Documentary History of American Water-works

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South Atlantic States
South Carolina Columbia

Columbia, South Carolina

Columbia was created in 1786.

The first waterworks were built by Colonel Abram Blanding who paid the entire cost of $75,000.  The system began service in April 1821 using a 14 horsepower steam engine manufactured by James Bowman and William Galloway of Manchester, England to pump water to a wooden tank on Taylor's Hill.  Water was distributed through cast iron and lead pipes.

The City of Columbia bought the system from Blanding for $24,000 in town stock paying five percent interest, but the city never redeemed the stock.  New plants were built in 1855 and 1907.

Samuel A. Pearce, Jr.  and William Sprague bought the Columbia Canal from the State of South Carolina in January 1869 for $200. Both men were from Rhode Island, and Sprague had been Governor of Rhode Island from 1860 to 1863, and was U.S. Senator from 1863 to 1875. In August, 1870, the City of Columbia entered into a twenty-year contract with them to supply up to 1.5 million gallons of water per day to the City's water works reservoir from a new water-driven pumping plant.   The following year they and Sprague's brother Amosa formed the Columbia Water Power Company and assigned the water supply contract to that firm.  The Water Power Company met the deadline for supplying water, but the City decided not to receive it and the Company obtained an injunction forcing the City to do so.  The City lost the subsequent court case (which provides substantial detail about the workings of the water works system), but Sprague went bankrupt in late 1873 and the Water Power Company was declared to be in default by the South Carolina legislature in 1878. 

The waterworks are owned by the City of Columbia.

1818 An act to enable the Intendant and Wardens of the town of Columbia, to borrow money for the purpose of supplying the said town with water, and for other purposes therein mentioned. December 18, 1818.

1821 Camden Gazette, April 12, 1821, page 2.
Columbia Water Works.--We had the pleasure on Friday last of seeing these works put into full operation.  Every part of the machinery worked in the most perfect manner; and the pure spring water of the valley with great apparent ease and regularity flowed into the reservoir, which has a perpendicular elevation above the lower basin of 116 feet and above the common level of the town of 35 feet.  The distance on an inclined plane from the basin where the water is collected to the summit of discharge is 900 feet, and is laid down with iron pipes of eight inches interior diameter.  The forcing pumps makes 54 strokes in a minute when the steam engine is at ordinary speed, and discharge 10,000 gallons of water into the town in one hour.  The beauty of the machinery and the permanent construction of the work is not to be excelled by any similar establishment in the United States.  The greatest credit is due to the manufacturers, Messrs. Galloway and Bowman of Manchester, England, and to Mr. Johnson the engineer, whose ingenuity and attention to the erection of this beautiful establishment cannot be too highly extolled.  Col. Blanding could not have put this work into more faithful hands.  The whole of Richardson street, from the state house to Upper Boundary street, has been laid down with cast iron pipes.  The extent of pipes laid down is a little more than one mile and a quarter; affording a supply of water to more than half of the population of the place.  We understand, by his charter, Col. Blanding has two years to lay down the other streets.  Some of the pipes we perceive are now on the spot, and we may reasonably expect that all our citizens may soon be supplied with water, conducted through iron, which; it is understood, never gives an unpleasant taste or deleterous quality to the water.  The springs in the valley furnish an abundant supply for a population three times as large as Columbia now contains.  The water is pure, cool and delicious issuing through sand from the bottom of a range of hills rising more than 100 feet above the point of their discharge.  Whether we regard the health and comfort of our citizens, or the security of the town from fire, this establishment cannot but be considered as of the utmost importance to Columbia.

1828 City Gazette (Charleston SC) May 2, 1828, page 2.
The Water Works of Columbia were begun in 1818, and finished in 1821. The water is collected from pure springs in a valley within the limits of the town, which is about ninety feet lower than the platform on which that beautiful place is built; these springs are conducted under ground to a reservoir in the centre of the valley; which is walled with granite and covered with a wooden roof; its capacity is 60,000 gallons. The springs now turned into it, fill it twice in twenty four hours; and should the town require it, the supply may he doubled from other springs in the same valley, which are not now used.  By means of a twelve horse steam engine, the water is forced into the summit reservoir, elevated 120 feet above the valley, and about 50 feet above the general level of the town. This reservoir holds 250,000 gallons; it is a circle ninety feet in diameter and ten feet deep, enclosed with brick and covered with a wooden dome. From it, the water is conducted into every part oŁ the town; this requires about twelve miles of metallic pipes, one half of which are cast iron for main, and the other half of lead, for service pipe; no wooden pipes have been used. The plans and execution of this work have been so perfect, that in seven years, during which time it has been in operation, the town has never been a day without water, and the repairs of the whole establishment have cost less than one hundred dollars a year. This work has been constructed by the funds of a single individual, and has cost about $55,000.

1835 Charleston Courier, July 8, 1835, page 3.
Wanted, a Scientific and Practical Engineer, to take charge of and conduct the Columbia Water Works, lately purchased by the Corporation of the town from Col. A. Blanding.  He will be required to produce with his application, property certificates of character and capability, and will be expected to give his whole time and attention to the employment.
The salary agreed upon will be paid Quarterly, and as it will be expected of him to live on the premises, a comfortable House with all necessary out buildings will be furnished him.
Applications stating the terms of the applicant, to be addressed to M. H. De Leon, Intendant of Columbia, Columbia, June 27.

1858 "Mary Blanding, Executrix vs. The Corporation of Columbia," Reports of Cases at Law and in Equity: Argued and Determined in the Court of Appeals and Court of Errors of South Carolina

1859 Biographical Sketches of the Bench and Bar of South Carolina: To which is Added the Original Fee Bill of 1791 ... the Rolls of Attorneys Admitted to Practice from the Records at Charleston and Columbia, Etc., Etc, Volume 2 by John Belton O'Neall
Page 240-241:  [Col. Abram Blanding] In 1824 he commenced, and, after years of toil and experience, he successfully completed the water-works for the town of Columbia, at an expense from his private funds of $75,000.  This proved an unfortunate investment for him, but a great blessing to the town.  After many years, (in 1835) he sold out to the Town Council for less than one-third of the original cost, $24,000 in stock, bearing interest at five per cent., redeemable at the pleasure of the Town Council.   The City of Columbia owes to Col Blanding's window and children a debt of gratitude, which is badly paid by refusing to redeem the water-works' stock.

1855 An act to aid the city of Columbia in the construction of new water works, and for other purposes. December 19, 1855

1870 The Daily Phoenix, August 25, 1870, Page 2
ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT, Made this twenty third day of August, A. D. 1870, by and between the City of Columbia, in the State of South Carolina, of the first part, and Samuel A. Pearce, Jr., of the said city, both for himself and as Trustee of William Sprague, of the State of Rhode Island, their heirs, executors and assigns, of the second part.

1873 Columbia Water Power Company v. City of Columbia, 5 SC 225, South Carolina Supreme Court, November, 1873

1882 An act to authorize the canal commission to transfer and deliver to the board of directors of the South Carolina Penitentiary the property known as the Columbia Canal, with the lands held therewith and its
appurtenances, and to develop the same
.  February 9, 1882.
Sec 6. That the said Board of Directors are authorized to furnish to the city of Columbia, for the purpose of operating its water works and other purposes, five hundred horse power of water power.

1882 An act to provide for the payment of water used in the Public Institutions of the State Located in Columbia.  February 9, 1882.

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

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

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

1897 "Columbia," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 4

1907 "Columbia Water Supply," Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association, 2:503 (January 1907)

1911 "Columbia Water Works," by John McNeal, from Municipal Journal & Public Works, 30(6):191-193 (February 8, 1911)

© 2016 Morris A. Pierce