Documentary History of American Water-works

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Middle Atlantic States Pennsylvania Chestnut Hill

Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania

Chestnut Hill was annexed to the City of Philadelphia in 1854.  The area was originally called "Chesnut Hill."

The Chesnut Hill Water Company was incorporated in 1856 by Owen Sheridan, Joseph Middleton, Samuel H. Austin, Charles Heibner, George W. Watson, William Stallman, Mathias Haas, Charles Phipps, William L. Hirst, and John Stallman with the same "rights, privileges, authority and immunities conferred on the Jefferson water company" by an act of April 23, 1852.  The company was not to "extend their pipes south-easterly beyond Miller's lane, on the north-east side of the Germantown turnpike, nor beyond Allen's lane, on the south-west side of said turnpike."   It was unusual for a new water company to be formed in the city limits of Philadelphia, so it is likely that the city was unable or unwilling to extend service to the area at the time.

The company built a system that began operating in 1859, using two steam engines to pump water from a well into a 125-foot high, 40,000 gallon wooden tank placed on top of a brick tower. The tower is still standing at 209 E Southampton Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118.  The wooden tank was demolished in a 1917 storm, but the brick tower is still standing, as shown in the following photographs:

Chestnut Hill water tower before and after 1917 storm damage.

The Mower Army Hospital was built adjacent to the water company's works in 1863 and used water from the system.  Water service was interrupted by a December 24, 1863 boiler explosion, which wrecked the engine and boiler house along with a nearby dwelling.

The company's service was not the best, and local residents petitioned the city to take over the system.  A law passed in 1870 obligated the city to buy the system, but the price asked by the company was too high.  A price of $65,000 was agreed to in 1872 and the city took possession of the system on January 20, 1873.  The Chestnut Hill works were taken out of service in 1904 and the site turned into a recreation center.

Water service is provided by the City of Philadelphia.

1856 An act to incorporate the Chesnut Hill Water Company.  April 24, 1856.

1859 A supplement to an act to incorporate the Chestnut Hill Water Company, passed April the twenty-fourth, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-six.  March 22, 1859.  Extended the time for completing the works.

1861 A supplement to the act to incorporate the Chestnut Hill Water Company.  April 12, 1861.
Section 2. That it is hereby declared to be the true intent and meaning of the act incorporating said Chestnut Hill water tain parts of the company, passed April twenty-fourth, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-six, that the works and property of said company should be located on Chestnut Hill, in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, to supply the inhabitants thereof, and of the neighborhood adjacent thereto, with water; and the restrictions in the second section of the said act contained, not to extend Repeal of certain the pipes beyond Miller's lane, nor beyond Allen's lane, are restrictions,
hereby repealed.

1862 Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, by Samuel L. Smedley, Section 20.  Shows Chestnut Hill Standpipe.

1863 "The Government Hospital at Chesnut Hill," The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 17, 1863, Page 6.
The water for the use of the building is supplied by the Chesnut Hill Water Works, situated about three hundred yard from the site of the hospital.  The main pipes run the entire length and breadth of the ground, and have supply pipes branching therefrom.

1863 "Dinner to the Soldiers at the Chesnut Hill Hospital," The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 30, 1863, Page 3.
We understand that the Hospital suffered but little for want of water by the explosion of the boiler at the Chesnut Hill Water Works on Christmas Eve.  The cooking and all the requirements of the this hospital have gone on with as much regularly, Breakfast at 7, dinner at 12, and supper at 5 o'clock, as if the accident had not happened.  New boilers will be in working order in a few days.

1870 A further Supplement to the act incorporating the city of Philadelphia, relative to water companies.  March 22, 1870.

1871 "The Water Works," The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 17, 1871, Page 8.
At the last meeting of the State Legislature, a bill was passed obliging the city to purchase the works of the Chestnut Hill Water Company, at a price to be awarded by a jury.  Under this act an award was made, but, as it was considered much too large, an appeal was taken, and the matter is as yet undecided.

1872 "The Water Committee," The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 22, 1872, Page 2.
The chief engineer made a report on the subject of the purchase of the Chestnut Hill Water Works.  He said the company asked $87,000 for the property.  This price was fixed three years ago, but no allowance had been made for the wear and tear of the engine, &c.  Further the worked failed to furnish 40,000 gallons a day, and there were but 112 water takers in the district.  At the rate of $15 rent the city could only realize $1689 per annum for such a large expenditure.  The price, to his mind, was excessive, and he could not recommend the purchase.  He, however, thought the citizens of Chestnut Hill should be supplied by the city.
At the suggestion of the chief, a committee was appointed to see if better terms could be made with the company.

1873 An act to authorize the city of Philadelphia to furnish water to the residents of the township of Springfield, in the county of Montgomery.  April 10, 1873.

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

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

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

1902 City of Philadelphia vs. Clinton Rorer et al, March 7, 1904.
An act of Assembly authorizing the city of Philadelphia to supply water to the citizens of Montgomery county from a certain water company, and file a lien for water-pipe, does not authorize the city to supply water from any other source and assess the property-owners for cost of pipe.
The assessment in this case was made according to the foot front rule, and the property being rural the charge was held to be illegal.

1917 "Landmark Damaged.  Wind Blows Cupola from Old Water Tower," Philadelphia Inquirer, April 6, 1917, Page 10.

1917 "Historic Water Tower on Norwood Avenue, below Graver's Lane, Chestnut Hill, wrecked by storm," Evening Public Ledger, April 6, 1917, Page 24.  Picture of damaged tank.

1927 History of early Chestnut Hill, by John J. Macfarlane
Back of the Hotel, near the Reading Railroad, was the Chestnut Hill Waterworks, which was incorporated in 1856, the tower being erected in 1859.  The officers of the company at that time were: President-Charles Heebner; Managers≠ Charles Heebner, John Stallman, Enoch Rex, W. L. Hirst and Owen Sheridan; Contractors-Gordon McNeil and John F. Rumer; Engineer-Joshua Comly. In 1872 the City purchased the waterworks for $65,000 and used them in connection with the Roxborough works until they were abandoned in 1904. By an Act of Legislature the City was authorized to continue to supply water to the residents of Springfield Township.
The water was supplied from a well and springs. The well had a capacity of 100,000 gallons and supplied 80,000 gallons; the springs had a capacity of 5,000,000 gallons and supplied 350,000 gallons. The company purchased a tract on Stenton Avenue, on the Montgomery County side, below Graver's Lane, where they built a reservoir which increased the capacity to 6,316,000 gallons, with an inflow of 587,000 gallons. The tower was 125 feet high and the capacity of the tank on the top was 40,000 gallons. In dry weather when the natural supply was not sufficient it obtained water by means of a pipe from Mt. Airy. Prior to the erection of the waterworks there was a brickyard on the same ground. Along side of the waterworks for a long time was the coal yard of Albert Kerper, whose office was at the corner of Hartwell Avenue.

1933 Germantown 1683-1933: the record that a Pennsylvania community has achieved in the course of 250 years; being a history of the people of Germantown, Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill, by Edward W. Hocker.
Page 275:  Other public recreation centers were opened as follows: Water Tower, Hartwell avenue and Ardleigh street, Chestnut Hill, 1914, a recreation building being erected in 1922 by Dr. George Woodward.

1990 Chestnut Hill Water Tower, 1859, by Jane Mork Gibson.  A good history of the Chestnut Hill Water System.

1992 Suburb in the City: Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, 1850-1990, by David R. Contosta.  Picture of the Chestnut Hill Water Tower and Reservoir.

2013 Chestnut Hillís Slice Of Civil War History.  Mower Army Hospital.

© 2017 Morris A. Pierce