Documentary History of American Water-works

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North Central States
Michigan Detroit

Detroit, Michigan

Detroit was founded in 1701.

The city sits on "stiff and impermeable clay" that does not favor supplies of groundwater, and attempts to use wells for domestic water were generally unsatisfactory.  A communal pump was installed on a wharf in the Detroit River in 1824.  The city advertised for water works proposals in 1820 and 1822, but only received two unsatisfactory responses. 

In 1825 Bethuel Farrand walked to Detroit from his home in Aurileus, Cayuga County, New York to present a proposal to build water works, which was accepted by the City's Board of Trustees in February of that year.  Farrand has been a superintendent at the Montezuma Salt Works, which used bored logs to move salt brine which was pumped by horse power.  Farrand walked back to Aurileus and brought his family and Rufus Wells, a pump maker back to Detroit, arriving in May.  He and Wells set out securing tamarac logs, boring them, and constructing a horse pump on the wharf at the foot of Randolph Street.  Farrand sold his interest to Wells in late 1825 and moved to Ann Arbor, where he died in 1852.  Wells completed the works, which began operating in 1827.  He was joined in the business by Phineas Davis, Jr., Lucius Lyon, and A. E. Hathon, who organized the Detroit Hydraulic Company, probably in 1829.  Wells sold his interest to E. P. Hastings in 1830 and moved to or near Dearborn.  

The Detroit Iron Company installed a 10 HP steam engine in 1830 that also powered a rotary pump for the hydraulic company, but this proved unsatisfactory and they installed a dedicated 20 HP pumping engine the following year, when the Detroit Hydraulic Company was incorporated by E. P. Hastings, Lucins Lyon, P. Davis, Jr., and A. E. Hathon,

The Hydraulic Company was unable to satisfy the needs of the residents, and the city bought the company in 1836 for $20,500.  The city built a new pumping station at the foot of Osborne Street in 1840 and another at the present Water Works Park that began service on December 15, 1877.

An 1847 city ordinance authorized maintenance of water works built outside the city limits.  An 1884 history states that water service was provided to customers outside the city limits in October 1870, but this is not mentioned in the annual reports of the Water Commissioners.  An 1873 state law authorized the city to extend water service outside the city limits, at twice the rates charged inside the city.  By 1903 the Detroit system was providing water to villages of Highland Park, Hamtramck, Woodmere, Delray and River Rouge.

A Board of Water Commissioners was established in 1853 and abolished in 1899.  After 1900, the city's water system was expanded to serve a large area of southeastern Michigan. 

After the passage of the Federal Safe Water Drinking Act in 1974, the city of Detroit was found to be violating water quality standards. The federal EPA initiated a suit against the city in 1977 that resulted in federal courts assuming oversight of the Detroit Water and Sewer Department, which lasted until 2013. 

The Great Lakes Water Authority was incorporated on November 25, 2014 to become a wholesale water provider to the City of Detroit, Wayne County, Oakland County, and Macomb County.  On January 1, 2016, the City of Detroit began leasing regional water and sewer infrastructure, as well as water and wastewater treatment facilities, to the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Water is distributed by the City of Detroit and bulk water service is provided by the Great Lakes Water Authority.


References and Timeline
1820 Detroit Gazette, March 3, 1820, Page 3.
At a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the city of Detroit, held on the 25th Day of February, 1820, the following resolutions were passed:
3. Resolved, That proposals will be received by the Board of Trustees, for the exclusive privilege of erecting Water-Works within the city of Detroit, for the purpose of furnishing the inhabitants thereof with water for a certain number of years.  Proposals will be received on or before the 1st Day of June next.  James McClosky, Ch'n. Th. Rowland, Sec'ry.

1820 The Board received proposals for furnishing the City with water, from John W. Tompkins, which report was filed and numbered one. DBOT:49, March 21, 1820.

1820 On motion, Mr. Hunt is appointed a Committee to examine the powers of the Corporation to grant an exclusive franchise for supplying the City of Detroit with good wholesome water and to report at next meeting. DBOT:53, June 1, 1820.

1820 Resolved, That the Board of Trustees of the City of Detroit will meet on Thursday, the tenth of August next for the purpose of receiving proposals to furnish the City with water for a certain number of years, and that the same be published in the Detroit Gazette. DBOT:57, July 27, 1820.

1820 Detroit Gazette, July 28, 1820, Page 3.
Resolved, That the Board of Trustees of the city of Detroit will meet on Thursday, the 10th of August next, for the purpose of receiving proposals to furnish the city with water for a certain number of years. Attest.--Geo. McDougall, Sec'y. pro tem.

1822 Detroit Gazette, April 12, 1822, Page 2.
Water - A respectable fellow-citizen has received a letter from a gentleman in Ohio, in which inquiries are made as to the encouragement which a person would receive from the citizens of Detroit in undertaking to supply them with water from the river by means of hydraulic machinery. That water can be carried from the river to the door of every inhabitant by means of hydraulics is evident to every person least acquainted with the subject—-and it is equally certain that were it once effected, a vast number of our citizens would be saved an expense of from fifteen to twenty-five dollars a year. It is, perhaps, out of the power of our corporation to erect the necessary works, but it is not out of the power of the citizens of Detroit, to grant certain privileges to individuals who would undertake and properly accomplish the business. It is to be hoped that the trustees of the city of Detroit ant the citizens generally, will turn their attention to this important object; and as its great utility cannot for a moment be questioned, let foreign enterprise derive a portion of the benefit of its accomplishment, if a company of our own citizens cannot be formed to secure the whole to ourselves.

1822 Resolved, That a meeting of the citizens of the City of Detroit be called at the Council house on Saturday next, at two o'clock in the afternoon, to take into consideration the propriety of supplying the said City with water and that notice be given in the Detroit Gazette.  DBOT:79, May 27, 1822.

1822 Detroit Gazette, May 31, 1822, page 3.
Resolved, That a meeting of the citizens of the City of Detroit be called at the Council house on Saturday next, at two o'clock in the afternoon, to take into consideration certain propositions for furnishing the city with water. By order of the Board of Trustees. J. V. R. Ten Eyck, Sec'ry. Detroit, May 30, 1822.

1822 Detroit Gazette, June 7, 1822, page 3.
For the Detroit Gazette. STEAM COMPANY. At a meeting of a number of the citizens of Detroit, convened at the Hotel of H. O. Bronson on the evening of the Tuesday the 4th day of June, 1822, A. B. Woodward was unanimously elected chairman and G. A. O'Keefe, secretary.
Certain proposals for supplying the city with water were exhibited to the meeting by George Deming and his associates, and were read and considered by the meeting;--whereupon,
Resolved, unanimously, as the opinion of the meeting, that it is expedient to promote the enterprise of George Deming and, his associates to supply the city of Detroit with water, and it will be agreeable to us that the legislative authority should give him an exclusive privilege for a certain number of years, under equitable conditions.
Ordered, That the Secretary transmit a copy of the proceedings of this meeting to the Editor of the Detroit Gazette, for publication.
And then the meeting adjourned. A. B. Woodward, Chairman. Attest; G. A. O'Keefe, Secretary.

1824 An authorizing Peter Berthelet, to erect a wharf on the river Detroit.  August 6, 1824.
Sec. 3. And be it further enacted. That the said Peter Berthelet his heirs and assigns shall, at all times, during the existence of the above grant, at his own or their own expense, erect, make, and keep in repair, at some convenient place, at or near the end of the said wharf, next the channel of the river, a good and sufficient pump, at which all persons who may reside within the city of Detroit shall be, at all times, free of wharfage, or other expenses, entitled to lake and draw water for their use and convenience, and for that purpose, a free use of said wharf shall be given for carts, wagons, sleighs, or other machinery, to be used in drawing and carrying away the water.

1824 Proceedings of the Board of Trustees of the City of Detroit, 1815-1824, cited above at DBOT with page number and date of entry. | Also here |

1825 Act granting to Bethuel Farrand and his legal representatives the sole and exclusive right of watering the city of Detroit and for other purposes.  Detroit Common Council, February, 22 1825.  Reprinted in 1920 reference below.

1825 Bethuel Farrand transferred his interest in the works to Rufus Wells and moves to Ann Arbor, where he lived until his death on July 13, 1852.  

1827 March 31, 1827, an ordinance was passed "granting to Rufus Wells, or his legal representatives, the exclusive right of supplying the city of Detroit with water."

1827 April? Water service began. The pump house was erected on Berthelet's wharf, at the foot of Randolph street. It was a frame building, twenty feet square, and had a cupola forty feet high. The water was raised by two pumps of five inches bore, driven by horse power, into a forty gallon cask, at the top of the cupola, From thence the water was led through tamarac logs, of four and a half inches interior diameter, to the reservoir, which was situated upon the rear of the lot now occupied by the Firemen's Hall, and fronting on Randolph street. The reservoir was sixteen feet square, and six feet deep, giving a capacity of 9,580 imperial gallons.  It was used until 1842

1827 A further ordinance, passed October 10, 1827, granted additional right to Rufus Wells.

1829 June 3, 1829, the Common Council, on the application of Rufus Wells, passed an ordinance, giving to Rufus Wells, Phineas Davis, Jr., Lucius Lyon, and A. E. Hathon, the sole and exclusive right of supplying the city of Detroit with water, until the year 1850 ; thereby repealing the ordinance of March 30th, 1827.

1829 Unsuccessful drilling for water on the south side of Fort Street, between Shelby and Wayne. A reservoir constructed on this site the following year.

1829 Detroit Gazette August 6, 1829, Page 3.
The Hydraulic Company of this city are boring for water on the site of the old fort, the highest ground within the limits of the corporation.  They have penetrated one hundred and twenty feet and are still going on with their labor

1830 Ordinance, June 29, 1830.  Mr. Wells disposed of his interest in the works to E. P. Hastings, and Mr. Wells' connection with the works ceased. Wells died in Dearborn on July 12, 1854 at the age of 74.

1830 The Detroit Iron Company installed a 10 HP steam engine, built in Buffalo, that also pumped water for the Hydraulic Company.  A reservoir, located on the Fort Street lot, was of brick, eighteen feet square and nine feet deep, enclosed with wood; it held 21,811 gallons.  Th new works went into operation at 2 P. M. on Saturday. August 21, 1830. A large crowd gathered at the engine-house to witness the letting on of the water. The water was distributed through wooden pipes of only three inches bore, which were put together with iron thimbles, and these pipes could hardly be called prophetic of the iron pipes nearly four feet in diameter now in use. Governor Cass, who was present, was called upon for a speech. Mounting a barrel near by, and lasting his eye on the route of pipe, he began by saying : "Fellow-citizens, what an age of progress!" No one then thought his words sarcastic.

1831 An act for the relief of Barnabas Campau.  February 15, 1831.  Allowed removal of the Berthelet pump from the end of the wharf to a location closer to the embankment.

1831 An act to incorporate the Hydraulic Company of the City of Detroit.  March 2, 1831.
Preamble.  Whereas, The common council of the city of Detroit did, by ordinances passed respectively on the third day of June, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine, and the twenty-ninth day of June, one thousand eight hundred and thirty, grant to Rufus Wells, Phineas Davis, Jr., Lucins Lyon, and Anson E. Hathon, certain powers, as a company, for the purpose of enabling them to supply said city of Detroit with water; and it having been shown that E. P. Hastings has acquired the interest of Rufus Wells in said company,

1831 The engine at the Iron Company proved unsatisfactory and the Hydraulic Company built a new pumping plant on the north side of Woodbridge, between Cass and Wayne.  The 20 HP engine was built by the Detroit Iron Company.

1831 The company constructed a second reservoir, it was forty feet square, and ten feet deep, and built with oak plank. This was also enclosed by a building, and joined the brick one built the year previous.  In 1 83 1 an additional reservoir was constructed, adjoining the old one.  It held 119,680 gallons. The first reservoir at this site remained in use until 1839, when it was sold and taken down.

1835 Map of the city of Detroit in the State of Michigan, by John Farmer.

1836 The City buys the water works works for $20,500 on June 4, 1836. 

1836 June 9, 1836.  Resolved, that Noah Sutton be, and he is hereby appointed, as agent for this Board, to proceed to the cities of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, to examine the water-works in those cities, and obtain all needful information in regard to the construction and operation thereof; and the said agent to be authorized and empowered to contract in the behalf of the corporation of this city for cast and wrought iron pipes for conducting the water into the city.
Resolved, that the sum of $150 be appropriated for the defraying the expenses of the agent of the corporation, and that a warrant for that amount be issued on the Treasury.

1836 A committee was also appointed to purchase a water lot above the city, upon which to erect works. On June 15, 1836, the recorder reported that they had "purchased from Major Antoine Dequindre three water lots in front of the Dequindre Farm, with a front of 350 feet on the river, for $5,500." The work of building was begun at once, and on June 30, 1836, John Farrar was appointed to superintend and inspect the erection of the wharf.

1836 Council Resolution June 30, 1836. Resolved, that David French and H. Wilmarth be appointed a committee to examine the several springs in Northville and Southlield, also others in the vicinity, to ascertain if a sufficient quantity of pure water can be obtained from them to supply this city, and the probable cost of conveying it hither.

1836 On August 3 Mr. French reported that by a concentration of several springs in the town of Farmington an abundant supply of pure water could be obtained. Nothing further came of this report.

1837 New elevated storage tank at the foot of Orleans Street.  The general plan of the building and tank is nearly a duplicate of the Old Manhattan Works of New York; in fact, the castings of the tank were made from the same patterns.  The building was completed the following year. William Burnell was the contractor for the brick work, which was completed in 1838.

1840 A contract was made with Charles Jackson and Noah Sutton to build an engine-house, lay nine miles of tamarack logs four and one half of iron pipes, furnish a forty-five-horse-power engine, erect the iron reservoir, and finish its tower.  The tank had a capacity of 422,979 United States standard gallons, and weighed one hundred and forty tons. It was in constant use until 1857 and in partial use until 1860. In 1866 the round house was torn down.

1841 The Committee submitted the following interesting report on the 22nd of June, 1841 [see 1853 history, page 39].   Soon after the date of this report, the engine and pump on Woodbridge street were abandoned, and the "New Works" were so far brought into use as to supply water to the Fort street reservoir, from whence it was distributed.

1842 During the process of connecting with the new works, and disconnecting from the old, both reservoirs were kept in use; but, early in the fall of 1842, the work being completed, the Fort street reservoir was abandoned.

1847 Ordinance, March 16, 1847.  That the Common Council of the city of Detroit shall have power to regulate, protect and control so much of the city water works as may lie without the bounds of said city, in the same manner as they regulate, protect and control said water works within said bounds. 

1849 Early in the fall of 1849, a contract was made with De Graff and Kendrick, of this city, for constructing and erecting, in complete running order, the large horizontal engine (150 horse power) and pump now in use, the plans of which were furnished by Van Schoick, Kellogg, and Co.

1850 The engine contracted for by De Graff and Kendrick the year previous was completed this season, and was first run October 28th; but, owing to a failure of the valves, was not brought into use until the nineteenth of November.

1851 Four acres of land on the Mullett Farm were purchased as a site for a new reservoir.

1852 "Condition of the Water Works," November 20, 1852, from Act of Incorporation, By-Laws, Ordinances, Rules, and Regulations of the Board of Water Commissioners of the City of Detroit.

1853 An act to amend the laws relative to supplying the city of Detroit with pure and wholesome water, and to provide for the completion and management of the Detroit Water Works.  February 14, 1853.

1853 "History of the Detroit Water Works," from Annual Report of the Board of Water Commissioner of the City of Detroit, also includes rates, additional annual reports, and a report on visits made to other cities' water works.
| Annual Reports from 1854 to 1922 are available here |

1854 The continued increase of the city and its prospective wants led the commissioners to dispose of the four acres on the Mullett Farm; and in 1854 they purchased ten acres on the Dequindre Farm, a mile and a half from the river, at a cost of $7,363. This ground, the highest in the city available for the purpose, is twenty feet higher than the level at the corner of Jefferson and Woodward Avenues. A new reservoir was begun upon this site in 1854. It was first used in November, 1857, but was not fully completed until 1860. It is bounded by Wilkins, Calhoun, Riopelle, and Dequindre Streets,  The two basins have a capacity of 9,000,000 gallons.

1855 An act to authorize the Water Commissioners of the city of Detroit to loan money for the purpose of extending and improving the water works of said city.  February 6, 1855.

1856 Two new engines were contracted for, to be built in New York. It was completed and delivered, but failed to do the work agreed upon, and was rejected by the commissioners, who refused to pay for it. A suit was instituted against them, and a decision rendered under which the contractors recovered $26,500. [See 1865, 1869, and 1872 references below.]

1857 A reservoir, having a capacity of 10,000,000 U. S. gallons, was completed at a total cost of about $116,000. The surface of the water in the reservoir when filled was about 77 feet above the river level.

1861 In February, 1861, the two engines purchased in 1856 were started and ran a few times and were abandoned, the contractors, Messrs. Dickerson and Sickles being unable to make them work.

1863 A direct-acting engine of 42-in. cylinder and 96-in. stroke, with pump of 24-in. bore was erected after the plans of John E. Edwards, and began running in December, 1863.  It was built by Jackson and Wiley of Detroit with a capacity was 7 million gallons per day.

1865 New York Times, October 29, 1865, Page 4. | remainder here |
The case of the Detroit Water Commissioners vs. Burr and St. John, sureties on a bond of $50,000, for Messrs. Dickerson and Dickels, were contracted to construct certain engines for the Detroit Water Works, was concluded at a late hour on Friday night.  The jury rendered a verdict for the defendants.  The matter has been on trial for the last two weeks in the Superior Court, Part I, before Justice McCunn and a jury, and all the important facts have been fully reported in the times.

1869 An act to authorize the water commissioners of the city of Detroit to borrow money for the purpose of extending and improving the water works of said city.  February 17, 1869.

1869 An act to amend an act entitled "Act act to amend the laws relative to the supplying the city of Detroit with pure and wholesome water," approved February fourteenth, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-three, by adding one new section thereto.  April 5, 1869.   Allowed the Board of Water Commissioners levy a tax of three cents a foot frontage on all lots passed by the supply pipes that do not take water, with power to sell the lots after a certain time if the taxes were not paid..

1869 The Board of Water Commissioners for the City of Detroit, against Henry A. Burr and Charles St. John. 2 Sweeney 25, Superior Court of the City of New York. December 4, 1869

1870 During 1870 many persons who lived adjoining the city petitioned to be served from the water works, and in October the pipes, for the first time, were extended outside the corporation.

1871 An act to establish a board of public works in and for the city of Detroit.  April 18, 1871.  Establish a board of public works with members appointed by the state legislature.  Declared unconstitutional in 24 Mich. 44.

1871 "The people v. Hurlbut," 24 Mich. 44, December 21, 1871, Michigan Reports, Supreme Court of Michigan, October Term, 1871 | Transcripts of testimony here |
The legislature had no power to make the appointment of the members of the board of public works of the city of Detroit, as permanent officers for the full term, or the specific portions of such terms, provided by the act establishing such board (3 Sess. L. 1871, p. 273), for the respective members thereof. Permanent appointments for purely municipal purposes can only be made by municipal authority.

1871 An engine of 10 million gallons capacity, after the plans of J. E. Edwards, began running in 1871.  The engine was built by the Dry Dock Engine Works

1872 The Board of Water Commissioners for the City of Detroit, against Henry A. Burr and Charles St. John. Superior Court of the City of New York.

1872 Detroit Free Press, May 15, 1872, Page 1.
From the Board of Water Commissioners: The report of their Committee on Water Supply upon the subject of the Holly system of water works for the City of Detroit.  The committee think it expedient for several reasons:  It would render useless eighty-two miles of log pipe now in successful operation, would throw the engines and pumping works of the Board into disuse, and require the immediate expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars to erect the works in question.  The communication was accepted and placed on file.

1873 An act to authorize the Water Commissioners of the city of Detroit to loan money for the purpose of extending and improving the water works of said city.  March 8, 1873.

1873 An act to amend sections one, seven, eight, fifteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, and twenty-three, of act number ninety, of the session Jaws of eighteen hundred and fifty-three, entitled "An act to amend the laws relative to supplying the city of Detroit with pure and wholesome water, and to provide for the completion and management of the Detroit water-works," approved February fourteen, eighteen hundred and fifty-three. April 12, 1873.
Sec. 23. The commissioners shall have power to extend their distributing pipes, aqueducts, and mains, and erect hydrants, without the limits of said city, and to regulate, protect, and control such portions of their works, and the water supply therefrom, in the same manner that they may regulate, protect, and control their works, and the water supply within the city;
Provided, That before any water shall be supplied to any person or persons residing outside of the limits of the city, the entire cost of the distributing pipes necessary to supply such person or persons shall be paid to the said water board, and all such distributing pipes through which any water shall be supplied by said water board, shall be the property of said board, and form part of its system of distributing pipes:
And provided further, That at least double the usual rates shall be charged by said board for any water supplied to persons residing outside the city limits.

1874 In furtherance of plans for enlargement, the board, in January, 1874, bought seventy acres for $35,000 of Robert P. Toms as a site for the new works. The land has a frontage on the Grosse Pointe Road of 967 feet and extends to the river, a distance of 2,715 feet ; it covers parts of Private Claims Nos. 337 and 257 in Hamtramck, about four miles from the City Hall.  Work was begun in December, 1874,

1875 Municipal Manual of the City of Detroit 
Page 37: Water Works - Board of Water Commissioners
On the 21st of February, 1825, the Common Council passed "An Act granting to Bethuel Farrand, and his legal representatives, the sole and exclusive right of watering the city of Detroit, and for other purposes." In pursuance of this right a pump house was erected on Berthelet's wharf, at the foot of Randolph street. It was a frame building, twenty feet square, and had a cupola forty feet high. The water was raised by two pumps of five inches bore, driven by horse power, into a forty gallon cask, at the top of the cupola. From thence the water was led through tamarac logs, of four and a half inches interior diameter, to the reservoir, which was situated upon the rear of the lot now occupied by the Firemen's Hall, and fronting on Randolph street. These works were completed and water introduced in May, 1827.
During the summer of 1829 the Council commenced boring for water on the south side of Fort between Shelby and Wayne streets, but after boring 260 feet without finding water the project was abandoned.
On the 2d day of March, 1831, the Legislative Council granted a charter, incorporating the Detroit Hydraulic Company.  In 1831 the company constructed a second reservoir on Fort street near Wayne street and obtained a site, and constructed an engine house on the north side of Woodbridge street, between Cass and Wayne streets.
On the 4th of June, 1836, the works were purchased by the Common Council, and it was decided to keep up the old works as thoroughly as possible, and to proceed at once with the construction of others.
During the season of 1837, in accordance with the plans and specifications furnished by Noah Sutton, the foundation was laid of the old reservoir building, foot of Orleans street, and an engine house and engine built, and on the 3d of June, 1841, the committee on "New Hydraulic Works" tested and put them in operation.
On the 24th of February, 1852, the control of the Water Works was vested in a Board of Trustees, and on the 14th of February, 1853, the Legislature, on the application of the Common Council, created the Trustees a Board of Water Commissioners.
They built a new reservoir of a capacity of nine and a half million gallons, and extended the works as needed by the increasing population of the city, having at the present time three engines of a capacity respectfully of 18,000,000 — 6,000,000 and 4,000,000 gallons in twenty-four hours, and a total pipeage of 176 3/4 miles, of which 78 1/3 miles are iron pipe and 98 1/3 miles wooden logs. The cost for construction and pipeage to the present time has been $1,589,688.78. The daily average supplied in 1874 was 9,013,350, or 87 1/3 gallons per day to each person. The amount received for water rates in 1874 was $183,323.27, exceeding the previous year by $16,301.27.
The Board during the year purchased about sixty acres of ground up the river, four miles from Woodward avenue, and commenced the construction of settling basins, etc., for new and more extensive works to keep pace with the rapid growth of the city.

1876 J. Huff Jones and others v. The Board of Water Commissioners of Detroit, 34 Mich. 273, June 13, 1876.  Michigan Reports, Supreme Court of Michigan, June Term, 1876.  Declared the 1869 tax on property not taking water to be unconstitutional and void.

1877 "New Water Works of Detroit, Mich," Engineering News 4:179 (July 4, 1877)

1877 The works were completed in three years, and on December, 15. 1877, water for the first time was supplied therefrom.  There are three compound-beam pumping engines, all designed by John E. Edwards, and each of them capable of pumping 24,000,000 gallons daily.  One of the engines was first used in 1877. and was built by the Detroit Locomotive Works ; another was completed in 1881 by S. F. Hodge, at the Riverside Iron Works, and in 1885 they finished a third.  The stand-pipe is made of boiler iron and has a diameter of five feet at the base and thirty inches at the top. It has a height of one hundred and thirty-two feet from the foundation upon which it rests.  Since November 7, 1886, the pumping has been done by its aid alone, and water is delivered one hundred and ten feet above the level of the river. The tower which encircles it is built of the best quality of pressed brick; the base or lower section is extended out ward from the main shaft to allow of a passageway or vestibule to the winding stairway one hundred and twenty-four feet high, which leads to an observatory at the top. There are two hundred and four steps.  Today, the plant can produce up to 240 million gallons of superior quality drinking water per day (MGD) with room for expansion to 320 MGD.

1880 Map of Detroit, showing Orleans Street Water Works

1881 Detroit, Engineering News, 8:193 (May 14, 1881)

1881 An act to amend an act, entitled "An act to amend the laws relative to supplying the city of Detroit with pure and wholesome water," approved February fourteen, eighteen hundred and fifty-three, as amended by the several acts amendatory thereof, by adding a new section thereto to stand as section thirty-one. June 7, 1881.  Water commissioners to be nominated by the mayor and appointed by the city council, prior to this law the city council selected the board members.

1881 History of Washtenaw County, Michigan: Together with Sketches of Its Cities, Villages and Townships...and Biographies of Representative Citizens : History of Michigan, Volume 2
Page 989:  Hon. Bethuel Ferrand - Soon after becoming 21 went to the then new section of Cayuga county, New York, where he was for several years employed by the Montezuma Salt Works Company, as overseer. Mr. Farrand remained upon his farm in Cayuga county until the spring of 1825. In the early part of that year his attention was attracted to the then new Territory of Michigan, and with a view of obtaining a contract or entering into an arrangement for supplying the city of Detroit with water. In January of that year he traveled on foot by the south shore of Lake Erie from Aurelius to Detroit, and on Feb. 17, 1825, he submitted to the Common Council of that city his proposition for supplying the city with water. "A meeting of the Freemen of the city " was called and held in the council-house on the 19th and 21st of February, 1825, and the matter duly discussed and considered, and on the 22d day of the same month was passed "an act granting to Bethuel Farrand and his legal representatives the sole and exclusive right of watering the city of Detroit," after which Mr. Farrand, having succeeded in his object, returned to his home on foot, going through Canada. In May, 1825, he, with one Rufus Wells, arrived with their families in Detroit and entered at once upon the construction of their work for watering the city. In the fall of 1825 Mr. Farrand transferred to Mr. Wells his interest in the enterprise and removed with his family to Ann Arbor.

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

1884 "Water Works and Water," The History of Detroit and Michigan, by Silas Farmer

1886 The use of the reservoir, which was completed in 1857, was dispensed with

1887 An act to amend section one of act number ninety of the session laws of eighteen hundred and fifty-three, entitled "An act to amend the laws relative to supplying the city of Detroit with pure and wholesome water, and to provide for the completion and management of the Detroit water-works," approved February fourteenth, eighteen hundred and fifty-three, as amended by act number three hundred and fifty-nine of the session laws of eighteen hundred and seventy-three, approved April twelve, eighteen hundred and seventy-three.  June 24, 1887.  Water commissioners are authorized to accept funds from Chauncey Hurlbut's estate.

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

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

1890 "Water and Water-Works," from History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan: A Chronological Cyclopedia of the Past and Present, Volume 1, by Silas Farmer

1890 Detroit Water Works: act of incorporation, regulations, history, by Detroit (Mich.). Board of Water Commissioners | Also here |

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

1892 "Natural and crude oil for fuel at the Detroit water-works," Engineering News, 27:267 (March 19, 1892)

1893 The stand-pipe, which still ornaments the grounds, was disconnected from the mains, since which time the city has been supplied through a direct pressure system, absolutely without reservoir, standpipe, or other reserve, and is dependent for its pressure upon the continuous action of the pumps.  This was the basic concept of the "Holly system," which had been rejected in 1872 due to the large number of log pipes then in use.

1893 Engine No. 4 is of the well-known Reynolds Corliss triple-expansion type, built by the Edward P. Allis Company, of Milwaukee, in 1893. Its rated capacity is 24;000,000 gallons per 24 hours,

1894 "Free Water," Engineering News, 31:71-72 (January 25, 1894) Proposal to provide free water to most users by Mayor Hazen S. Pingree, with substantial data on the Detroit water works cost and consumption.

1894 "Riot at Detroit," Maysville Public Ledger, April 29, 1894, Page 3.  Violent strike by 500 Polish laborers on water works project.

1894 Our Firemen: A Record of the Faithful and Heroic Men who Guard the Property and Lives of the City of Detroit, and a Review of the Past, Giving the History of the Fire Department Since the Early Settlement of the City, with a Glance at Our City of To-day, by Charles S. Hathaway

1895 Detroit Water Works: Acts of Legislature, Incorporation, Amendments, Etc. ; Regulations ; History, by Detroit (Mich.). Board of Water Commissioners | Also here |

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

1899 An act to transfer to the City of Detroit the title to all the property of every name and nature now owned, operated and controlled by the board of Water Commissioners of the City of Detroit, under the powers, rights and privileges granted said board of Water Commissioners by an act entitled “An act to amend the laws relative to supplying the City of Detroit with pure and wholesome water,” approved February fourteen, eighteen hundred fifty-three, and the acts amendatory thereto, and to give to said City of Detroit the possession, control and operation and management of said property, and to repeal all acts and parts of acts in conflict herewith.  May 24, 1899.

1903 "When Detroit Had a Town Pump," by Friend Palmer, Detroit Free Press, April 12, 1903, Page 19.  Reprinted in Early days in Detroit (1906). | Also here |

1903 "The Detroit Water Works," A Short History Compiled and Written by Clarence W. Hubbell, Civil Engineer to the Board of Water Commissioners, The Engineering Record 47(25):650-655 (June 20, 1903)

1903 Engines Nos. 5 and 6 are in duplicate, and are vertical, triple-expansion, crank and fly-wheel, three-plunger, condensing, self-contained engines, having a rated capacity of 25,000,000 U. S. gallons per 24 hours. These engines weigh 900 tons each, and will be ready for service within a few weeks. The Allis-Chalmers Company, of Milwaukee, have the contract to build both engines for $276,000.

1917 "The Detroit Water Works," by Theodore Alfred Leisen, Journal of the American Water Works Association, 4(2):206-213 (June 1917) | Also here |

1917 A History and Description of the Manufacture and Mining of Salt in New York State, by Charles J. Werner
Page 46:  Montezuma Salt Works - Indeed, the year 1813 may be considered the high water mark of production, for by 1824 the yield had fallen to about 18,000 bushels, which gradually decreased to a few hundred in 1840. This failure of the industry at Montezuma was undoubtedly due to the following causes. In the first place the pump works used for forcing the brine from the wells into the kettles or pans were of very rude manufacture, the power employed being that of horses or even at times by hand. The tubes used in carrying the brine from the wells to the works were so imperfectly constructed that fresh water constantly flowed in and reduced the strength of the brine.

1919  Report to the Board of water commissioners on an investigation of the Detroit water supply with reference to filtration and other improvements, by Robert Winthrop Pratt

1920 "Detroit's Water Supply," from Supplement to Library Service, Detroit Public Library, 3(10):1-4 (January 15, 1920)

1921 A brief history of Detroit in the golden days of '49, by George Byron Catlin.
Pages 24-26:  The City's Waterworks Plants.  In 1849 Detroit's water supply was supplied by use of a 150 horse-power engine which was installed that year. Early settlers built as close to the river as possible for that was the only resort for pure water. Wells had been sunk in the deep clay soil but the soil was so impervious that only surface water seeped into the wells. When they were driven very deep mineral contamination was encountered. For many years water carts brought the water from the river in barrels and people of small means carried water in two buckets suspended from a wooden yoke across their shoulders.  For fire protection each resident was compelled to keep at least one barrel of water on his premises.
In 1824 Peter Berthelet, who had a private wharf near the foot of Randolph Street, was authorized to extend it farther into the river and to construct a large pump for public use. In 1825 Bethuel Farrand, father of Jacob S. Farrand, came from western New York to interest Detroiters in a hydraulic plant. He submitted his scheme and was given an exclusive franchise by the Common Council.  Associated with Rufus Wells he rafted tamarack logs from a swamp in Macomb County, bored them out by horse-power and laid them in shallow trenches along the principal streets. A small service pipe was carried into each yard with an open penstock for drawing water from the system.
A pump was installed in a building at the foot of Randolph Street and operated by horse-power ; it raised water to a large wooden tank which was built on a derrick at a height of 50 feet above the river. In connection with this was a wooden tank of 1,000 gallons capacity on the south side of Jefferson Avenue. Patrons paid $10 a year for the service. In 1829 Mr. Farrand sold out to his partner, Mr. Wells, who then organized the Detroit Hydraulic Company with Lucius Lyon, Phineas Davis and A. H. Hathon as partners. A franchise was obtained, expiring in 1850. A new pump house was built on Woodbridge Street between Wayne and Cass Streets and a new reservoir of 22,000 gallons capacity was installed. A ten-horse-power engine replaced the old horse-driven pump. Later a 120,000 gallon reservoir was built on Fort and Griswold Streets, southwest corner, and a larger engine was installed but the company always lost money because their rate was too low. The city bought the plant for $20,500 and erected a large tank reservoir, supported on a brick tower 50 feet high, at the foot of Orleans Street.
Founding of the Water Commission.  In 1842 the Fort Street reservoir was abandoned. Constant growth of population compelled the discarding of old machinery and the installation of new and this together with extension of wooden and iron water mains resulted in an annual deficit. At the end of 1849 the city had expended $85,125 more than the income from service and was trying to unload its white elephant. It became necessary to proceed more systematically with an eye to future expansion and to properly finance the undertaking.  In 1852 the Detroit Water Board was created, consisting of Shubael Conant, Henry Ledyard, Edmund A. Brush, James A. Van Dyke and William R. Noyes. In 1854 the water works were pumping a million gallons a day and in 1856 the city purchased a new pump of 3,000,000 gallons daily capacity. The new water board purchased 10 acres on the highest ground inside the city limits which was on the farm of Antoine Dequindre and on that site was built what was later known as the Watson Street reservoir, 530x320 feet in area. In 1873 this reservoir was outgrown and 35 acres of the site of the present water works was purchased for the installation of a new plant.

1923 Report on additional water supply for Detroit and vicinity to the Board of Water Commissioners, by George H. Fenkell, superintendent and general manager. September, 1923.

1935 The Springwells Water Treatment Plant in Dearborn approved by the Board of Water Commissioners in 1924 and at its dedication in 1935 was the largest water treatment facility in the world. A 1959 expansion program increased the plant's pumping capacity from 340 million gallons per day (MGD) to 540 MGD.

1956 The Northeast Water Treatment Plant became the third water treatment plant in 1956.  The plant was built to meet the needs of suburban communities located north of the city and has a current pumping capacity of 300 million gallons per day.

1959 Detroit's water development program for the metropolitan area.

1962 "Detroit," from Public Water Supplies of the 100 Largest Cities in the United States, 1962, US Geological Survey Water Supply Paper 1812, by Charles Norman Durfor and Edith Becker

1964 The Southwest Water Treatment Plant was built by the Wayne County Road Commission and became operational in 1964.  It was acquired by the City of Detroit in a lease-purchase agreement as part of a consolidation of water services in southeast Michigan and has a current pumping capacity of 240 million gallons per day.

1974 The Lake Huron Water Treatment Plant in Fort Gratiot opened in 1974 and has a current pumping capacity of 400 million gallons per day.

1984 City of Detroit v. State of Michigan, Michigan State Department of Transportation, County of Wayne, and Wayne County Road Commission.  594 F. Supp. 574, September 28, 1984.

2002 Detroit Water and Sewerage Department: The First 300 Years, edited by Michael Daisy.

2005 A Water Affordabiity Program for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), by Roger Colton.

2013 United States v. City of Detroit, et al., Case No. 77-71100, Opinion and Order Terminating Second Amending Consent Judgment and Closing this case.  March 27, 2013. | More here |

"Timeline:  The Story of Detroit's Water"



© 2016 Morris A. Pierce