Documentary History of American Water-works

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New England States Rhode Island Pawtucket

Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Pawtucket was founded in 1671 Originally, the land west of the Blackstone River was part of nearby North Providence.  East of the Blackstone River was originally settled as part of the Massachusetts town of Rehoboth, then was incorporated as Pawtucket, Massachusetts in 1828.  In 1862 the eastern portion was absorbed into Providence County, Rhode Island. In 1874, the land west of the river was taken from North Providence and added to the (now Rhode Island) town of Pawtucket, and in 1885-1886 West and East Pawtucket were merged and the city was incorporated.

The first water supply in Pawtucket was built around 1800, distributing water through wooden pipes from an elevated fountain.  In 1808, Oziel Wilkinson built another fountain on his "great meadow," on the slope of the hill in the vicinity of Park place, and the water was distributed by log pipes in the same manner as from the other fountain.  The system were used until about the middle of the century.  Oziel's son David Wilkinson was a skilled engineer, and his daughter Hannah married Samuel Slater in 1791 and in 1793 became the first woman to be awarded a patent for her two-ply thread.  Slater in 1798 became Oziel's partner in Pawtucket's cotton mills.

The Pawtucket Fountain Company was incorporated in 1858 by John Bayley, Royal Lee, William Earle, John Horswell, D. D. Sweet, A. H. Adams, B. E. Gardner, L. Fairbrother "for the purpose of supplying the inhabitants of said village and vicinity, with pure fountain water."  This may have been an attempt to rebuild the earlier water supply, but no evidence has been found that this company did anything.

The town of Pawtucket built a water system that began service on February 2, 1878.

Water is provided by the Pawtucket Water Supply Board.

1858 An act to incorporate the Pawtucket Fountain Company.  May, 1858.

1875 An act for supplying the town of Pawtucket with pure water.  June 3, 1875.

1876 Pawtucket Town Reports for the year 1875-76.
Page 33:  Water Supply. 

1876 An act in amendment of an act entitled," An act for supplying the town of Pawtucket with pure water," it being chapter 491 of the public laws.  April 18, 1876.

1876 Historical sketch of the town of Pawtucket, by Massena Goodrich
Pages 54-55:  Another bleaching meadow of like character existed afterward on the eastern side of the river, to the south of the bridge; and both of them were supplied with water brought down Main street by aqueducts of wooden logs. One of them started from the western side of the ascent of Park place, and the other from near the corner where Main street bends to the south just above the Benedict House. An outlet of one of these aqueducts was at the head of Water street. The water from these fountains was deemed preferable for bleaching purposes to that from the river.

1877 Pawtucket Town Reports for the year 1876-77.
Page 39:  Water Supply. 
Pages 74-76: Report on Water Supply, by Walter H. Sears, Civil Engineer, February 14, 1877.

1879 Pawtucket Town Reports for the year 1878-79.
Pages 48-50: Report of Chief Engineer of Water Works, February 17, 1879.

1880 Pawtucket Town Reports for the year 1879-80.
Page 46:  Report of Engineer of Water Works, February 24, 1880.

1881 Pawtucket Town Reports for the year 1880-81.
Page 3:  Report of Water Commissioners and Superintendent of Water Works

1881 Pawtucket, Engineering News, 8:333 (August 20, 1881)

1882 Pawtucket Town Reports for the year 1881-82.
Page 3:  Report of Water Commissioners
Page 96:  The Water Supply,

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

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

1889 "The Pawtucket, R.I., Water-Works," Engineering News 21:493-494 (June 1, 1889)

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

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

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

1897 An illustrated history of Pawtucket, Central Falls, and vicinity: a narrative of the growth and evolution of the community, by Robert Grieve.
Page 4:  Rev. Dr. David Benedict's reminiscences of Pawtucket, published forty years ago in many articles in the Pawtucket Gazette and Chronicle, are the basis of all the local annals of the community.
Pages 201-205:  At the beginning of the century the Rhode Island village of Pawtucket had a semi-public water supply. A fountain ten or twelve feet deep and as many broad, the sides built of logs and the top covered with heavy timbers, was located in the middle of Main street about the present neighborhood of Trinity square. A stream or brook ran from this down one side of the road to the distillery which stood near where the Wheaton and Dexter blocks now are, and hollow log pipes conveyed the water to some of the bleaching fields and to penstocks conveniently located on both sides of the river, where the inhabitants could come and dip out what they wanted. In 1808 Oziel Wilkinson built another fountain on his "great meadow," on the slope of the hill in the vicinity of Park place, and the water was distributed by log pipes in the same manner as from the other fountain. By the improvement of the roadways, the digging of wells, which cut off the supply of these fountains, and the decay of the wooden pipes, these old water works, had outlived their usefulness before the middle of the century was reached.
After the political union of the two sides of the river had been accomplished in 1874, the citizens began to see the advantages of securing a public supply of water. At that time all the water for drinking and culinary purposes was obtained from wells in the house yards. There were no sewers, and as population increased in density many of the wells became contaminated and unfit for use. By vote of the town meeting a committee consisting of Olney Arnold, C. B. Farnsworth, W. F. Sayles, Robert Sherman, Charles E. Chickering, Samuel S. Collyer and H. B. Metcalf, was appointed March i, 1875, to procure plans and estimates for a water supply.  This committee, on Dec. 27, 1875, made a report in which was incorporated a paper by Walter H. Sears, civil engineer, who among other sources of supply suggested taking water by gravitation from a storage reservoir, which would obtain the water by natural drainage from springs and brooks. The committee recommended this plan but it was not adopted by the town.
Meanwhile the question continued to be agitated. At a town meeting, March 30, 1877, the electors voted to utilize the waters of the Abbott Run, a small stream which unites with the Blackstone river at Valley Falls; to construct a high service reservoir on Stump Hill, Lincoln, two and a half miles west of the falls: and to build a pumping station and lay twenty-five miles of pipes. To carry out these projects $400,000 was appropriated April 2, 1887, a board of water commissioners was elected, consisting of Samuel S. Collyer, William H. Haskell, and George H. Fuller, and the work of construction was begun immediately. The pumping station and a settling basin were built on the east bank of the Blackstone river in 1877. A 30-inch pipe running along the bank of the Blackstone, from the Happy Hollow pond at the mouth of the Abbott Run, conveyed the water to the engine. The pumping station was located here in order to have it within the town limits, rather than at the distributing reservoir at the mouth of the Abbott Run, in the town of Cumberland. By this arrangement taxation was avoided, but the first cost involved an additional expense of $67,000. 
Feb. 2, 1878, the works were far enough advanced so on that date they were put in operation, although the high pressure reservoir on Stump hill, which had been renamed Reservoir heights, was not used until late in 1878, and not completed until early the following year.  The original estimate for construction was $385,000, but this amount had been spent and it was found that $200,000 more would be required to complete the works. Such a condition of affairs resulted in much popular dissatisfaction, the water commissioners and the engineer, Walter H. Sears, were blamed, with the result that the engineer was deposed, and a new board of commissioners elected April 2, 1879, consisting of Samuel S. Collyer, Isaac Shove and Edwin Darling, who proceeded to carry out the undertaking according to the original plan, and the works as first projected were practically completed under their administration.  April 2, 1880, Lucius B. Darling, E. A. Grout and Robert D. Mason were elected commissioners.
April 5, 1880, the board appointed Edwin Darling superintendent of the water works, and under his direction the labor of construction and extension was carried on for fourteen years, or until April, 1894. A second pumping station was built at the dam of the Happy Hollow pond, Valley Falls, in 1883, and a third nearby on the bank of the Blackstone river in 1888. The demand for the water, which is of very excellent quality, had become so great that on March 2, 1885, $100,000 was appropriated to build a storage reservoir on Diamond Hill.  This undertaking was begun in May, 1885, but the dam was slightly damaged by a flood Feb. 12, 1886. The old dam at Happy Hollow pond was also carried away. The Diamond hill reservoir was completed October, 1887, and the new dam at Happy Hollow was finished in November. The Diamond hill dam is 1055 feet long, 45 feet high, 35 feet wide on top and 160 feet at the bottom, and the reservoir has an area of 275 acres with a capacity of 1,600,000,000 gallons. It is situated nine miles north of Pawtucket in the town of Cumberland on the south side of the hill from which it takes its name.
The water works consist at present of three pumping stations, three reservoirs and a settling basin. The water flows through the channel of the Abbott Run from the Diamond hill reservoir, into the Happy Hollow pond and from there it is pumped by the engines into the high pressure reservoir on Reservoir heights, from which it flows by gravitation into the service area. Happy Hollow pond covers an area of about twenty-three acres, has a drainage basin of 23.6 square miles and a storage capacity of about 72,000,000 gallons. The distributing reservoir on Reservoir heights is two and a half miles west of the falls in the town of Lincoln, its capacity is 20,000,000 gallons and the height of the water surface above tide level is 301 feet. A pressure greater than usual is thus secured.
Pawtucket not only has plenty of water for her own purposes but also supplies Central Falls, Valley Falls and Lonsdale, Ashton and Berkeley, and East Providence, and water is furnished to those places under contracts between the municipalities. The total length of mains in these five divisions up to Nov. 30, 1895, was 128.24 miles, and the number of connections was 7071.  The daily capacity of the works is 12,000,000 million gallons and the average daily consumption in 1895 was 5,471,088 gallons.
In 1895 the income from water rates and other sources was $164,681, and the total expense was $110,118.50, over one-half of which was interest on the debt incurred in construction, and of the balance $55,000 was set aside for the sinking fund. The works are thus self-sustaining and have been since three years after their completion. The total cost of construction up to the end of 1895 was $1,735,488.79, against which is a sinking fund of $455,044, about a third of which has been accumulated out of the water rates. As an example of municipal socialism applied to water supply the experience of Pawtucket affords as good an illustration of the benefits to the community as can be found anywhere.  The cost of water to the consumers is only $5.00 per faucet or $7.50 for two faucets; when sold by meter, 30 cents per thousand gallons for household use; and as low as 6 cents per thousand gallons to large users in proportion to quantities taken. It is claimed that no water works in the United States, operated under similar conditions, can make a more favorable showing as to cost to water takers and expense of construction and maintainence, when the time they have been operated and the height to which the water is carried by direct pumping is considered.

1929 "The New Storage Facilities of the Pawtucket Water Works," by Frederick C. Williams, Journal of the New England Water Works Association 43(2):113-132 (June, 1929)

1932 Map showing boundary changes between Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

1980 "The Beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in America:  Pawtucket, Rhode Island, 1672-1829," by Gary B. Kulick, Doctoral dissertation in American Civilization, Brown, University, June, 1980.

1986 History of Pawtucket, Rhode Island: reminiscences & new series of Reverend David Benedict : origins of Pawtucket, east side, by David Benedict, compiled by Elizabeth J. Johnson and James Lucas Wheaton, IV.
Page 193:  Article 39, September 1, 1854.  Sargent's Trench, Fountains, Old Pipe Logs, Etc. 
Page 203:  Article 41, September 29, 1854  The Work on Sargent's Trench Continued; New Discoveries, The Work is Finished
Page 207:  Article 42, October 17, 1854 The Old Water log Stories continued and set right

2017 Morris A. Pierce