Documentary History of American Water-works

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

Plymouth, Massachusetts

Plymouth was settled in 1620.  

The first meeting of the Plymouth Aqueduct was held in July, 1796, and on September 14, 1796 an agreement was made with Caleb Leach to construct a system to be completed on July 1, 1797.  The Proprietors of the Plimouth Aqueduct were incorporated on February 15, 1797 by Joshua Thomas, William Davis, James Thacher, William Goodwin, and Nathaniel Russell.  The charter was amended in 1833 to allow the company to take water from the Town Brook.  Leach would later work on water systems in New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia.

A law passed in 1854 and amended in 1855 allowed the Town of purchase the works of the aqueduct company and expand them.

A Worthington steam pumping engine was added in 1880 to increase the pressure through the distribution piping.

The Town of Plymouth continues to supply water to the community.


1797 An act to incorporate Joshua Thomas Esqr. and others for the purpose of conveying fresh water by pipes in the town of Plimouth."  February 15, 1797. 

1815 Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Volume III of the second series (reprinted 1968)
Page 170:  Notes on Plymouth, Mass. An Aqueduct supplies the houses north of the Brook with water from Billington sea. This work was performed
by Mr. Caleb Leach, who then lived in Plymouth, now of Oswego, New York, whose talents, as a self-taught mechanick, are of the very first order:* to these talents it is, that Boston and the city of New York, &c. are, in a degree, indebted for the like convenience.
* The orrery of Brown University was constructed by Mr. Leach, at Plymouth, for Dr. Forbes.

1833 An Act in addition to "An Act to incorporate Joshua Thomas, Esquire, and others, for the purpose of conveying fresh water by pipes in the town of Plymouth."  February 16, 1833.

1835 History of the Town of Plymouth, from Its First Settlement in 1620, to the Present Time: With a Concise History of the Aborigines of New England, and Their Wars with the English, &c by James Thacher
Page 319:  There is an aqueduct in the town with supplies most of the families on the north side of the Town brook, at the rate of $5 annually for a single family, or $8 for two families in one house.  The water is brought in logs from Billington Sea at a distance of about two miles.  We have belonging to the town four fire-engines, well provided with hose and hydraulic pipes, with all the usual appliances.  We have also two large reservoirs connected with the aqueduct, affording an ample supply of water.

1854 An act to authorize the Town of Plymouth of procure a supply of Water.  April 22, 1854.

1855 An act in addition to an act to authorize the Town of Plymouth of procure a supply of Water.  March 15, 1855.

1856 Report of the Water Commissioners Elected by the Town of Plymouth to Cause Water to be Brought from South Pond Into the Village of Plymouth: Submitted to the Selectmen for Examination, Feb. 1, 1856

1870 "Plymouth Water Works" from Pilgrim memorials, and guide to Plymouth: With a lithographic map, and eight copperplate engravings by William Shaw Russell

1881 Plymouth, Engineering News, 8:459 (November 12, 1881)

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

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

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

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

1895 Annual Report of the Town Officers of the Town of Plymouth, Massachusetts Several references to water works.

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

1906 Plymouth memories of an octogenarian, by William Thomas Davis
Pages 182-183:  About the year 1750 James Shurtleff built a house on the site which in 1789 came into the possession of Caleb Leach, who came to Plymouth from Bridgewater and projected the Plymouth water works, the first water works built in the United States. The company was chartered in 1796, the year after a company was chartered in Wilkesbarre, Penn., but the Plymouth works were constructed before the works of that town. The pipes were yellow or swamp pine logs, ten to twelve feet long, and ten inches in diameter, clear of sap, with a bore from two to four inches in diameter, and sharpened at one end, the other end bound with an iron hoop to prevent splitting when driven into the bore. During the latter years of the company iron connections with a flange in the middle were used.

1909 "Wrought-Iron Cement-lined Water Pipe" by Leonard Methalf, Civil Engineer, from Journal of the New England Waterworks Association, Volume 23, Number 1 (March 1909)
Page 36+ of this article has a good description of the 1855 water works system in Plymouth and details of the piping system.

1916 "Making and laying home-made pipe for water mains," from Engineering News-Record, 75(7):300-302 (February 17, 1916)

2015 Morris A. Pierce