Documentary History of American Water-works

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Middle Atlantic States New York Troy

Troy, New York

Troy became a village in 1796 and a city in 1816.

The first water works were operating by August, 1798, when local attorney and future congressman John Bird advertised his home for sale that included "a supply of water by conduits."

The source of this water may have been a spring on land owned by Stephen J. Schuyler, who in November, 1799 conveyed the water rights to Israel Clarke, a physician in West Windsor, New Jersey, who was the brother-in-law of Mahlon Taylor, a local entrepreneur who died on April 26, 1799.   In return for the water rights, Clarke was to support and educate Taylor's son Mahlon Clarke Taylor.  In July of 1806 the Troy village trustees passed an ordinance "for the preservation of the aqueducts."  These "Aqueduct Water Works" were offered for sale in December, 1812 by Benjamin Smith and in March, 1813 by Mahlon Taylor. 

James Ramsey (1778-1860) of Burke, Vermont received a patent on October 4, 1810 for "clay tubes for aqueducts," also known as earthen conduits or aqueduct pipes. Ramsey's partner, Willard Carleton (1769-?), and Roman Fyler (1769-1828) secured the patent rights for New York state and in 1811 built a factory in Troy to manufacture the conduits, which had been used in Vermont and Connecticut.  They installed some conduits at a local brewery, and persuaded local residents to form a company to build a system using their product, which had the very appropriate name of The Earthen Conduit Company of Troy.  One 1873 book states that Fyler "installed the first aqueduct in Troy," but no other information has been found about this system or its fate.  The same pipes used in an 1813 system at St. Johnsbury, Vermont, failed after about two years, so it is unlikely that the Troy project fared any better.

The Earthen Conduit Company of Troy was incorporated on June 16, 1812 by Abraham Ten Eyck, Derick Lane, Daniel Merritt, with the first directors being Abraham Ten Eyck, Derick Lane, Platt Titus, Nathan Warren and Daniel Merritt. 

The Conduit Company of Troy was incorporated on April 13, 1814  by Richard P. Hart, Nathan Warren, and Daniel Merrit, with the first directors being Daniel Merritt, Richard P. Hart, Nathan Warren,  Townsend McCoun and Derick Y. Van Derheyden.  The charter of the 1812 company does not specify the type of pipe that can be installed, but the 1814 charter includes this note: "On the 16th June 1812—Sess. 35. ch. 172, a company was incorporated in Troy, by the name of " The Trustees of the Earthen Conduit Company of Troy,"  With privileges and immunities similar to those in the present act, except that the present corporation are not limited to earthen conduits.—The late improvements introduced in the manufacture of cast-iron pipes, at Salisbury in Connecticut, for the purpose of conducting water, promise to be more durable than any yet invented."  The Salisbury firm had supplied cast iron pipes to the Albany Water Works in 1813.  No further information on this company has been found.

The Troy Water-Works Company was incorporated on April 18, 1829 by Stephen Warren, Le Grand Cannon and Philander Wells.  This company intended to supply water for domestic purposes only, but the City of Troy negotiated to purchase the company so that it could also provide fire protection.  This sale was concluded on March 26, 1832 for $174.34 and the city installed a water system as described in the references below.

The City of Troy annexed the village of Lansingburgh in 1900, which had its own water system.

Water is currently provided by the City of Troy

1798 Lansingburgh Gazette, September 18, 1798, Page 4.
For sale or lease.  That handsome and commodious stand where the subscriber now lives, the situation is excellent for a tavern or boarding house, the premises are in complete repair; There is a fine soil for a garden, and a good stable with a supply of water from conduits along with other conveniences. John Bird, Troy, August 16, 1798.
A New Ferry at Troy. The subscriber informs his friends and the public in general, that he has established, a ferry, at the lower end of Troy.  Mahlon Taylor, Troy, May 15, 1798. 

1811 Albany Balance & State Journal, February 5, 1811, Page 48.
Improvement. [From the Connecticut Courant.]  Aqueduct Pipes. We are happy to announce, that a valuable improvement has been made in conveying water, by means of subterranean pipes, by James Ramsay. The pipes to which we allude are constructed of earthen, by a machine, for which a patent has been obtained. The durability of these pipes, and the pure state in which water may be conveyed, must be obvious to every person.  From respectable authority, we hesitate not to pronounce, that this discovery promises to be of great public utility. The machine in question is in pssession of Mr. Seth Goodwin of this town, who can furnish any number of the pipes that may be wanted. They are also made in the state of Vermont, by the patentee.
[We understand that the above mentioned patentee intends to erect a machine in this state, in the course of the ensuing spring, for the purpose of manufacturing the earthen aqueduct pipes.]

1811 Albany Balance & State Journal, September 11, 1811, Page 290.
Improvement. Aqueduct Pipes. It was announced some time since that Mr. James Ramsey, of Vermont, had obtained a patent for a valuable improvement in pipes for conveying water.  These pipes are made of earthen, by a machine invented for the purpose.  In Connecticut, where works have been erected for manufacturing them, they have been fully tried, and have answered the most flattering expectations of the patentee; and they are not getting into general use in that quarter.  They were not in the least degree injured by the late severe winter; and from my own observation, and the certificates of some of the most respectable gentlemen in Connecticut, I am convinced, that for strength, durability, cheapness and cleanliness they are preferable to any pipes now in use.
Use this impression, it gives me pleasure to be enabled to state, that Messrs. Fyler and Carlton, the proprietors of the patent for this state, have erected works at Troy, for the purpose of manufacturing these pipes.  They are found the clay in that play suitable for the object, and have already made a considerable quantity of the ordinary size; and they are now preparing machines for making the pipes of any size that may be required (even 6 inches bore.)
The proprietors are so well convinced of the utility and importance of the invention, and they are so well satisfied that the pipes only require to be proved to be universally adopted, that they are disposed to give every facility to experiments either for private pipes or for public aqueducts.-- They have made an arrangement with the Water Works Company of this city, by which I understand that an experiment is to be tried on a large scale; and which, I have no doubt, will satisfy all concerned.
Should due encouragement be given by the public, it is the intention of the proprietors to extend their establishment in such a manner as to be able to supply any demand at the shortest notice.-- They will make experiments or undertake any thing relating to the business, on the most liberal terms.
Individuals or companies, desirous of information on the subject, will do well to make reasonable application to the proprietors at Troy.  Editor Balance.

1811 American Watchman and Delaware Republican, October 9, 1811, Page 1.
We have seen the pipes above alluded to, which Messrs. Fyler & Carlton are now making in this village, and do not hesitate to pronounce them preferable to wood in every particular.  The clay used us the best kind of brick clay, but the mode used in manufacturing the pipes render them firmer and much more impervious then the best burnt brick, as the intended pipe is first made solid, then confined within a strong frame, and perforated with an iron spindle which is forced through the whole length of the pipe by a violent operation.  The perforating differs from what is generally understood by boring, as the cylinder is formed by compressing the clay from the middle of the solid pipe into its sides, and, as this is done without increasing the original bulk of the pipe the side are thereby rendered very hard and firm even before burning, which is done in a potter's oven in the same manner as stone ware.  The pipes are sufficiently strong to bear any pressure of head water without bursting.  The term of their duration is consequently unlimited, whereas wood not only soon decays but is subject to another great in convenience in places where the Lombardy Poplar is used as an ornament to streets, as the roots of this tree soon penetrate into wooden pipes, choak them up, and render them useless, not only obstructing the passage of water but giving it a disagreeable taste - these two very serious evils will be easily prevented by using the clay pipes - 1st, because their hardness renders them perfectly impervious to the roots of the poplar, or any other roots, or worms, and - 2nd because the inside of them is well glazed and will consequently keep the water perfectly sweet and wholesome.
The cement used by Messrs. Fyler & Carlton for the connecting the clay pipes possesses two very essential properties, viz. hardness & adhesion, and those qualities are increased by time.  We have seen several pieces of the clay aqueduct pipes cemented by this composition which (while cold) resisted every attempt to separate them, and the pipes would break either above or below the joint which remained firm and uninjured, which shews that the cement not only renders the joints of the pipes water tight, but also strengthens them - Yet by the application of heat the cement because soft and perfectly malleable.
Messrs. F. & C. have certificates from a number of respectable gentlemen in New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, &c. attesting to the durability and other valuable qualities of those pipes after having used them upwards of five years, and they have recently laid some down for the use of Messrs. Wandell, Eddy & Co.'s brewer in this village, which have been examined by a number of gentlemen who highly approved of them.  We trust that an improvement so important wil be duly appreciated and patronized by every citizen who has experienced the many disadvantages and disappointments attendant on the present method of supplying water for drinking and culinary uses in populous towns, and particularly in this village, where the inadequacy of the wooden aqueduct pipes and the heavy and useless tax which the use of them imposes on the people has been too long suffered. Editor Farmers' Reg.

1812 An act to incorporate the proprietors of the Earthen Conduit Company of Troy.  June 16, 1812

1812 Troy Post, December 22, 1812
Water Works. The Aqueduct Water Works, by which the village of Troy has been supplied, are offered for sale.  Persons disposed to purchase will apply to BENJAMIN SMITH  Dec 22, 1812

1813 Albany Gazette, March 18, 1813, Page 2
NOTICE.  THE CONDUITS by which the village of Troy is supplied with water are offered for sale; persons wishing to purchase may apply to George Merchant, Esq. or to the subscriber in said village, MAHLON C. TAYLOR  Troy, March 18, 1813

1814 An act to incorporate the proprietors of the Conduit Company of Troy.  April 13, 1814.

1829 An act to incorporate the Troy Water Works Company.  April 18, 1829.

1832 Report of the select committee to whom was referred the memorial of the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen and Commonalty of the city of Troy, for leave to purchase the charter of the Troy Water Works company, and for certain amendments thereto.  January 19, 1832.

1832 An act in relation to the "Troy Water-Works Company" and for insuring to the City of Troy a supply of Water for the extinguishment of Fires, and other purposes.  March 20, 1832

1838 Sketch of the civil engineering of North America: comprising remarks on the harbours, river and lake navigation, lighthouses, steam-navigation, water-works, canals, roads, railways, bridges, and other works in that country, by David Stevenson
Pages 291-292:   Troy, on the eastern or left bank of the Hudson, about fourteen miles above Albany, is also abundantly supplied with good water collected in the high ground in the neighbourhood. The reservoir stands about one-third of a mile from the town, and is seventy feet above the level of the streets. It is capable of containing 1,900,000 gallons, and the water is conveyed from it to the town in a main twelve inches in diameter. The works are said to have cost £.23,000. The annual expense of conducting them is £.160.

1841 An act authorizing the corporation of the city of Troy to create a sinking fund.  May 25, 1841.  For water works and other purposes.

1855 An act in relation to the Troy water works.  March 9, 1855.

1861 "Water-Works of the United States," The American Gas Light Journal, 2:203 (January 1, 1861)  Troy is number 84 on this list.

1861 "The Water-Works of America. Troy, N. Y.," The American Gas Light Journal, 2:239-240 (February 1, 1861)

1861 "Troy Water Works," The American Gas Light Journal, 3:68-69 (September 2, 1861)

1862 "Troy, N. Y. Water-Works Account for 1861," The American Gas Light Journal, 3:375 (June 16, 1862)

1871 Annual Report of the Water Commissioners to the Common Council of the City of Troy | Volumes 16-23  | Volumes 24-27 | Volume 28 | Volumes 31-35 | Volumes 36-39 | Volumes 40-44 |

1872 For the City of Troy:  A Report made to the Water Commissioners by Hon. Wm. J. McAlpine, together with Analyses of the Waters from the Different Sources Examined.

1873 "The Efficacy of the Flanders' Pumps," The South Bend Tribune, October 20, 1873, Page 2.

1873 Annals and Family Records of Winchester, Conn., by John Boyd
Pages 188-189:  Roman Fyler.  About 1800 he removed to Burke, Caledonia Co., Vt, where he resided during his remaining life.  During his residence there he laid down the first aqueduct in Troy, N. Y.

1876 Map of Troy, also West Troy, and Green Island

1880 "Water Supply," from History of Rensselaer Co., New York, by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester

1881 Troy, Engineering News, 8:283,285 (July 16, 1881)

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

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

1886 The City of Troy and Its Vicinity  by Arthur James Weise
Page 309:  The Bessemer Steel Works. When in England, in 186i, Alexander L. Holley, of Troy, heard so much said respecting Henry Bessemer's discovery of a process by which pig-iron was decarbonized to convert it into steel, that on his return to Troy he induced John A. Griswold and John F. Winslow to become his partners in purchasing the American patents of the distinguished English engineer, bearing dates of February 12 and of August 25, 1856. In the summer of 1863, A. L. Holley went again to England, where in the following spring he obtained the right of making Bessemer steel in America. The site selected by Winslow, Griswold & Holley to erect a suitable building for a 2½ ton plant was that of the flour-mill built on the bank of the Hudson, south of the Wynants Kill, by Thomas L. Witbeck, in 1796, and to which he conducted water from the Defreest fulling mill by a "trunk made of juice boards and plank." When this raceway was washed away by a freshet, Elisha Putnam constructed in its place a conduit of headless barrels joined end to end, for which improved flume he obtained a patent December 31, 1816.
Pages 335-337:  "Water Works, Troy"

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

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

1891 A History of the Putnam Family in England and America. Recording the Ancestry and Descendants of John Putnam of Danvers, Mass., Jan Poutman of Albany, N. Y., Thomas Putnam of Hartford, Conn, Volume 1,  by Eben Putnam
Page 284:  Elisha Putnam was tall and spare, of quick intelligence, inventive genius, independent and positive opinions even to the extent of voting for his own candidates for presidential electors. By occupation he was a carpenter, builder, civil engineer, architect and contractor; he built the first nail mills near Troy, N. Y., two or three churches in Albany, one or more sections of the Erie canal, part of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, laid the first pipes of hollowed wood to supply Albany with water, and was for many years superintendent of the water works there. Before completing the first nail works at Troy for the Brinckerhoffs, he got admission into the only other establishment in the country where a certain secret process was carried on, disguised as an ignorant countryman seeking work. In one day he mastered the special machinery, and was able from memory to set up similar and improved machinery in the mills he was building.

1891 Troy's One Hundred Years, 1789-1889 by Arthur James Weise
Page 54:  As early as 1800, the small stream running along the Hollow Road, later known as Spring Avenue, supplied the inhabitants of the village with "pure and wholesome water for domestic purposes."  The privilege of using the water, rising from a spring on the farm of Stephen J. Schuyler and filling the reservoir constructed to receive it, was conveyed on November 15th, that year, to Israel Clark, a physician, of West Windsor, New Jersey, by Stephen Van Rensselaer, on the express condition that the former should support and educate the infant son of Mahlon Taylor, deceased, during his minority, from the rent and profits of the water supplied to people of Troy through the wooden pipes or aqueducts, extending from the reservoir to the village.  As described in the deed, the reservoir was built on the stream at a point where the same was "intersected by a right line running from the most southerly point or corner of the southernmost grist mill" of the said Mahlon Taylor, deceased, "standing in a direction about forty one degrees and thirty minutes east at the distance of about nineteen chains from the said most southernly point of said grist mill."  For the water right, the grantee paid annually "twenty bushels of clean merchantable wheat."
On July 1, 1806, the village trustees passed an ordinance "for the preservation of the aqueducts" and to prevent the unnecessary waste of water brought therein for the use of inhabitants."  On December 22d, 1812, "The Aqueduct Water Works" were advertised for sale, by James Smith.
By the act of June 16th, 1812, incorporating " the proprietors of the Earthen Conduit Company of Troy," Abraham Ten Eyck, Derick Lane, Platt Titus, Nathan Warren, and Daniel Merritt, trustees, were permitted "to lay and conduct any number of conduits" to supply the inhabitants with water.
The act "to incorporate the proprietors of the Conduit Company of Troy," passed April 13th, 1814, constituted Daniel Merritt, Richard P. Hart, Nathan Warren, Townsend McCoun, and Derick Y. Van der Heyden, trustees, and privileged the company to discontinue the use of earthen conduits and to lay cast-iron pipes, manufactured at Salisbury, Connecticut, to conduct water into the village. The earthen conduits were about two feet in length, with a bore of an inch and a half in diameter.
Page 167: The proprietors of the Conduit Company of Troy, it seems, supplied the inhabitants with water until the construction of a reservoir, in 1833, on the Piscawen Kill. On the petition of Stephen Warren, Le Grand Cannon, Philander Wells, and other citizens, the Legislature, on April 18th, 1829, passed the act incorporating the Troy Water Works Company, with a capital of $250,000. On April 22d, 1830, the Common Council appointed the mayor, George Tibbits, and three aldermen, Townsend McCoun, Stephen Ross, and Jeremiah Dauchy, to explore "for a suitable supply of good water for the use of the city, and cause the necessary surveys to be made, and to devise a plan, and to make an estimate of the expense of bringing the same into the city, and to report the same." William Roberts, the city surveyor, having made surveys of the springs, on the farm of Benjamin Gorton, east of the city, along the Hoosick Road, and of the Piscawen Kill, north of it, the committee, in the following summer, presented its report, with a map of the surveys, to the Common Council.
The Troy Water Works Company having consented to surrender its rights to the city, an act was passed by the Legislature on March 20th, 1832, permitting the sale of the property, which was shortly afterward purchased for the small sum of $174.34. The "Water Works Committee, George Tibbits, mayor, and Townsend McCoun, Stephen Ross, Calvin Warner, Jeremiah Dauchy, Benjamin M. Wilson, and Ebenezer Wood, aldermen, having received the property, proceeded to obtain the necessary land and the water privileges of the Piscawen Kill, in order to construct a reservoir on the stream, where now is the distributing reservoir, west of Oakwood Avenue. In the spring of 1833, the construction of a dam and reservoir was begun, which, on their completion in 1834, had a capacity of 448,838 gallons of water, which was distributed through the city by about four miles of pipes. Not long afterward, the second and third reservoirs were constructed, having an aggregate capacity of 1,000,000 gallons. In 1843 and 1853, other reservoirs were constructed on the Piscawen Kill, west and east of Oakwood Avenue. The total cost of the Troy Water Works, on March 1st, 1848, was $160,496.37. There were then 59,497 feet of pipes through which water was supplied the inhabitants.

1897 Landmarks of Rensselaer county, New York by George Baker Anderson
Page 240:  As the population of Troy increased the problem of an adequate water supply became an important one. Early in the century most of the inhabitants were supplied by a small stream running along Spring avenue, then known as the Hollow road. The spring supplying it was on the farm of Stephen J. Schuyler. November 15, 1800, Stephen Van Rensselaer conveyed to Dr. Israel Clark of West Windsor, N. J., the right to use and control the water, which was then retained in a small reservoir. For several years Dr. Clark collected the rents for the use of the water. From time to time the waterworks were improved according to the needs of the growing village. June 16, 1812, Abraham Ten Eyck, Derick Lane, Platt Titus, Nathan Warren and Daniel Merritt, trustees of the Earthen Conduit company of Troy, were given a franchise by the village authorities allowing them to pipe the streets to furnish a better supply to consumers. Two years later another company was incorporated and granted the privilege of substituting iron pipes for the conduits then in use. The trustees of the new company were Daniel Merritt, Richard P. Hart, Nathan Warren, Townsend McCoun and Derick Y. Vanderheyden. This company laid the foundation for the present splendid system of waterworks in the city of Troy.
Pages 362-364: "Water Department"

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

1897 Report on an Additional Water Supply for the City of Troy: Made to the Water Commissioners by Elnathan Sweet and Wm. G. Raymond

1908 "The Troy Water Works Extension" by E. L. Grimes, Journal of the New England Water Works Association 22:164-183  (June, 1908)

1932 "The Troy Water Works" by James M. Caird, Journal of the American Water Works Association 24(1):49-56 (January, 1932)

1970 "Troy Water Supply Started in 1800," The Troy Record, August 6, 1970, Page B-20. | Page B-21 |

1970 History of Troy Water Works Troy, New York 170 Years of Public Service

1982 "Hoboken Hollow:  A 19th Century Factory Workers' Housing Site," by Sherene Baugher, Northeast Industrial Archaeology 11:26-38 (1982)

[1990] Two Centuries of Public Service: History of Troy Water Works, Troy, New York.

1991 "History of Troy NY Water Supplies," From the M.S. Thesis of Chris Alonge, Rensselaer Polyechnic Institute.

2009 The Poesten Kill: Waterfalls to Waterworks in the Capital District, by John Warren
Page 22:  Initially, most of those living near the lower Poesten Kill got fresh drinking water from the spring on Hollow Road (now Spring Avenue) on the farm of Stephen J. Schuyler. In 1800, the patroon (then Stephen van Rensselaer, the eighth and second to last patroon of Rensselaerswyck) conveyed the rights to the spring to Dr. Israel Clark of West Windsor, New Jersey, who built a small reservoir and collected payments for use of the water. In 1812, the Earthen Conduit Company of Troy was given the rights to pipe the water into Troy, and two years later it dropped the "earthen" and used new iron pipes. In 1833, the water supply was shifted to the Piscawen Kill, where a series of reservoirs was built.
Page 69:  Initially, improvement of the water power on the Poesten Kill was engineered and constructed by individual mill owners. Those at the base of the gorge were probably similar to one built by Thomas Whitbeck for his flouring mill on the Wynants Kill in 1796, described as a "trunk made of juice boards and plank." After this was washed away in the flooding of 1814, Elisha Putnam built in its place a conduit made of headless barrels placed end to end.  Later the millrace seems to have dug into the ground, and in the late 1820s local mill owners began organizing themselves to accomplish the improvement of local water power.

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce