Documentary History of American Water-works

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Middle Atlantic States Pennsylvania Erie

Erie, Pennsylvania

Erie was first settled in 1753 and was incorporated as a city in 1851.

The borough of Erie was authorized to construct water works in 1838, and to borrow $50,000 to pay for them.  What, if anything, was done with this authority is unclear, but on April 16, 1841, the Hon. Thomas H. Sill and others petitioned the borough council "to take immediate measures to bring water into the Borough as a protection against fire."  The council on June 11 authorized the town clerk "to advertise for bids for bringing the water into town in wooden logs."  Rufus S. Reed and Thomas G. Cold were appointed a committee and were authorized "to contract for bringing the water into town in wooden logs and devise ways and means to  defray the expense." The work was completed by the fall of 1841.   In 1853 local citizens agitated for a better system, but nothing was done until 1865.

The Erie Water and Gas Company was incorporated in 1865 "for the purpose of introducing water and gas into the city of Erie, water to be taken from lake Erie, or from any other point, which may be deemed most expedient."   C. M. Reed, John Hearn, John W. Shannon, Joseph McCarter, J. C. Selden, S. A. Davenport, W. S. Brown, W. F. Rindernecht, A. Scott, J. O. Burgess, L. A. Morrison, V. M. Thompson, O. Noble, Conrad Brown, A. B. Kellogg, R. J. Pelton, G. W. Starr and A. H. Gray were appointed commissioners for the company..

Philadelphia engineer Henry Peter Miller Birkinbine (1819-1886) was engaged to prepare a water supply study in July, 1866, although two 1896 histories differ on whether the city or Water and Gas company engaged him.  His February 26, 1867 report estimated the cost at $850,000 and recommended the water be taken from Presque Isle Bay.  Birkinbine had been chief engineer of the Philadelphia water works for ten years and designed many water system.

On March 9, 1867 the Erie Gas Company's charter was amended to allow it to introduce water into the city.

On March 11, 1867, the Erie Common Council directed the Mayor to contract with the Erie Water and Gas Company for fifty fire hydrants at $180 each per year, but included a proviso that the company was not to begin construction for a year, and if the city had started to build their own water system in that time the contract would be void, but the city would pay any expenses the company had incurred.

A law passed on April 4, 1867 created a board of water commissioners, which proceeded to build a system after much debate about the water source and between a tank and stand pipe.  The commissioners contracted with Birkinbine to design the works and chose Lake Erie as the water source.  They ended up building a tall standpipe supplied by two Cornish Bull engines with a capacity of 5 million gallons per day.  The works were placed in operation in November, 1868 and completed the following year.  A major expansion and rebuilding was undertaken in 1912, including a hypochlorite plant in 1912, removal of the stand pipe in 1913, and a filter plant was placed into service on June 28, 1914.

A 1937 law abolished the Board of Water Commissioners and the city took over direct ownership of the water system on September 1, 1937.  An immediate savings was effected by reducing the salaries of the water system managers, which had become excessive.

The Erie County Water Authority was formed by the city council on September 23, 1966 and leased the city's water system on April 1, 1991 for a period of 25 years, which has been extended to 2050.  The Authority took over the water system on January 1, 1992.

Water service is provided by the Erie City Water Authority, commonly known as the Erie Water Works, which has a history page.

1838 An act empowering the Burgess and Town Council of the borough of Erie, in the county of Erie, to borrow money, and to supply the said borough with water, and for other purposes.  April 13, 1838.

1862 The History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, by Laura G. Sanford
Pages 106-107:  In 1835, Erie was authorized to borrow $50,000 to supply the borough with water.  This contemplated improvement was never carried out.
In 1841, Erie was supplied with water by wooden pipes communicating with a spring a mile or two distant, the expenses being paid by consumers.

1865 An act to incorporate a water and gas company, in the city of Erie.  March 16, 1865.

1867 An act to extend the provisions of the act incorporating the Erie Gas Company, over South Erie and a portion of Mill Creek township, and to authorize the said company to introduce water wherever it is authorized to introduce gas and to increase its capital stock and to borrow money.  March 9, 1867.

1867 A further Supplement to the charter of the city of Erie, to provide for the appointment of water commissioners, and to define their powers and duties.  April 4, 1867.

1868 A further supplement to an act to incorporate the city of Erie.  April 2, 1868.  Sections 8 and 10 refer to the Water Commissioners.

1868 Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, September 15, 1868, Page 2.
The Erie City Iron Works have recently completed for the Erie Water Works a stand pipe two hundred and twenty feet high, five feet in diameter and weighing twenty-five tons.  It cost $8,000, and it said to be the tallest stand pipe in the world.

1870 "Petroleum Gas and Fuel.  The Boilers of the Erie Water Works Heated by Gas from a Well," The Pittsburgh Commercial, May 6, 1870, Page 1.

1870 "The Erie Water Works," The Titusville Herald, November 5, 1870, Page 3.

1879 Annual Report of the Board of Water Commissioners to the Councils of the City of Erie, for the Fiscal Year Ending April 30, 1879. | This includes other annual reports through 1892. |

1881 Erie, from Engineering News, 8:333 (August 20, 1881)

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

1884 History of Erie County, Pennsylvania
Page 515:  The borough was authorized, in 1835, to borrow $50,000 for the purpose of furnishing a water supply for the town, but the project was never carried out.  In 1841, water was brought from a spring a mile or two distant, through wooden pipes, each consumer to pay $1 rate for his supply.  These were the first water works that Erie possessed, and, doubtless, were of much service in furnishing the borough with good water.
Pages 543-545: "Water Works"

1886 County of Erie versus Commissioners of Water works in the City of Erie, 113 Pa. 368,  April 29, 1886, Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
A municipality owning property, in this case water works, from which revenue is derived is subject to a county tax.

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

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

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

1893 Commissioners of Water Works in the City of Erie, Pa: Mr. Amerman, from the Committee on the Public Lands, Submitted the Following Report:[To Accompany H. R. 9826.]

1893 An act granting certain rights and privileges to the commissioners of water works in the city of Erie, Pennsylvania.  February 23, 1893.  2nd Session, 52d Congress

1893 Annual Report of the Commissioners of the Water Works in the City of Erie, to the Mayor and Councils, for the Year Ending December 31, 1893. | This includes several other annual reports through 1900.|

1895 Erie, Pa., 1872, Stand-pipe Accidents and Failures, by Prof. Wm. D. Pence, 33:287, Engineering News, 33:287 (April 25, 1895) Example of buoyant action of ice in a stand-pipe.

1895 Submerged Cast Iron Pipe Intake for the Water-Works of Erie, Pa., by Walter C. Brough, Designing and Constructing Engineer, Engineering News, 34:277-278. ( December 5 1895) | Illustration on page 374  |

1896 "The Engineering Work on the New Water-Works Intake at Erie, Pa.," Engineering News, 35:42 (January 16, 1896)

1896 On Lake Erie as a Water Supply for the Towns on its Borders, by George W. Rafter, read before the Microsopical Club of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, January 13, 1896.  Reprinted from the Buffalo Medical Journal 36(1):10-25 (August, 1896)  | Correspondence from Dr. William G. Bissell 36(4):307-308 (November, 1896) |

1896 "Water Department," from Nelson's Biographical Dictionary and Historical Reference Book of Erie County, Pennsylvania, by Benjamin Whitman

1896 "History of the Water Works at Erie, Penn'a.," by Wm. W. Reed," from Thirtieth Annual Report of the Commissioners of the Water Works in the City of Erie, to the Mayor and Councils, for the Year Ending December 31, 1896.

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

1901 Annual Report of the Commissioners of Water Works, in the City of Erie, for the Year Ending December 31, 1901. | This includes annual reports through 1905 |

1903 An act providing for the conveyance by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to the commissioners of waterworks in the city of Erie, of certain lands on the Peninsula known as Presque Isle, in Erie county, Pennsylvania.  April 29, 1903.

1905 Annual Report  Includes reports through 1908

1908 "Laying Erie's New Intake," Municipal Journal 25(6):168 (August 5, 1908)

1909 Annual Report  Includes reports through 1914

1912 Annual Report  Includes reports through 1919 and details of the hypochlorite and filtration plants.

1913 An act authorizing the commissioners of water-works of any city of the third class, wherein the title to the water-works therein located Is In the name of the commissioners of water-works, to extend their pipes and Improvements beyond the city limits and supply water to persons, corporations, and municipalities within the county, and regulating the supply of water.  June 13, 1913.

1913 "Water Purification at Erie," Municipal Journal, 35(3):72 (July 17, 1913)

1922 "The Erie Water Works Plant," by J. N. Chester and J. S. Dunwoody, Journal of the American Water Works Association, 9(1):26-38 (January, 1922) | also here |

1925 History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, by John Elmer Reed.
Page 291:  June 25, 1841, R. S. Reed and Thomas G. Colt were appointed a committee with power to contract for bringing water into Erie in log pipes. This was then secured, and a Pump-log Water Works was constructed at the cost of $442.28, bringing the water from Ichabod's Run near Seventeenth and Peach streets to the village below the park.
Pages 298-300:  Erie's first water works was a system of log pipes laid under ground about 1840 or 1841, which brought excellent spring water down town from the springs on the Reed Farm south of Eighteenth and west of Parade Street, until other supplies were gradually introduced. The Reed House was the last taker of water from that old system.
In 1865, an act of the legislature incorporated John W. Shannon and a few other men of the city under the style of "Erie Water and Gas Company," and organized with a capital of $100,000 under the provisions of the general corporation law of the state of March 11, 1857, and the Mayor and Councils of the city were duly authorized to contract with the company for water and gas. The Erie Gas Company took steps to compete for this water business by securing the passage of an act permitting them to insert the word "water" in their charter, wherever it formerly authorized them to introduce "gas".
The problem of selecting the source from which the water supply was to be taken, provoked much heated argument, and the holding of numerous public meetings until the election of Orange Noble for Mayor, in 1867, on a platform of immediate city improvements, when the Act of Assembly of April 4, 1867, was passed entitled "A further supplement to the charter of the city of Erie, to provide for the appointment of Water Commissioners, and to define their powers and duties." On June 29th, 1867, the first Board of Water Commissioners was organized under this act, the members having been William L. Scott, Henry Rawle, and William W. Reed, who had been appointed by the court under the provisions of the act. They appointed as their secretary, Mr. William Brewster, and Mr. Birkenbine was chosen as their engineer to plan and superintend the construction of the water works. The plan used at Detroit was finally adopted, but shortly after was changed to the one which was constructed. One of the features of the city perspective was the tall tower of the water stand-pipe which was a wrought iron tube five feet in diameter and two hundred and seventeen feet in height, surrounded by a brick tower. Between the tube and the wall of the tower was constructed a spiral stair case reaching to a balcony upon the top of the tower, from which a most wonderful view of the surrounding countryside could be obtained.
The manner of raising this great tube was conceived by Mr. George Selden, of the Erie City Iron Works, who suggested the raising of the top section a short distance from the ground, then attaching the next section to it, and then section by section in like manner, until the entire tube was standing in place. Nine windows pierced the walls of the tower. Subsequent additions to it reached the total height of 260 feet above the normal level of the bay, constituting this water stand-pipe tower the highest of its kind in the world. A reservoir was constructed on Twenty-sixth Street of an area of seven acres, the bottom of which is 210 feet above the surface of the bay, and holds 34,000,000 gallons of water. A later reservoir was constructed upon the high ridge of land farther south, which affords better water pressure to the southern portions of the city.
But the great improvement made by the water department, and which has spared the City of Erie further ravages of typhoid fever, was the construction of a new intake pipe far out into the open lake. The water drawn through it is treated chemically and filtered at the new plant on the peninsula, from whence it is forced into and through the city. Since this improvement has been in operation, no cases of the dread disease have been traceable to the water served by this department.

1937 To amend section three thousand five hundred and one as amended, and sections three thousand five hundred and forty and three thousand five hundred and eighty of the act, approved the twenty-third day of June, one thousand nine hundred and thirty-one (Pamphlet Laws, nine hundred thirty-two), entitled "An act relaling to cities of the third class; and amending, revising, and consolidating the law relating thereto," vesting the legal title of waterworks in cities heretofore owning the equitable title to such waterworks; providing for the management, operation, and maintenance of such waterworks; and repealing inconsistent general, local, and special laws.  March 10, 1937.

1937 "Erie Will Save $9800 Yearly by Salary Cut," The Harrisburg Evening News, September 1, 1937, Page 2.

1962 "The Water Works," Chapter 23 of Erie, A History, by Herbert Reynolds Spencer

2013 A History of Presque Isle: As Told through Conversation with the Park’s Legendary Hermit, Joe Root, by Eugene H. Ware
Page 246:  Waterworks Park - Part I
Page 262:  Waterworks Park - Park II

© 2016 Morris A. Pierce