Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Southwestern States
Texas Austin

Austin, Texas

Austin was incorporated as a city in 1839.

The first water works was developed by S. S. Brown, who leased the former Glassock and Millican mill and refurbished it into a "cotton factory, flour mill and pumping station for supplying the city of Austin with water."  S. S. Brown was probably Seba S. Brown of Minneapolis, whose S. S. Brown & Co. owned the Dakota Flouring Mill in that city  He developed flouring mills in at least three Texas cities in the 1870s.  Brown engaged San Antonio engineer William R. Freeman to design the system in Austin, and the two of them received a contract from the city on April 1, 1875 to supply water for fire protection and sprinkling.  Freeman also designed water works in San Antonio in 1877, and Brown and Freeman built water works in Waco in 1878. 

The City Water Company was incorporated on May 20, 1875 and Brown assigned the contract to the new company, whose officers were D. V. Whiting, President; C. W. White, Secretary and M. D. Mather, Treasurer.  The company began serving customers in February, 1876. 

The company and city agreed on a new, thirty-year franchise on April 18, 1877 that required the company to build a new reservoir, and on April 13, 1882 the company and city agreed to replace that with a new twenty-five year agreement in return for rebuilding the system as a Holly water works.

The Austin Water, Light and Power Company was incorporated on June 22, 1887 with a capital stock of $750,000 by J.S. Drake of Chicago; C. G. Hildreth, of New York; E. D. L. Wickes, of Bexar county; Victor Mather, De Lacy, B. Wickes, and M. D. Mather, of Travis county.  The company bought the existing water and electric light systems in Austin. 

On July 23, 1890 a city ordinance was passed allowing bonds to be issued for new water and electric works.  The city then built a new system that began service in 1895, despite the heated objections of the existing company.  The city ended the litigation by buying the company in 1902 for $175,000 plus about $90,000 in judgments and other claims.

Water is provided by the city of Austin

1850 United States Census, Baldwin, Cumberland, Maine
Henry F. Brown, Age 12
Seba, Age 8

1871 Texas: Her Early History, Climate, Soil, and Material Resources; Or, The Immigrants' Hand-book of Texas, by
George H. Sweet
Pages 49-50:  Description of Castroville, Texas.
The place has two flour mills, one saw mill, and a cotton gin-one steam mill is managed by an able and industrious engineer, Mr. Brauer—the other moved by water power, the property of S. S. Brown, an industrious gentleman who is now actively engaged in erecting the necessary buildings for a wool factory, the machinery for the same being partly on the ground.

1872 "Proceedings of the City Council," San Antonio Express, January 19, 1872, Page 3.
San Antonio, July 16, 1872.  Communication from S. S. Brown requesting the City to sell him a water lot opposite Lewis' mill, was read, and laid over.

1875 Austin Daily Statesman, February 12, 1875, Page 3.
A contract, entered into by the Mayor for the renting of the old Glassock and Millican mill to S. S. Brown, was referred to the Ordinance Committee, which instructions to report at the next meeting.

1875 Austin Daily Statesman, February 23, 1875, Page 3.
A proposition was presented to the Council by Mr. Brown, lessee of the Glasscock & Millican Mill, for supplying the city with water.  Mr. Brown proposes to build a reservoir near the market and keep the same filled with water by the engine used in the mill.

1875 "City Council," Austin Daily Statesman, April 3, 1875, Page 3.
On Thursday evening, the city closed a contract with Messrs. Brown, Freeman and others for the furnishing of the city with water for fire and sprinkling purposes.

1875 "Our Water Works," Austin Daily Statesman, May 9, 1875, Page 3.

1875 City Water Company incorporated May 20, 1875, capital stock $125,000

1875 Austin Daily Statesman, June 6, 1875, Page 3.
We are reliably informed that the plans have been made and bids have been coming in for some time, for the construction of water works, and that during the coming week the contracts for a part or all of the work will be let to reliable parties for an early completion of the same. Sooner than we have imagined we are to be watered from a never failing source of supply, and by powerful machinery, that will not only supply our domestic wants in that direction, but will also prevent the creation of dust in our streets and extinguish fires. All this is being done by the City Water Company, assignees of Brown and Freeman, who were, some time ago, granted the privilege by the City Council to construct water works. The officers of this company are, D. V. Whiting, President; C. W. White, Secretary; M. D. Mather, Treasurer. Several of our citizens arc among the parties interested in this enterprise, and they have our hearty good will for their early and complete success in this great public good.

1875 Austin Daily Statesman, June 13, 1875, Page 3.
Alterations and additions to city mill for cotton factory, flour mill and pumping station for supplying the city of Austin with water, cost about $10,000 Sherwin, architect.

1875 Austin Daily Statesman, July 23, 1875, Page 3.
The old Glasscock and Millican mill, on the mill bank, is now being repaired, but whether it is to be a mill, a water-work establishment, or both, or something else, we are not prepared to say.

1875 Austin Daily Statesman, September 18, 1875, Page 3.

1875 "The Austin Water Works," Austin Daily Statesman, October 10, 1875, Page 3.

1876 Minneapolis City Directory for 1876
Page 71:  Brown, Henry F. (S. S. Brown & Co)
Brown, Sela S. (S. S. Brown & Co.)
Page 72:  Brown S. S. & Co. (S.S. & H.F. Brown, W. F. Cahill and F.L. Greenleaf,) proprs. Dakota Flour Mills

1877 Austin Daily Statesman, April 19, 1877, Page 4.
There was a meeting of the city council yesterday afternoon and a new contract was entered into between the city and the water company, said contract to last thirty years and requiring the company to build a large reservoir by January next. The aldermen say that the contract is a better one for the city than the old one.

1877 "Austin City Water Works," Austin Daily Statesman, May 17, 1877, Page 4.

1877 Austin Daily Statesman, May 31, 1877, Page 4.
When Capt. Mather discovered that he could establish a system of water works for Austin on certain conditions, he made application to our leading capitalist to assist him toward this end. Failing for a long time to enlist tbe required help, F. W. Chandler came to his aid and gave his personal endorsement for all the money that was needed. Upon this Mather succeeded, and Austin, through the public spirit of one of it oldest and most respected citizens, has established an enterprise that ha already saved tbe city many thousands of dollars on insurance rates, and which has added vastly to it reputation and attractiveness. The man who condemns Judge Chandler in his candidacy for the mayoralty because of his connection with the water works should feel ashamed, and never breathe such an objection again.

1877 "Questions Answered," Austin Daily Statesman, June 1, 1877, Page 2.

1877 The Galveston Daily News, June 2, 1877, Page 1.
Wortham.  Mr. S. S. Brown is just completing a first-class steam flouring mill of eight sets of rocks, designed to manufacture flower expressly for the Brazilian trade.

1877 San Marcos Free Press (San Marcos, Texas), November 10, 1877, Page 4.
The city council of Waco have accepted a proposition of S. S. Brown to build a system of water works and to have it completed by the first of next May. Tho contractor binds himself to erect the necessary machinery on the Brazos, to build a reservoir which will hold one million gallons, and to furnish a supply sufficient for a population of fifty thousand. The city takes thirty-five hydrants at $80 per year each.

1881 Austin City Directory
Page 41:  Austin City Water Company, incorporated 1875.  Capital stock $125,000
Officers:  M. D. Mather, president; F. W. Chandler, secretary and treasurer; M. D. Mather, D. L. Wickes, board of directors

1882 Austin Weekly Statesman, March 30, 1882, Page 2. | Part 2 |
Proposed contract with Holly company to build new works.

1882 An ordinance contract between the City Water Company and the City of Austin, April 13, 1882.

1882 "Laredo Waterworks," The San Antonio Light, November 18, 1882, Page 2.
Through the efforts of Mr. W. R. Freeman the Laredo waterworks have become a settled fact.

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

1884 Austin, Engineering News, 11:191 (April 19, 1884)

1887 Austin Daily Statesman, June 23, 1887, Page 4.
Chartered yesterday:  The Austin Water, Light and Power Company; capital $750,000.  Incorporators:  J.S. Drake of Chicago; C. G. Hildreth, of New York; E. D. L. Wickes, of Bexar county; Victor Mather, De Lacy, B. Wickes, and M. D. Mather, of Travis county.

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

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

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

1892 "The Austin, Texas, Dam," Scientific American 67(13):197 (September 24, 1892) | Illustration on cover |

1892 "What Does it Mean?," Austin Daily Statesman, October 10, 1892, Page 3.
The Water and Light Company changes Hands.  Mr. Joseph Nalle, the President of the New Company, will Personally Supervise the Improvement of the Property and Betterment of Service.

1892 Report on the public water supply and electric lighting of the city of Austin, by John Thomas Fanning

1893 "Bonds of Austin, Texas," United States Investor and Promoter 3(12):2 (March 25, 1893)
Legal Status of the Fight Against Them - Work on the Great Dam.

1893 City of Austin v. Nalle, 85 Tex. 520, May 25, 1893, Supreme Court of Texas

1896 "The Austin Dam," by H. H. Childers, Scientific American 75(6):133 (August 8, 1896).  14,637 Horsepower electric generation.

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

1898 Penn Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Austin, 168 U.S. 685, January 8, 1898, United States Supreme Court

1898 Bartholomew v. City of Austin, 85 Fed 359, February 1, 1898, Circuit Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

1898 Statement of facts, Austin Water, Light, and Power Commission.
Refutation of the charges made against the Commission by one of its members (George A. Brush).
D.W. Doom, George Fiegel, Commissioners. John D. McCall, Ex-Officio Commissioner.

1901 City of Austin v. Bartholomew et al., Nalle v. City of Austin, 107 Fed 349, March 26, 1901, Circuit Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

1902 An Ordinance to provide for the purchase of the water, light and power plant of the Austin Water, Light and Power company, and of the City Water Company, in the City of Austin, and to provide for the payment of the purchase price thereof, and to pledge a portion of the general revenue of the city to secure the payment thereof.  August 6, 1902

1902 City of Austin, Plaintiff in Error, v. E. C. Bartholomew et al., Receivers, 187 U.S. 650, October 14, 1902, United States Supreme Court

1902 The Western Spirit (Paola, Kansas), October 17, 1902, Page 1.
Mrs. W. R. Freeman, of San Antonio, Texas, visited relatives and old acquaintances in Paola last week and from here went to Rantoul to visit her sister, Mrs. Sparks.  Also she spent several days in Kansas City with her sister, Mrs. G. A. Colton. Mrs. Freeman is better remembered here by old timers as Miss Chattie Beeson, who in 1872 became the wife of W. R. Freeman, the civil engineer, then in charge of the M., K. & T. R. R. surveys at this point. Mr. Freeman died some ten years ago in Texas where he was in charge of many municipal enterprises of improvement. Freeman, Mo., a few miles east of this city was named after Mr. Freeman.

1911 Joseph Nalle (1842-1911) grave | biography of Joseph Nalle |

1913 A Social Survey of Austin, by William B. Hamilton | also here |
Part I:  Water Supply

1917 Capt Seba Smith Brown (1841-1917) grave, developed first water system in Austin

1962 "Austin," 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

1966 Significant Questions Relating to the History of Austin, Texas, to 1900, Doctoral Thesis, UT-Austin, August 1966, by Steven Joseph Kraus

1973 Water, Sewers, and Streets: The Acquisition of Public Utilities in Austin, Texas, 1875-1930, by Steven Joseph Kraus, MA Thesis, University of Texas at Austin

2013 The Early History of Austin’s Water and Electric Utilities | pdf |

© 2020 Morris A. Pierce