Documentary History of American Water-works

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New England States New Hampshire Portsmouth

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth was incorporated in 1653.     

The New Hampshire General court incorporated John Samuel Sherburne, Joshua Brackett, Samuel Hill, James Sheafe, Joseph Whipple, Ammi Ruhamah Cutler, and John Peirce as "The Proprietors of the Portsmouth Aqueduct" on December 19, 1797.  Exeter clockmaker Benjamin Clark Gilman was hired to construct the project, the first phase serving Congress and Daniel Streets being completed on November 25, 1798.  Some of the wooden pipes apparently came from the Shaker Community in Canterbury, New Hampshire, which had built a similar system in 1797.

Portsmouth New Hampshire Gazette, January 24, 1798 Portsmouth New Hampshire Gazette, October 31,1798

The proprietors published a self-congratulatory announcement about their success in early November, 1798 which was widely reprinted in other American newspapers.  No details have been found about "the late calamity" that presented "many incidental embarrassments."

Portsmouth Oracle of the Day, November 3, 1798

The water source was apparently too low to allow gravity to distribute the water, so a "Perpetual Pump" was installed to lift "a barrel of water every minute." This pump also received wide notice in other newspapers.  This pump was almost certainly a hydraulic ram, invented by French balloonist Joseph-Michel Montgolfier.  His friend Matthew Boulton was awarded British Patent 2207 on his behalf on December 30th, 1797 for an "Apparatus for raising water and other fluids."  This pump is not mentioned after 1799 and was apparently the only hydraulic ram used on a public water supply system until about 1850.

Portsmouth Oracle of the Day, December 22, 1798 Portsmouth Oracle of the Day, May 18, 1799

The Union Aqueduct was incorporated in 1821 by Henry Ladd, Robert Rice, John Haven, Alexander Ladd, John Hill, and Isaac Waldron "for the purpose of bringing fresh water into any place or places in the town of Portsmouth by subterraneous pipes or tubes,"  No other information about this second aqueduct company in Portsmouth has been found.  This company was dissolved by the New Hampshire Secretary of State on June 2, 1937.

The Portsmouth Aqueduct stock was purchased by the City of Portsmouth in 1890 for $150,000 and they took possession of the system on January 1, 1891.  A law passed later that year allowed the City to issue bonds to rebuild and extend the system.

The water system is currently owned by the City of Portsmouth

1799 An Act to incorporate certain persons for the purpose of bringing fresh-water into the town of Portsmouth by subterraneous pipes, December 19, 1797.

1798 "The Perpetual Pump," Portsmouth Oracle of the Day, December 22, 1798, Page 3.
The Directors of the Aqueduct, have put down a pump, nearly opposite Col. Gain's, which has the faculty of working itself, by day and by night; at all times and in all seasons.  No cold has hitherto checked a continual flow of pure water, and no heat will retard its perpetual course, unless the original fountain should be exhausted.  It discharges about a barrel of water every minute; supplies families; waters ships, and very probably would save the town from desolation, in case of fire, provided every other stream was dry.

1799 "Aqueduct," Portsmouth Oracle of the Day, May 18, 1799, Page 3.
The Directors of the Aqueduct have broke ground for the season, and are going on to finish the intended work. – Our perpetual pump, a few weeks since, ceased to emit water; – the fault was soon discovered, and easily remedied – It now yields the copious stream, as usual.

1817 Gazetteer of the State of New Hampshire 
Page 185:  The Portsmouth Aqueduct Company was incorporated in 1797, and in 1800, the town was supplied with excellent water for domestic uses,from a spring in Newington about 3 miles distant from Portsmouth pier. It is carried into, almost every street in the town, and on the north side of the pier is a water-house and pump where ships can be supplied at 10 cents per hogshead.

1821 An act to incorporate sundry persons by the name of the Union Aqueduct in the town of Portsmouth, June 29, 1821,

1825 Annals of Portsmouth: comprising a period of two hundred years from the first settlement of the town ; with biographical sketches of a few of the most respectable inhabitants by Nathaniel Adams
Pages 319-320: A number of persons were incorporated the 19th December, 1797, by the name of the Proprietors of the Portsmouth Aqueduct. The water is conveyed into town by wooden pipes, from a spring, situated in the outskirts of the town, about three miles distant from the Court-house. The proprietors began to lay the pipes last year, and have now so far completed it, that two hundred and fourteen houses and stores are supplied with water. It is conveyed into most of the streets in town, and the spring yields great abundance for the supply of all the inhabitants. The water is of an excellent quality.

1846 An act incorporating the Piscataqua Aqueduct.  July 9, 1846

1848 Piscataqua Aqueduct capital increased 40:26

1851 An act in addition to an act entitled "An act to incorporate the proprietors of the Portsmouth Aqueduct."  June 26, 1851

1860 The Proprietors of the Portsmouth Aqueduct Company vs. the Concord and Portsmouth Railroad & Charles L. Frost,

1865 An act to incorporate the People's Aqueduct Company. June 30, 1865.

1859 Rambles about Portsmouth: Sketches of Persons, Localities, and Incidents of Two Centuries: Principally from Tradition and Unpublished Documents, Volume 1 by Charles Warren Brewster
Pages 240-241:  In 1797 a company was formed and incorporated under the name of the “Portsmouth Aqueduct Company.” Eliphalet Ladd, Samuel Hill and Thomas Chadbourne were managers, who in person broke the ground at its commencement. They purchased the invaluable springs at the Oak Hill farm, about two and a half miles from Market Square, and in two years the water was brought into town, through logs, and into immediate use in two hundred families. The stock of the company was divided into one hundred shares, and such sums only were assessed as were necessary to commence the work, and the balance of expense paid from the income. The whole direct assessments ever made have amounted to only eighty-two dollars on a share. There were some eight or ten years when the income was devoted to meeting expenses, but for many years it has been so good property that the shares have been sold as high as three hundred dollars. Col. Ladd made a personal survey of the track of the aqueduct from the fountain into town; and so confident was he of his accuracy as an engineer, in levelling, that he erected an upright pipe in front of his mansion, cut it off at a particular height, and said, “thus high the water will rise.” When it was let into the logs, it rose exactly to the point he designated, not varying an inch. But it is the real benefit of the public generally, more than the pecuniary benefit to the aqueduct proprietors, that we take into view, when we bring into remembrance those who have bestowed upon Portsmouth blessings which are now many leagues in length, and flow in upon a thousand households every hour. The springs (which from their flowing in winter bore the name of the “warm springs” more than a century before an aqueduct was extended from them), are inexhaustible – they have never diminished in the least in the greatest drought. An analysis of the water shows it of unsurpassed purity. Who can duly estimate the blessing!

1881 An act in addition to an act entitled "An act to incorporate the proprietors of the Portsmouth Aqueduct." July 21, 1881.

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

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

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

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

1891 An act to enable the city of Portsmouth to issue water bonds and to manage and control its water supply, March 21, 1891.

1895 Gross v. Board of Water Commissioners of Portsmouth, 68 N.H. 389, December, 1895, Supreme Court of New Hampshire.

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

1898 "Portsmouth Water Works," by John O. Ayres from Journal of the New England Water Works Association, 13(1):67-71  (September 1898)

1902 Portsmouth, historic and picturesque: a volume of information  by Caleb Stevens Gurney
Page 58: The Portsmouth Aqueduct Company was one of the first companies of the kind organized in the country. On November 27, 1797, a petition was sent to the Legislature of New Hampshire by the following citizens, praying that they should be incorporated as the Portsmouth Aqueduct Company, for the purpose of bringing the water from Fountain Head into Portsmouth: Samuel Hill, Thomas Chadbourne, James Sheafe, William Boyd, Joseph Whipple, Daniel Rindge Rogers, John S. Sherburne, Reuben Shapley, Joshua Brackett, John Fisher, Ammi R. Cutter, John Goddard, Nathaniel A. Haven, Eliphalet Ladd, John Peirce, Daniel Rindge, Samuel Drowne, John Clark. The charter was granted December 17, 1797. They purchased the "Warm Springs," so-called, at the Oak Hill farm, about two and one-half miles from Market Square, which were afterward known as "Fountain Head." The water was brought into town by gravity in wooden logs in 1799, and two hundred and fourteen houses and stores supplied with water.
The reservoir on Dover Street was built in 1852, and owing to the increased demand for water, a spring near the Concord Railroad was added in 1866; and again, in 1875, a larger supply was procured from the Scott farm to the westward. In 1891 the city purchased the Aqueduct shares, paying $1,500 per share, and put in the high-water service, the standpipe being erected near the powder house.
The excellent quality of the water supplied by these springs, as returned by strict chemical analysis, is famous throughout New England, and all visitors partaking of the delicious fluid, so abundantly poured forth at its source, pronounce it most refreshing. To the pure spring water of Portsmouth, may be traced beyond a doubt, the remarkable record of its people for great healthfulness, and one of the many attractive features to the summer tourist.

1956 "Local men solved engineering problem in bringing water here," The Portsmouth Herald, December 11, 1956, Page 11.

1956 "Portsmouth's Aqueduct Company Expanded by Leaps and Bounds," The Portsmouth Herald, December 12, 1956, Page 18.

1956 "City Paid $150,000 to buy out Portsmouth Aqueduct Company," The Portsmouth Herald, December 14, 1956, Page 16.

1999 A Partial History of Public Water System, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
Page 4:  Portsmouth Aqueduct.  Some of these pipes were supplied by the Shakers at Canterbury, N.H.

2000 Mr. Ladd's Amazing Aqueduct, by Charles W. Brewster 

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce