the Town of Riverside rebuilt the tower's slate roof in 1875.  As a result of numerous law suits, the Improvement Company and Water and Gas Works Company conveyed their lands to the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Land Company on February 28, 1873.   The Village of Riverside was incorporated on October 9, 1875 and took over operation of the water system, but repeated attempts to confirm its ownership were stymied in several court cases.   After many court cases spanning two decades, a judged confirmed the village's ownership of the water works in August, 1894.

Childs moved back to Brooklyn in 1879 and died there on March 1, 1886 after publishing two history books.

Water is purchased from the city of Chicago and distributed by the village of Riverside. which has a history page about their water tower.

Riverside Water Tower

Water Tower, from Riverside in 1871 Water Tower in 1899
Water Tower after 1913 Fire

1868 Preliminary Report upon a proposed Suburban Village at Riverside, near Chicago, Olmsted, Vaux & Co., September 1, 1868

1868 "Riverside Park," Chicago Tribune, October 25, 1868, Page 3. | Part 2 |
A Magnificent Private Enterprise.
It is proposed to supply the park with gas manufactured on the spot, and the water will be furnished from an artesian well now being bored on the grounds.

1869 An act to incorporate the Riverside Improvement Company.  March 11, 1869.

1869 An act supplemental to an act entitled “An act to incorporate the Riverside Improvement Company.”  March 11, 1869.

1869 "Bills Passed," Chicago Tribune, March 12, 1869, Page 1.
Gage's bill for the Riverside Water and Park Company, with power to supply water and gas to such parts of Lyons, Proviso and Cicero as may be included within the corporate limits of Chicago, was barely successful in getting through.

1869 "Board of Supervisors," Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1869, Page 3.
Continuance of the Search for a Site for a County Normal School. Visit of the Board and Invited Guess to Riverside.
Due to the public spirit of Emery E. Childs, Esq., a special train ... were placed at the disposal of the excursionists.
After a visit to the artesian well, pouring forth a four-inch stream of the purest water, the party took passage in a score of country wagons, and drove over various portions of the park.

1869 An act to incorporate the Mercantile Warehouse and Loan Company.  March 27, 1869.  This company was acquired by Emery E. Childs and renamed the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Land Company.

1869 An act to incorporate the Riverside Water and Gas Works Company.  March 31, 1869.

1869 An act to amend an act entitled “An act to incorporate the Riverside Improvement Company.”  April 9, 1869.

1869 Charter and By-Laws of the Riverside Improvement Company

1869 General Plan of Riverside, by Olmsted, Vaux & Co. Landscape Architects.  Shows triangular parcel leveled "Water Works."

1870 "The Riverside Water Works," The Land Owner 6(2) (June 1870)

1871 "A Glance at Riverside and What is Being Done There," Chicago Tribune, August 6, 1871, Page 3.

1871 Riverside in 1871: With a Description of Its Improvements : Together with Some Engravings of Views and Buildings | pdf |
Page 15:  Water to the third story of every house on the property, through mains to be laid for that purpose, connected with the Water Tower, and rn every other way prepare for the convenience of the inhabitants.
Page 17:  Water Works.  The Company sunk an artesian well to the depth of 739 feet, from which flows constantly a stream of clear and healthy water, sufficient for the supply of a population of ten thousand. A very substantial and elegant Water Tower of stone and brick has been erected, into which the water is forced by a steam pump, and from thence distributed through mains laid in the borders of the road­ways to the third story of every building. This Tower is about 108 feet high, and from a balcony some 70 feet from the ground, reached by winding stairs within, a very fine bird's-eye view of Riverside and its surroundings may be obtained.
Fire plugs are to be placed at convenient distances along the roads, and the supply of water is sufficient to admit of lawn and street sprinklers, fountains, etc. Six miles of water pipe have already been laid and will be extended as required. Water rates the same as in the city.
Page 26:  Centrally situated, the Water Tower was designed not merely to serve the engineer's purpose, of a support and protection for the huge water tank, but equally as an observatory and a highly decorative land mark. The style is Swiss Gothic, with a high sloping cut stone base, pierced by a deep cut Gothic doorway. The body of the tower sup­porting the tank is of red and cream pressed brick, with cut stone caps and keys. Above the brickwork, and outside of the tank, is a hanging gallery, with ten open arches, surmounted by a high and pointed conical roof, terminated by an ornate finial, that also serves as the smoke stack for the engine within. The tank, thirty-five feet in diameter, and fifteen feet deep, is supported by iron girders fifty-five feet above the ground, to which the water is elevated by steam pumps. The height and capacity of this tank is such as to insure an abundant supply of water to every dwelling in this elegant suburb, and forms one among the long list of luxuries and conveniences that the projectors of this bold enterprise have provided, almost regardless of expense, for the dwellers in this rural, park-like village.

1872 Chicago Post, April 17, 1872, Page 3.
A special meeting of the stockholders of the Riverside Water and Gas Works Company will be held at the Company's office, No. 706 Wabash avenue, at 11 o'clock a.m., on the 20th day of May next, for the purpose of voting upon increasing the capital stock of said company, changing its name, and for transacting such other business as may come before said meeting.  Emery E. Childs, President.  Leverett W. Murray, Secretary.  Chicago, April 16, 1872.

1872 "Real Estate," Chicago Tribune, July 7, 1872, Page 3. | part 2 |
The Riverside Company's Difficulties --- Probable Solution.

1872 "The Law Courts," Chicago Tribune, December 21, 1872, Page 7.
Another suit against the Riverside Company.

1873 "Childs & Co.," Chicago Daily Tribune, June 8, 1873, Page 4.
The Riverside Improvement Company Disappears from Bankruptcy only to turn up in Chancery - E. T. Wright's Complaint Against Childs & Co.

1873 "Financial Finesse," The Sunday Times (Chicago, Illinois) June 8, 1873, Page 3.

1874 "Riverside," Chicago Tribune, July 23, 1874, Page 4. | part 2 | also here |
An article on another page gives a very good idea of the manner in which Mr. David A. Gage, late Treasurer of Chicago, became involved in tho unfortunate Riverside speculation. Ho was led from bad to worse by circumstances over which he had not complete control. His fortune was soon exhausted, and, to make good tho deficit, he took money belonging to the clty. The story is old enough, but many of the incidents have never before been recited.
D.A. Gage Tells the Story of that Suburb.  The Adventures of Messrs. Childs and Murray. The Improvement and the Gas and Water Company.  And Then the Railroad Which was to Pull Them All Through.
Gage says that In tho spring of 1868 ho was the owner of about 1,060 acres of land on tho east and north side of tho Desplains River, at tho junction of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and the Barry Point plank-road and thereabouts, being a part of Riverside. This land was beautifully located on high ground, and very valuable for residence purposes, being only 10 miles from Chicago and easily accessible, and, as Gage thinks, of tho value of $500,000. In 1868 he caused to bo surveyed a part of the premises, for the purpose of subdivision into suburban lots, and was about projecting a aeries of Improvements when to became acquainted with Emory E. Childs, to whom ho made known his projects. Childs thought it would be necessary to spend at least $500,000 on the property, and advised Gage to macadamize the roads and build water and gas works and lay out parks. He also represented that he had friends who would raise tho money if Gage would sell the laud to him. After some discussion Gage agreed to sell, and an agreement was made on July 25, 1868.
In August, 1868, Childs also purchased from Eli S. Prescott about 503 acres of laud west of tho Desplains River for $40,000, and in February, 1869, he bought seven acres of Stephen White, all of which bo added to his purchase from Gage. March 11, 1849, by a special charter, The Riverside Improvement Company was formed, with a capital of $600000. and Childs as President, and L. W. Murray as Secretary. About two weeks after the Riverside Water and Gas Works were incorporated, and Childs also made President of that. With him in his scheme wore associated Leverett W. Murray, of Chicago, and D. S. Duncomb. Austin Stevens, and J. L. Brownell, of Now York.

1875 "Notice to Contractors," Chicago Tribune, August 31, 1875, Page 1.
Bids will be received ... for the carpenter work, slate roof, and galvanized iron work for the water works tower at Riverside, Ill.

1876 "Riverside," Chicago Tribune, October 15, 1876, Page 3. | also here |
Judge Williams Renders His Decision in the Deeply-Tangled Suits Which have been Bothering the Chancery Court for Several Months Past.  The Inside History of the Great Land Bubble Ever Engineered in the West.

1876 Riverside evidence
Three volumes in the Chicago History Museum. Involves the Riverside Improvement Company, the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Company, the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Land Company, and others.

1880 "The Riverside Water Works," The Inter Ocean, October 12, 1880, Page 6.
In a sit of Badger and others against the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Land Company, the receiver of the company the other day obtained a rule calling on the Trustees of the Town of Riverside to show cause why they should not turn over to him possession of the Riverside Water Works.

1880 "The Riverside Water Works," The Inter Ocean, November 24, 1880, Page 6.
Judge Tuley yesterday rendered a second opinion in the case of Badger against the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Land Company on the application of the receiver to get possession of the Riverside Water Works property.  In his first decision he held that there was no evidence of a dedication of the Water Works property to the town of Riverside, and that the receiver must have possession.
A second hearing was then had on additional affidavits filed.  The court says that from the additional evidence it appears that the original plat of this part of the town recorded before the fire, showed a subdivision into streets, alleys, blocks, and public grounds.  There was shown on the map, a triangular piece of ground marked as having a building or tower on it, designated "water works."
After the fire of 1871, a map of the town was recorded, on which this triangular piece of property is found, subdivided into three lots, numbered 1,508, 1,509, and 1,510.  Afterward, in March, 1873, the trust deed described in the bill in this case was made by Jewett, and the receiver was appointed July 24, 1874.
The village trustees contend that prior to the filing of the bill in this case in July 1872, the inhabitants had taken possession of the water works property, upon the works being abandoned by the Riverside Improvement Company, by reason of insolvency.  That they had a right to do so under the dedication, and that they have held continued possession without interference since.  The receiver contends that, shortly after his appointment, one Hoag, who was in possession of the property, surrendered it, and that the receiver held it until the incorporation of the village in 1875, when he delivered it to the new trustees on the agreement that they would keep it in repair and surrender it to him upon request.
After stating the contents of the affidavits, the Judge confessed his inability to come to a decision as to which side was telling the truth. 

1882 "A Cloud on the Riverside Water-Works," Chicago Daily News, October 19, 1882, Page 2.
The village of Riverside filed a bill against Carol Gaytes and others in the Circuit court yesterday, to remove the cloud from the title of the Riverside water-works.  Most of the claimants bought portions of the property at sheriff's sale on judgments against the Chicago & Great Western Railroad Land Company.

1883 "Carol Gaytes," Chicago Tribune, February 8, 1883, Page 3.
He had large interests in Riverside, and was the first President of the Board of Trustees of the village.

1884 History of Cook County, Illinois, by A. T. Andreas
Page 876-878.  Riverside.  An artesian well was also sunk to the depth of 735 feet, front which a constant snpply of pure and healthful water sufficient for a population of ten thousands people, is still obtained. A substantial water tower of stone and brick, itself an elegant bit of architecture, was erected, into which the water is forced by a steam pump and from thence distributed through mains to all parts of the village.  This tower is 108 feet high, and from a balcony some 70 feet front the ground, reached by winding stairs within, a fine view of Riverside and its surroundings may be had.

1885 Chicago and Great Western Railroad Land Company et al. v. Walter L. Peck et al. 112 Ill. 408, January 22, 1885, Supreme Court of Illinois
David A. Gage, being the owner of one thousand or eleven hundred acres of land, now constituting a part of Riverside, some time in June or July, 1868, with the aid of his friend, Obadiah Jackson, sold the same to Emery E. Childs, for $300,000, of which $20,000 was paid down, reserving onetenth of the profits of the proposed scheme to Gage, and a like share for Jackson. Subsequent payments were made with money borrowed with Gage's knowledge. The next purchase was the “Prescott tract,” of four hundred and three acres, for $40,000, one-fourth of which was paid in cash, and a deed of trust given to David H. Hills, to secure the balance. These lands, together with the “White tract,” in all about sixteen hundred acres, compose the Riverside property. A series of costly improvements was commenced, principally on the Gage tract, on an extravagant scale, so that by October, 1871, a debt of nearly $2,000,000 was incurred, including purchase money owing and unpaid. Through Gage charters were obtained, under which the “Riverside Improvement Company,” and the “Riverside Water and Gas Works Company,” were organized early in 1869, the former with power to issue $600,000 in bonds, and the latter $1,000,000 of its bonds.
The third attempt to fund the Riverside debts was by an attempted issue of $1,600,000 “Greenebaum bonds,” as they are called,—$600,000 made by the improvement company, and secured by its deed of trust on three-eighths of the Riverside property, and $1,000,000 made by the water and gas Works company, and secured by its deed on five-eighths of the Riverside property. It was agreed that Gage should convey to the improvement company the land he had sold to Childs, who had assigned the contract of purchase to that company, and Gage was to be paid therefor in Greenebaum bonds. To enable the water and gas works company to secure the $1,000,000 of its bonds, the improvement company conveyed five-eighths of all the Riverside property to it. With these bonds it was expected that all the debts would be paid, leaving a balance in the treasury.
The Riverside Improvement Company, and the Riverside Water and Gas Works Company, conveyed their lands to the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Land Company, on February 28, 1873.
David A. Gage, on July 22, 1874, filed his original bill against the Riverside Improvement Company and others, seeking to set aside all of the conveyances of the improvement company and the water and gas works company to the land company, and have the Greenebaum trust deed reinstated as to the lien of his seven hundred and fifty-nine bonds, and to require Jewett to re-deliver the same, with the Duncomb and Brownell notes, to Gage, or, in case Childs held them, he be required to do the same, and that Stevens reconvey to the improvement company; that a receiver be appointed; that the hotel company property, and Childs' and Murray's residences, might be decreed to the improvement company, and that the Greenebaum trust deed be foreclosed, and the lands be subjected to the payment of what was due Gage. The bill, among other things, charged that the land company was unauthorized by its charter to take and hold real estate, and that the deeds to it by the improvement company and the water and gas works company were void, and that the land company had no power, either by the Jewett trust deed or by any of its numerous deeds to other parties.

1885 A history of the Civil War in the United States, 1861-1865, by Emery E. Childs.

1885 A History of the United States in Chronological Order: From the Discovery of America in 1492 to the Year 1885 : Including Notices of Manufactures as They Were Introduced, of Other Industries, of Railroads, Canals, Telegraphs, and Other Improvements, of Inventions, Important Events, Etc, by Emery E. Childs.

1886 Emery E. Childs, born July 8, 1832 in Connecticut, died March 1, 1886 in Brooklyn, leaving a wife and three grown children.  He left an estate worth less than $250.  Death notice and probate records on

1886 "New Books," The New York Times, March 21, 1886, Page 12.
A History of the United States in Chronological Order, from the Discovery of America in 1492 to the Year 1885. By Emery E. Childs. New-York: No. 116 William-street.

1887 City of Chicago  et al. v. Dwight F. Cameron et al, 120 Ill. 447, May 12, 1887, Supreme Court of Illinois
Prior to this time, a corporation known as the Riverside Improvement Company, organized under an act approved March 11, 1869, for the purpose of purchasing, improving and selling suburban property in the vicinity of Chicago, become largely indebted for the purchase and improvement of certain lands at Riverside, in Cook county. Another corporation, known as the Riverside Water and Gas Company, incorporated April 6,1869, for the purpose of supplying water and gas to the town of Riverside, had also become largely indebted and embarrassed in its enterprises at that place. Emery E. Childs, who was the president of the Riverside Improvement Company, and vice-president and general manager of the Riverside Water and Gas Company, acquired the control of another corporation, known as the Mercantile Warehouse and Loan Company, and caused its name to be changed to the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Land Company. He then caused the Riverside Improvement Company and the Riverside Water and Gas Company to convey their property to the land company, subject to a large amount of mortgage and other indebtedness. Childs then became the president and general manager of the land company. He also owned a majority of the capital stock of the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Company, and was its president and manager. Instead of using the bonds of the railroad company for the purpose of constructing its road, Childs used seven hundred and fifty of the bonds in payment and satisfaction of the debts of the improvement company, of the water and gas company, and of the land company. Childs also delivered two hundred and fifty of the bonds to Joshua C. Saunders and other persons, without any consideration accruing to the railroad company other than what will be adverted to hereafter as claimed to be such.

1887 "Record of the Courts," The Inter Ocean, September 14, 1887, Page 10.
Chancery, Judge Collins.  Marsh vs. Riverside Imp Co; death of Emery E. Childs as party deft.

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

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

1891 Chicago, the marvelous city of the West; a history, an encyclopedia, and a guide, 1891, illustrated written and compiled by John J. Flinn.
Pages 405-406:  Riverside. — Situated on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad, and beside the Desplaines river, 12 miles from the City Hall. This is one of the most charming of Chicago's suburbs. It was laid out on the "Improvement Plan" just before the financial panic of 1873; Mr. David Gage, at the time treasurer of the city of Chicago, and a number of prominent capitalists being interested in the enterprise. Avenues, sewered and paved with asphaltum, wound in semi-circles and serpentine curves through the virgin forest.   Gas and water works were provided. A number of handsome mansions were erected, and it was part of the general plan that no residences costing less than $25,000 should be built in the suburb. The panic came, however, before the investment began to make returns; Mr. Gage was discovered to be short in his accounts with the city, and stock in the Riverside Company became a drug in the market. About the same time, rumors to the effect that Riverside was troubled with malaria were current, and many of those, who had taken up their residence there, deserted their homes and moved back to the city. The grand hotel was allowed to remain unoccupied, as were the handsome residences, for years. Decay set in. The gas works were dismantled, and, until 1880, property at Riverside could be bought for a song. About that time, however, a new movement in the direction of the beautiful suburb set in, and since then the place has more than recovered from its set-back. Many prominent and wealthy citizens of Chicago now reside there. The location is picturesque and has proved to be perfectly healthful.

1894 "Charles L. Colby Recovers a Valuable Estate from the Village of Riverside," The Inter Ocean, August 18, 1894, Page 11.
By virtue of a quit-claim deed executed by Colby to the Village of Riverside, Feb. 3, 1893, he declared the title to the water-works property to be  in the name of the village.
The water-works property was foreclosed on what was known as the "Jewett trust deed," given by the Chicago Great Western Railroad Company to secure an issue of bonds for the construction of the water-works.  The foreclosure was ordered July 16, 1883 and Charles L. Billings having bought the property conveyed it to Colby on April 9, 1892.
An attempt to compromise was made.  Colby agreeing to quit claim the water-works property if the village would give him the park.  A change in the village board defeated this at the time, but lately the attorney for the village consented to this proposition.

1895 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.
Sheet 126 shows Riverside Water Works

1896 Sullivan v. Colby, 34 C. C. A. 432, January 6, 1896, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Property of the Riverside Improvement Company and Riverside Gas and Gas Works Company.

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

1913 "Villagers Make Fire Fight Hard," The Inter Ocean, January 2, 1913, Page 3.

1919 The Artesian Waters of Northeastern Illinois, by Carl B. Anderson,  Illinois State Geological Survey Bulletin No. 35
Pages 121-123: Riverside

1936 Riverside then and now; a history of Riverside, Illinois

1980 "'Necessary Adjuncts to Its Growth': The Railroad Suburbs of Chicago, 1854-1875," by Carl Abbott, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 73(2):117-123,125-131.

1999 A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century, by Witold Rybczynski
Pages 290-295, 298-300:  Olmsted, Childs, and Riverside.   The town's water tower, a striking structure that resembled a medieval German keep, was built by William LeBaron Jenney, the young military engineer whom Olmsted had met during the siege of Vicksburg.

2007 "Creative Financing of a Planned Community: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Riverside Improvement Company," by Joan C. Junkus, Financial History 88:24-27, 36-37 (Spring, 2007)

2010 "A Flyaway Speculation and a Riverside Evidence," Newsletter, the Frederick Law Olmsted Society of Riverside (Fall 2010)

2012 Riverside, by Lonnie Sacchi and Constance Guardi | also here |
Page 9:  David Gage was induced to release more blocks of land as collateral to keep RIC afloat, but it August 1872 the RIC had to file for bankruptcy.
Page 27:  A petition for incorporation was granted by the State of Illinois and the village was officially incorporated on October 9, 1875.
Page 30:  The village acquired the land and the waterworks in 1881 for $4,000.

2013 "Olmsted and Vaux's Riverside: Pitching In To Preserve A Historic Landscape," by Jane Roy Brown, View 13:22-24 (Summer 2013)

2019 Iconic Planned Communities and the Challenge of Change, by Mary Corbin Sies, Isabelle Gournay, and Robert Freestone
Pages 49-60:  Chapter 2.  Riverside:  The First Comprehensively Designed Suburban Community in the United States, by David Schuyler

Riverside Historical Museum


© 2019 Morris A. Pierce