Documentary History of American Water-works

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New England States Massachusetts Cambridge

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cambridge was settled in the 1630s.

The Cambridge-port Aqueduct Corporation was incorporated in 1806 by Rufus Davenport, Royal Makepeace, Jonathan C. Hastings, Daniel Mason, John Coates, and Josiah Mason, junior, to "purchase and hold one or more pieces of land, on the hills between Cambridge and Medford, in which certain springs are, and thence bring water in subterraneous pipes, to any and all places in Cambridge-port, (so called)."  The charter was amended the following year to allow purchase of "a certain piece or parcel of land, supposed to contain springs, on or by the hills near the house of Mr. Peter Tufts, in Medford."  This was probably the Peter and Oliver Tufts House at 78 Sycamore Street in Somerville, which was part of Medford in 1807 and is on the north side of Prospect Hill.

Davenport, a retired merchant, had a grand idea to develop Cambridge into a "grand commercial city," and with his partners purchased a large amount of property along the Charles River that they subdivided and offered for sale.  The aqueduct was primarily intended to serve their new development and was built by 1817, when half of it was offered for sale by Davenport.  The enterprise failed, and Davenport was imprisoned for debt, which appears to have meant confinment to certain areas of the city including Boston Common.  Makepeace obtained a mortgage from John Skinner and John Hurd (doing business as Skinner & Hurd) and rebuilt the aqueduct using lead pipe in 1829 which was used to promote sales of new houses in Cambridge-port.  This didn't go well and in 1837 Skinner obtained a new charter with William Fisk and Aaron Rice.

The Cambridge Port Aqueduct Company was incorporated in 1837 by William Fisk, Aaron Rice and John Skinner, "to lay and maintain its pipes or aqueducts from the spring or springs of water in land formerly of Jonathan Ireland, at or near Prospect Hill, in Charlestown, through the town of Charlestown and into and through the town of Cambridge, in the county of Middlesex ; also such pipes or aqueducts as the said corporation may deem needful for conveying and distributing said water in Charlestown and Cambridge aforesaid."  This probably describes the Ireland-Dane House at 461 Somerville Avenue.  This company was allowed to contract for water delivery for terms "not to exceed three years" and was obligated to provide water for fire protection.

The Cambridge Water Works was incorporated in 1852 by Estes Howe, Gardiner G. Hubbard, and Moses M. Rice "for the purpose of supplying the city of Cambridge with Water."  This company built a system and bought the Cambridge Port Aqueduct Company in 1861.  The Cambridge Water Works was bought by the City of Cambridge on April 20, 1865.

The City of Cambridge currently supplies water to the community.  The City maintains three connections to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority for emergency use.

1806 An act to incorporate Rufus Davenport and others, by the name of the Cambridge-port Aqueduct Corporation, March 8, 1806

1806 New England Palladium, April 18, 1806, Page 2.
Cambridgeport Aqueduct Corporation.  Notice is hereby given, that according to an act of the Legislature of Massachusetts, passed 8th March 1806, entitled "An act to incorporate Rufus Davenport and others, by the name of the Cambridgeport Aqueduct Corporation, is hereby called, to be holden at Josiah Mason Jun's Tavern in Cambridge, on Saturday 26th inst. at 4 o'clock, P. M. to choose a Clerk; agree on the mode of calling future meetings, and to transact such other business of said Corporation as shall be through proper.  Rufus Davenport, Royal Makepeace, Jonathan C. Hastings.

1807 Independent Chronicle, January 8, 1807, Page 4.
RUFUS DAVENPORT, has for sale, or lease, a number of Wharves and Building Lots in Cambridgeport.  [includes an extensive list of properties for sale.]

1807 An act in addition to an act, entitled, "An act to incorporate Rufus Davenport, and others, by the name of the Cambridge Port Aqueduct Corporation." February 27, 1807

1817 Boston Commercial Gazette, April 3, 1817, Page 4.
RUFUS DAVENPORT, gives notice that he has taken into partnership, his brother ELIJAH DAVENPORT, and the Commission Business will in future be transacted under the firm of R. & E. DAVENPORT.
He offers to sell the following REAL ESTATE, viz:--
One half of an Aqueduct conducting water from Prospect Hill in Castlestown, to Cambridgeport.

1829 Boston Traveler, October 20, 1829, Page 2
Lead Aqueduct.-- We noticed yesterday afternoon, that persons were engaged in laying a leaden pipe aqueduct from a spring near Milk Row, in the upper part of this town, to the lower part of Cambridgeport.  The distance involved is considerable.--B. H. Aurora

1829 Boston Daily Advertiser, December 19, 1829, Page 4.
To The Public.--An Aqueduct has been recently constructed from Prospect Hill in Charlestown to the village of Cambridgeport near West Boston Bridge, from which an abundant supply of the best spring water may be provided for all ordinary purposes, and conveyed into any building.  Persons engaged in drying, colouring, washing, cleansing, or any kind of Chemical, mechanical, or manufacturing employments, which require the use of soft pure water, will find superior advantages and great economy in conducting their business at this place.  The water is taken from a boiling spring, covered and secured from all impurities.  The situation of these improvements is within about 450 rods of the Old State House, on the greatest business avenue which leads to the city, near a number of large wharves, where wood, lumber and other articles brought by water, can be had at the lowest price.  Lands or buildings will be sold, or leased for a term of years, on the most favourable terms.  Persons engaged in any of the foregoing employments are invited to call and examine for themselves.
Also for sale--Two new Dwelling Houses, situate near West Boston Bridge, on the road leading to Cambridge.--They are nearly ready for occupancy.  Built rather in a cottage form.  One contains 10 rooms and the other 12, with as many closets and store rooms as there are other apartments; all well and handsomely finished; with a good cellar, large yards, out buildings, and a pipe from the aqueduct conveyed into the kitchens, which provides an abundant supply of the best of water for drinking and washing. Particularly attention was given in the construction to combine convenience and economy.  The former is believed to be attained to an unusual degree, and the latter will be made apparent in the price.  The situation is uncommonly sightly and pleasant.
For further particulars, inquire of SKINNER & BURD of Charleston, or R. MAKEPEACE, near the premises.   

1837 An Act to incorporate the Cambridgeport Aqueduct Company. April 13, 1837

1852 An Act to incorporate the Cambridge Water Works. May 30, 1852.

1853 An act to authorize the City of Cambridge to take stock in the Cambrige Water-Works, or to loan Money on pledge of the stock of said company.  May 11, 1853.

1856 An Act concerning the Cambridge Water Works. June 6, 1856.

1856 "Cambridge Water-Works. List of Water Rates," Cambridge Chronicle, 18 October 1856, Page 2.

1857 "Cambridge Water Works," Cambridge Chronicle, January 10, 1857, Page 2.

1857 "Cambridge Water Works," Cambridge Chronicle, November 14, 1857, Page 2.

1857 "Cambridge Water Works," Cambridge Chronicle, November 21, 1857, Page 2.

1858 Remarks on the City of Cambridge with the Cambridge Water Works, and on the proposed purchase of those works by the City, etc, by James D. Green

1860 Brooklyn water works : reports by mechanical engineers on trials of duty made in 1857 and 1859 upon Brooklyn, Hartford, Belleville, and Cambridge pumping engines

1861 An Act authorizing the Cambridge water works to purchase the property and franchise of the Cambridgeport Aqueduct Company, January 31, 1861.

1861 Frederic Tudor vs. Cambridge Water Works, 83 Mass. 164, Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

1862 Cambridge Water Works vs. Somerville Dyeing and Beaching Company & others, 4 Allen 239, 86 Mass. 239, January Term 1862, Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

1864 "To the Honorable The Senate and House," Cambridge Chronicle, November 19, 1864, Page
Request from Mayor Z. L. Raymond of Cambridge for an amendment to their charter to enable them to contract with the City of Charlestown for a supply of water.  November 10, 1864.

1865 Report of the City of Cambridge Water Board  | Volume 7 - 1872 | Volume 8 - 1873 | Volume 14 - 1879 | Volumes 1-51 at HathiTrust | And here, more or less |

1866 Report of the Cambridge Water Board, November 30, 1866.

1867 "Cambridge Water Works," Cambridge Chronicle, August 10, 1867, Page 2.

1867 Report of the Cambridge Water Board, November 30, 1867.

1868 Report of the Cambridge Water Board, November 30, 1868.

1869 Report of the Cambridge Water Board, November 30, 1869.

1871 Report of the Cambridge Water Board, November 30, 1871.

1872 Report of the Cambridge Water Board, November 30, 1872.

1872 Boston Journal, August 6, 1872, Page 4. | Reprinted here |
Boston and Vicinity.  Why is it Called Cambridge-"port."
It probably does not occur to many people at the present day, who pass through this portion of our neighboring city of Cambridge, why the term "port" was ever applied to it. Those advanced in life, who are familiar with the matter, give some such particulars as the following, which may be of interest to those of our readers who reside in that vicinity, or who frequently visit the locality :
During the latter part of the last century there was a firm on Long wharf, Boston, the members of which were Rufus Davenport and Richard D. Tucker. Davenport & Tucker were commission merchants, who did a most lucrative business, mostly with the then District of Maine. Most of the large amount of shipping business between Maine and Europe was transacted by Boston commission merchants. Early in the present century the firm dissolved, Mr Davenport retiring with a large property, and his partner continuing the business and increasing his great wealth. Soon after retiring from the partnership, Mr. Davenport conceived a gigantic scheme, which astounded the cautious and prudent. Had he been successful, he would have been a Vanderbilt, a Jim Fisk or a Daniel Drew, but as he was otherwise, he was laughed at as a crazy visionary. His plan was to make a grand commercial city upon the marshes at the Cambridge side of the Charles river. He bought up large tracts, laid out lots and blocks, built elevated streets and roads, constructed wharves, dug canals, built a meetinghouse and settled a minister, and went on at a very fast rate. Some time between 1800 and 1808 the persevering and energetic gentleman managed to get an act of Congress passed declaring the town a port of entry, and hence the name. It did not remain a port a great many years— perhaps a dozen. A block of brick buildings, some eight or ten in number, which were erected at the time, are still standing at the lower part of Harvard street, now known as Brimmer Block. In those days the freighting of groceries and heavy goods was done by large teams, for railroads were unknown, and many started from Cambridge.
All this would not do, however. The obstinate merchants would continue to unload their ships at the good old town of Boston, and, strangely enough, people could not see the advantage of building houses in the new city, where there was no business by which they could earn their bread and butter. The whole project fell through and was abandoned. Davenport and his associates, Royal Makepeace and others, were ruined, and Davenport was put in jail for debt, or rather upon jail limits, for those were times of imprisonment for debt. The existence of the historical embargo, the war of 1812, and the prostration of all business, hastened his fall. Some of the canals are used to this day, one quite extensively. For many years this locality was a dreary waste, to be got over as fast as possible by those wisbing to reach the "settlements" a mile or two farther on.
Poor Davenport remained on the jail limits for years. Fortunately they embraced the Common.  He with other sufferers, made many futile attempts to have the laws which restrained him abolished, but the church and the community had different ideas of debt in those days to those entertained now, and they frowned down such efforts. Finally others took hold and succeeded, though, as usual, the later reformers obtained the whole credit. After being released the operator emploved what time and means he had in promoting what he styled a "right aim" school. He got up a "right aim" testament and inveigled many prominent men into his "right aim" society. Some are now living who were members, who have not and never had any idea what it was all about. The perseverance of the enthusiast was exhibited in this as in other things. Grave Senators and Representatives, and the President and Cabinet, were deluged by him with heavy folios, and the Kings, Princes and Emperors of Europe did not escape. When a newly-appointed Consul opened his first documents from America, fondly hoping they were his instructions, they proved to be from Davenport, all about his eternal "right aim" society. Mr. Davenport afterwards adopted the Grahamite idea, once so popular, but so soon exploded, of saw-dust pudding and total abstinence from meat, tea and coffee.  He died on the 9th of September, 1839, at the age of seventy years.  Mr. Makepeace died some years after.

1873 Report of the Cambridge Water Board, November 30, 1873.

1876  Report of a Special Committee of the Water Board in Relation to Leakage and Waste of Water, Isaac Bradford, July 30, 1875.

1878 "A Brief Sketch of the Cambridge, Mass. Water Works," Engineering News 5:146 (May 9, 1878)

1878 Report of the Cambridge Water Board, November 30, 1878.

1879 City of Cambridge. Report of the Special Committee on the Water Supply of the City, December, 1879.

1880 "The Water Supply of Cambridge," by Edward S. Wood, M.D. from First Annual Report of the State Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity of Massachusetts.  Supplement, Report on Public Health.

1881 Cambridge, from Engineering News 8:264  (July 2, 1881)

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

1884 "Cambridge Water in Somerville," Cambridge Chronicle, December 27, 1884, Page 4.

1883 Report on an Additional Water Supply for the City of Cambridge, by N. Henry Crafts, Thomas Doane, Arthur W. Forbes

1887 "Facts about the Water Works," by President Chester W. Kingsley of the Cambridge Water Board, Cambridge Tribune, Volume X, Number 36, 12 November 1887, Page 6.

1887 Report of the Cambridge Water Board for the year 1887.

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

1889 Special Acts in Relation to the Water Supply of the City OF Cambridge, 1837-1888.

1890 Report of the Cambridge Water Board, November 30, 1890.

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

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

1895 "Labor Trouble in Cambridge," The Burlington Free Press, September 28, 1895, Page 1.

1896 "The Water Works of Cambridge, Mass.," by L. M. Hastings, City Engineer, Cambridge, read June 1, 1886, from Journal of the New England Water Works Association, 11(2):121-136  (December 1896)

1896 "Cambridge Water-Works," by Hon. Chester W. Kingsley, The Cambridge of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-six: A Picture of the City and Its Industries Fifty Years After Its Incorporation, by Arthur Gilman

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

1898 Report of the Cambridge Water Board for the year 1898.

1899 "The Water-Works of Cambridge, Mass.," Engineering Record, 40(13):292-294 (August 26, 1899)

1906 Report of the Cambridge Water Board for the year 1906. | also here |

1913 "Cambridge Water Works," Cambridge Tribune, October 25, 1913, Page 8.

1921 "The Introduction of Pure Water Into the City of Cambridge," by George Grier, Wright, Cambridge Chronicle, 8 October 1921 

1965 The Life Story of Cambridge Water, by John F. Davis, President, Cambridge Water Board, December 1965

2008 Somerville, Massachusetts: A Brief History, by Dee Morris and Dora St. Martin
By the 1860s, pipes were being incorporated into street infrastructure with the water supply coming from the Cambridge Water Works or the reservoir on Walnut Hill.

© 2016 Morris A. Pierce