Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
New England States Rhode Island Providence

Providence, Rhode Island

Providence was originally settled in 1636.     

The first waterworks in Providence was Field's Fountain Society, chartered in May 1772 and completed in August 1772, providing water to Eddy's Point (now the junction of Eddy and Dyer Streets). Rawson's Fountain Society was chartered in October 1772 and supplied houses along Fountain Street, Cargill Street, and perhaps elsewhere.  The Providence Aqueduct Company was chartered in October 1831 and completed its piping system in July 1833 using cast iron pipes installed near Stewart and Conduits streets.  A fourth system operating by 1843 was located between Fountain and Cottage streets, a little to the east of Dean street (near the current Providence City Hall).  This fourth company is probably Dyer's Fountain Society, chartered in October 1818.  Two other water companies were chartered: City Fountain Company in Providence in January 1832 and the Providence Cherry Street Water Company in June 1841. The Field's and Rawson's societies merged at some point and steadily lost customers after the introduction of city water in 1871.   By 1906 only one customer continued to take water and in 1922 the remaining assets were sold.  (Incorporators for the above companies.)

In addition to the above water systems on the west side of the Providence River, Colonel Jeremiah Olney built another on the west end of Olney Street in the northeast part of Providence.  This system was not successful due to plentiful water available from wells.  In May 1803 the legislature passed "An Act for the Protection of the Water Works, in Providence, belonging to Jeremiah Olney, Esq."

The City of Providence attempted to build its own water system as early as 1853 and on March 8, 1866 An Act to Supply the City of Providence with Pure Water was signed, and local voters approved the project in 1869, after which the city built a system pumping water from the Pawtuxet River.  Water was introduced on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1871 with a large celebration, where "a three-inch jet of water reached a height varying from 130 to 150 feet." 

The water system is currently owned by the City of Providence Water Supply Board and they have a brief History of Providence Water on line.

1772 An act incorporating Field's Fountain-Society.  May, 1772.

1772 An act incorporating Rawson's Fountain Society.  October, 1772.

1772 The Massachusetts Spy, September 10, 1772 same article in the The Connecticut Journal and the New-Haven Post-Boy, Friday, September 11, 1772
We hear from Providence, Rhode-Island, that an Aqueduct is now completed there, from Mr. Field's Fountain to that Part of the Town called the Point, which was carried by wooden Pipes through Hills and Valleys, in a subterraneous Manner, the Difference of three Quarters of a Mile : The Water was conducted with such Rapidity as to deliver One Hundred Gallons in a Minute, thereby supplying the Inhabitants of the Point, (who before were destitute) by small Conductors leading therefrom, with fresh Water in their Cellars, Kitchens and chambers, only by the Turn of a Brass Key.  This Affair is the first of the Nature ever attempted and affected in English America.  Captain Field generously granted the Inhabitants the one half of the said Fountain for the Term of 999 years ; And the General Assembly have incorporated the inhabitants into a Body Politic by the Name of FIELD's FOUNTAIN SOCIETY.

1803 An act for the Protection of Water-Works, in Providence, belonging to Jeremiah Olney, Esq.  May, 1803.

1811 An act to incorporate the members of the Water Society.  February, 1811.  Established a storm drain system.

1818 An act incorporating Dyer's Fountain Society.  October, 1818.

1843 Early waterworks history from Annals of the Town of Providence, From its First Settlement to the Organization of City Government in June, 1832 by William R. Staples.

1866 An act for supplying the city of Providence with pure water.  March 8, 1866.

1869 Quarterly Report of the Providence Board of Water Commissioners 1869-1872

1871 Providence Water Works: Report of the Chief Engineer, January, 1871

1871 Ceremonies Attending the Introduction of Water Into the City of Providence from Pawtuxet River on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1871 from Providence City Documents from June 1871 to June 1872.

1874 Quarterly Report of the Providence Board of Water Commissioners, 1873-1876

1881 Providence, from Engineering News, 8:195 (May 14, 1881) | 8:202 (May 21, 1881)

1882 "The New Corliss Engine and Pump at Pettaconsett, Providence, R.I.," Engineering News 9:169 (May 27, 1882)

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

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

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

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

1896 "A Glorious Pumping Engine and its History," Engineering News 35:218 (April 2, 1896)
Hope Station pumping engine erected in 1873 by George H. Corliss

1896 "The Old Corliss Pumping Engine at Providence, R. I.," Engineering News 35:338-339 (May 21, 1896)

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

1909 "Water Filters of Providence, R.I.," Municipal Journal and Engineer 27(3):85-89 (July 21, 1909)

1919 Annual Report of the City Auditor
Pages 128-133:  Water Works History

1956 Water for the Cities:  A History of the Urban Water Supply Problem in the United States, by Nelson Manfred Blake. 
Page 16:  In 1772, two private water companies, the Providence Water Company and Rawson's Fountain Society, were organized to supply the inhabitants of Providence, Rhode Island. Each of them drew water from springs about a mile from town and conveyed it through bored wooden logs.  [The two companies formed in 1772 were Field's Fountain Society and Rawson's Fountain Society.]

2000 The Colonial Metamorphoses in Rhode Island: A Study of Institutions in Change by Sydney V. James, Sheila L. Skemp and Bruce Colin Daniels.  The authors researched the records of the Rawson's Fountain Company held by the Rhode Island Historical Society and provide a brief summary of how the society was formed and operated.

Corporate records for the Rawson's Fountain Company are held by the Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence.

2017 Morris A. Pierce