Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Northwestern States
Kansas Blue Rapids

Blue Rapids, Kansas

Blue Rapids was founded in 1870.

The first waterworks were built in 1871 by Carlos E. Olmstead using a Holly water-driven pump.

The waterworks are currently owned by the City of Blue Rapids.

1917 History of Marshall County, Kansas: Its People, Industries, and Institutions by Emma Elizabeth Calderhead Foster
Page 141: Because of the failure to find water, C. E. Olmstead put in the Holly system of waterworks from the river to the public square, for fire protection and general purposes. Four-inch mains were laid and a Holly pump installed in the flour-mill, attached to a special wheel.

2010 Blue Rapids Water Reservoir Is Removed From Service, Blue Rapids Free Press, Vol 2, No. 22, November 25, 2010
An answer to the community water supply problem came from Carlos E.Olmsted, the wealthy owner of the Blue Rapids grist (flour) mill. Mr. Olmsted must have been familiar with the new technology of his time, as he was aware of a new fire protection system used first in New York . The system was referred to as the “Holly Water Works”. He made a proposal to use that system, paid for by himself, to the Blue Rapids Town Company and the City. The founding fathers agreed the Holly Water Works would supply water and solve the fire protection problem. The records found thus far do not show how much the system cost Mr. Olmsted, only that he paid for it. 

The unusual construction project made Blue Rapids the first community in Kansas to use the Holly Water system and according to the Kansas State Board of Health meant we had the first public utility water system in Kansas.

No one could have foreseen the first problem encountered by the new system. Over the weekend of October 8 and 9 of 1871, a pump and other water supplies that had been ordered for the Blue Rapids water system, fell prey to destruction by the Great Chicago fire while sitting in a boxcar at the Chicago , Illinois railroad yard. Unshaken by the loss of the equipment to the fire, Mr. Olmsted arranged for another pump to be delivered to Blue Rapids. The pump was attached to the Olmsted mill machinery and tested.

Through years of grasshopper plagues, severe weather and the financial panic of 1873, Mr. Olmsted pressed forward to expand the water works. Pipes were extended from his flour mill, along Bridge Street to Genesee Street and eventually turning east on 6th Street . The lines were attached to two water hydrants set on the Public Square . A number of Blue Rapids residents approached Mr. Olmsted with a desire to have a fountain decorate their “Central” park on the Public Square . Mr. Olmsted agreed to purchase such a fountain, and by the summer of 1874 water flowed from the new fountain. Onlookers, mesmerized by the silvery plumes of spraying water, found it a grand delight to look at their Fountain Park .

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce