Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Pacific States
Utah Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City was settled by Mormons in 1847 and incorporated as a city in 1851.

The Great Salt Lake City Water Works Association was incorporated in 1853 by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Ezra T. Benson, Jedediah M. Grant, Jesse C. Little and Phineas W. Cook "to supply Great Salt Lake City, and the citizens thereof with water."  This association appears not to have been involved in any water works systems.

The first water works was built by Walter Eli Wilcox at the request of Brigham Young to bring water to the Endowment House in 1854 using bored wooden logs.  Wilcox also made a log pipeline that delivered water to the Knutesford Hotel, Salt Lake Theatre, and other stores and homes.  The ownership of this second system is unknown.

The arrival of the railroad in 1870 opened up opportunities to use other piping materials, and the city explored several options before hiring engineer Hermann Schussler to design a system that would distribute water by gravity from City Creek.  Ground was broken on September 11, 1872 and the city contracted with Rochester, New York inventor John S. Patric for laminated wood pipes made by his Rochester Laminated Pipe and Packing Company in that city.  Despite tests that showed this product could withstand high pressures, the delivered pipe could not do so and was sold to a local agricultural society. 

After much discussion the city contracted in June 1875 with Dennis Long & Co. of Louisville for cast iron pipe at a cost of about $70 per ton, which was delivered starting the following month.  It reportedly required 100 railroad cars to deliver the pipe with about ten tons per car.   The freight charge was said to be $600 per car load, which was nearly what the pipe cost.  The city persevered and the water was turned on in March 1876. 

Salt Lake City has since spent enormous efforts to secure an adequate water supply for the community.  The city formed the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake  in 1935, which was renamed when Sandy City joined the District in 1990.

Water is supplied by Salt Lake City, with some water provided by the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake & Sandy.

Former Salt Lake City Public Utilities Director LeRoy W. Hooton, Jr. has written several good articles about the history of the Salt Lake City water works, which are included in the references below.

1850 Exploration and survey of the valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah, including a reconnoissance of a new route through the Rocky Mountains, Volume 1, by United States Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, Howard Stansbury, Spencer Fullerton Baird, Charles Girard, Samuel Stehman Haldeman, John Torrey, James Hall
Page 128:  Through the city itself flows an unfailing stream of pure, sweet water, which, by an ingenious mode of irrigation is made to traverse each side of every street, whence it is led into every garden spot, spreading life, verdure and beauty over what was heretofore a barren waste.
Page 129:  On the northern confines of the city, a warm spring issues from the base of the mountains, the water of which has been conducted by pipes into a commodious bathing-house.
The facilities for beautifying this admirable site are manifold. The irrigation canals, which flow before every door, furnish abundance of water for the nourishment of shade trees, and open spaces between each building and the pavement before it when planted with shrubbery and adorned with flowers, will make this one of the most lovely spots between the Mississippi and the Pacific.

1853 An act to incorporate the Great Salt Lake City Water Works Association.  January 21, 1853.

1853 An act to incorporate the Great Salt Lake City Water Works Association, Deseret News, March 5, 1853, Page 4 (136).

1862 The City of the Saints, by Richard Francis Burton
Pages 216-217 The first remark was, that every meridional street is traversed on both sides by a streamlet of limpid water, verdure-fringed, and gurgling with a murmur which would make a Persian Moollah long for improper drinks. The supplies are brought in raised and hollowed water-courses from City Creek, Red Buttes, and other kanyons lying north and east of the settlement. The few wells are never less than forty-five feet deep; artesians have been proposed for the benches, but the expense has hitherto proved an obstacle. Citizens can now draw with scanty trouble their drinking water in the morning, when it is purest, from the clear and sparkling streams that flow over the pebbly beds before their doors. The surplus is reserved for the purposes of irrigation, without which, as the "distillation from above" will not suffice, Deseret would still be a desert, and what is not wanted swells the City Creek, and eventually the waves of the Jordan. The element, which flows at about the rate of four miles an hour, is under a chief water-master or commissioner, assisted by a water-master in each ward, and by a deputy in each block, all sworn to see the fertilizing fluid fairly distributed. At the corners of every ward there is a water-gate which controls the supplies that branch off to the several blocks, and each lot of one and a quarter acres is allowed about three hours' irrigation during the week. For repairs and other expenses a property tax of one mill per dollar is raised, and the total of the impost in 1860 was $1163.25. The system works like clock-work. "The Act to Incorporate the Great Salt Lake City Water-works" was approved January 21, 1853.

1871 Deseret News, August 30, 1871, Page 6 (346).
A survey has been made by Chief-Engineer Fox of the ground for the contemplated City Water Works, and negotiations are being made by the city for the piping. ... This work will be conducted under the Superintendence of Theodore McKean, Esq., and will be pushed forward with all possible dispatch; It is expected that the water will be flowing in the pipes before frost.  [Thomas McKean, 1829-1897]

1871 Springfield Republican, December 22, 1871, Page 6.
A new kind of water pipe has been invited by J. S. Patric of Rochester, N. Y.  The pipe is made by winding continuous strips of wood abut a form of the size of the inside diameter required for the pipe.  The strips, or "laminæ" are laid on spirally one above the other, to give the required strength, so that the pipe is made on the principle of hooping a barrel, and in short is all one hoop.  In the process of winding the strips are made to pass through boiling hot asphaltum, which secures it indestructibility in the earth.  Any size pipe, from three inches upward, may be made.  Everybody knows the great strength of wood when the strain is applied lengthwise of the fiber, as in the case with the "laminated" pipe.  Experiments with a specimen of this pipe have demonstrated its power to resist successfully a pressure of 340 pounds to the square inch.

1872 "Report on Laminated Wood Pipe," February 10, 1872, Proceedings of the Rochester Common Council 1871-72, Page 353, March 26, 1872.

1872 "Water Pipes," The Salt Lake Tribune, July 6, 1872, Page 2.
Pamphlet of the North Western Gas and Water Pipe Company, maker of "Wyckoff Pipe."

1872 "City Water Works," Deseret News, August 14, 1872, Page 12 (416).
H. Schussler, Esq, C. E. who has achieved a great reputation as a Hydraulic Engineer in California, has been busily employed since his arrival from San Francisco in examining City Creek and the ground around with a view to the establishment of Water Works.

1872 "Comparing Notes with Mr. Schussler," The Salt Lake Tribune, August 14, 1872, Page 2.

1872 "Rochester Water Pipe for Salt Lake," Rochester Union & Advertiser, August 22, 1872, Page 3.
Mr. T. McKean in town, having contracted with the Rochester Laminated Pipe and Package Company for 21,000 feet of their Laminated Wood Pipe.

1872 "Pipes for the City Waterworks," Deseret News, September 4, 1872, Page 7 (459).
Four miles of pipe purchased from Rochester Laminated Pipe and Package Company, from twenty inches down to four inches in diameter.

1872 Deseret News, September 11, 1872, Page 6 (474).
This morning, at 10:30 o'clock, the ground was dedicated and broken for the construction of the City water-works, at a point near City Creek, designated as the site of the pressure tank.

1872 Deseret News, September 11, 1872, Page 7 (475).
W. J. Silver was appointed, by the Council, engineer of the city water works. [William John Silver, 1832-1918]

1872 The Latter-Day Saints Millenial Star, September 24, 1872
Page 623:  The Water Works. — Gen. J. W. Fox gives us the following particulars relative to the city water works: The place for the dam to be thrown across City cieek has beep located by him, about two thousand feet above the old city wall; and a tangent line has been run for the piping. The water will be carried to the settling tanks and the pressure tank, in flumes, as stated by us before. The tanks will be each 30x16 feet, and ten feet deep. From the pressure tank a twenty-inch pipe brings the water to the distributing point about half way between the old city wall and President Young's wood sawing and lath machine. From there it will be distributed to the principal parts of the city; and will also be forced into a reservoir on the east side of the arsenal hill. There is a total elevation secured of a hundred and thirty feet above the northeast corner of Temple Block; and an elevation to the distributing point of seventy-five feet. About four miles of piping, from twenty inches down to four inches, manufactured by the Rochester laminated pipe and package company, is to be forwarded as soon as made, commencing early next month ; and the work is to be prosecuted with energy until completed.

1872 "City Water Works," The Salt Lake Tribune, November 6, 1872, Page 3.
Visit to City Creek water works.  Noticed on the road side about 60 cemented pipes of various sizes to be used in conveying the water to the city.

1873 Deseret News, April 16, 1873, Page 1 (161).
Gone East. - Theodore McKean, Esq., left for the east this morning to purchase material for the City water works.  He will be gone several weeks.

1873 "Our Water Works," The Salt Lake Tribune, May 10, 1873, Page 2.
It is rumoured that one secret of the failure of the water works enterprise is the fact that the entire lot of laminated piping has proved worthless, being unable to withstand the pressure it has been subjected to by experimental tests, and that it has been condemned.

1873 Machines for Making Laminated Pipe for Gas, Water, &c., John S. Patric, of Rochester, New York. Patent # 138,814, May 13, 1873.

1873 Deseret News, May 28, 1873, Page 9 (265).
Pipe Laying. - On his recent visit to the east Theodore McKean, Esq., made all necessary arrangements for the forwarding at an early date to this City of the pipes and other material for the water-works.  It is expected that pipe laying will be commenced in August.

1873 The Salt Lake Tribune, August 20, 1873, Page 3.
The wooden pipes of the water works company are carefully housed up City Creek.  Let there be inscribed upon them in words that may not be mistaken - "Monuments of a city's folly."

1873 "Water Pipes," Deseret News, October 22, 1873, Page 12 (604).

1873 Deseret News, November 12, 1873, Page 1 (641).
The superintendent of the water works reported proposals from Edmund Wilkes, John Sloan & Co., and Harrison & Co., with a view to supply water pipe for the works.

1875 "The City Water Works," Deseret News, June 23, 1875, Page 9 (329).
Contract with Dennis Long and Company, of Louisville, Kentucky, the largest pipe manufacturer in the United States, for several miles of iron piping, ranging in size from twenty inches to four inches in diameter.

1875 Desert News, July 28, 1875, Page 2 (402).
Piping Arrived. - The first instalment of piping - three car loads, for the water works, arrived this morning and the work of digging and laying will soon be commenced, under the management of Mr. Thomas W. Ellerbeck, who was been appointed superintendent of construction.

1875 Deseret News, August 11, 1875, Page 8 (440).
Twenty-five car loads of piping for the city water works have been received up to date.  Thirty-seven cars were shipped up to July 27th.  It will take something over a hundred car loads to fill the bill.

1875 Deseret News, September 8, 1875, Page 1 (497).
Loan authorized from Thomas Wardell.

1875 The Salt Lake Tribune, September 29, 1875, Page 4.
The mechanics are anxiously waiting for the Water Works chief to tell how it happens that the freight on the water pipes costs $400 more per car load than at first was agreed on.  $200 and $400 equals $600 - the freight on ten tons of water pipes.  We thanks Thee, oh God, for a Profit.

1876 "The Hydrants," Deseret News, March 1, 1876, Page  1 (65).

1876 The Salt Lake Tribune, March 18, 1876, Page 4.
Turning in the Water. The water was turned into the main pipes of the city water works yesterday at 2 o'clock, and a number of the firemen got out the hose to see what could be done by way of throwing a stream by the hydraulic power of the works at various points.  It required several hours to fill the pipes, but when the tests were made they proved satisfactory.

1876 "An Unqualified Success," Deseret News, March 22, 1876, Page 9 (121).

1876 "Waterpipe Bursted," Deseret News, March 29, 1876, Page 9 (137).

1876 "Pure Water Running Into Your Own House," The Deseret Evening News, October 6, 1876, Page 2.

1876 "An Ordinance in relation to the Salt Lake City Waterworks and the Supply of Water from the Main Pipes, and for other purposes," The Deseret Evening News, November 7, 1876, Page 1.
An Ordinance in relation to the Salt Lake City Waterworks and the Supply of Water from the Main Pipes, and for other purposes.

1881 Salt Lake City, Engineering News, 8:509 (December 17, 1881)

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

1887 Autobiography of Theodore McKean
On February 12, 1872 was released City Councilor of Salt Lake City. In July 1872 was appointed by the City Council to visit the east in the interest of the Water Works. And in August accompanied by W. J. Silson, visited Rochester, New York and other localities and served as Superintendent of Water Works until October 1875. Contracted for pipe, made arrangements for freight and commercial pipe before my retirement.
In April 1873 went east to Rochester, New York in the interest of Water Works and also visited my parents at Toms River, New Jersey.

1888 "Salt Lake City," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 1.

1890 "Salt Lake City," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 2.

1891 "Salt Lake City," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 3.

1893 "Waterworks," The Revised Ordinances of Salt Lake City, Utah: Embracing All Ordinances of a General Nature in Force December 20, 1892, Together with the Charter of Salt Lake City, the Amendments Thereto, and Territorial Laws of a General Nature Applicable to Salt Lake City, and the Constitution of the United States. 
Pages 501-504: Water rates.
Page 504:  Water Not to be Supplied to Motors.

1896 The Water Supply System of Salt Lake City, Engineering News, 36:258-260 (October 22, 1896)

1897 "Salt Lake City," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 4.

1904 History of Utah: Comprising Preliminary Chapters on the Previous History of Her Founders Accounts of Early Spanish and American Explorations in the Rocky Mountain Region, the Advent of the Mormon Pioneers, the Establishment and Dissolution of the Provisional Government of the State of Deseret, and the Subsequent Creation and Development of the Territory, Volume 4, by Orson Ferguson Whitney
Page 200:  Theodore McKean.  In 1872 and again in 1873, he visited various eastern cities in the interests of the waterworks department. 

1907 "The Big Cottonwood Conduit of the Salt Lake City Water Supply," Engineering Record, 56(2):39 (July 13, 1907)

1907 "Water Supply," Message of the Mayor with the Annual Reports of the Officers of Salt Lake City, Utah, for the Year 1907

1908 "The Water Supply System of Salt Lake City," Engineering Record, 57:351-354 (March 21, 1908)

1908 "Water Department," Salt Lake City, Past and Present: A Narrative of Its History and Romance, Its People and Culture, Its Industry and Commerce, by Ernest Victor Fohlin

1920 "Salt Lake City's Water Supply - Past and Present," by F. E. Morris, Municipal Record 9(11):3-10 (November, 1920)

1926 A report on an investigation of the water supply of Salt Lake City: With particular reference to the causes and possible elimination of objectionable tastes and odors, by Wilfred F Langelier

1949 Heart Throbs of the West, Volume 4, Edited by Kate B. Carter,
Page 66:   McAllister was succeeded by Chief Charles M. Doneldson, who served for eight months. George Martin Ottinger then became chief of the Salt Lake Volunteer Fire Department and served as such from 1876 to 1883. When the Volunteer Department disbanded and a Paid Department was organized, George M. Ottinger was its first chief. Quoting his words, "my salary was fixed at the princely sum of $600.00 per year. The City Council, in an attempt to make my position worthwhile, offered me the position of Superintendent of Water Works. An additional stipend of $300.00 per year was given me for the work. During my incumbency as as superintendent of waterworks, I supervised the construction of the City Creek Reservoir and the Thirteenth East Reservoir and built thirty miles of water mains, which were a great aid to the Fire Department." [George Martin Ottinger 1833-1917 | Wikipedia entry]

1948 "Pioneer Water Supply," Heart Throbs of the West, Volume 9, Edited by Kate C. Carter
"Course of the Stream," by Ezra T. Stevenson,

1962 "Salt Lake City," 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

1972 "The Development of Municipal Government in the Territory of Utah," by Alvin Charles Koritz.  MA Thesis, Department of Political Science, Brigham Young University, August 1972.  Several references to Salt Lake City's waterworks.

1975 City Creek, Salt Lake City's First Water Supply, By LeRoy W. Hooton, Jr., Director Department of Salt Lake City Public Utilities, Originally entitled "Salt Lake City's Ownership and Rights to Water in City Creek" May 1975.

1980 The Life and History of Phineas Wolcott Cook, compiled by Newel Cook McMillan

1981 "Salt Lake City's First Piped Public Water System," by LeRoy W. Hooten, Jr., Director, Department of Public Utilities.  Paper published in the May 1981 AWWA Intermountain Section Newsletter

1981 Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer, by Stanley B. Kimball
Page 226:  Note 16 - Nine men bought thirty-four shares, of which Heber acquired three. See Ledger A, Great Salt Lake City waterworks Assn., LDS Church Archives.

1999 The Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake City.  Provo River Project - Deer Creek Reservoir, by LeRoy W. Hooton, Jr.

2008 "History - Salt Lake City Water Department (Public Utilities) Organization 1912 - 2007," Originally printed in The Pipeline newsletter October 2006 issue, February 25, 2008

2008 "'Temple Pro Tempore': The Salt Lake City Endowment House," by Lisle G Brown, Journal of Mormon History 34(4):1-68 (Fall 2008)
Page 48:  While the Endowment House was under construction, [Brigham] Young asked Walter Eli Wilcox to "devise a machine for boring logs to convey water to the Endowment House."  Wilcox succeeded in his task and laid about a quarter mile of pipe before Young had him stop.  Presumably, Young halted the project when it met its purpose and it became the final method to fill the font.

2009 Early water conveyance systems (1847 – 1909) serve the City’s residents, by LeRoy W. Hooton, Jr.
Pioneer Bored Log Pipe
There is evidence that there were early attempts to convey culinary water through bored-out wooden pipes. In a letter on file with the Department of Public Utilities, dated November 14 , 1962, C. E. Painter (Vice President, Construction & Engineering - Water Works Equipment Company) wrote about talking to Water Department assistant superintendent Dow Young (Superintendent 1948-1952) about the Department finding bored wood logs around City Creek. Mr. Young said he did not know who owned them as there was no record in the Salt Lake City minutes regarding bored wood logs. C. E. Painter continued in his letter that information found in the autobiography of Walter Eli Wilcox indicated that in 1854 Brigham Young requested that he (Mr. Wilcox) devise a machine for boring logs to convey water to the Endowment House. Mr. Wilcox was successful in constructing a machine to bore the logs, and about a quarter of a mile of bored logs were laid before Brigham Young ordered the work to cease and be abandoned.
Moreover, according to C. E. Painter’s letter, quoting from Mr. Fairclough the grandson of Mr. Wilcox in a history of his grandfather, “He also made a pipeline of logs that carried water from City Creek at North Temple down State Street to the Knutesford Hotel at Third South Street” The pipeline conveyed water to the Salt Lake Theatre [sic], stores and homes on State Street. This log pipeline also failed because pine and resins in the logs affected the taste of the water.
Despite these early failures, as written by his grandson, Eli Wilcox still deserves credit for making the first water pipe for distribution of culinary water in Utah.

2014 "Segregating Sanitation in Salt Lake City, 1870-1915," by Ben Cater, Utah Historical Quarterly 82(2):92-113 (Spring 2014).  Good information on the early water works.

The Carl E. Painter Papers, 1870-1977, A Register of the Collection at the Utah State Historical Society.  This collection includes many documents about the early history of water works in Salt Lake City and Utah.

© 2017 Morris A. Pierce