Documentary History of American Water-works

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Middle Atlantic States New York Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs, New York

Saratoga Springs was settled around 1776 and incorporated as a separate town in 1819.  The village of Saratoga Springs was incorporated in 1826 and was combined with the town in 1915 to form the City of Saratoga Springs.

The first water works in Saratoga Springs were built by Henry Walton sometime before 1826.  Walton was one of the most prominent early settlers of the area, and had inherited most of the land that now comprises the main area of the original village.  His system included a dam on Willow Brook near the intersection of Lake and High Rock Avenues.  A water-driven pump filled "an elevated wooden tank located on the easterly side of Broadway, about 300 feet north of the present City Hall. Water from this tank was conveyed through log pipes to the dwellings in the Upper Village." (1939)  In July 1826, Walton advised the public that the system was not profitable and would be discontinued if other arrangements were not made.  It is not known what became of the system and no further information has been found. 

In 1832, John Clarke was operating a similar water system that pumped water into a tank located at what is now the Congress Springs Park.  The same Village Brook that Walton had dammed ran through Clarke's property, although it is not clear where the dam and pump were located.  His water tower was disguised as an Egyptian obelisk, as shown in several illustrations referenced below.  Clarke's system apparently ran for many years. 

Another aqueduct owned by Thomas J. Marvin operated near Franklin Square, and in 1844 an attempt was made to build a reservoir for fire purposes, but it was unsuccessful.

The Village was authorized to construct its own water works in 1846 and these were operating in 1847, taking water from a reservoir two miles west of town that was distributed through cement-lined wrought-iron pipes that were installed by their manufacturer, J. Ball & Co. This system was largely unsatisfactory, and the village experienced several large fires in the 1860s.

In 1868, a new law authorized construction of a new water system, and after some debate the water commissioners voted to adopt the Holly system.  This installed began operating on July 10, 1871 with a 2 million gallon per day Holly gang pumps and two Holly rotary pumps that could be driven by both steam and water power.  This system appears to have worked well, but water consumption outstripped the system capacity and a new 5 million gallons per day Holly-Gaskill pump was installed in 1882, although the committee appointed by the water commissioners had apparently recommended purchase of a Worthington engine.  The 1882 engine was the first of its type and underwent extensive testing to prove its performance.  Another 8 million gallon per day Holly-Gaskill pumping engine was installed in 1888.  The two newer engines remained in service until 1933, when electric pumps were installed.

Water is provided by the City of Saratoga Springs.

1826 Saratoga Sentinel, July 4, 1826, Page 3.
Congress Spring. Several unjust reports having been circulated relative to the mode of furnishing water at this Spring, the proprietor thinks it due to himself and the public, to say, that all Pitchers, Jugs, and Kegs, for family use, will be filled gratuitously by the boys in attendance, and that any remuneration given to the boys, will be exclusive1y for their benefit.  John Clarke, Saratoga Springs, July 1, 1826.
Notice.  Henry Walton requests a meeting with him of those persons who wish to have the Water-Works continued in operation, that a plan may be a adopted to induce him to support them in future.  His receipts for rents have been so small, and so irregularly paid; that unless some more advantageous arrangement be made with him, that works will be stopped on the l0th July inst.  He will attend to receive propositions on Saturday next, at the Columbian Hotel, at 4 o'clock P. M.- Saratoga Springs, July 1, 1826.
Village Aqueduct. Our readers in the village are referred to a notice of Judge Walton in a subsequent column of this paper. It will be perceived from the statement of Judge W. that his receipts have been insufficient to warrant a continuance of the aqueduct at his own expense, without some new arrangement. The meeting which he proposed for last Saturday, was postponed to Saturday next, at the request of one or two citizens. Those who wish to have the aqueduct continued, will see the importance of attending this meeting; as a failure in effecting a different arrangement will be followed by a discontinuance of our usual supply of water, after the l0th inst. Added to this, we understand Judge Walton has an offer for the sale of the dam and water privileges, which are now used for in forcing the water into the village; and which he will probably accept, should not a satisfactory plan for future operations be adopted at the proposed meeting.

