Documentary History of American Water-works

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New England States Maine Portland

Portland, Maine

Portland was first settled in 1633. 

Portland inhabitants voted in 1799 to allow "subscribers for aqueducts to sink them in any of the streets."

An advertisement for potential investors in the Portland Aqueduct was first published on July 17, 1799.  Interested parties were to contact Henry Wheeler, who was the surveyor of highways in Portland at the time and either the son or grandson of the Henry Wheeler that died in 1750. The earliest mention of a working aqueduct is this following advertisement for a house in June, 1802.

Oriental Trumpet, September 4, 1799  Jenks' Portland Gazette, June 4, 1802

The Hancock Aqueduct Association was formed sometime before 1816, when a law was passed allowing the association to sue for taxes due.  Many local advertisements in the early 1800s mention aqueducts.  The 1916 history (below) mentions early aqueducts by William Freeman and Captain William Woodbury.

The Portland Water Company was incorporated in 1866 by John B. Brown, St. John Smith, Samuel E. Spring, Rensalaer Cram, Rufus E. Wood, Jacob McLellan and Dennis W. Clark for the purpose of "conveying to the city of Portland, a supply of pure water for domestic and municipal purposes, including the extinguishment of fires, the supply of shipping and the use of manufacturing establishments."  The company was reorganized after the 1866 Portland fire and began supplying water in 1869 using cement-lined wrought-iron pipe.  The company was reorganized again in 1873 to place its finances on a firm basis.

In 1908, the Portland Water District bought the Portland Water Company plant and the Standish Water and Construction Company and began serving the cities of Portland, South Portland, and Westbrook, the town of Cape Elizabeth, the Gorham Water Company, and the Falmouth Water Company.

The Portland water system is currently owned by the Portland Water District, a public municipal corporation established in 1907 and which has a history page.

1816 An act granting certain powers to the Hancock Aqueduct Association, June 4, 1816.

1830  Report on the petition [from Daniel How] for grant of a Lottery to aid in constructing a reservoir and aqueduct, 1830, Maine State Archives GY 60-40, Link 544686

1866 An act to supply the people of Portland with pure water, February 23, 1866.  Incorporated the Portland Water Company

1867 An act to amend an act entitled “an act to supply the people of Portland with pure water.” February 26, 1867

1867 "Portland Water Company," Sacramento Daily Union, October 18, 1867, Page 3.
The Portland Water Company, organized last spring with $800,000 capital, and General George F. Shepley as President, will commence immediately the construction of works to bring the water to the city from Lake Sebago, and will probably have them completed and in operation next year.  The American Water and Gas Pipe Company of Jersey City, New Jersey, will manufacture all of the pipe requisite, establishing a permanent branch in Portland for the purpose.

1868 An act additional to an act entitled "an act to supply the people of Portland with pure water." February 14, 1868

1868 An ordinance to authorize the Portland Water Company to supply the city of Portland with pure water, March 3, 1868

1880 History of Cumberland County, Maine
Under a charter from the Legislature a company was organized April, 1867, for the purpose of supplying the city with water from Lake Sebago, a distance of seventeen miles. The water from the lake is received into an oval brick conduit, three feet high and two feet broad, and a little more than a mile in length, constructed through a ledge of hard rock ; six hundred feet of this conduit being a tunnel six feet by four in size. From the end of the conduit the water is received into a wrought-iron pipe, coated inside and out with a lining of cement, and twenty inches in diameter, by which it is conveyed through the town of Standish, and thence following the highway through Gorham and the villages of Saccarappa and Stroudwater to the reservoir. This reservoir is bounded by Vaughan, Brackett, Bramhall, and Chadwick Streets, covering an area of 100,000 square feet, and has a capacity of 12,000,000 gallons. Over thirty-three miles of distribution-pipe and about twenty-eight miles of service-pipe have been laid through the city.
In 1876 an additional main was laid, 26 inches in diameter, extending from the lower gate-house to Ward's Hill in West Gorham, a distance of four miles, the object being to insure a fuller supply of water. In 1878 this pipe was extended three miles to a point beyond Little River, in Gorham, and will be extended to the city the present year, thus giving two independent main pipes from Lake Sebago to Portland.
Lake Sebago would suffice to supply the largest city in the world, being of great depth, and with its tributary lakelets, more than 150 square miles in superficial extent; and scientific tests have demonstrated that there is less impurity in its waters than in any other lake that has been analyzed in the world. It is two hundred and sixty-seven feet above tide-waters at Portland, so its waters can be carried into the highest buildings in the city.
D. W. Clark, President; J. P. Gilman, Vice-President; Geo. P. Wescott, Treasurer ; E. R. Payson, Secretary.

1881 Portland, from Engineering News 8:424 (October 22, 1881)

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

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

1889 Aqueous History, signed by L.B.C. [probably Leonard Bond Chapman], Daily Eastern Argus, July 20, 1889

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

1890 "Lake Sebago Dam," Engineering News 23:578 (June 21, 1890)

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

1893 "Break in Reservoir," Engineering News | 30:140-142 (August 17, 1893) | 30:156-157 (August 24, 1893) | 30:168 (August 31, 1893) | 30:272 (October 5, 1893)

1894 "Samuel Freeman, His Life and Services," by William Freeman, in Collections and Proceedings of the Maine Historical Society, Second Series, Vol. V.
Page 21:  He, with a few of his townsmen, in 1799 organized a company, and built rather an extensive aqueduct for those days, and it it thought it was the first ever built in the district of Maine; and he alone built another in about 1821.

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

1907 An act to incorporate the Portland Water District, March 17, 1907

1909 An act to amend the charter of the Portland Water District, March 29, 1909

1909 Report of the Committee on Water District,  Volume 1, Portland Water District, Maine (Note:  Google books has several other volumes on line)

1916 The Portland Water Works System from Fire And Water Engineering Vol 60, No. 10, Pages 169-171 (September 6, 1916)
Page 169: The first water pipe in Portland was laid by Mr. William Freeman, probably in 1811. It was a lead pipe and only lasted a short time. Afterwards water was brought in log aqueducts from a brook near the head of Hancock Street to families on Federal, Middle, Fore and other streets in the lower part of the City. These works were owned by Captain Wm. Woodbury and others who leased them to the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad Company in 1847.  Families in other parts of the City depended on wells and cisterns.

1917 An Act Additional to Chapter Four Hundred and Thirty-three of the Private and Special Laws of Nineteen Hundred and Seven, Entitled "An Act to Incorporate the Portland Water District." April 6, 1917

1929 "History of the organization of the Portland Water District," by David E. Moulton, Journal of the New England Water Works Association 43:359-363 (1929)

1972 Portland Water District, Portland, Maine : over a century of water service, 1869-1972.

1975 An act to codify the charter of the Portland Water District, October 1, 1975.

2011 "Wood water pipe sheds more light," by Kelly Bouchard, Portland Press Herald, September 3, 2011.

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce