Documentary History of American Water-works

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Middle Atlantic States Pennsylvania Harrisburg

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Harrisburg was first settled in 1726 and was chartered as a borough in 1791 and as a city in 1860.

Thomas Elder, Hugh Hamilton, Joseph Wallace, John Forster, Robert Harris, James R. Boyd, Jackson Watson, Abraham Bombaugh, George Beatty, Samuel Halman, John Fager and John Roberts determined upon and made a survey for a water supply for Harrisburg,  Their plan, as outlined in a 1907 history, was to collect the spring waters by a dam at the junction of Market and Thirteenth streets that would be conducted to the town in wooden pipes.  They estimated the project would cost $33,000, but the borough felt the expense too great, and it was abandoned.

The Harrisburg Canal, Fire Insurance and Water Company was incorporated in 1823, with John Zinn, John Forster, Jacob M. Haldeman, Obed Fahnestock, John Capp, Samuel Pool, Peter Keller, Robert Harris, John B. Cox, Abraham Oves, Christian Gleim, John S. Wiesling, William Le Barron, Jacob Bucher, and John Gingerich appointed as commissioners to sell stock and form the company to build a canal and "to construct, erect and build such machinery and devices as may be necessary to conduct, by means of forcing pumps or otherwise, a sufficient quantity of water out of the said canal, through pipes, trunks or aqueducts, into a cistern or reservoir, not to exceed one hundred feet square, to be sunk or erected on the public ground near the state capitol, at such place as may be selected by the president and managers and approved of by the Governor. Secretary of the Land Office, and State Treasurer for the time being, for the purpose of supplying the said town therewith, to be used for extinguishing fires and for domestic. and manufacturing use; and no part of the said reservoir cistern shall be erected nearer than within one hundred feet of any of the public buildings. And the said company shall have the privilege, when the said cistern or reservoir shall have been completed and filled with water, to convey by one or more pipes or acqueducts, as much water out of the same through the public ground and the several streets, lanes and alleys of the town as they may think necessary for the purposes aforesaid, to erect hydrants, and to alter, renew and repair any of the said works when necessary."  The company could receive "reasonable compensation" from water consumers, except that "the several officers of government, the members of the legislature, and all such persons as are or shall at any time be employed by them or any of' them, shall have liberty to take out of the said reservoir as much water as they may respectively want, without paying any thing therefor."  

In April, 1826, the legislature alleged that the company had "misused and abused the chartered privileges by carrying a survey and location to be made for a canal beyond a point to which they are limited by the charter, thereby obstructing the route of the Pennsylvania canal, and preventing the improvement of this commonwealth," and directed the state supreme court to conduct a trial on the matter, which agreed with the legislature's allegations.  In the meantime, the charter of the Pennsylvania Canal approved in February, 1826 gave that entity the right to supply water to the Canal, Fire Insurance, and Water Company "if they shall deem it proper and expedient."  Negotiations on this matter were conducted in May, 1826, but were unsuccessful and the charter of Harrisburg, Fire, Insurance, and Water Company was vacated after a trial in July, 1827.

The Harrisburg Water Company was incorporated in 1833, with John Forster, Jacob M. Haldeman, Robert Harris, John M. Foster, William Graydon, Frederick Kelker, James Lesley, Abraham Bombaugh, Francis R. Shunk, Henry Beuhler, Luther Reiley, Hugh Hamilton, George Geiger, Joseph B. Henzey, and Isaac Updegraff appointed as commissioners to sell stock and form the company. The purpose was similar to the charter of the 1823 company, but nothing was done.

Harrisburg was authorized to build its own water works in 1835 and again in 1839, engaged Frederick Erdman of Philadelphia to design the system, which was completed in 1841.  A steam engine pumped water from the Susquehanna River into a reservoir.  A Worthington steam pumping engine was added in 1860, and the system was rebuilt and expanded in the early 1870s. 

The Susquehanna Water Supply Company was incorporated on December 6, 1897 to serve the borough of Camp Hill.  Part of this borough was annexed by the City of Harrisburg as the 15th ward, and the city bought the water company in 1925 for $54,000.

The Harrisburg City Council created the Harrisburg Sewerage Authority on June 3, 1957 under the provisions of the Municipality Authorities Act of 1945.  On December 1, 1987, the Sewerage Authority’s Articles of Incorporation were amended to change its name to the Harrisburg Water and Sewer Authority.  On January 30, 1990, the Water Authority filed Articles of Amendment with the Pennsylvania Department of State to change its name to The Harrisburg Authority, also broadening its purpose and extending the term of its existence. In 1993 the Authority purchased the city incinerator, which became embroiled in financial troubles. In March 2014, the Authority filed Articles of Amendment with the Pennsylvania Department of State to change its name to Capital Region Water, whose purpose is, among other things, to engage in public works projects relating to the ownership and operation of the water system and wastewater treatment and conveyance systems. 

Water service is provided by Capital Region Water.

1823 An act to enable the Governor to incorporate a company for making a Canal and Lock Navigation on the waters of the river Susquehanna, near the borough of Harrisburg, with power to the said company to supply the said borough with water, and to insure against fire.  March 27, 1823.

1826 An act to provide for the commencement of a canal to be constructed at the expense of the state, and to be styled “The Pennsylvania Canal.”  February 25, 1826.
Sect. 11.  And be it further enacted by the authority aforeresaid, That the commissioners aforesaid be and they are hereby, if they shall deem it proper and expedient, to agree with the president and managers of the Harrisburg Canal, Fire Insurance and Water Company, for taking water from the canal herein provided to be made, from such point taking water on the same as shall be deemed by said commissioners least, injurious to the said canal, and least likely to impede the navigation thereof, for supplying the borough of Harrisburg with water, and for propelling machinery.

1826 Act act to try the validity of the charter of the Harrisburg Canal, Fire Insurance and Water Company.  April 5, 1826.

1826 First Report of the Canal Commissioners with Accompanying Documents, Pennsylvania. Board of Canal Commissioners.  Includes an account (on page 10) of the unsuccessful negotiations between the canal commissioners at the Harrisburg Canal, Fire Insurance, and Water Company in May 1826.

1826 Letter from the Attorney General relative to the Harrisburg Canal, Fire Insurance and Water Company.   September 23, 1826.

1827 The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. the Harrisburg Canal, Fire Insurance, and Water Company.  Records of case as printed in the Senate Journal.

1827 Berks and Schuylkill Journal, July 14, 1827, Page 3.
Sunbury, July 5, 1827.  The trial of the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against the Harrisburg Canal, Fire Insurance and Water Company, commenced here on the 2d inst. before the Supreme Court.  The Judges present except Rogers J. who was a Stockholder and therefore did not sit. ... The charter of the Harrisburg Canal, Fire Insurance, and Water Company, is hereby vacated.

1828 An act to provide for payment of the expenses attending the trial of the issues upon the charter of the Harrisburg canal, Fire Insurance, and Water company.  April 14, 1828.

1833 An act to enable the Governor to incorporate the Harrisburg water company. February 14, 1833.

1834 A supplement to the act entitled, An act to enable the Governor to incorporate the Harrisburg water company. April 15, 1834.

1835 An act to supply the borough of Harrisburg with water, and for other purposes. March 10, 1835.

1836 A supplement to an act entitled, "An act to enable the Governor to incorporate the Harrisburg water company," passed the fourteenth February, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-three. March 28, 1836.

1839 An act to supply the borough of Harrisburg with Water.  March 26, 1839.

1840 An act to authorize the Governor to contract with the corporation of the borough of Harrisburg, for supplying the public buildings with water, and for other purposes.  April 28, 1840.

1841 Philadelphia Inquirer, January 8, 1841, Page 2.
The Harrisburg Water Works are now in complete operation, and the engine is said to work admirably.

1841 "Message from the Governor, enclosing a Communication from the Chairman of the Harrisburg Watering Committee," March 22, 1841, from Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Volume 2.

1841 Philadelphia Inquirer, September 28, 1841, Page 2.
From the Harrisburg Intelligencer. The Harrisburg Water Works. 
We have been furnished with the following interesting documents, and take pleasure in laying them before our town readers.  it will be seen that our Water Works contrast very favorably with those of other places.--Altogether they are highly creditable to the borough.
The entire cost is not so great as it was expected to be.  We learn that in the spring, at the usual time of publishing the borough accounts, a full accounting of the expenditures, embracing all the items, will be published.
The Engineers, Messrs. Erdman and Son, have bidden us farewell and gone to resume their duties on the Reading Railroad.  On Monday evening last, Gen. Ayres, in a truly hospitable spirit, gave a complementary supper to the Engineers and the Council, together with a portion of the editorial corps.  General Ayres having been among the most effective advocates and supporters of the project which has been prosecuted to successful completion, of course feel peculiarly gratified.  The evening passed off pleasantly, and the company retired to their respective homes, equally pleased with the liberality of their host and the occasion which gave rise to the entertainment.
Harrisburg, Sept 8, 1841.  To the President and Town Council of the Borough of Harrisburg.
Gentlemen:  I have the pleasure to inform you that the work I have had the honor to plan, and superintend in the construction, is now completed, with a small exception, and I hope to the satisfaction of the gentlemen under whom I have had the pleasure to act, as well as to the citizens generally.  I have, gentlemen, to express my thanks for your unlimited confidence, kind forebearance, and prompt co-operation, during the whole progress of the work; and should the cost exceed, in any small degree, the amount anticipated, permit to say, you have the satisfaction of knowing, that you have completed a work most durable in itself, and fully adequate to all the wants of the borough, and further, that of the many parts required to make up the whole, we have had the good fortune to fail in none the proof of this is as follows.  We have now laid in the ground, and filled with water, 31,613 feet of public pipe, from 12 to 4 inches in diameter, equal in length to nearly six miles, without having to replace a single pipe, and in but one instance to repair a slight leak, we have also 80 fire plugs, and 81 stop cocks set, which remain in good order, although a larger portion of the work was executed in an inclement season.
In references to the water house and machinery, I have the pleasure to add, that, notwithstanding the difficulty encountered with high water, at the time of going into operation, the engine and pump were put in motion on the 5th of January, and have continued to perform their labor up to the present time, without it being necessary to stop for any purpose but that of cleaning.
As regards the reservoir, there can, I think be but one opinion.  The materials of which it is composed cannot be exceeded in quality; and in its construction, every measure has been adopted that could give solidity to the embankment.  Notwithstanding the slight filtration with now exists, caused by the long exposure of the banks of the action of the air, under proper management, it is certain must become completely tight.  In conclusion, permit me to say, that is taking a view of the whole matter, as regards the cost and the revenue, it is gratifying to find that half of the whole interest is now realized, and the work scarcely finished.  Having carried out the plans as originally designed, and arrived at a successful completion, I feel assured it will be a lasting source of pleasure to the gentlemen whose energy and perseverance has achieved for their fellow citizens this great work, and into whole hands I feel the great pleasure in resigning my charge, and beg leave to submit the following report.
With great respect, I am yours, &c.  F. Erdman.

Total Cost of Water Works
Reservoir and Grounds, $15,412.76
Water House, 13,541.84
Steam Engine and Machinery, 12,923.30
Ellicott & Brothers, pipe, lead, and freight, 40,253.74
Incidental expenses   11,644.06
Real Estate, 4,000.00
F. Erdman, Engineer $97,775.70
G. Erdman, Assistant Engineer, 2,261.00



The steam engine of the Harrisburg Water Works is a forty horse power, 12 inch cylinder, 5 foot stroke, performing 16 revolutions per minute, only using at present 50lb of steam per inch, working a pump with a five foot stroke, and 8 inch cylinder, under a heat of 90 feet, throwing 304 gallons of water per minute, a distance of 2,000 feet, making the necessary allowances for wasteage.
The whole expense of keeping the machinery in operation, including fuel, Engineer services, and other incidental expenses, for a full supply of water, will be about $1500 per year.
It is highly gratifying to the citizens of Harrisburg when they compare their improvement to that of their neighboring cities.  When the city of Philadelphia had expended $657,398.91, her amount of water rents the first year was $537; when the city of Lancaster had completed her Water Works, at a cost of $104,000, her water rents the first year were $1200.
The Harrisburg Water Works, the cost of which does not exceed $100,000, have been in operation seventh months, and has already produced upwards of $3000--the citizens exhibiting the proper spirit, willing to pay for the improvement, at by once taking the water.

1844 Report of the Town Council of the borough of Harrisburg, on the expenses incurred in the construction of the water works, from June 1840, to January, 1844
Page 115:  Water Rents Collected

1858 Annals, comprising memoirs, incidents and statistics of Harrisburg: from the period of its first settlement ; for the past, the present and the future, George Hallenbrooke Morgan.  The account (on page 249) by the same engineer shows that the total cost of the water works to be $120,459.12.

1863 Ordinances of the City of Harrisburg: The Act of Incorporation and All Laws Relating to the City, to 1872

1865 The Adams Sentinel, March 21, 1865, Page 4.
Great Flood in the Susquehanna, Philadelphia, March 17.  The water is so deep in the river that the Harrisburg water works cannot pump.

1869 Report to the Water Commissioners upon a Better Supply of Water for the City of Harrisburg, by Henry Peter Miller Birkenbine, August, 1869.

1869 "Report Relative to the Water Works at Harrisburg," by H. P. M. Birkinbine, Engineer, Harrisburg Telegraph, September 16, 1869, Page 4.

1874 San Antonio Express, December 18, 1874, Page 1.
Harrisburg, Pa.,, Dec 17.- An exploding water main killed the engineer of the water works and a laborer.

1881 "New Water Rates," Harrisburg Telegraph, December 19, 1881, Page 4. Proposed rates.

1882 "Water Rates for the Present Year as they have been adopted by Council," Harrisburg Daily Independent, May 6, 1882, Page 4.

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

1882 Harrisburg, PA., Engineering News, 9:308-309 (September 2, 1882)

1884 Appeal of the City of Harrisburg, 107 Pa. 102, October 6, 1884, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
A. built a row of eight houses in the city of Harrisburg, and provided them with five hydrants and one pavement washer. He rented the eight buildings to as many different tenants, who used the five hydrants and one pavement washer for the purposes of the eight houses. A. was charged by the city and paid for some years, until his death, the same amount in water rents, as he would have been charged had each of the eight tenants used a separate hydrant and pavement washer. Upon his death in 1875, B., as the agent of his heirs at law, continued to pay the water rents on the said basis until in 1880, when he refused to pay for that car for more than five hydrants and one pavement washer. Upon the threat of the city to cut off the water supply from said buildings, A.’s heirs at law filed a bill in equity praying for an injunction to restrain the city from so doing, and alleging that the use of the water by the eight tenants was without the knowledge and authority of the complainants.
Held, that the above facts were sufficient to justify the inference that the heirs at law did authorize and permit the use of the water by the tenants.
Held, further (without deciding the legal merits of the controversy), that the complainants presented no sufficient case to warrant the interference of a court of equity.

1887 Industrial and Commercial Resources of the City of Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pa.
Pages 66-67: The City Water Works

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

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

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

1897 "Another Water Company Chartered," Harrisburg Telegraph, December 6, 1897, Page 1.
Susquehanna Water Supply Company of Harrisburg for supplying water to the borough of Camp Hill.

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

1907 "Water Works," from History of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania: With Genealogical Memoirs, Volumes 1-2, by Luther Reily Kelker

1925 Authorizing any city of the third class to acquire by purchase all the facilities, improvements, and franchises of any water corporation operating partly within and partly without the limits of the said city, and, having obtained the same, to supply water to persons, corporations, and municipalities both within the limits of the city and the territory before served by the water corporation without the city; requiring that, before so doing, the approval of the Public Service Commission be had of the action of the selling company, and of the municipal purchase, and of the rendering of this service by the municipality; and regulating the procedure for obtaining this approval ; permitting the city to classify the service outside of the city as different from the service within the city as to rates and otherwise, and subjecting the service by the city beyond its limits to the same regulation and control by the Public Service Commission as to rates, service, and otherwise as though in the territory thus served beyond the limits of the city the serving was by a water corporation; and providing that higher rates or different regulations for the district outside of the .city limits shall not be neld to be unjustly discriminatory for the sole reason that they are different from those in force in the city.  March 23, 1925.

1925 "City's Purchase of Water Firm Given Approval," The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), September 23, 1925, Page 1.

Records of the Harrisburg Canal Fire Insurance and Water Company are held by The Historical Society of Dauphin County

© 2016 Morris A. Pierce