Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Middle Atlantic States New York Elmira

Elmira, New York

Elmira was incorporated as a city in 1864.

The Elmira Water Company was incorporated in 1859 by Elijah P. Brooks, William T. Post, William Beach, John T. Rathbon, Gabriel L. Smith, Arcalous Wyckoff and Eli Wheeler "for the purpose of supplying the village of Elmira with pure water."  This company contracted with Isaac S. Hobbie and Lansing B. Swan of Rochester to build a gravity system that began service on December 11, 1860 distributing water through wooden pipes bored with a machine patented by Arcalous Wyckoff.  Wyckoff pipes were used for many gas and water systems in the late Nineteenth century and were especially popular in the upper Midwest.  The system was not a financial success and was offered for sale in an 1863 advertisement in the New York Times, which is the only known instance of such an ad in this paper:


New York Times, August 19, 1863, Page 7.

Attempts to sell the company were unsuccessful, and it was in placed receivership on March 23, 1866 and sold on October 31, 1868 to George M. Diven, who realized that the system would need significant investment to become useful to the community.  He attempted to sell it to the city, which was not interested enough to actually buy it.

The Elmira Water Works Company was incorporated in 1869 by Jervis Langdon, Edwin Eldridge, Alexander S. Diven, George M. Diven, James L. Woods, Uriah S. Lowe and Eugene Diven "for the purpose of supplying the said city of Elmira with pure and wholesome water."

The Elmira Municipal Improvement Company was incorporated in 1892 and purchased the water works company from the Diven family.

The Elmira Heights Water Company was incorporated in 1896 to serve the village of Elmira Heights.

The Elmira Water, Light, and Railroad Company was incorporated in 1900 and acquired the Municipal Investment Company, which had gone into receivership.

The Elmira Water Board was established in 1913 and bought the water system on May 15, 1915 for $1.5 million.

Water is currently provided by the Elmira Water Board, which has a history page.


References and Timeline
1859 An act to incorporate the Elmira Water Company.  April 14, 1859.

1860 Rochester Union & Advertiser, August 13, 1860, Page 2
I. S. Hobbie engaged in building the Elmira Works

1861 Syracuse Daily Journal, March 1, 1861, Page 3.
Going to the Bahama Islands.  Our fellow citizen, Gen. L. B. Swan, took his departure this morning for New York, whence he will sail in the stream Karnak, on Monday next, for Nassau, in New Providence, one of the Bahama group of islands.  He General has for some time been afflicted with a severe bronchial affection, which he close application to business as one of the contractors for the building of the Water Works at Elmira, has considerably aggravated.  [Rochester Express.

1861 "Elmira Water Works" Rochester Union & Advertiser, December 17, 1861, Page 2
I. S. Hobbie and Lansing B. Swan, contractors of the Elmira Water Works, which were completed successfully.

1861 New York Times, December 24, 1861, Page 2.
Obituary.  Gen. L. B. Swan died at Rochester on Friday last, in the 53d year of his age.  He was born in Onondaga County, resided in Utica until his removal to Rochester, thirty years ago, where he engaged successfully in the business of manufacturing water pipe.  In June, 1851, he was appointed Brigadier-General by Gov. Hunt, and at once assumed command of the Twenty-fifth Brigade, Seventh Division, a position which he held until his death.

1862 Rochester Union & Advertiser, May 7, 1862, Page 2
C. K. Hobbie, I. S. Hobbie and J. M. Hatch elected to board of directors of Elmira Water Works.

1868 Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), November 3, 1868, Page 1.
On Saturday last the Elmira Water Works were sold at Receiver's sale.  There were several competitors, but finally the works were purchased by George M. Diven for $[?]0,000.

1868 History of Elmira, Horseheads and the Chemung Valley, with Sketches of the Churches, Schools, Societies, Rail Roads, Manufacturing Companies, Etc., Etc: Also, Directory & Business Advertiser for 1868
Page 237:  Advertisement for Wyckoff Bros. & Co., Elmira, N.Y., Manufacturers of Wooden Water Pipe.
Pages 265-266:  Wyckoff Bros. & Co.--One of the most useful inventions of the present age, is Wyckoff's Patent Water and Gas Tubing, invented by Mr. Arcalous Wyckoff, of our City, and introduced by him into use about six years ago. The invention consists of a very ingenious boring instrument, which cuts through a log of any diameter, leaving the inside- perfectly solid, which is shoved out of the outer rim and bored again, thus making as many tubes out of one log as the thickness thereof will permit. The operation is very quickly performed, the boring instrument being turned by steam, causing but very little waste of timber, so little that the boring dust accumulated in a day, is hardly sufficient to make enough fire to keep the steam up for the engine. This tubing has been thoroughly tested by the Elmira Water Company, for six years past, and is found to be in as perfect condition now as when it was first laid down. It is made of any required size, in sections eight feet long, connected with a socket joint, perfectly air and water tight. Each section is bored from sound timber, made round in a lathe, bound at the ends with iron, and coated inside and outside with a preparation of coal tar and asphaltum, which renders it impervious to gas, air or water, and imperishable. It is free from the expansion and contraction to which iron pipes are subject, from changes of temperature. It is also free from the accumulation of water in the pipes, so far as it is caused by sweating, to which iron pipes are subject at certain seasons of the year. The price of the pipe is less than that of any other. It requires no lead or other material for cementing the joints, except what is furnished by the manufacturers, and can be laid easily and rapidly, by any ordinary workman. It can also be tapped and connected with branch pipes, more easily than any other kind. It has been used by various Gas Companies, both in this and other States. In the State of Ohio, in Painesville and Chillicothe, the Gas Companies are extravagant in their praises. They say they have had frequent opportunities to examine this pipe inside and outside, while putting in service pipes, and find the coating inside and outside perfectly dry and hard, not the least affected by the dampness outside or by the gas inside, and that there has not occurred a single leak in the whole line of their main pipe since it was first laid down. Mr. C. R. Squire, proprietor of the Gas Works at Plainfield, N.J., also bears like testimony to the above, in regard to its adaptation to gas, and its durability and superiority over the iron pipes. We have been shown a large number of certificates from various Water and Gas Companies, sent to the proprietors of this most valuable tubing, from time to time, but we think it unnecessary to publish them in this hastily written article. We are convinced that it will supersede the use of iron pipes altogether, as soon as its merits shall have become generally known, as iron will fill by incrustation or will rust out, and the price of the wooden pipe being one-third less than either lead or iron, it will certainly take the preference. The Messrs. Wyckoff also manufacture a very superior Wooden Eve Trough, half-round on inside and outside, a very light, durable and ornamental trough, for dwellings, barns, factories, &c., at less than half the price of tin. It will last longer than tin, if treated with the same care. We would especially call the attention of our readers to the advertisement of Messrs. Wyckoff Bros. & Co. on page 237 of this book.

1869 An act to incorporate the Elmira Water Works Company, and to provide for supplying water to the city of Elmira.  April 29, 1869.

1869 Rules and Regulations and Tariff of Annual Rates of the Elmira Water Works Co: Adopted November 20, 1869

1873 Hobbie, Ayrault & Co., Sole Manufacturers, in the New England and Middle States of Wyckoff's Patent Water and Gas Pipe for Water Works, Gas Works, Railroad Tanks, Tanneries, Breweries, Coal Mines, Farmers, and for Water Courses of Every Description.  Factories at Elmira, N.Y. and Tonawanda, N.Y.

1875 Annie E. Fraser, Executrix, etc., Appellant, v. Arcalous Wyckoff, Respondent, 63 N.Y. 445, December 14 1875, Supreme Court of New York | Records and Briefs |

1882 Elmira, from Engineering News, 9:228 (July 2, 1882).

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

1887 An act to amend chapter four hundred and two of the laws of eighteen hundred and sixty-nine, entitled "An act to incorporate the Elmira Water-works Company, and to provide for supplying water to the city of Elmira."  March 1, 1887.

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

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

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

1892 "Water Works Directors," Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York), May 3, 1892, Page 5.

1892 Our County and Its People: A History of the Valley and County of Chemung, from the Closing Years of the Eighteenth Century, by Ausburn Towner
Page 138:  Wyckoff, Arcalous, was born in Warren County, N. J., April 10, 1816. His parents moved to Tompkins County, N. Y., in 1817, where he was educated in the public schools. He remained at home until twenty five years old. In 1841 he came to Wellsburg, Chemung County. He married three times, first, May 29, 1842, Frances G., daughter of Dr. Hopkins, of Wellsburg, by whom he had four sons, two of whom died in infancy and two grew to manhood: George W. and Ernest L. His first wife died August 10, 1854. For his second wife he married, May 19, 1857, Melissa D. Treeman, who died August 31, 1865. For his third wife be married, April 10, 1877. Caroline C. Benedict Hull, of Elmira, N. Y. His son George W. married Sibyl Welling, of Orange County, N. Y., January 26, 1870. He died in 18S3 aged forty years. Ernest L., the only surviving son, was born in Elmira, June 20, 1852, and was educated in the public schools of the city. February 7, 1872, he married Alice C. Brooks, of Owego, Tioga County, N. Y. Mr. Wyckoff, soon after arriving at Wellsburg, in 1841, began to manufacture fanning mills and potash and also conducted a general grocery business. About 1851 he moved to Elmira and began the manufacture of chain pumps, but soon went to Tompkins County and various other places in the State of Ohio, returning to Elmira in 1854, where he has since made his permanent home. He then began to manufacture wood water pipe and chain pumps, which have been appreciated by their patrons and financially successful to the proprietors. George W. and Ernest L. were associated with their father in the business until the death of George W. The business is now carried on under the firm name of A. Wyckoff & Son. Mr. Wyckoff is the inventor and patentee of several useful inventions.
Pages 350-351:  The Elmira Water Company was organized on April 14, 1859, the incorporators being Elijah P. Brooks, William T. Post, William Beach, John T. Rathbun, G. L. Smith, Arcalous Wyckoff, and Eli Wheeler. Isaac E. Hobbie was the manager of the concerns of the company. It worked along under many disadvantages in the way of securing a sufficient and reliable supply of water, and in 1869 the company was reorganized and called the Elmira Water Works Company, at whose head was Gen. A. S. Diven. A large sum of money running into a number of hundreds of thousands of dollars has been expended in giving Elmira an always sufficient water supply. There is a large storing reservoir on West Hill, and a receiving and distributing reservoir farther down which has a fountain for purifying the water that in the size of the main stream thrown into the air and the height to which it flies has only one equal in the whole world. Should the storing reservoir ever fail the Chemung River, by means of powerful pumps located in the western part of the city, furnishes an abundance that has never yet given any evidence of failing. The company is still in the control of the Diven family.

1893 "Shall We Buy Them?" Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York), May 31, 1893, Page 5.
The City's Opportunity to Own Its Gas and Water Works.  Several years ago the Divens offered the water works to the city for $400,000, but the offer was rejected.

1893 "The Mutual Life's Elmira Trustee," The Chronicle 51(22):291-292 (June 1, 1893)
Mr. David C. Robinson's Numerous Enterprises.  Elmira Municipal Improvement Company.  Elmira Water Works Company.

1893 "The Water Supply," Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York), June 2, 1893, Page 8.
An Ex-Official Says they were offered for $350,000.

1896 "Polluted Water in Elmira," The New York Times, February 16, 1896, Page 4.
180 cases of typhoid fever and 15 deaths.

1896 "City of Elmira.  Investigation as to the Cause of Epidemic of Typhoid Fever," Seventeenth Annual Report of the State Board of Health of New York.

1896 Elmira Telegram, March 22, 1896, Page 7.
George M. Diven, at one time largely interested in the Elmira Water Works company, dictated and signed the following: Elmira, N, Y., March 21, 1896.
To the Editor of the Telegram: Your reporter has handed me a printed slip containing questions with, reference to the supply of water for this city, with request that I answer the same. As a general rule I am averse to ventilating my opinions through the newspapers, but in view of my past connection with the Elmira Water Works company it is perhaps not unreasonable that I should be asked to yield my inclinations and to some extent, at least, answer your questions: although they are in such shape that I could not very well answer each one categorically.
I will say in the first place that I am and always have been in favor of the water works being owned by the city and that I would now favor such a purchase by the city upon reasonable terms, all, the circumstances of the case being properly taken into account. Very few of our citizens are probably aware of the past history of. the water works company. It is now nearly forty years since the first company was organized, known as the "Elmira Water Company," and water was first turned on for city use in the latter part of 1860 or the beginning of 1861. This company struggled along with an insufficient supply and lack of means to, provide a proper one.  It became involved, and, upon a judgment against it, was placed in the hands of a receiver, who, pursuant to a decree of the court, sold the works about 1868, and I became the purchaser, subject, of course, to the lien of two outstanding mortgages executed prior to the judgment, and not then realizing what sort of an elephant I was purchasing.  It soon became apparent that considerable money must be expended to furnish a sufficient supply, and I then talked -with members of the common council with a view of having the city take the works, offering to take pay in city bonds sufficient in amount to pay; me for my investment and to go on and put the works In efficient shape. No formal offer of this kind was made to the common council but the matter was talked over personally by me with different members of the council, who were at that time prominent and progressive public citizens. I can recall but one of them as living now.  They met my approaches on the subject with such disfavor that I gave it up, although some of the members favored the idea, and I do not recall that any of them directly opposed it, although they all seemed to think there was no use of trying to get the city to make the purchase.  I then procured the charter of the present Elmira Water Works company by an act of the legislature passed in 1869. Before the bill was introduced it was submitted to the council or a committee thereof and some alterations in reference to the supply of water for city purposes and the right purchase made at their suggestion.  At my father's request an old friend of his, an eminent civil engineer, who had had large experience in water works construction but had retired from active business, came here and looked over the ground with a view of determining how best to procure a supply of water. At his suggestion we secured the services of Mr. Fteley, who is now chief engineer of the Croton Aqueduct department, to come here and carefully look over the ground, make surveys and estimates and give us his ideas. At that time Elmira was a city of only about one-quarter of its present population. It was estimated that a supply of 1,000,000 gallons per day would last the city for a number of years, and from what data could then be procured about the rain fall it was decided that a sufficient supply could be obtained from what is known as Carr's creek, coming from West hill. Several plans and surveys were made resulting in the construction of the present dam under the direction of Mr. Fteley. The rapid growth of the city soon demonstrated the necessity of a larger supply and the frequent long dry-spells prevented our storing enough water from Carr's creek to keep up a uniform supply. After considering several propositions it was finally determined to erect pump works to tide over dry seasons.  G. M. Diven

1897 New York Filter Manuf'g Co. v. Elmira Water-Works Co. et al. 82 Fed. Rep. 459, September 20, 1897, Circuit Court, Northern District of New York.

1897 New York Filter Manuf'g Co. v. Elmira Water-Works Co. et al. 83 Fed. Rep. 1013, November 26, 1897, Circuit Court, Northern District of New York.

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

1898 Revised charter of the city of Elmira, with the several acts applicable to the city and officers thereof

1900 A History of the City of Elmira, N.Y.,  by Walter Henry Ottman, Doctoral Dissertation, Cornell University

1901 "The Elmira Waterworks," by J.M. Diven, Superintendent, Fire and Water 29:205-206 (June 15, 1901)

1903 The Manual of Statistics: Stock Exchange Hand-book 25:479
Elmira Water, Light & Railroad Company.  Founded under the laws of New York, May 26, 1900.  It acquired the properties of the Elmira Municipal Improvement Co.

1909 Manning's Elmira, Elmira Heights, Horseheads, West Elmira and Southport (Chemung County, New York) Directory

1913 An act to establish and maintain a water department in and for the city of Elmira.  May 23, 1913.

1913 Poor's Manual of Public Utilities
Page 280:  Elmira Water, Light and RR.  Incorporated May 23, 1900, under the laws of New York, as Elmira Water, Light Co. (name changed as above, May 26, 1900) as successor after foreclosure sale on May 25, 1900, to the companies constituting the Elmira Municipal Improvement Co.  Since incorporation the following companies were merged with the Elmira Water, Light and RR Co.: The Elmira Water Works Co, May 31, 1900; Elmira Heights Water co., July 1, 1901.  Controlled by the United States Gas and Electric Co., through ownership of practically all of the capital stock.

1914 Elmira Star-Gazette, January 19, 1914, Page 6. | also here |
In 1863, Myles Ayrault was superintendent of the Elmira Water Company, having his office with S. R. Van Campen, who was a banker in the corner store of the Rathbun House, then the Brainard, and he lived in that hotel.
The Elmira Water Company of which Miles Ayrault was superintendent in 1854, was incorporated April 14, 1859, with Simeon Benjaman president; Isaac S. Hobbie. secretary; Riggs Watrous, treasurer; L. B.  Swan, superintendent, and directors S. Benjamin, I. S. Hobbie, R. Watrous, L. B. Swan, Arcalous Wyckoff, John T. Rathbun and Elisha P. Brooks.

1915 Fifth Annual Report of the Conservation Commission
Pages 360-366:  In the matter of the application of the City of Elmira for approval of its acquisition of a water supply, and to approve it purchase of the water-works system of the Elmira Water, Light and Railroad Company, and to operate and extend said system.  Approved Jun 17, 1915.

1916 "Wyckoff Wood Pipe," Fire and Water Engineering 59:94 (February 9, 1916)
Elmira, N. Y., laid wood stave water pipes, manufactured by A. Wyckoff in 1860, several miles of which are still in daily use under pressures ranging from 35 pounds to 86 pounds.  In late years tehse pipes have been examined at many salient points, and in every case were found to be in excellent condition with no leaks apparent.

1918 Conveyance and Distribution of Water for Water Supply: Aqueducts, Pipe-lines and Distributing Systems, a Practical Treatise for Water-works Engineers and Superintendents, by Edward Wegmann
Page 62:  Wood-stave pipes for Water Works.  In 1860 such pipes were laid in the distributing system of the water works of Elmira,N.Y., under pressures of 35-86 lbs. per sq. in., and some are still in use in that city.

1919 "The Elmira Water Works," by H.M. Beardsley, General Manager, Fire and Water Engineering 65(23):1373, 1376 (June 4, 1919)

1919 "The Operation of an American or Rapid Water Filtration Plant for Twenty Years at Elmira, New York," by James M. Caird, Journal of the American Water Works Association 6(3):409-421 (September, 1919)

1939 "Water System Inaugurated Five Years Before City," Elmira Star-Gazette, June 27, 1939, Page 2-C
The plant was started with Mr. Hobbie built a small bulkhead in Seeley Creek from which wooden piping was run to some of the houses located on the south side of the Chemung River.  When the company was organized it bought land in the northwestern section of the city, built a reservoir, and took into it water from Hoffman Creek.  One or two impounding dams were built at points on the creek above this reservoir, where water was stored for use during the summer. Several mains, one of them bringing water to the central, part of the city, were laid.
In 1869 the company was reorganized under the name of the Elmira Water Works Company, and was headed, by Gen. A. S. Diven.
In 1870 and '71 what is known as the storage reservoir was built on Hoffman Creek about a mile above the other reservoir.  Water from this reservoir ran into the former distributing reservoir, from which it went into the city.  In the early '70s, a right of way was purchased for a pipeline across the river from the north to the south side, and the old bulkhead on Seeley Creek was discontinued.
Because of the city's rapid growth, the runoff from the Hoffman Creek watershed was not sufficient to meet requirements, and in the early '80s the first pump station was built on the present location of the pumping plant.  By means of this addition, water was pumped from the Chemung River to the original distribution reservoir on Hoffman Creek.  The present pumping plant was built in 1889.
The next important development was the Filter Plant, built in 1897.

1962 "A Tribute to John M. Diven," by John H. Murdoch Jr., Journal of the American Water Works Association 54(11):1400-1406 (November, 1962)

1988 Annual Report, Elmira Water Board
Pages 32-40 Brief History of the Elmira Water System

2012 Annual Report, Elmira Water Board.
Pages 35-36 Elmira Water Supply - Brief History 1859-2013

Alexander Samuel Diven (February 10, 1809 June 11, 1896)

John Malvina Diven (April 24, 1852 January 4, 1925)


2017 Morris A. Pierce