Documentary History of American Water-works

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South Central States
Kentucky Pleasant Hill

Pleasant Hill, Kentucky

Pleasant Hill was established in 1805 by Shakers from New York.

The first waterworks were built by the community in 1833, using a horsepump to force water into an elevated tank through cast iron pipes, from which it was distributed to individual buildings through lead pipes. Local resident Micajah Burnett was in charge of the work, and he traveled to Cincinnati to buy the pump and pipes.   Burnett later helped build a similar system in the Shaker community at South Union, Kentucky.

The Pleasant Hill water works remained in operation until sometime after the community closed down in 1910.

The horsepump at South Union was replaced with a steam engine in 1866, but no evidence has been found that Pleasant Valley stopped using horses to pump water until the system was abandoned.

A restoration effort was begun in 1961, and in 1966 bids were advertised for a new water works system, which was completed in 1969.

Water service is provided by the City of Harrodsburg, which has a water treatment plant near the Shaker Village.

1852 "A Journal or Memorandum of a Journey thru out the Western Societies of Believers, by Daniel Boler
July 8, 1852. [I] saw their famous spring and apperatus for forcing the waer up to their buildings, which consists of a force pump attached to a strong cast iron pipe, carried by horse power and occupied the time and labor of a horse about six hours each day.

1881 Pleasant Hill from Engineering News 8:394 (October 1, 1881)

1882 Pleasant Hill from "The Water-Supply of Certain Cities and Towns of the United States," by Walter G. Elliot, C. E., Ph. D.
Pump was made by Burnett, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1832; two plain plungers, 4 inches diameter, 4 strokes per minute; pump-barrel, 4 inches diameter.

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

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

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

1897 "Pleasant Hill," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 4

1919  "Shakertown: Its Present and Its Past," by Ella Hutchison Ellwanger, Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, 17(51):29-43 (September,1919) | also here |
Page 37: For instance, how many know that the first water works of any importance in the West was established by the Shakes town Society ? It was also a Shaker who invented the first circular saw. Thus the Shakertown Sisters had water in the kitchens and in the cellars to facilitate their work.

1966 Lexington Leader, April 7, 1866, Page 34. 
Advertisement for bids.  Site Utilities and Development Work in connection with the proposed Restoration of the Historical Village at Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, Mercer County, Kentucky.

1968 Pleasant Hill and Its Shakers, by Thomas Dionysius Clark, F. Gerald Ham
Pages 34-35:  The Shakers were not unwilling to labor long hours in the performance of heavy labor, nor were they opposed to using labor saving devices.  In 1831-1833, they installed a gravity force water supply system.  This consisted of a wooden tank mounted on a stanchion 125 feet high.  The water as lifted by a horse drawn pump.  Leaden pipes were laid to the community kitchens, cellars and wash houses. The wash houses were equipped with horse drawn washing machines which relieved the laundresses of the laborious necessity of scrubbing an battling clothes.  Perhaps this was the first such water system installed in Kentucky.

1969 "Shakertown Restoration Proceeds With Rebuilding of Water Tower," by Jim Miller, Lexington Leader, November 1, 1969, Page 47. 

2006 The Shaker Communities of Kentucky: Pleasant Hill and South Union, James W. Hooper
Page 50:  Pleasant Hill 1834 Water System. The water system was developed under Micajah Burnett's oversight.  The system operated from the Water House. A large cypress cistern, elevated on stone piers, was filled from a spring one-half mile downhill by means of hoses on a treadmill pump.  Waer was distributed by gravity flow to kitchens, bathhouses, and washhouses through elad pipes.  It is thought to be the first such water supply system in Kentucky.

2015 The Kentucky Shakers, by Julia Neal | also here (subscription required) |
Pages 20-21: Another accomplishment that pleased Frances [Murrell] was the piping of water into all four of the large family dwellings. During her visit [in August 1847} she inquired about the project and learned that it had been begun in September 1831 under the direction of Micajah Burnett and had been completed in the Church family on April 30, 1833. The entire project had reached completion in 1838. Frances was pleased to learn that the Mercer County Shakers were the first Kentuckians to have installed a water system and furthermore theirs was only the second system west of the Alleghenies. Much of the correspondence sent out of Pleasant Hill in the early 1830s carried detailed descriptions of the exciting new water project. On September 12, 1832, John R. Bryant wrote a letter to Brother Stephen Munson in the East:
"Our exertion this season to supply the village with water by mechanical power has so far been prosperous. At the fountain north of the village we sunk a pool in the solid rock 9 ft. deep averaging 11 x 13 feet diameter, which is supplemented by 2 small but never failing streams of pure water which is secured above ground with good walls and a suitable frame and roof.  The force pumps with all their apparatus are completed and thus far they perform beyond our most sanguine expectations."
After the water had been supplied to the Church family, Samuel Turner wrote to New Lebanon further expressing the society leaders' confidence that the "water conveyance" system would meet with success. Samuel explained that by means of a force pump, a two-inch column of water was raised 125 feet and was then forced uphill to "its place of deposit" through 600 yards of cast-iron pipe, secured at the joints with lead. It could from there be drawn down to every kitchen, washhouse, and cellar in the Church family, "where we have nothing to do but turn a key and draw the best of water .... our tanners who attend to it have nothing to do but hitch the horse to the shaft and start him."
Reflecting the Shaker consideration for their animals, Samuel continued by commenting that "without any detriment to the horse, they can force up water enough in one hour to supply the Church." One of the last steps was to construct a 22-by-15-foot two-story frame building over the cistern for the purpose of "keeping the water cool in the summer and from freezing in the winter.

2015 Morris A. Pierce