Documentary History of American Water-works

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South Central States
Kentucky Lexington

Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington was established in 1782.

The first waterworks in Lexington were built by Englehart Yieser [or Yeiser] in 1805 to deliver water from the public spring to a large trough for horses.  The Lexington Trustees considered another water works issue at a meeting in 1813, but no details of that are known.

The Lexington Water Works Company was incorporated in 1854 "to lay down in the streets of Lexington pipes for conveying water."  John McMurtry, B. B. Taylor, William S. Chipley, and Hiram Shaw were appointed as agents to sell stock.  No evidence has been found that this company built anything.

The Lexington Hydraulic and Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1882 by Wm, Preston, R. H. S. Thompson, and Gilbert H. King "for the purpose of conducting a plentiful supply of pure, wholesome water to the said city for the use of the inhabitants of said city, and to supply reservoirs for extinguishing of fires."  This company built a direct pressure Holly system pumping water from a reservoir collecting water from springs.  The system began service with a grand celebration on January 30, 1885.

The company was sold to the Stoll family in 1904 and the name was changed to the Lexington Water Company on October 20, 1922.  This company was acquired by the Central Public Service Company and sold to the Community Water Service Company on September 15, 1927.  This company was acquired in 1936 by the American Water Works and Electric Company.  In 1973 the name was changed to the Kentucky-American Water Company.

Water is provided by the Kentucky-American Water


1854 An act to incorporate the Lexington Water Works Corporation. March 9, 1854.

1882 An act to incorporate the Lexington Hydraulic and Manufacturing Company. February 27, 1882.

1883 Lexington from Engineering News 10:52 (February 3, 1883) [The entry titled "Lexington, Kentucky". but is really about Lexington, Virginia as noted in the text. Also note that Joseph B. Holmes is listed as superintendent in the article, but lower in the same column is a reference "From Joseph B. Holmes, Superintendent, statistics of Lexington, Va., Water-works."  This erroneous information is repeated in the entries on Lexington, Kentucky in the four volumes of the Manual of American Water Works. ]

1883 Guide to Lexington, Kentucky: With Notices Historical and Descriptive of Places and Objects of Interest, and a Summary of the Advantages and Resources of the City and Vicinity, by George Washington Ranck
Page 10:  LEXINGTON'S WATER SUPPLY. The water resources of Lexington are inexhaustible, and the abundance of its natural supply is one of the most remarkable features of the place. The city rests upon extensive strata of cavernous limestone, which abound with underground lakes and streams, which are easily tapped. A number of wells connect with these subterranean supplies. One of them (of soft water), on the McMurtry lot, and sixty feet deep, was provided with a large steam pump, which was in constant operation eighteen hours per day for many years without perceptibly reducing the supply. Another at the Lunatic Asylum was sunk about a hundred feet, when the augur dropped into a cavity and the water rose fifty feet in the bore. Two wells at the ice factory here supply water enough to run two engines and make twenty or thirty tons of ice per day, and the wells used by the railroad companies easily provide water sufficient for all the engines used to draw the fifty or sixty passenger and freight trains that daily arrive and depart at this place. The multitude of large and copious springs in and about the city still further indicate the extent of our subterranean water resources. It is from springs that all our extensive distilleries get their water supply, each of them using 200,000 gallons daily, to say nothing of the amount used by malt houses, dairies and other industries. The capacity of some of these springs is wonderful. The stream from Russell Cave Spring has sufficient volume to turn a mill. The water that flows from Davis Bottom Spring and its connecting springs is simply enormous, and the depth of the noted Wilson Spring, near the city, is so great that it has been called the "bottomless spring." It is claimed that the united capacity of Wilson's spring and the two known as "Aters" is great enough to furnish eighty-seven gallons of water a day to each of twenty thousand persons by the natural flow of the water and without the use of a dam. Others assert that an abundant supply of water, capable of indefinite augmentation, could be obtained close to the city by suitably collecting and storing the waters of Wolf's Run, its neighboring streams, the numerous and copious springs, including Wilson's, that feed them, and the immense amount of surface water supplied by winter rains and melting snows, that could be gathered by excellent natural drainage in the extensive area which embraces these springs and streams.
There are still others who claim that the water supply that can be obtained through surface drainage on the Wickliffe farm, in the suburbs of Lexington, would be ample for the whole city. It is evident from these facts that the water resources of Lexington are various, and inexhaustible and capable of a development to meet all of the demands of mills, manufactories and progress.
Page 85: WATERWORKS. A first-class system of waterworks is about to be added to Lexington's numerous advantages. As this book goes to press a joint committee of the City Council and Chamber of Commerce is considering the best means of accomplishing this important object. The city will be supplied with water either from the subterranean resources mentioned on page 10 or from the Kentucky River, which is about eleven miles from Lexington, and is fed by a multitude of pure mountain streams. In either case Lexington will be one of the best watered cities in the country.

1884 An Act supplemental to chapter three hundred and thirty-three of the acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, entitled. "An Act to incorporate the Lexington Hydraulic and Manufacturing Company, approved February seventy-seventh, one thousand eight hundred and eighty two.  February 22, 1884.

1884 The Interior Journal (Stanford, Kentucky) June 27, 1884, Page 2.
C. R. Mason & Co., railroad contractors, have taken the contract to build the reservoir for the Lexington Water Works and will do the work with convicts.

1884 The Frankfort Roundabout, September 29, 1884, Page 2.
W. B. Comer, contractor for the Lexington water works, who is charged with the murder of the convict O'Brien, had his examining trial Tuesay, and was held over to the Circuit Court in $3,000 bond.

1887 The Evening Bulletin (Maysville, Kentucky), January 19, 1887, Page 2.
A Runaway Organ. (Lexington Observer.) The organ of Christ Church, this city, is run by water power furnished by the Lexington Water-works Company.  "The night before Christmas,' when morgan & Eastin's business house burned, the choir of the church were engaged in rehearsals.  The Chief of the Fire Department telephoned the engineer of the Waterowkrs, "give us your highest pressure."  On went seventy pounds to the inch and off went the organ at a Longfellow gait, frightening the organist and choir out of the gallery, and not stopping until the fire was subdued and the extra pressure removed.

1887 Maysville Evening Bulletin, September 1, 1887, Page 3.
Among the last pardons granted by Ex-Governor Knott was one to W. B. Comer, who was indicted in the Fayette Circuit Court for cruelty to convicts and convicted at Georgetown and sentenced to a year's imprisonment and $1,000 fine.

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

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

1890 An act to amend an act entitled an act to incorporate the Lexington Hydraulic and Manufacturing Company, approved February twenty-seventh, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-two.  March 20, 1890.

1890 An act to amend an act, entitled "An act to incorporate the Lexington Hydraulic and Manufacturing Company, approved March twenty-second, one thousand eight hundred and ninety.  March 29, 1890.

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

1893 Maysville Public Ledger, September 26, 1892, Page 1.
Thirty-five Italian laborers employed in constructing the new reservoir struck at Lexington and ordered all the other workmen and teams to leave the grounds, which they did.  The cause of the strike is unpaid wages, the Italians refusing to work longer without money.  The Water-works Company depends on the city for money, and the latter had no collateral on hand.

1893 The Evening Bulletin (Maysville, Kentucky), September 30, 1893, Page 2.
Forty Italians, employed on Lexington's water-works, threaten to burn or blow up the city unless they are paid their wages.

1894 The Courier-Journal, October 8, 1894, Page 3.
The Lexington water-works will shortly put in a new filtering plant at a cost of $25,000.

1896 "Jewell Mechanical Filter Plant at Lexington, Ky.," Engineering News 35:357-358 (May 28, 1896)

1897 "Lexington," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 4

1897 Lexington, Kentucky, Water Works: Lexington Hydraulic & Manufacturing Co., Proprietors. Incorporated Under the Laws of the State of Kentucky ... Incorporation Ordinance and Contract with City, by Lexington (Ky.). Water Company

1899 The Courier-Journal, February 26, 1899, Page 8.
Waterworks Plant at Lexington may be purchased by the city council.

1901 "Lexington's Water Supply," The Morning Herald, September 22, 1901, Pages 1, 10-11.

1904 Maysville Evening Bulletin, November 4, 1904, Page 1.
Lexington Water Works Sold. Lexington, Ky., Nov 4.- The local waterworks company, known as the Lexington Hydraulic and Manufacturing Co., was purchased Thursday by the Stoll family, of this city the deal having been closed in Boston.

1914 "The Lexington Water Company," from Historical and Pictorial Review of the City of Lexington and Police and Fire Departments, R. J. O'Mahony. 

1927 "Water Company Sold," The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), September 16, 1927, Page 4.
Properties of the Lexington Water Company, valued at approximately $3,500,000, have been transferred from the Central Public Service Company, Chicago, to the Community Service Water Company, New York, it became known here today.

1939 The History of Pioneer Lexington, 1779-1806, by Charles R. Staples | also here (subscription required) |

1953 Rainfall Harvest:  Gilbert Hinds King and the Lexington Hydraulic & Manufacturing Company, by Frances Lathrop Smith Dugan.

1959 The Urban Frontier:  The Rise of Western Cities, 1790-1830, by Richard C. Wade.
Pages 94-95:  As early as 1810 Calvin Adams petitioned the trustees of St. Louis for "exclusive privileges" for "bringing fresh waer into the Town by Mean [sic] of Pipes." Though no community actually embarked on such an ambitious project, Pittsburgh and Lexington had similar suggestions under consideration before 1815.
Note 45 - St. Louis, Minutes, August 16, 1810; Pittsburgh Gazette, November 26, 1813, and Lexington, Trustees Book, November 4, 1813.

1986 "The Public Spring of Lexington, Kentucky," by Gary A. O'Dell, The Journal of Spelean History, 20(3):66-68 (July-September, 1986)
Page 67: Sometime after the beginning of the nineteenth century the water supply was facilitated by piping the spring flow. The pipes used were wooded, made from logs that had been hollowed by burning through the interior, most likely with a red-hot iron rod. Some log pipes may have also been made by boring through the center with a long auger, a practice that is known to have been used at that time in other areas of the state. Each log was tapered at one end so it would fit snugly into its neighbor and form a continuous run of pipe. In April of 1981, during excavations for the new Vine Center in downtown Lexington, just such a log pipe was uncovered and rescued. In excellent condition, the pipe had the tapered end and its interior showed signs of charring. An extensive plumbing system could be constructed of these wooden conduits, leading to a reservoir. Along the twenty foot length of the pipe found in Lexington were holes bored at intervals through the sides; when fitted with a wooden stopper, these allowed the inhabitants to uncover the holes at will and collect a bucket of water--the origin of the word "fire plug."
The Public Spring, however, continued to be used and was regarded as a valuable asset. In 1807 William W. Worsley subleased the Public Spring lot from Joseph Charless, who had obtained an eighteen year lease from the Town Trustees at an annual rent of eighty dollars. When Charless transferred his lease to Worsley, it was ruled that regardless of the leaseholder, it "was in no case to affect the privileges granted Englehart Yieser by the Trustees of Lexington to convey water from the Public Spring."

1992 The Kentucky Encyclopedia, edited by John E. Kleber
Page 490: "Kentucky-American Water Company, by Eric Howard Christianson.

1993 "Water Supply and the Early Development of Lexington, Kentucky," by Gary A. O'Dell, The Filson Club History Quarterly, 67:431-461 (October 1993).
Pages 439-440: The trustee minutes for 7 October 1805 reveal that Englehart Yieser had submitted a proposal to use the surplus water from the Public Spring by laying pipes to feed into a large trough for horses. 28 The pipes were made from logs that had been hollowed by burning through the interior with a red-hot iron rod. Some log pipes may have also been made by boring through the center with a long auger. Each log was tapered at one end to fit snugly into its neighbor and form a continuous run of pipe.
In April 1981, during excavations for the new Vine Center in downtown Lexington, several log pipes about twenty feet long were uncovered. The pipes were in excellent condition; they had tapered ends. and the interiors showed signs of charring. An extensive plumbing system could be constructed of these wooden conduits.

2015 Morris A. Pierce