1830 Saratoga Sentinel, April 6, 1830, Page 3.
Take Notice.--  A premium of Ten Dollars will be awarded to the person who shall propose a plan, which shall be adopted by the Trustees, for supplying the Fire Companies with water in this village. It must be submitted to the board in writing on or before the 1st day of May next. By order of the Trustees. M. Taylor, Clerk. April 5, l830.

1846 An act to amend the act incorporating the village of Saratoga Springs, passed April 17, 1826.  May 12, 1846.

1847 "Water for Saratoga," American Railroad Journal 20:119 (February 20, 1847)

1848 "Patent Indestructible Water Pipe," The Farmer and Mechanic, 48:226 (May 11, 1848)

1855 Ball's patent indestructible water and gas pipe, advertisement includes a December, 1849 testimonial from the.Water Commissioners .and Trustees of the village of Saratoga Springs.

1868 An act to amend the charter of Saratoga Springs, passed March twenty-sixth, eighteen hundred and sixty-six, and for the purpose of securing a supply of pure and wholesome water for the use of said village.  May 4, 1868.

1869 An act to amend an act entitled "An act to amend the charter of the village of Saratoga Springs, passed March twenty-sixth, eighteen hundred and sixty-six, and for the purpose of securing a supply of pure and wholesome water for the use of said village," passed May fourth, eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, and designating commissioners of construction to carry the same into effect.  April 21, 1869.

1868 "The Holly Water Works," Lockport Daily Journal, June 11, 1869, Page 3.
The Auburn Advertiser of June 9th, says:  The Committees from Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, mentioned yesterday as expected here to-day, were so well pleased with the Binghamton water works that they did not consider it necessary to come here, and accordingly returned home.  Hon. T. T. Flagler, President, Charles Keep, Secretary, Wm. C. Weir, Contracting Agent, and Birdsell Holly, all of the Holly Manufacturing Co., Lockport, and accompanied by C. A. Russell, Esq., Chairman of the Board of Water Commissioners, Saratoga, are in town to-day, having visited the pump house and witnessed the operations of the city water works, with much gratification at the perfection of the system. The fame of these works is rapidly spreading and their value soon gains for them an introduction wherever a water supply is desired.  President St. John, of the National Board of Underwriters, is expected to join our visitors here this afternoon or evening.

1870 An act to amend an act entitled "An act to amend the charter of the village of Saratoga Springs, passed March twenty-sixth, eighteen hundred and sixty-six," and "An act for the purpose of procuring a supply of pure and wholesome water for the use of said village," passed May fourth, eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, and an act amending the same, passed April twenty-first, eighteen hundred and sixty-nine, and to designate commissioners of construction. February 26, 1870.

1870 Albany Journal, July 7, 1870, Page 2.
From Saratoga. The water question is settled, and the Legislature will be troubled no more to tinker out Commission.  The Water Commissioners last Friday evening, by a close vote, determined to introduced the Holly system of works, by which the water is forced directly into the main pipes.

1870 The Plattsburgh Sentinel, August 12, 1870, Page 3
The Water Commissioners of Saratoga have made a contract with the Holly Company of Lockport to put in the required machinery for the new village water works, at a cost of about $35,000.  The water is to be taken from "Excelsior lake."  For this privilege the village pays $20,000. -- The entire cost of the new water works will be bout $80,000.

1871 Veto of a bill entitled “An act to incorporate the Granite Lake Company.”  February 28, 1871.

1871 An act to amend an act entitled "An act to amend the charter of Saratoga Springs, passed March twenty-sixth, eighteen hundred and sixty-six, and for the purpose of securing a supply of pure and wholesome water for the use of said village," passed May fourth, eighteen hundred and sixty-eight.  March 28, 1871.

1871 Essex County Republican, September 21, 1871, Page 1.
Important from Saratoga. The Grand Firemens' Tournament - Inauguration of the New Water Works - Trial of Hand Engines - the Great Fire.  Saratoga Springs, Sept 14, 1871.
The efficiency of our new Water Works was pretty severely tested, there being at one time eighteen streams flowing from the hydrants, besides the ten or twelve stream of fire steamers.

1871 "The Holly Works at a Fire in Saratoga, N. Y.," Cumberland Daily News, September 26, 1871, Page 4.

1872 "Report of the Water Commissioners," The Saratogian, March 28, 1872, Page 2.  Thorough description of the water works.

1872 An act to amend an act entitled "An act to amend the charter of the village of Saratoga Springs," passed March twenty-sixth, eighteen hundred and sixty-six, and the acts amendatory thereof.  May 17, 1872

1875 "Holly Water Works, Saratoga, N.Y.", Stereoscopic photograph of 1871 Holly engine by William H. Sipperly, from New York Public Library. | another photo | and another |

1875 "The Cholera Season of 1832," Reminiscences of Saratoga and Ballston, William Leete Stone

1876 An act to provide for laying an additional main from the Loughberry water-works in the town and village of Saratoga Springs.  May 13, 1876.

1878 "The Holly System of Water Supply and Fire Protection for Cities and Villages," Scientific American Supplement, 6(140supp):2219-2234 (September 7, 1878)

1878 "The Water Supply," from History of Saratoga County, New York: With Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers, by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester

1881 Saratoga Springs, Engineering News, 8:382 (September 24, 1881)

1882 Plattsburgh Sentinel, August 11, 1882, Page 8.
Saratoga Springs had a narrow escape last week from a disastrous fire, owing to the utter worthlessness of their water works system. The Journal makes grave charges against the water commissioners of that town in connection with the failure of the Holly company to put in the pumping machine promised by July 25. The fire, which was in a barn sear the new Kensington Hotel, was extinguished by the bucket brigade.

1882 "A Water Bonanza," New York Herald, October 19, 1882, Page 6.
One of the factors likely to determine the Potter-Clement Assembly controversy relates to the important subject of an adequate supply of pure and wholesome water for Saratoga. 1 am told here that a "water ring" has been formed among certain of the local machine republicans for the purpose of grabbing all they can out of the expenditures for
this work. It was a noticeable fact that during the last season good drinking water was the exception in all the hotels and dwelling houses. Property owners, too, have become alarmed at this condition of affairs, fearing that a fire might break out and that a sufficient supply could not be procured. The facts in relation to this controversy have been detailed to me in Saratoga as follows:—
"About a year ago it became so clear that the Holly machinery (put in some ten years before) was utterly inadequate to supply the increased demand for domestic purposes—to say nothing of the emergency of a great fire—that the Board of Water Commissioners of the village resolved unanimously to purchase now machinery. This action was generally approved. To make sure of procuring the best machinery the President and Superintendent of the Board were appointed a committee to visit other places and investigate. They did so and reported in favor of the Worthington pumps. The Board, however, did not agree to this report, but suspiciously, by a majority of one, decided in favor of a proposition from the Holly company. This corporation was bound under a heavy contract to complete the work by July 25 of this year. It is not completed yet. The inference follows that they are protected by the local machine republican ring, and that, too, for a consideration. Moreover, it is claimed that the new and expensive machinery is not capable of doing the work required, as shown at two small fires where the new engines were tested. It is also argued that this is an experiment at best. The quarrel hits aroused much bitterness, the machine republican organ taking tho Holly side of the tight, and the Journal, through Colonel Ritchie, dealing vigorous blows against the ring."   

1882 "Saratoga in 1831," by Edmund James Huling, from Huling's Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa and Schuylerville Directory for 1882/83.
Page 32:  The water supply of the village came from a few springs in the bank of what is now included in Congress Spring park, and others in the bank southwest of the cold spring west of what is now South Federal street.  Dr. John Clarke owned these springs, and laid wooden logs up Broadway and along Congress and Federal streets. These logs were subject to occasional stoppages from the small roots of trees growing through the joints and filling the log, stopping the flow of water.

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

1883 "Report of the Duty Test of the Holly-Gaskill Engines, Saratoga, N.Y.," by Charles T. Porter, Engineering News 10:332-333 (July 14, 1883)

1884 Engineering: An Illustrated Weekly Journal 
37:140-141 (February 15, 1884) "The Gaskill Pumping Engine at Saratoga."
37:206-209 (March 7, 1884) "Details of the Gaskill Pumping Engine, Saratoga, N.Y., U.S.A."

1884 "The Holly-Gaskill Pumping Engines at Saratoga, N.Y.," Engineering News 11:195-200. (April 26, 1884).  Includes a nice engraving of the engine.

1884 "The Gaskill Steam Pumping Engines," Scientific American Supplement 13:7415-7417 (November 29, 1884)

1886 James Mingay et al. v. Henry B. Hanson et al. 102 N. Y. 695, Court of Appeals of New York, June 1, 1886.  Lawsuit against water commissioners over debt, which was determined to be legal.

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

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

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

1891 "Modern High Duty Pumping Engines," from The Engineer's Encyclopedia
Holly-Gaskill pumping engine introduced at Saratoga in 1882.

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

1899 Our County and Its People: A Descriptive and Biographical Record of Saratoga County, New York, Part 1, George Baker Anderson

1919 "Water Works of Saratoga," by Charles R. Murray, Superintendent of Water Works, Fire and Water Engineering 66(13):689. (September 24, 1919)

1927 Reminiscences of Saratoga, by Cornelius E. Durkee
Page 79: [Description of fire on July 4, 1864, when most of the village firemen were at a muster in another town and there was no one to operate the single hand engine available.]  I appealed as foreman to men residents and visitors alike for help but with no response so I went to the porch of Union Hall, where there was a crowd of watching visitors and tried to get the men to come to the rescue for it wouldn't have looked well to see a machine idle with the flames raging.
The men did not respond and as a last resort, the women were appealed to. One or two started and soon the whole crowd of women joined and in ten minutes twenty women were working the brakes, ten on each side, many gowned in fine apparel. It was a fine demonstration at that early day of the real civic pride and service of the fair sex. Other women soon stood by ready to replace the ones working. The men were duly shamed at last, and soon rallied to take the places of the women and there was then no further difficulty in obtaining men, until the firemen who had been wired to return came back and served until the fire was over.
Page 93:  In 1838, John Clark was paid $100 for the use of his water works for fire purposes.
Page 94: In 1844, a reservoir was made on Franklin Square to hold about 3,000 hogsheads of water into which ran the water from the acqueduct of Thomas J. Marvin from the Waterbury and other springs.  Mr. Marvin reserved the right to the water accumulating within three feet of the surface.  $1,000 was appropriated to build this.  Pump logs were laid from the reservoir to Division Street to Union Hall and to corner of Broadway and Walton Streets, the water to be used for fire purposes only.  The scheme proved to be a failure and the plan was abandoned.
Page 150:  Early Water Supply. The water supply of the village came from a few springs in the bank of land that now included Congress Spring Park and other springs.  Dr. John Clarke owned these springs and laid wooden logs with a two inch bore connecting the logs, up Broadway and along Congress and Federal Streets.  The water was pumped up into a tower in Congress Spring Park and from thence distributed through these pipe logs to consumers.

1936 "The Water Supply of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.," by Samuel J. Mott, City Engineer, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.  Journal of the American Water Works Association, 28(12):1994-1997 (December, 1936)
Pages 1994-1995: The City of Saratoga Springs lies on two sides of a valley, the easterly side being of sandy soil and the westerly of limestone rock. On the westerly side of this valley, is a fault in the rock structure, and it is on the easterly side of this fault that all the mineral springs are located. Through this valley runs what is known as the Village Brook (now walled up and used as a surface water carrier).
The first water system of which Mr. Corey has any record was obtained from this stream. At the time of its development, the village was divided into two settlements, one known as the Upper Village, a settlement adjacent to the High Rock Spring (the first mineral spring discovered) ; the other, known as the Lower Village, consisting of a settlement near another mineral spring, known as the Congress.
The history of these various water supplies began between 1820 and 1830, when a dam was constructed over the Village Brook where High Rock Avenue (then known as Willow Walk) joins Lake Avenue, about 300 feet in the rear of City Hall. History states that this dam flooded an area as far back as Old Hodge's blacksmith shop. A wooden flume was built on the lower side of this dam which conveyed the water to an undershot water-wheel, which in turn operated a pump which pumped the water through log pipes to a wooden tank located on the easterly side of Broadway, about 300 feet north of the present City Hall. Water from this tank was conveyed through log pipes to the dwellings in the Upper Village. This simple contrivance, says the historian, was Saratoga's first water supply.
Later, Dr. Clark, who owned Congress Spring, built a dam and installed a water-wheel and pump that forced the water into a tall tower, from which it was delivered to the village through log pipes. The historian says a charge was made for the water and, being a private enterprise, much revenue was made. As this supply was located near the Lower Village, I imagine it was only this part of the village served.
Another supply served the Lower Village, from what is known as Waterbury Brook, which flows through the northwestern section of the City. In excavating for sewers and water-mains in the westerly sections, we have uncovered the log pipes that conveyed the water from this source to the lower village.

2001 The Making of American Resorts:   Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa, Lake George, by Theodore Corbett
Page 76: There was also a sixty-foot high water tower camouflaged to look like an Egyptian obelisk.

2009 Guide to the Archives, City of Saratoga Springs includes records of the Water Commissioners, etc.

2010 The Fall of the House of Walworth: A Tale of Madness and Murder in Gilded Age America, by Geoffrey O'Brien
Page 44:  John Clarke, a retired Manhattan businessman who enjoyed the distinction of having opened New York's first soda fountain, purchased the land containing Congress Spring and its neighbor Columbian Spring, and around them laid out Congress Park, a landscaped pleasure ground featuring pavilions and a running brook -- and, in the fullness of time, a Greek temple and a sixty-foot water tower disguised as an Egyptian Obelisk.

2015 Saratoga Springs: A Centennial History, Editor-in-chief Field Horne
Page 323: Saratoga Springs is unique in New York State as a city not situated near a major freshwater source, and this has required some creative civic solutions. The village was served initially by public and private pumps at wells dug along Broadway, at Catherine and North Circular Streets, and then on Church and Washington Streets. Enterprising men built water wagons to carry water to families at sixpence a barrel. Hollowed-out logs served to pipe water from streams in the upper village and from the Village Brook as it flowed east down Congress Street to the swampy land in the park. Be­tween 1820 and 1830 a dam was built in the Village Brook where Lake Avenue crosses it, forming a large pond that supplied a reservoir tank through log pipes. A water wheel pumped a supply up to a standpipe on Broadway near the present Algonquin Building.

Historic Maps of Saratoga Springs John Clarke's obelisk water tower is shown on the "1851 J. Clarke" and "1856 Geil Map."  The 1871 Water Works are shown on the "1876 Saratoga Springs and Surrounding" map.

Illustrations of John Clarke's Obelisk Water Tower in Congress Park
ca. 1835 Congress Park from Historic Congress Park

1843 Congress Park, Saratoga Springs from Endicott's Picture of Saratoga for 1843

ca. 1850 Congress Park

1851 Saratoga Schottisch, New York, cover of sheet music for piano. | Also here | and here with sheet music |

1870 Congress Spring, Saratoga, N.Y. showing the base of the obelisk after the water tower had been removed.

1876 Picture the songs: lithographs from the sheet music of nineteenth-century America, by Lester S. Levy
Page 1857:  The lawn and wooded areas in the background are part of Congress Park: the tall shaft, which appears to be an obelisk, is in reality a water tower.

© 2016 Morris A. Pierce