Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
South Central States
Tennessee Columbia

Columbia, Tennessee

Columbia was laid out in 1808.

The Columbian Water Company was incorporated in 1809 by Isaac Roberts, John Spencer, William Bradshaw, Joseph Brown, William Berryhill, William W. Thompson, Simon Johnston, Abram Whiteside, and L. B. Estis.  The company was authorized to "draw three thousand dollars from the commissioners of the town of Columbia," and was granted the "same privileges as are allowed to the Knoxville water company."  An 1811 amendment added John Hodge, William McNeil, Samuel Craig, Jeremiah Cherry, Peter Cheatham, Isaac Harden, and John M. Taylor to the company.

An iron pipe was installed by a Mr. Durant in 1822 to supply water from Whites Spring to Columbia town square.

Arnold Zellner built a water wheel to supply water to fire cisterns in 1830 and in 1839 constructed a piping system to distribute water using wood logs, which were later replaced with lead and iron pipes.  Zellner died in 1852 and the system ended up being owned by the City, but the timing of this transfer is not known.

Another Columbia Water Company was incorporated on May 22, 1883 and purchased the water system property from the city on July 14, 1883.  The company constructed a water works and was purchased by the Columbia Improvement Company in September 1889.  An 1893 law permitted the city to sell bonds to buy the Columbia Improvement Company, but this was not done. The Improvement Company defaulted on its mortgage bonds and was sold at auction in 1896 to Charles E. Bigelow, who had been the bondholder.  He owned the system until selling it in 1924.  During this time the company had many disputes with the city and Bigelow offered to sell it to them at the appraised value, which turned out to be too high in the city's opinion.  The company was sold to the Nashville Water Company in February 1941, who then sold it to the city of Columbia in April 1941.

The waterworks are currently owned by Columbia Power and Water Systems, which has a history page.

References and Timeline
1809 An act to establish a water company in the town of Columbia.  October 18, 1809.  This law refers to the "Columbian Water Company," but all later references call it the "Columbia Water Company."

1811 An act supplemental to an act, entitled "an act to establish a Water company in the town of Columbia." September 30, 1811.

1819 An act authorizing the building of a Bridge across Duck river, adjoining the town of Columbia.  November 18, 1819.  Section 7 refers to the capital stock of the Columbia water company.

1822 Spring - Mr. Durant lays first iron pipe for water supply from Whites Spring to Columbia town Square. (Duck River Valley Chronicle page 99)

1830 Summer – Arnold Zellner constructs rude water wheel at White’s Spring to lift water for cistern system in Columbia.  (Duck River Valley Chronicle page 115)

1839 Fall – Arnold Zeller, constructs Columbia Water System from White’s Spring to cisterns at street corners on Columbia public square and other locations. (Duck River Valley Chronicle page 133)

1872 The Nashville Tennessean, September 10, 1872, Page 4.
Duck River has declined to such an extend that there is not sufficient quantity of water to drive the wheel connected with the Columbia water works, the machinery of which has been accordingly stopped for several days.  Water in the town has thus been rendered rather scarce.

1882 Columbia, Engineering News, 9:156 (May 13, 1882)

1883 April 3 – Columbia City Council passes ordnance to construct water reservoir on Mt Parnassus by Columbia Water Works, 300 feet above Duck River.  (Duck River Valley Chronicles page 235)

1883 May 22 – Columbia Water Company incorporated. (Incorporations)

1886 History of Tennessee from the Earliest Time to the Present: Together with an Historical and a Biographical Sketch of Montgomery, Robertson, Humphreys, Stewart, Dickson, Cheatham and Houston Counties
Page 769:  By an act of the Legislature passed April 22, 1807 and approved October 11, 1809, it was enacted by the State of Tennessee, "That Isaac Roberts, John Spencer, William Bradshaw, Joseph Brown, William Berryhill, William W. Thompson, Simon Johnson, Abraham Whitefield and L. B. Estis, and their successors in office be and are hereby constituted a body corporate and politic to be known by the name of the Columbia Water Company, and by that name may sue and be sued, etc.” Section 3d provided that they might draw $300 from the commissioners of Columbia, from the sale of lands, the receipt of the company being a sufficient voucher for the money. Additional members were added to the company September 30, 1811, viz.: John Hodge, William McNiel, Samuel Craig, Jeremiah Cherry, Peter Cheatham, Isaac Harden and John M. Taylor. Similar powers were extended to these as to the former members. Water was to be conveyed by some means to the Public Square. It is believed no material steps were taken to effect a supply of ‘water for the city till between 1825 and 1830, when Arnold Zillner, a practical mechanic, constructed a rather rude system of works. Water was conveyed from White’s spring by means of a water-wheel to a reservoir placed near the spring. The water being insufficient in quantity a larger wheel was placed at the river. A dam was constructed and by means of the fall of a large quantity of water sufficient force was obtained to elevate all the water necessary for the town. The water was at first conveyed by means of cedar pipes, which were afterward supplanted by leaden ones and these still later by iron pipes. In winter, and when the river was too high for the wheel at the river to work, the one kept at the spring was brought into use. After doing service for a great many years the old waterwheels were supplanted by a steam-engine. A reservoir was constructed so as to hold all the water from White’s Spring. which by this means afforded a sufficiency of water.
An ordinance was passed April 30, 1883, and submitted to a vote of the citizens of the town and ratified by them April 12, 1883. The company is known as the Columbia Water Company. For the consideration of $1 the pump house was allowed to be erected on Duck River, the water to be drawn from above the sewerage of the city. For the same consideration the reservoir was allowed to be erected on Mount Parnassus Knob, about 300 feet above the level of Duck River. The contract was made with Travers Daniel, of Clarksville, Tenn., and the mayor and aldermen for the city of Columbia. The company erected an engine of almost 100 horse-power, with a pumping capacity of 1,158,000 gallons per day. The reservoir has a capacity of about 2,000,000 gallons. The company have laid about six miles of mains, and have forty-four double-nozzle fire hydrants, for which the city pays $3,000 per annum. The company have water privilege for fifty years, but at the end of each ten years the city has the privilege of purchasing the works at a price agreed upon by a board selected for that purpose.
June 14, 1883, a steam fire department was organized. It consists of one steam fire engine, one hose carriage and other apparatus. The company consists of one captain, first and second pipemen, and first and second assistant pipemen, one engine driver, one hose driver and volunteers not to exceed twenty-five men. The Steam Fire Company and the Columbia Water Company afford very ample protection against fire.

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

1889 The Nashville Tennessean, September 14, 1889, Page 6.
Consolidation of the Gas, Water and Electric Light Works at Columbia.  A former statement in regard to the recent sale of the Columbia water-works was incorrect. Mr. Lucius Frierson, owning a controlling interest, together with the city sold the works to the Columbia Improvement Company, an organization headed by Mr. George Childress, F. J. Ewing and others.

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

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

1893 An act to authorize the mayor and aldermen of the city of Columbia to issue coupon bonds in an amount not to exceed one hundred thousand dollars ($100.000), for the purpose of purchasing the water-works now owned by the Columbia Improvement Company, under the provisions of a contract made between said city and the Columbia Water-works Company, by an ordinance passed and approved January 28, 1884.  April 10, 1893.

1894 May 1 – Columbia Water Works defaults on Bonds. (Duck River Valley Chronicle page 265)

1894 [1895?] Dec 12 – Columbia Water Works to be auctioned Feb 15, property bounded on east by Bridge street, south by east sixth street, north by Duck River, lot 109 with pumping station, purchased July 14, 1883, includes reservoir property on Mt Parnassus. (Duck River Valley Chronicles page 266)

1895 The Nashville Tennessean, March 22, 1895, Page 4.
Wants a Receiver Appointed.
Columbia, march 21.--Charles E. Bigelow, of New York, has made application for a receiver for the Columbia Improvement Company.

1895 The Nashville Tennessean, December 11, 1895, Page 6.
Sale of the Columbia Water Company and Columbia Improvement Co. Properties.  Under an by virtue of the power vested in me, H. M. Doak, Master Commissioner, by decree of the United States Circuit Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, in the case of Charles E. Bigelow vs. Columbia Improvement Company et al. [includes description of water works properties and plant]

1896 Feb 20 – Columbia Water Works, Gas Works and Electric Light company bought at auction by Mr. Charles Bigelow of New York. (Duck River Valley Chronicle page 273)

1896 March 26 – Columbia Water & Light Company  – reorganization (Incorporations)

1896 The Nashville Tennessean, March 27, 1896, Page 5.
Charter Amended.  The purchasers of the Columbia Water Company and the Columbia Improvement Company have filed an amendment to the charter changing the name to the Columbia Water & Light Company, the capital stock being $100,000.  The officers are Thomas M. Steger, President; Josiah L. Hutton, Vice President; Wm. P. Parrish, Secretary and Treasurer, and Thomas J. Odill and W. W. Moore directors.

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

1905 Century Review, 1805-1905, Maury County, Tennessee, by David Peter Robbins
Page 43: The Columbia Water Co., incorporated Oct. 11, 1809, was authorized to draw $300 from the County Commissioners to build waterworks; but the project was delayed - until about 1830. when Arnold Zellner constructed a rude system, by which a water wheel at White's spring was used to elevate the fluid. Later a dam and water wheel were built near the river, and a system of cedar pipe mains was laid, which were in use for twenty-five years, and gave fairly good service.

1908 Light Heat Power 9(8):J (March 1908)
Tennessee, Columbia, Shall the city own and conduct its own water, light, and gas plant?  The question was placed square up to the Board of Aldermen and Mayor when Attorney W.S. Fleming, representing the Columbia Water and Light Company, submitted a proposition to the board to sell the entire property, consisting of water, light, and gas plants to the city as a price to be hereinafter appraised. ... The company had never paid any interest on the bonds and no dividends on the stock.

1915 The Nashville Tennessean, April 7, 1915, Page 7.
Columbia May Not Purchase Water Plant.  Property Officially Appraised at One Hundred and Twenty-Seven Thousand Dollars.

1924 The Nashville Tennessean, August 31, 1924, Page 6.
Columbia Power Plant Is Sold.  Sale Made to Southern Cities Power Company.  Columbia, Tenn., Aug. 30.--C. C. Nunemaker, general manager of the Southern Cities Power Company of Chattanooga, announced the successful progress of negotiations by his company for the purchase of the Columbia Light & Power Company plant from Charles E. Bigelow of New York.
Mr. Nunemaker said that the contract had been signed, but that the working out of numerous details would involve considerable time and that the transfer could not be fully consummated until all details are worked out.
The consideration was not made public, but it is known that the owner valued the plant nad franchise in the neighborhood of half a million dollars.  Citizens of Columbia have been supplied by the Columbia Water & Light Company, under its old ownership, for about 28 years, Mr. Bigelow having purchase the plant in 1896, when patronage was limited to water and light for domestic purposes.
The continued demand for commercial power made extensions necessary from year to year and the steam plant is now supplying Columbia and suburbs with domestic and commercial service and the heavy demands on the plant have recently caused interruptions in the service.  Extensive improvements have just been made at the plant, including the installation of new boilers and a new intake pipe in Duck River.

1939 New York Times, August 29, 1939, Page 20.
East Setauket, L. I. Aug. 28.--Charles Emerson Bigelow died at his summer home here this afternoon after a long illness at the age of 88.  In 1910 Mr. Bigelow retired from active business except for his ownership and presidency of the Columbia Water and Light Company of Columbia, Tenn.  In 1924 he sold his public utility. 

1941 Feb 7 – The Nashville Water company purchased the Columbia Water Works plant for $360,000 (Duck River Valley Chronicle page 437)

1941 April 19 – Columbia buys water system from Nashville Water Corp for $425,000. (Duck River Valley Chronicles page 438)

1941 May 7 – Columbia Public Utilities board issued $425,000 in Waterworks Revenue Bonds (CPWS History page)

1952 Nov 12 – The new Columbia water plant low bid was $791,517 by G.E. Moore of Greenwood, S.C. and includes a new pumping station, Filter plant and Reservoir. (Duck River Valley Chronicle page 492)

1984 "Arnold Zellner, Sr.," from "Zellner Ancestors," a quarterly newsletter for the descendants of George Peter Zellner, edited by Shirley Zellner Gall. Volume 1, number 1  (January 1984)  Contributed by Carlton Measels [Zellner] built his home on North High Street near the site where he was to build his water works.  He located his site on Duck River just below old Greenwood Cemetery where his body now lies today.  He built a dam diagonal across the river heading the water to the side where the big under spot wheel was located.   From this wheel he expected to get the power.  There was a heavy iron crank on the end of the axle of the wheel, but to get up the bluff was enough to puzzle any man, but not Arnold Zellner!  He made a quarter circle with a radius of 4 feet around it in the bank and fastened one end to the crank and the other end to what people then called a "walking fence."  The pole moved 18 inches back and forth for a quarter of a mile, then made a quarter turn, then made another quarter circle, like the first one at the wheel, and then another quarter of a mile to a big spring called White Springs, donated to the city by a Mr. White who had settled in that part of the city.  Just below the spring he dug a basin 4 feet square, and 3 feet deep.  Here he put the large pump.  Everything working well to this point, the next step was to dig a reservoir on a hill higher up than the city, so when the water was pumped into the reservoir, it would rise by gravity over the city.
The pipe problem was the next question to he settled.  He had an  idea that he could get cedar poles,  split them  in half, circle them inside (dig out) and put together with iron bands. He tried this plan from the pump to the reservoir and found that it wouldn't work.  So many seepholes was wasting too much water. He then, with his three oldest sons, went to Lewis Co., just south of Maury Co., dug the iron ore, ran it into pig iron and then molded his pipes.  How he made his forms for the pipes is not known.  There being no railroads, this pipe had to be hauled to Columbia across Maury Co. from Lewis Co. in ox carts.  The city was piped, plugs put in on many of the public corners and contracts were made for water.  Then he sold out the water works to the city of Columbia.  (Letter from Jane Z. Gladney - 1920s)
Note:   During the first part of this century, Maury Co. built a new courthouse and in digging out for the basement, they found a piece of the old pipe and this pipe was given to J.W. Oakes, of Columbia, TN, son of Martha Ann and grandson of Arnold Zellner.

2009 The Duck River Valley Chronicle:  A Brief history of Maury County, Tennessee Bicentennial Edition 1807 - 2007, by Michael Edward Bennett.  Maury County Historical Society


© 2015 Morris A. Pierce