Documentary History of American Water-works

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

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Pittsfield was first settled by Europeans in 1753.

The first water supply system was a two-mile aqueduct of wooden pipes constructed in 1754 by Charles Goodrich to serve buildings around Wendell Square.  It was unsuccessful either due to faulty construction or being torn up by an unhappy landowner unhappy with the pipes on his property.  Later residents around Wendell Square found good water, but at a depth of ninety feet.

The Proprietors of the Water Works in the Middle of the Town of Pittsfield was incorporated on February 22, 1795 Simon Larned, John Chandler Williams, William Kittredge, Joshua Danforth, and Thomas Gold "for the purpose of conveying water in pipes into the center of the town of Pittsfield."  This company contracted, in April, 1795, with Joel Dickinson, and David Blackman, to convey the water to the town in pipes, but encountered many difficulties and the enterprise fell into disarray.  An amendment in 1803 reaffirmed the company's charter and allowed more flexibility in required meetings.  Earthen conduits were installed at some early time, but were not laid deep enough and burst from freezing.

Another aqueduct effort in 1819 came to naught, but in 1827 John Dickinson and Oren Goodrich installed a two-inch lead aqueduct, but the elevation of the source was insufficient for delivery pressure and this effort also failed.

The Pittsfield Fire District was authorized to build a water works for the town in 1852, but local voters did not approve the system until 1855.  A contract was signed with the The Patent Water & Gas Pipe Company of Jersey City, N.J,,  manufacturer of cement-lined wrought-iron pipe that had been used in many cities.  The agreed completion date was October, 1855, but due to various factors, including the incompetence of the local superintendent, completion was delayed until the following year.  The system was plagued by pipes burst by freezing, because "few, if any persons, in 1857 were aware of the extreme depth to which frost sometime penetrates in the Berkshires."  The cement-lined pipe proved impossible to repair and was eventually replaced with cast-iron pipe by 1876.  The Fire District was authorized to expand their supply in 1874 and in 1892 the town acquired the water works.

The City of Pittsfield currently owns the system and supplies water to the community.


1869 The History of Pittsfield (Berkshire County), Massachusetts, from the year 1734 to the year 1800 by Joseph Edward Adam Smith
Page  142: While the new town was taking form, as we have seen it, under its municipal organization, and introducing the necessities and conveniences of village-life, its inhabitants were exchanging the log-huts of former days for comfortable and comely dwellings.

When the first partition of the township was annulled, Charles Goodrich and Col. Williams abandoned their intention of creating a business-centre near Unkamet Street, and transferred their interests to Wendell Square, with regard to which they entered upon a similar design in connection with Elisha Jones, Nathaniel Fairfield, and Eli Root. It was arranged that Fairfield, Root, Goodrich, and Jones should erect handsome frame-houses on the four corners of their respective settling-lots, which met at the Square ; while Williams was to build a little farther to the east, on Honasada Street.

But an unlooked-for obstacle presented itself in the nature of the land, whose soil was so completely underlaid with ledges of solid rock, that no wells could be sunk which would afford any but surface-water. In this dilemma, Charles Goodrich displayed his wonted energy and determination by building the first water-works of Pittsfield, an aqueduct some two miles long, extending from his farm to the hills at the east. It was constructed of huge logs divided into quarters, bored, bevelled at the ends, and bound together at the connecting joints with heavy iron bands. The enterprise failed, according to one account, in consequence of a fault in construction, which caused the logs to crack. Another tradition has it that an unpleasant person, through whose lands the pipes passed, soothed his temper and proclaimed his territorial lordship by tearing them up. 

1876 "Fire-District and Water-Works" from The History of Pittsfield (Berkshire County), Massachusetts: From the year 1800 to the year 1876 by Joseph Edward Adam Smith
Page 558:  Later owners of the farms around Wendell square found excellent water, but at a depth of ninety feet.

1881 "Pittsfield" from Engineering News 8:413-412 (October 15, 1881)

2015 Morris A. Pierce