Documentary History of American Water-works

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

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis was founded in 1819 and incorporated as a town in 1826 and as a city in 1849.  The city lost its charter due to loss of population from an 1879 yellow fever epidemic and was governed by the state as a Taxing District until regaining its city charter in 1893.

The Memphis Water-works Company was incorporated in 1856 with D. M. Leatherman, J. B. Lamb, R. C. Brinkley, and William F. Barry appointed as commissioners to sell stock in the company "to establish and construct water-works in ihe city of Memphis, for the purpose of furnishing the population thereof with a plentiful supply of Water, by means of Artesian Wells, or otherwise." No evidence has been found that this company built anything.

The Memphis Water Company was incorporated in 1870 by Thomas W. Brown, John S. Toof, John Gunn and Benjamin C. Brown with the exclusive right for thirty years "to establish and construct water works in and adjacent to the City of Memphis, Purposes and in this State; and to supply the said city and the inhabitants thereof, with a plentiful supply of water."  The city granted an ordinance on January 18, 1872.

The company chose to install a Holly water works system, and Alonzo R. Ketcham, superintendent of the Buffalo Water Works Company, was engaged as consulting engineer for the system and Galen W. Pearson as construction engineer.  The system began operating on March 6, 1873.  

1887 was a year of significant advancements for utility services in Memphis. Drillers unexpectedly tapped into a pure, great tasting artesian water supply lying underneath the city and The Artesian Water Company was created. That same year, a dawning, known as the "electric age" began a new electrical phenomenon of powered light, appliances and other gizmos in homes and businesses. To meet the needs of the "electric age" locally, The Memphis Light and Power Company was formed to supply the city's electric needs.

The Artesian Water Company was incorporated on June 9, 1887.

On May 29, 1903, the city bought the Artesian Water Company and created the Memphis Artesian Water Department, the first city-owned utility. That same year, the Memphis Light and Power Company merged with the city's only natural gas distributor. By 1917, the city's two competing gas and electric companies consolidated, eventually becoming Memphis Power and Light.
The city bought the privately-owned Memphis Power and Light in 1939 and Memphis Light, Gas and Water was formed; creating what is now the largest three-service public utility in the nation.

Memphis Light, Gas and Water was formed in 1939.

Water is provided by the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division of the City of Memphis.

1843 An act to amend the several acts incorporating the town of Memphis.  December 7, 1843.  Authorized construction of a canal commencing at a dam across the Wolf River, which local newspapers promoted as a potential free water supply.. 

1856 An act to authorize the establishment of the Memphis Water-works Company.  February 23, 1856.

1857 "Water-Works," "Proceedings of the City Council," "Proceedings continued," Memphis Daily Appeal, September 23, 1857, Page 3.

1857 "Memphis Water-Works," Memphis Daily Appeal, September 29, 1857, Page 3.

1858 "Artesian Well," Memphis Daily Appeal, May 18, 1858, Page 2.

1858 "Council Meeting," Memphis Daily Appeal, October 20, 1858, Page 3.
The report of the Special Committee on the proposition of a company to build water works was read.  The report will hereafter be published by order of the Board.  the report is favorable to the proposition of the company.

1858 "Water Works," Memphis Daily Appeal, October 24, 1858, Page 2.
Meeting of stockholders of the Memphis Water Works Company.

1859 "Proposition to Erect Water-Works," Memphis Daily Appeal, August 17, 1859, Page 2.
Petition of Isaac Saffarrans.

1859 "Water Works," Memphis Daily Appeal, October 8, 1859, Page 3.
Petition of Isaac Saffarans

1860 An act to amend the charter of the city of Memphis, and for other purposes.  February 28, 1860.
Sec. 3. Be it further enacted, That the Board of Mayor and Aldermen of said city of Memphis, shall have power to issue time bonds of said city, having not over thirty years to run, payable in such city in the United States as, in the discretion of said board, will enable them to be negotiated on the best terms, having interest coupons attached, at not exceeding ten per centum per annum, within the following limits, and for the following purposes, to wit:
1st. To an amount not exceeding five hundred thousand dollars, for the purpose of erecting permanent water works in said city.

1860 "Funding Debt and Waterworks," Memphis Daily Appeal, April 15, 1860, Page 3.
For Water Works - 978, Against Water works - 27.

1860 "Water Works," Memphis Daily Appeal, May 3, 1860, Page 3.
Sealed proposals will be received for the erection of a first-class system of Water Works for the city of Memphis.

1867 "Water Works," Public Ledger, May 22, 1867, Page 3.  Charles Hermany and Mr. Chysboro of Chicago.

1868 Report of the Chief Engineer to the Water-Works & Sewerage Commissioners upon a Public Water Supply and a System of Drainage for the City of Memphis, by Charles Hermany, July 15, 1868. Reprinted in 1885 Second Edition of Report.

1870 An act to incorporate the Memphis Water Company.  February 28, 1870.

1870 "The Water-Works Company Triumphant in the Chancery Court," Memphis Daily Appeal, August 13, 1870, Page 4.  The State of Tennessee ex rel. of the City of Memphis vs. Thomas W. Brown, the Memphis Water Company, et al.

1871 City of Memphis v. The Memphis Water Company, 52 Tenn. 495, June 28, 1871, Supreme Court of Tennessee

1871 "Waterworks Ordinance," Memphis Daily Appeal, December 15, 1871, Page 1.

1872 "Water. The People Vote for the City Subscription to the Water Company," Memphis Daily Appeal, January 7, 1872, Page 1.
Includes description of proposed Holly System, and discussion of fire insurance rates.

1872 Memphis Daily Appeal, January 9, 1872, Page 4.
Tally of votes for subscription to Memphis Water Company, 2119 for, 118 against.

1872 Contract between the city of Memphis and the Memphis Water Company, January 18, 1872. | also includes the company's 1870 charter, the June, 1871 court judgment, and the January 25, 1872 deed to secure the $600,000 mortgage bonds. |

1872 Memphis Daily Appeal, January 25, 1872, Page 4.
Mr. Holly, of Lockport, New York, inventor of the Holly patent for water-works, and Messrs. Keep and Yardley of Cincinnati, are in the city, with a view to the making of a contract with the Memphis Water Company for the construction of waterworks, which it is confidently predicted they can finish before next November.

1872 "The Water-Works," Public Ledger, January 25, 1872, Page 3.
The contract between the city of Memphis and the Holly Water-Works company was closed and signed this forenoon by the respective parties.  The contract for the necessary pipes was closed with Messrs. Gaylord & Co. of Cincinnati.  This makes the establishment of water-works in our city a fixed fact.  We have been informed that the Water-works company will commence work in a few days.

1872 "The Water-Works," Memphis Daily Appeal, January 26, 1872, Page 4.
Arrangements Completed for the Erection of our Waterworks - An abundance of Clear Water Promised the Citizens by the First of October.

1873 "The Water-Works," Public Ledger, March 6, 1873, Page 3.
Test of water works.

1873 "Water at Last," The Daily Memphis Avalanche, March 30, 1873, Page 4.
The Memphis Water Works - A History of the Enterprise.

1873 "[Test] of Holly Water-works as a Substitute for Fire Department," Daily Arkansas Gazette, March 30, 1873, Page 1.
Memphis, March 29.- A test of the water-works as a substitute for the fire department was made this afternoon in order to ascertain if the company could comply with their contract.  Twelve streams, through nozzles ranging from one inch to one and three-eights were thrown from hydrants located from a half to four miles from the works.  The farthest being through seventeen miles of pipe to a height of one hundred and fifty-five feet and a distance from one hundred and ninety-five to two hundred and thirteen feet.  The highest pressure used was thirty-five pounds of steam to bring the pressure to one hundred and five pounds on the pipes.  The best was regarded as a perfect and grand success for the water-works, which are erected on the Holly system.

1873 Annual report of the Board of Directors to the stockholders of the Memphis Water Company, April 30th, 1873. | also here |

1873 "Water Company Report," Memphis Daily Appeal, May 26, 1873, Page 2.

1873 City of Memphis vs. Memphis Water Company, April, 1873.

1873 "Memphis Water Company," from Digest of the Charter and Ordinances of the City of Memphis: To which is Added an Appendix

1875 "Trustee's Sale of Memphis Waterworks," Memphis Daily Appeal, May 18, 1875, Page 7.

1875 "Sale of the Memphis Water-Works," Cincinnati Daily Gazette, May 21, 1875, Page 2.
Memphis, May 20.- The Memphis Water-works were sold at auction to-day for the benefit of the first mortgage bondholders and were purchased by W. P. Wallace, President of the New York Guarantee and Indemnity Company; Charles Keep, Manager of the Holly Waterworks Company, of Lockport, New York, and Wm. Goodman, Vice-President of the Third National Bank, of Cincinnati, each of which institutions held a large amount of bonds.  The price was $170,000, being little more than half of the cost of the works.

1875 Public Ledger, May 21, 1875, Page 3.
Mr. James P. Wallace, of New York, made the highest bid, $170,000 for the water-works at the sale yesterday, but the knocking down was stopped by a knock-down bid from Judge Ray, of the Probate Court, in the shape of a dread injunction, representing T. W. Yardley, of Cincinnati, a holder of first mortgage bonds.  In fifteen minutes the sale was resumed on an order from Chancellor Morgan, and Mr. Wallace, president of the New York Guarantee and Indemnity Company, became the purchaser for the amount above stated.  A crop of injunctions will probably spring up inconsequence.

1875 "The Memphis Water Works," The New York Times, May 23, 1875, Page 12.
Memphis, Tenn., May 22.- Chancellor Walker has granted an injunction against the sale of the Memphis Water Works, at instance of C. H. Cilgour, one of the bondholders, on the plea that an injunction granted by Judge Ray on the day of the sale and afterward dissolved by Chancellor Walker had the effect of deterring him and others from bidding, and that the works were sold for much less than their value, the petitioner guaranteeing them to bring $10,000 above the price for which they were sold.  It is said other injunctions will be asked for, and the sale probably set aside.

1875 "Waterworks. To the Citizens of Memphis," Memphis Daily Appeal, May 27, 1875, Page 4.

1876 "Water-Works Controversy," Public Ledger, February 8, 1876, Page 3.  T. W. Yardley and Kilgour

1876 T. W. Yardley v. The New York Guaranty and Indemnity Co. et al. (Original bill), Charles H. Gilgour v. Same (Cross bill) William A. Goodman, T. G. Gaylord, and Matthew Addy, Trustees Gaylord Iron and Pipe Co., v. Same. (Answer and Cross bill), May 15, 1876, Circuit Court, Western District of Tennessee

1876 "The Water-Works," Public Ledger, May 16, 1876, Page 3. 
Decree of the United States Court as well the Works-Works Co.  T. W. Yardley vs. the New York Guarantee and Indemnity Company et al.

1876 City of Memphis v. Memphis Water Co., 67 Tenn. 587, December 2, 1876, Supreme Court of Tennessee

1880 "Sale of the Memphis Water Works," Detroit Free Press, March 6, 1880, Page 2.
Judge Baxter of the United States Circuit Court, to-day confirmed the sale of the Memphis Water Works, made in December last for $150,000 to Chas. H. Kilgour, but the latter having transferred his whole interest to T. J. Latham, of Memphis, the sale was confirmed in his name, who, with associates, now own and will operate the works.

1881 Memphis, Engineering News, 8:509 (December 17, 1881)

1882 "Water Company Contract," Memphis Daily Appeal, May 5, 1882, Page 4. | Part 2 | also here |

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

1883 New York Guaranty Company v. Memphis Water Company, 107 U.S. 205, March 12, 1883, U.S. Supreme Court

1883 "Whooping Them Up. A Vigorous Protest Entered by a Number of Citizens Against Paying for Water Six Months in Advance," Memphis Daily Appeal, September 2, 1883, Page 4. | also here |

1885 Memphis Water Company v. Magens & Co., 83 Tenn. 37, April Term 1885, Supreme Court of Tennessee

1885 Report of the Chief Engineer to the Water-Works & Sewerage Commissioners upon a Public Water Supply and a System of Drainage for the City of Memphis, Second Edition, by Charles Hermany and E.S. Chesbrough.

1886 Report on a Public Water Supply for the City of Memphis, February 23, 1886, by Colton Greene

1886 "A Sale and a Fire," Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania, November 27, 1886, Page 2.
Memphis, Tenn., Nov. 27.- The city water-works were sold to-day to Samuel R. Bullock & Co., of New York, for $500,000, they took up all outstanding bonds.

1886 "The Memphis Water Supply," The New York Times, December 19, 1886, Page 10.
Telegram from Samuel R. Bullock & Co.

1886 "Memphis Water Works System," The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee) December 18, 1886, Page 1.
Memphis, Dec. 27 - A telegram was received here to-day from Messrs. Turner, Dillaway & Rawson, of Boston, directed to the City Council, soliciting an opportunity to submit proposals for a system of water works at annual hydrant rental.  The parties named are are present proprietors of large water works in this country.  They ask for a hearing before any contracts are made with other parties.

1886 "Memphis, Tenn.," The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, Louisiana), December 28, 1886, Page 2.
A telegram was received here to-day from Messrs. Turner, Dillaway & Rawson, of Boston, directed to the city council, soliciting an opportunity to submit proposals for a systems of waterworks at annual hydrant rental.  The parties names are at present proprietors of large waterworks in this country.  They ask for a hearing before any contracts are made with other parties.

1887 "Memphis, Tenn.," Engineering News 17:15 (January 1, 1887)
A proposition has been made to erect works by Messrs. Turner, Dillaway & Rawson, of Boston, Mass.

1887 Engineering News, 17:15 (January 1, 1887)
Memphis, Tenn., Owing to the city legislative council having decided that the city should build works, the Memphis Water Co. has been unable to consummate the sale of the plant to Samuel R. Bullock & Co., of New York City.  It is probable they will make another proposition to the city.  There is very divided opinion, but the general idea is that the city will not erect its own works.  A proposition to erect water-works for the city has been made by Messrs. Turner, Dillaway & Rawson, of Boston, Mass., at terms considerably below any other offer yet made.  It will receive careful consideration.

1887 "Ready to Begin Boring.  The Artesian Water Company Put Upon its Feet," Memphis Daily Appeal, July 31, 1887, Page 3.  Contact between the city and Artesian Water Company.

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

1888 History of the City of Memphis Tennessee: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers, John M. Keating

1889 "The Contest Closed.  The Artesian Water Company gets Assent to Consolidation," Memphis Daily Appeal, April 12, 1889, Page 3.  Artesian Water Company purchases Memphis Water Company.

1889 "Water-Works Sold," The Courier-Journal, April 13, 1889, Page 2.
The sale of the Memphis water works to the Artesian Water Works Company has been consummated, with the approval of the City Council.  The former works were under a fifty-years' lease to the latter, but the stockholders of the latter decided to purchase, in order to borrow several hundred thousand dollars in New York to complete their plant and connections.

1889 "The Worthington High Duty Vertical Pumping Engine, Engineering News 22:151-152 (August 17, 1889)  Includes illustration of the new engine for the Artesian Water Company in Memphis.

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

1891 "Tests of the Worthington High Duty Pumping Engines at Memphis, Tenn.," Engineering News, 19:233-235 (September 12, 1891)  Includes illustrations.

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

1893 "Some Feature of the Water-Works of Memphis, Tenn.," Engineering News 30:312 (September 14, 1893)

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

1898 Report on the Water Works System of Memphis, Tennessee, by John Lundie, Consulting Engineer | also here |

1898 Map of the Water Works System of Memphis, Tennessee, Prepared for Committee of the City Government by John Lundie, Consulting Engineer, May 1898

1904 Transcript of All the Proceedings Respecting the Purchase of the Artesian Water Plant: With an Appendix Containing Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee Authorizing Erection Or Purchase of Water Works by Municipalities

1911 Who's who in Tennessee:  A biographical book of notable Tennesseeans of to-day
Page 326:  Latham, Thomas J.  Born Washington, D.C., Nov. 22, 1831; graduated from Western Military Institute, Georgetown, Ky., 1852; one of his instructors at this institution was James G. Blaine; he studied law at Dresden, Tenn., and was admitted to the bar in 1857; after two years of practice in Memphis he was appointed register of the United States District Court in Bankruptcy by Chief Justice Chase in 1868; in 1872 he retired from the practice of law; was appointed receiver for the city of Memphis in 1879; in 1868 he held for collection as attorney for a non-resident creditor a note of $20,000.00 against the city of Memphis; he pressed the claim to judgment and levied on all city property subject to execution, when the day of sale arrived the city found itself in danger of a sacrifice of $100,000.00 of property for the satisfaction of the debt, he postponed the sale for thirty days, and at the expiration of which time the city’s financial condition being not improved, he gave his personal check to save the city from a loss; in 1880 he purchased the Memphis waterworks system, and during his term of ownership he improved the system to adequate proportions; he was appointed a member of the board of the Tennessee Industrial School March, 1887, and was later elected president of the board; married Mary H. Wooldridge in 1861; he has been largely interested in real estate and banking enterprises, but is now retired.

1912 Standard History of Memphis, Tennessee: From a Study of the Original Sources, by A. R. James

1921 "The Water Supply of Memphis, Tennessee," by J. N. Chester and D. E. Davis, Journal of the American Water Works Association 8(4):377-396 (July 1921)

1922 Report and Recommendations for Development of Water Supply: City of Memphis, Memphis, Tenn, by Fuller & McClintock, firm, consulting engineers, New York

1939 The biography of a river town; Memphis: its heroic age, by Gerald M. Capers

1958 Ground-water Supply of the Memphis Area, by James Hobart Criner and Clarence Allen Armstrong

1958 Brief History of Light, Gas, and Water Utilities in Memphis, edited by Louis Heyman

1962 "Memphis," from Public Water Supplies of the 100 Largest Cities in the United States, 1962, US Geological Survey Water Supply Paper 1812, by Charles Norman Durfor and Edith Becker

1964 "Memphis' Sanitary Revolution, 1880-1890," by John H. Ellis, Tennessee Historical Quarterly 23(1):59-72 (March 1964)

1970 Memphis' greatest debate: a question of water, by William Wright Sorrels

1981 A Preliminary Report on the Artesian Water Supply of Memphis, Tennessee, by F. G. Wells, USGS Water Supply Paper 638-A

2012 Memphis Water Works Pumping Stations, by James K. Ingram | also here |
The story of the Memphis, Tennessee artesian water supply and the Water Division in the era of steam machinery

2016 "The Memphis Sand aquifer: A buried treasure," by John Charlier, The Commercial Appeal, December 16, 2016.

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce