Documentary History of American Water-works

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Middle Atlantic States Pennsylvania Lancaster

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Lancaster was incorporated as a borough in 1734.  

In 1772 Casper Singer was granted the right to install conduits to convey water to his tannery, and this apparently led to others installing similar conduits.  The City of Lancaster was granted permission to build waterworks in 1822, which came to nought. 

The Lancaster Water Company was incorporated in 1829 with George Lewis Mayer, Robert Evans, John Longenecker, Henry Keffer, and Philip W. Reigart appointed to sell stock, but this company appears to have done nothing. 

The City of Lancaster built water works in 1836 that were designed by Frederick Erdman.  Water was introduced to the city on February 22, 1837. 

The waterworks are owned by the City of Lancaster.

1822 An act to supply the city of Lancaster with pure water.  March 18, 1822

1829 An act ... to incorporate the Lancaster Water Company, and for other purposes.  April 23, 1829

1836 A further supplement ... and to an act entitled "An act to incorporate the city of Lancaster, and for other purposes.  March 21, 1836.

1869 "City Water Works,"from An Authentic History of Lancaster County: In the State of Pennsylvania  by Jacob Isidor Mombert

1882 Lancaster, from Engineering News 9:373 (October 28, 1882)

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

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

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

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

1894 "The Lancaster Reservoir Failure," from Engineering News 32:346 (October 25, 1894)

1894 "Expert's Report on the Reservoir Failure at Lancaster, Pa.," from Engineering News 32:462-463 (December 6, 1894)

1896 Lancaster Water Works. Report of Samuel M. Gray to the Mayor and Water Committee, Lancaster City, Pa., on deficiencies in the present water supply, and proposed plans for a better service, including filtration. July 29, 1896.

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

1883 "The Water-Works," from History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men by Franklin Ellis, Samuel Evans
Page 381: The first action taken by the borough authorities to secure or provide a water supply to serve as a protection against fire was upon Sept. 14, 1772. Under this date the following appears in the records of the burgesses: “it being represented that Casper Singer, of this borough, Tanner, hath lately obtained permission from from Isaac Whitelock, of the said borough, to take and lead the water of a certain spring which rises in the ground of the said Isaac Whitlock, near his Brew-House, into Water Street, to the intent that the said Casper Singer may by pipes or other proper conduits carry and convey the water thereof to building and tanyards of him, the said Casper Singer, in King Street, in the some Borough, and the same Casper Singer,  now requesting the privilege of laying pipes and conduits for the purpose aforesaid along Water Street, and to break the ground to fix them properly, and he engaging in return and satisfaction for the privilege aforesaid to have a stock or jet d‘eau fixed in such a pipe or conduit at such place as the Burgesses or Assistants of the Borough shall direct in King Street aforesaid where such pipe or conduit shall cross the said street so that the public (in cases of fire and at such other times as it shall not be injurious to the said Casper Singer to be deprived of said water) may be supplied with water from the same, and that, at his own expense, that he, his heirs and assigns, shall and will maintain and keep in good order and repair such stock or jet d'eau at his and their expense. Upon consideration had upon the premises, the privilege aforesaid of breaking the ground in the said streets, and of laying pipes, trunks or conduits in and through the streets aforesaid for taking and conveying the water is granted unto the said Casper Singer, his heirs and assigns, forever.  He and they in laying and fixing such pipes or conduits, and in keeping them in good order and repair from time to time, taking care to cover them as not to obstruct or hinder the easy and convenient passage in and through the said streets, and that expeditiously and without unnecessary delay, and he and they, from time to time, and at all times, fixing and keeping the said stock or jet d'eau in good order and repair for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of the said Borough at the time and seasons before mentioned."

1972 "Lancaster's New Water-Treatment Plant," by Calvin E. Levis and Wilson B. Smith, Journal of the American Water Works Association 64(1):25-28 (January 1972)

1978 The Heritage of Lancaster by John Ward Willson Loose
Page 32: Casper Singer, a tanner whose yard was along Water Street, had an idea. He would lay a wooden pipe under Water Street to King Street where a jet d 'eau, a stream of water spouting upward, would be installed wherever the borough officials desired, all at his own expense, provided the borough would permit him to dig up Water Street and would not deprive him of water necessary for the tanning vats. Approval came swiftly, along with the proviso that Singer, his heirs, and assigns, keep the system in repair forever. An ordinance then was adopted to penalize anyone who would "willfully or maliciously" interfere with or destroy the system.
The success of Singer's jet d'eau prompted the borough to dig cisterns in King Street and other parts of the town for holding water in large quantities when needed for firefighting. Numerous springs that lay in the vicinity of East King and North Duke streets were connected to the cisterns, using wooden pipes, or "conduits" as the borough officials were fond of calling them. One of the larger springs was under the Sign of the Leopard Tavern, a hundred feet east of Duke Street on the north side of East King Street.
Pages 101-102:  Lancaster's water supply continued to be the Conestoga River from which waterwheel-powered pumps sent raw water to the town's reservoirs located east of the prison between King and Orange streets.  The ancient machinery, installed in 1837 when the original waterworks was constructed, no longer was capable of serving a city of thirty-five thousand persons, even when assisted with the steam pumps added in 1878. Lancaster was growing rapidly in the northeastern and northwestern portions, the most remote areas from the pumps and reservoirs. Late in 1888 a new pumping station was built along the Conestoga River near the railroad bridge at the Grofftown Road. Two large steam pumps operated with a daily capacity of eleven million gallons. These were placed on a reserve basis in 1929 when eight
electrically driven and three gasoline-powered pumps were installed. This plant was removed in 1976, having been replaced by a small pumping station used to augment the city's water-treatment plant located along the Susquehanna River in Columbia. This was constructed in the 1950s. Lancaster's water was used untreated until 1907. A large reservoir built in Buchanan Park in the 1890s burst during its initial filling, flooding the west end. A small wading pool marks the site.
Of considerably greater interest to the water committees of the city councils than planning for replacement and expansion of the water facilities was how the water was to be used. After Jacob Demuth put a bathtub in his home in 1839, one of the first bathtubs in the Republic, the city was aghast when eight more tubs appeared in city homes; and to make the well-washed citizens pay their proper share, each tub was assessed three dollars annually. Most physicians in Lancaster were not entirely convinced frequent bathing was healthy, but one doctor demonstrated the courage of his convictions by putting in his own tub in 1849.  Dr. John Light Atlee, a leader in the healing arts, was the straw that broke the camel's back – the city charged him thirty dollars. Out came the tub and up went the protest. The city relented and lowered the annual charge for tubs to sixteen dollars.
Until the germ theory was understood in the 1880s, health care and sanitation were not critical matters to Lancastrians. Cholera deaths in 1832 and 1854 were attributed to fogs and misty clouds of putrifying organic matter decaying along the streams and canal.  One Lancastrian, however, believed differently. Dr. John L. Atlee, owner of the bathtub and one of the nation's most distinguished physicians, thought some organic substance he could see in his microscope probably was the cause of cholera. Dr. Koch proved him correct about thirty years later.

Creation of the Lancaster Water Works, by David P. Schuyler.

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce