Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
New England States Massachusetts New Bedford

New Bedford, Massachusetts

New Bedford was settled by Europeans in 1652.

The earliest water works in New Bedford was built by the First Aqueduct Association, which was organized in 1803 "for the purpose of conducting the water from the southwest part of the village of Bedford through the most convenient streets to the four corners, so-called, and from thence to such parts of the village as shall be thought best."  The entity was incorporated on February 25, 1804 as the First Bedford Aqueduct Association.  This company built a system that operated until about 1822, and remnants of the system may have lasted longer to fill fire department reservoirs.

The New Bedford Steam Mill laid a log pipe in Hillman street sometime after 1846 to supply water to its boilers from a spring.

The movement for a system for supplying New Bedford with water began March 8, 1860, when Frederick S. Allen, an alderman and prominent local merchant, introduced into the common council an order for the appointment of a committee to "consider the practicability and expediency of introducing a permanent supply of fresh water into the city, and to report some plan with the probable cost of doing so."

Mayor Isaac C. Taber in his inaugural address of January 7, 1861 said, "that the introduction of water involving, as it does, so much importance in the sanitary, economical, and business interests of the city. I should be unwilling to leave the subject without urging it strongly upon your attention with the hope that at an early date the subject may be resumed and carried through to a successful consummation."  The following year an the mayor was authorized to petition the general court for authority to introduce water into the city.  Unfortunately Taber died on September 29, 1862 and George Howard, Jr. was appointed in his place.

On January 5, 1863, Mayor Howland presented a discouraging aspect of the subject in his Inaugural address. Mr. Howland at this time was bitterly opposed to the project. He told City Solicitor William W. Crapo that if the introduction of water became an assured fact he, with most of the community, would never, never have it introduced into their homes. I now quote a few paragraphs which undoubtedly reflected the opinion of the majority of the tax paying citizens at that time.  "Were we not already supplied, so far as sanitary or culinary purposes are concerned, with as good and as pure water as any community can require, the subject would present itself to my mind in a very different aspect.
"Who among us for his own personal or domestic use, would if water were distributed through our streets, introduce it into his private premises? Probably very few if any; the only purposes for which we want it then, as it seems to me, is for manufactories and the extinguishment of fires."

The Massachusetts General Court passed an act authorizing New Bedford to construct water works in April, 1863, and despite the opposition of the mayor the committee continued its work, engaging Professor George I. Chase of Brown University to investigate and report on the quality of local water supplies.  Crapo convinced Mayor Howland to have his well tested, and it proved to be "of very suspicious quality.”  The embarrassed mayor's opposition evaporated.  

The city's voters approved the water works project on April 14, 1864 by a vote of 781 to 594, and they were built on the design of William J. McAlpine.

Sylvia Ann Howland, a spinster who spent many years in ill health, was worth more than two million dollars due to her family's whaling pursuits.  Her last will and testament dated November 28, 1864 bequeathed to the City of New Bedford the sum of One Hundred Thousand Dollars to introduce water into the City of New Bedford. At the time she also bequeathed One Hundred Thousand dollars to the City for the enlargement of the Free Public Library. She died on July 2, 1865.

The city proceeded with the water works construction, which were completed and water delivered through the distributing pipes on November 25, 1869.  The references below provide extensive information on the system.

The City of New Bedford currently supplies water to the community.

1863 An Act for supplying the city of new Bedford with pure water, April 18, 1863

1864 Report of the Joint Special Committee of the City Council on the Introduction of Fresh Water: With the Act of the Legislature Authorizing the Same; the Report of Professor George I. Chace on the Valley of the Acushnet River, with an Analysis of the Water; and the Report, Plan, and Estimates of George A. Briggs. New Bedford (Mass.). City Council, George Ide Chace, George A. Briggs

1865 Report of the Joint Special Committee of the City Council of New Bedford: On the Introduction of Fresh Water, with the Report of Wm. J. McAlpine, the Analysis of Prof. Chace New Bedford (Mass.). City Council, George Ide Chace, William Jarvis McAlpine

1868 Review of the McAlpine pumping machine : recently constructed for the New Bedford Water Works, by Roswell E. Briggs, with an introduction by Hon. William J. McAlpine

1871 Annual Report of the New Bedford Water Board, First Annual Report for the year 1870 | volumes 19-27 | volumes 41-45 | several volumes at HathiTrust |

1881 "New Bedford" from Engineering News, 8:327 (August 13, 1881)

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

1886 Worthington Pumping Engine, from Engineering News 15:412 (June 26, 1886)

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

1890 Ascumet River Dam, from Engineering News 23-578-579 (June 21, 1890)

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

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

1895 Water Waste, from Engineering News 34:283 (October 24, 1895)

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

1915 "The Development of New Bedford Water Supplies," by Robert C. P. Coggeshall [Superintendent of New Bedford Water Works], Being the proceedings of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, held
in their building, Water Street, New Bedford, Massachusetts, on April 19. 1915. in City Documents: Municipal Register, Mayor's Address, Annual Reports, Etc, New Bedford 1915.  Includes 45th annual report of the New Bedford Water Board. | Coggeshall's history is excellent.

1918 History of New Bedford by Zephaniah Walter Pease
Page 119: The first legal meeting of the Bedford Aqueduct Association, Charles Russell, clerk, was held March 17, 1804.
Page 129:  In all the movements in which Mr. Rotch engaged there is a singular absence of any participation by the Russells. There was a long controversy over a boundary line near Center street, but probably the antipathy consisted in the widely different methods and principles followed by the two families. So, in 1805, some of the merchants under the leadership of Abraham and Gilbert Russell formed the Aqueduct Association. Its object was to lead the water from springs that were located on the west side of Sixth street, near Walnut street, down to the water front to be utilized by vessels. Besides the Russells there were concerned in the project Isaac Rowland, Jr., Joseph Ricketson, Gideon Rowland, Jr., Uriah Brownell, Gideon Allen, Caleb Congdon, Charles Russell, Peter Barney, Francis Taber, William Rowland, Caleb Shepard and Benjamin Rowland. But not a Rotch or Rodman appears.

1919 The Development of the New Bedford Water Works System, by Edmund Wood, Special Meeting, October 25, 1919, Old Dartmouth Historical Sketch Number 48

2012 New Bedford's Civil War, by Earl F. Mulderink and Earl F. Mulderink, III.  Includes a narrative of the water works development.

2014 “Water Works Crapo” 150 years ago, by Arthur Motta, New Bedford Whaling Museum Blog

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce