Documentary History of American Water-works

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Middle Atlantic States New York Long Island City

Long Island City, New York

Long Island City was incorporated as a city in 1870 and consolidated with New York City in 1898.

The Long Island City Water Company was incorporated in 1865 by William Nelson, Charles Ely, Henry S. Anable, Charles H. Rogers, Francis Pidgeon, James M. Waterbury, and William Hart "for the purpose of supplying said Long Island city and its neighborhood with pure water."

Long Island City built its own water works that started construction in 1873, but due to the corruption of the city's administration were not completed until April, 1875.

The Woodside Water Company was incorporated in 1892 by Mayor Patrick J. Gleason and others.  The company was given a contract to supply water to Long Island City, but was declared invalid as it exceeded the contracting authority of the water commissioners. The company was bought by the Urban Water Supply Company, but they were unsuccessful at expanding their limited service territory.

Water is currently provided by New York City.


References and Timeline
1864 An act to incorporate the Long Island City Water Company.  April 30, 1864.

1865 An act to amend an act entitled "An act to incorporate the Long Island City Water Company," passed April thirtieth, eighteen hundred sixty-four.  May 13, 1865.

1871 An act to revise the charter of Long Island City.  April 13, 1871.
Title X.  On the Supply of Water, and Assessment and Collection of Water Rents.

1871 An act to enable the mayor and common council of Long Island to borrow money.  April 13, 1871.
3. It shall be lawful for the mayor and common council of Long Island City to raise, by loan, a sum not exceeding three hundred thousand dollars, by the creation of a public fund or stock, redeemable as follows, viz.: Twenty thousand dollars to be paid in eighteen hundred and eighty-seven, and twenty thousand dollars every year thereafter until the whole sum issued by authority of this section shall be paid; which sum, not exceeding three hundred thousand dollars, authorized to be raised by this section, shall be expended in the purchase of the real estate and erection of the necessary works and other expenses required for procuring a supply of water for Long Island City, and for no other purpose. The said water-works are hereby specially pledged for the payment of the principal sum authorized by this section for such purpose, and for the interest thereon.

1873 New York Daily Herald, January 17, 1873, Page 3.
A contract is being prepared between the Board of Water Commissioners of Long Island City and the Holly Water Works Company of Lockport for the erection of pumps, machinery, and the introduction of the Holly system of water-works into that city.  It is proposed to have the prefatory arrangements all perfected before Spring, and to commence work as soon as the frost is out of the ground.  The contract calls for a completion of the works and the introduction of water before Autumn.

1873 World (New York City, New York), June 21, 1873, Page 5.
Two hundred and fifty tons of iron pipe have arrived at Long Island City for the water-works.  It was manufactured at Buffalo and shipped via Erie Canal.

1873 Watertown Daily Times, June 27, 1873, Page 2.
Works has stopped on the Long Island city water works, owing to the failure to sell bonds.

1873 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 7, 1873, Page 3.
Water Works. - The water works of Long Island City continue to engage the attention of the local public and press.

1873 World (New York City, New York), July 10, 1873, Page 5.
The Board of Aldermen of Long Island City have adopted the report of the special committee appointed to investigate the transactions of the Water Board, exonerating the latter from censure and urging the vigorous prosecution of the water-works.

1873 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 7, 1873, Page 4.
Long Island City Water.

1873 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 24, 1873, Page 2.
Long Island City.  Impeachment of Mayor De Bevoise and Other for Alleged Fraud in Office.  Alleged frauds in the Board of Water Works.  The action of the Aldermen will undoubtedly indefinitely postpone the introduction of water into Long Island City.

1874 Map of Long Island City, Queens Co. N.Y. : showing farm lines &c. &c. : reduced from Commissioners new city map.

1875 The New York Times, April 27, 1875, Page 12.
The system of water-works designed for Long Island City was completed on Saturday, and water was introduced the following day.  To-day water will be had through the whole improvement district.

1875 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 18, 1875, Page 4.
Long Island City.  Popular dissatisfaction with political affairs.  The introduction of water was one of the most expensive operations.

1875 An act supplementary to and amendatory of the several acts, relating to the water supply of Long Island City.  May 21, 1875.

1876 Map of Long Island City, Queens Co., N.Y.

1877 Report of Wm. E. Worthen on the present condition of the water department of Long Island City : and recommendations and plans for making the works self-sustaining, with action of the board of water commissioners thereon.

1882 History of Queens County, New York, with illustrations, portraits, & sketches of prominent families and individuals
Page 283:  Long Island City. The City Water Supply.
The most important improvement which followed the passage of the revised charter was the introduction of  water. Henry S. De Bevoise succeeded Abram Ditmars as mayor of Long Island City. He lost no time in urging upon the newly appointed water board the introduction of a sufficient supply of water for those portions of the city which could not otherwise secure it. The Holly system of water-works was adopted, and a contract entered into by the water board for the necessary machinery. A well was sunk fifty feet in diameter, about forty feet in depth below high water mark, where a large supply of excellent water was found. In addition to this four-inch pipes were driven thirty-four feet into the sand below the bottom of the well. These pipes became so many flowing wells and added greatly to the supply from veins of water far below those that flowed into the well.  Thus it was that the supply of water was at once freed from all surface draining and vegetable matter, which could not be secured by any other system.
A large quantity of iron pipe was purchased for water mains and laid throughout the districts intended to be supplied. The machinery was delivered and an engine-house was erected near the well.
During all these preparations the water board and those who had favored the Holly system encountered great opposition from the people, not only from those who could not be expected to understand the nature of the system, but also from many of the most intelligent and influential men in the city. The system was almost universally condemned, the capacity of the well was entirely underrated, and it was often asserted that the sup-
ply would not be sufficient for a few families. The quality of the water was condemned, and it was generally believed that the machinery would never be seen in operation. Those who were willing to admit the efficiency of  the Holly system under other circumstances, believed that in this case, it was not worth while to go to the expense of making water connections with the mains, as the well would be pumped dry in a few hours.
The machinery, however, was soon placed in position, the pumps connected with the water in the well began to draw upon its supplies, and it was demonstrated that the well yielded over one million gallons per day. This
quantity soon increased to 1,200,000 per day. The water, having been analysed by eminent chemists, proved to be the best and coldest water introduced by mains into any of the cities of the United States. It is now admitted by all that the system has proved a marvelous success.
The water board of Long Island City, having but limited means, could not enter upon a plan of water-works sufficiently extensive to meet the future wants of a large and populous city. With the greatest care they
husbanded their means and gave to the people the best possible results from the funds placed at their disposal.
In order that an extra supply of water might be at hand in case of fires a series of 4-inch pipes were driven to a depth of fifty feet in the sand along the base of the hill near the edge of tide-water. These were connected
above by a horizontal pipe leading to the engine house, to which in case of emergency the pumps might be attached, and thus a greatly increased supply of water might be secured.

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

1883 Long Island City, from Engineering News, 10:145 (March 31, 1883).

1884 Daniel R. Lyddy, Respondent, against Long Island City, Appellant, Department Papers on Appeal, New York Supreme Court, General Term.  Case involving the Long Island City Water Commissioners.

1888 "Long Island City," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 1.

1890 "Long Island City," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 2.

1891 "Long Island City," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 3.

1893 "The Long Island Water Supply Co. Case," Engineering News 29:376 (April 20, 1893)

1893 Official map of Long Island City, Queens Co. N.Y.

1897 Woodside Water Co. v. Long Island City, 23 App. Div. 78, December 14, 1897, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

1897 "Long Island City," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 4.

1898 "The Water Question in the Borough of Queens," Fire and Water 23:90-91 (March 19, 1898)

1904 Matter of Citizens' Water Supply Company of Newtown, 97 App. Div. 630 (N.Y. App. Div. 1904)

1910 "Days of 'Pat' Gleason Recalled by Law Suit," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17, 1910, Page 7.
Bondholders seek to gain possession of old Woodside Water Co.
The Woodside Water Company was incorporated August 11, 1892.  The incorporators were Patrick J. Gleason, Long Island City, 420 shares; Charles Lynch, 193 Ash street, Detroit, Mich., ten shares; James W.Lamb, 167 Twelfth street, Long Island City, ten shares; Daniel Hickey, Laurel Hill, twenty-five shares; Philip J. Coffey, 208 East Thirty-fifth street, Manhattan, ten shares; Edward M. Terrell, Brooklyn, ten shares; Davis Avenius, Middle Village, twenty shares.

1914 The People of the State of New York ex rel. Urban Water Supply Company, Appellant, v. Maurice E. Connolly, as President of the Borough of Queens, City of New York, Respondent, 164 App. Div. 163, November 6, 1914, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

1916 Report of Delos F. Wilcox, Deputy Commissioner, to the Commissioner of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity in Relation to the Citizens Water Supply Company of Newtown. October 7, 1916

1984 300 Years of Long Island City: 1630-1930, by Vincent F. Seyfried
Page 94:  One of the most severe municipal problems in the growing village was the lack of a water supply.
Residents of the village were wholly dependent onwells of their own orpublic pumpssuch as one at the corner of Vernon Avenue and 50th Avenue. Mr. Anable seems to have organized a Long Island City Water Co. as early as 1866 which met regularly but accomplished nothing. The idea of connecting up with the Brooklyn system was repugnant, and the Payntar farm at the headwaters of Dutch Kills (now Bridge Plaza) was viewed as a preferable source. In Feb. 1869 the Payntarville Water Co. was incorporated as a move in the right direction but again nothing happened. The Water Commissioners of the Town of Newtown took up the matter for study in the summer of 1869 but months passed in silence. In the end the problem remained insoluble under the old regime and a water supply loomed up as one of the most immediate problems to be faced by the new city administration.
Pages 109- : The lack of a municipal water supply, a painful handicap in an industrial city, was felt as early as 1865 and sporadic attempts were made to start up private water companies. Henry S. Anable had organized a Long Island City Water Co. with a board of seven directors but this group did little more than explore the possibilities. Two years later there was talk of tieing into the Brooklyn Water system but others urged a home source, most probably the Payntar property in Dutch Kills which had springs. In 1869 the Payntarville Water Co. was chartered, but again nothing came of it. The revised charter of 1871 provided for a Water Board made up of the mayor, a city judge, the Public Works commissioner and two water commissioners appointed by the mayor. This first Water Board made intensive efforts to start up a municipal water system. Residents were still depending on hand pumps at street corners.  These pumps, maintained by the city, produced good and bad water depending on their location and nearness to salt water and industrial pollution. The big oil and varnish works dug their own wells which produced water of indifferent quality. The unregulated disposal of sludge acids and the constant escape of oil into the river and Newtown Creek were a constant threat to the water supply.
As a result of a thorough investigation,the Board determined that an adequate supply of water could be procured at Train's Meadow (Jackson Heights) for at least the next 20 years from the innumerable springs known to exist there. The heirs of the Barclay Estate at Astoria signified their willingness to donate to the city 40 acres of land at Train's Meadow on condition that the city should improve the tract and use it only fora water supply. Train's Meadow was far from any settled areas and any industries and promised a supply of pure potable water. However attractive the Jackson Heights source may have been, it was never tapped. In August 1871 the city printed up the first water bonds for public sale.
At the request of the city the Legislature in Albany passed a bill authorizing a bond issue of $300,000 to secure a water supply. Mayor Henry S. Debevoise elected in April 1872, came into office just as the money became available, and the temptation to pocket part of this windfall became irresistible.  The machinations of the city Water Board became one of the most publicized scandals of the Debevoise administration. Debevoise arranged to buy from his client (he was legal agent for Thomson) the notorious "Milk Springs", a tract of 110 lots near Pumping Station #1 (Van Dam St.) at the extravagant price of $500 a lot or $55,000, plus six acres of land around Cosman's Pond near Jackson Aye. at the inflated figure of $5500 an acre or $35,000; of course, the pond also was the property of Thomson.
As if the bilking of the city of $90,000 were not bad enough, for lands derisively referred to as "Thomson's bog", Mayor Debevoise "discovered" that the land purchased was more than the city really needed for water purposes and offered to sell some of it back to Thomson at a low figure. It required an enabling act from the Legislature to give authority to the Common Council to sell real estate and this was quietly obtained. A resolution was then offered in the Board of Alderman to sell the lots to Mr. Thomson, he agreeing to pay the city in its own bonds rather than hard cash, and for $25 to $30 more than he had originally charged the city. This looked good on paper, for it seemed to exculpate Mayor Debevoise, but in fact, since Long Island City bonds were much discounted from their par value, Thomson was unloading city paper of no great value and still getting his land back. Thomson then turned around and sold the surplus dirt off the land to the city Improvement Commission for use in filling in lowlands and swamps in the First Ward.
Besides buying Thomson's land, the Debevoise Water Board expended large sums for stations, pumps, and laying pipes, and $13,000 for a reservoir never used and $133,000 in surveying. When Abraham Ditmars came back into office in 1875, only $10,000 of the original $300,000 was left. This was insufficient to secure water and another appropriation of $50,000 was secured. With this amount the station at Steinway was put in and seven miles of pipe laid.
On Nov. 24, 1874 the Holly machinery, engines and pumps-96 tons-arrived at Long Island City from Lockport via the Erie Canal. In the spring of 1875 the engine and boiler houses were erected. On April 24, 1875 the water works were completed and on Sunday, April 25th, the water was turned on for the first time. There is extent the report of William Worthen, Chief Engineer of the Water Works, for the year 1877. There were then 15 miles of pipes laid, half of it six-inch; the big mains were on Van Dam St., Jackson and Thomson Avenues. There were only 200 hydrants. The system was not yet financially self-sustaining because there were far too few customers but the Common Council adopted Worthen's suggestion to extend its lines to more residential customers and to lower slightly the rates charged.
Page 125:  Patrick J. Gleason. He also got into the water business by incorporating the Woodside Water Company in 1890 and arranged an $80,000 contract between his private company and Long Island City for supplemental water to augment the municipal supply. It was later charged that Gleason's Commissioner of Public Works had disconnected some of the city's pumping stations to create the shortage. The litigation and the appeal arising from this scandal went on beyond Gleason's death. 

2005 The Urban Origins of Suburban Autonomy, by Richardson Dilworth


2017 Morris A. Pierce