Documentary History of American Water-works

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South Atlantic States
Virginia Charlottesville

Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville was founded in 1762, incorporated as a town in 1801 and as an independent city in 1888.

The University of Virginia installed its first water wooden water pipes in 1819 to deliver water to the new campus.  This system was repaired and upgraded over time, and after much discussion the University engaged engineer Frederick Erdman of Philadelphia in 1854 to devise a scheme to pipe water to the University from creeks located to the southwest of the grounds. Erdman's proposal proved too costly, however, and the following year the University hired civil engineer Charles Ellet, Jr. to design a system of water works for the institution, which was built but proved unsatisfactory.  Finally, in 1884, the University and Town of Charlottesville agreed to combine efforts and build a new water works, which was an improvement but could not keep up with the growing population of the community, despite continued efforts well into the 20th Century.

Water service is provided by the City of Charlottesville.

1854 An act making an appropriation to the University of Virginia for certain purposes.  February 28, 1854.
The sum of twenty-five thousand dollars ... for the purpose of repairing and improving the buildings thereof, and for furnishing a supply of water for the protection and preservation of said buildings and other valuable property of the institution.

1856 Map of the University of Virginia with Water Works, surveyed and drawn by S. A. Richardson under the direction of Charles Ellet, Jr., October 1856, shows the approximate location of Water Works designed to be made from springs on Lewis and Observatory Mountains.

1858 An act authorizing the board of visitors of the university of Virginia to condemn the springs and lands necessary to supply the university with water.  April 7, 1858.

1882 University of Virginia, from Engineering News 9:24 (January 21, 1882)

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

1884 An act to amend and re-enact sections 1, 2 and 3 of chapter 102 of Acts of Assembly, 1875-6, approved February 26, 1876, in regard to the University of Virginia.  March 15, 1884.
§3. There is hereby appropriated from the public treasury out of any money not otherwise appropriated, the sum of forty thousand dollars, for the purpose of putting in complete condition the water supply, sewerage and drainage of the University grounds and buildings; any surplus over what is necessary for that purpose to be applied to general repairs of buildings.

1884 An act to authorize the Council of the town of Charlottesville to issue bonds and construct water-works.  March 19, 1884.

1884 An act to amend and re-enact section 6 of chapter 80 of the Code of 1873, in reference to the powers and duties of the board of Visitors to the University of Virginia, and confirm certain proceedings of said board heretofore had for the condemnation and purchase of land.  November 22, 1884.
§6. To enable the rector and visitors of the University to procure a supply of water, and to construct and maintain a system of water-works, drainage, and sewerage for the University, they shall have authority to acquire such springs, lands, and rights of way as may be necessary, according to the provisions of chapter fifty-six of the Code of Virginia, edition of eighteen hundred and seventy-three.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1920 History of the University of Virginia, 1819-1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man, Volume 1, by Philip Alexander Bruce
Pages 272-273:  So soon as the contracts were given out, in the spring of 1819, for the construction of additional pavilions and dormitories, Jefferson began to consider the means of obtaining a permanent and voluminous supply of water. On April 9, he received a proposal from Mr. Balinger, of Philadelphia, to bring it within the precincts by means of pipes that were to tap springs on the side of Observatory Mountain. A previous bid seems to have been made in March by William Cosby, who was to have a share of some importance in the building of the University. By August, the work of boring the pipes, which were manufactured by hollowing out large logs of wood, had begun. The reservoir, however, had not yet been constructed, for, on October 7, James Wade, who had recently inspected the ground, advised Jefferson to place the receiving basin as high up on the mountain as practicable, so as to avoid the use of pumps. This method, he said, would be certain to create a strong natural flow of water for extinguishing a great fire, or for supplying an ornamental jet d'eau, should one be desired for diversifying the beauty of the University grounds. He suggested the construction of a circular reservoir, to consist of oak plank two and a half to three inches in thickness, and capable of holding three thousand or even four thousand gallons, with an arch of brick thrown over it for protection. The excavation of the ditch to contain the pipes occupied the interval from May to November.  Either the work of laying them was delayed, or they had to be replaced or renewed in part, for both in August, 1821, and in May, July, and November, 1832, the University was subjected to the expense of hauling logs and pipes. In the meanwhile, a number of cisterns had been constructed here and there within the precincts by Hugh Chisholm and William Phillips; and there were also sunk wells that required as many as ten thousand bricks to be brought from the Perry kiln.

1920 History of the University of Virginia, 1819-1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man, Volume 2, Philip Alexander Bruce
Pages 386-387:  [Fire Protection]  The success of this prearranged plan, when the actual test came up, would depend principally upon an abundant supply of water. This was perceived from the beginning. The pipes that had been laid down had soon begun to rot, and for a time, the wells within the precincts had been the sole reliance even for drinking water. In the summer of 1826, many of these, owing to the drought, went entirely dry. Brockenbrough, the proctor, reporting the fact, suggested the boring of Artesian wells. The Board, in the course of August, 1827, were disposed to erect a large cistern in the centre of the Lawn, but so constructed that it would not be visible above the surface. A second cistern, to be excavated near the proctor's house, presumably on Monroe Hill, was also contemplated. From these reservoirs, the water, in case of a fire, might, it was expected, be propelled, by means of a hose, to any part of the precincts; but this supposition was disputed by the proctor, who pointed out that the distance of the hotels, A, B, E, and F,—which stood on the corners of the East and West Ranges,— was at least six hundred feet from the cistern on the Lawn, the nearest of the two, whilst the available hose was not longer than four hundred feet. He suggested that several cisterns should be built, — one near his own house; a second in the vicinity of the Rotunda, in order to catch the water from its roof; and others in different areas of the precincts.
In July, 1833, the Board instructed the proctor to repair the wooden pipes that tapped the main reservoir, and also to complete the cistern which had been begun in the vicinity of Professor Tucker's pavilion, while all the cisterns nearest to the lawn were to be linked up with the roofs by means of iron pipes, that would carry off the rainwater. Apparently, the regular flow from the reservoir entered the cistern not far from the proctor's house, and from that receptacle was distributed to the other cisterns. By 1835, the repaired wooden pipes had again rotted so much that it was necessary to find some substitute for them if there was to be a supply of water, which, in case of fire, could be relied upon with confidence. During several years, it would seem, most of the water in use was hoarded from the roofs, and this fact led to an increase in the number, and an enlargement in the size, of the cisterns. But this was a precarious dependence, for, in the course of droughts, the contents of these cisterns always subsided to a very low level. In 1839, the Board appointed Professors Rogers, Davis, and Bonnycastle, as a committee, to report upon the feasibility of obtaining, by iron pipes, an abundance of water from additional springs that bubbled up on the University lands. 

1921 History of the University of Virginia, 1819-1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man, Volume 3, Philip Alexander Bruce
Pages 18-21:  But the problem which the University's authorities were trying to solve satisfactorily was not limited to new dormitories. As the number of students increased, the need of a more voluminous water supply arose. In 1843, the professor of natural philosophy was directed by the Board to ascertain whether a line of iron pipes could be laid from the spring on the Maury farm to the Lawn. If he ever drafted a report in response to these instructions, it was not followed up. Two years afterwards, the executive committee was asked to find out the cost of building such a pipe line from Observatory Mountain to the University precincts. Should they conclude that it was feasible to do this, they were to have the power to arrange for its construction; but if they should decide that it was impracticable, they were to take steps to collect in cisterns all the rain that should fall on the roofs of the dormitories and pavilions. Whichever course was ultimately adopted, the supply remained inadequate, for, in 1849, fifty-five hundred dollars was appropriated by the board to increase the quantity. The water was needed, not only for satisfying domestic purposes, but also for extinguishing fires. The insufficiency became so inconvenient and so dangerous by 1850, that the executive committee were again authorized to build new cisterns on the grounds; and, in the following year, three additional ones were ordered to be constructed; but these small reservoirs, owing to the frequent recurrence of dry weather, and the constant draughts on their contents, left the situation still of a critical character. For the second time, the executive committee were instructed to procure estimates for bringing a larger volume of water down from the region lying to the west of the University. In the meanwhile, the rector was empowered to apply to the General Assembly for permission to borrow twenty thousand dollars to defray the united costs of repairing the roofs and increasing the quantity of the water supply. An appropriation of twenty-five thousand dollars was made by the Legislature at the session of 1853-4 for these combined purposes. Mr. Stevenson, the rector, requested Mr. Gill, the chief engineer of the Central Railway, to draw up the estimates for the water works; Gill, being too busy to do this, recommended Mr. Eardman, of Philadelphia; and through Professor George Tucker, at this time a resident of that city, the services of this distinguished engineer were secured. Eardman sent in his report in June, 1854. He calculated that the cost of the new works would amount to $21,229.21, without including a reserve fund of $21,122.90 for contingencies. It was not until several months had passed that bids were advertised for; and when these were received, they were found, in every instance, to run beyond the appropriation. In the meanwhile, the owner of the most important spring had refused to sell, except on conditions which the executive committee decided they had not the delegated power to accept.
One year later,— no practical step having been taken in the interval,— Charles Ellet was employed to devise a plan for obtaining a sufficient supply of water, to be accompanied by an estimate of cost. He enjoyed a national reputation as a civil engineer, and his report was promptly adopted by the Board. The executive committee was again directed to give out the contracts for the prosecution of the work. The right to take possession of the springs necessary to complete the supply had already been granted by the General Assembly. In accord with Ellet's recommendation, iron pipes were laid down, which connected a reservoir at the back of the Rotunda with numerous fountain-heads situated in the high valleys of the foothills towards the west. The water,— which was first received in the reservoir,— was, by a steam pump, forced up into two tanks located within the cavity of the bricks that supported the bottom of the dome in the rear. Each of these tanks had a capacity of seven thousand gallons; and they were elevated at least seventy feet above the surface of the Lawn. The pressure was sufficient to drive water from them to any roof within the central grounds of the University, except the top of the dome itself. The tanks proved to be defective. The leaking water at first seriously injured the exterior walls of the Rotunda, and then slowly dampened the partitions of the rooms and basement. There was, at one time, a heavy overflow, owing to a shortened provision for waste pipes. Many of the books in the library were, on this occasion, thoroughly soaked, the ceiling was defaced, and the plastering of the lecture-halls below was loosened.

1921 History of the University of Virginia, 1819-1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man, Volume 4, Philip Alexander Bruce
Pages 191-193:  The demand for the enlargement of the University water-works arose almost on the threshold of the Seventh Period, 1865-95. There had been constant apprehension lest the insidious damage already inflicted on the Rotunda and library by the leaking tanks on the dome should end in a sudden and sweeping catastrophe to the building and its contents. How could these dangerous and uncouth receptacles be made unnecessary? It was only by means of an abundant supply of water drawn from a high altitude that they could be conveniently and permanently dispensed with. In June, 1867, the future proctor, Major Green Peyton, whose professional knowledge as an expert engineer was now of extraordinary value to the University, was employed to draw up an estimate of the cost of constructing a dam in the stream on Observatory Mountain at the greatest height practicable. To this dam it was proposed to extend the existing main. The rector was empowered to borrow ten thousand dollars to defray the probable expense of the undertaking; and this sum was subsequently added to. In December of the same year, there was a conference with the authorities of Charlottesville for the purpose of enlisting their cooperation. By the spring of 1869, the new works had been completed. An abundant supply of water for the present was thus acquired, and the need of the steam-engine which forced a stream into the tanks was presumed to be terminated. The tanks, however, not only remained untouched, but also in actual use as late as 1884.
By 1880, the new supply had begun to give signs of failure during Summer, and the proctor, in consequence, was instructed to enlarge the reservoir. In anticipation that a drought might cause the flow through the main pipe to stop altogether, the cisterns, which had apparently been closed and abandoned, were cleared out from top to bottom and carefully repaired, and the conduits to the roofs of the pavilions and dormitories opened up fully again. So alarming became the condition of the water supply in spite of this precaution, that the General Assembly was compelled to make a large appropriation for its improvement. An equally large sum was granted at the same time for further modernizing the drainage and sewerage of the precincts. In April, 1884, forty thousand dollars of these two amounts combined was deposited in the Bank of Charlottesville, to be paid out as those important alterations advanced towards completion.
The need of cooperation between the town and the University in erecting new water-works, to ensure a permanent and adequate supply for both communities, had become so pressing by 1885 that the authorities of the two corporations, as authorized by Act of Assembly of March, 1884, agreed to unite their resources. It was estimated that the cost of the undertaking would fall little short of ninety thousand dollars, of which imposing sum the University was to contribute not less than fifteen thousand. In return for the payment of this proportion of the outlay, it was to be entitled to all the water which could be drawn through a pipe of a size to be agreed upon, which should distribute the diverted stream through its grounds. The main conduit, which was to run from the reservoir to the city, was to be ten inches in diameter; and it was this great pipe that the smaller University pipe was to tap. The current was to be controlled altogether by the force of gravity.
During the years that succeeded the completion of the work, the population of the town continued to augment. With the ever rising demand for water at the urban end of the line, the pressure on the contents of the University pipe diminished, and the supply in consequence fell below what was needed by the smaller community. This led to the drafting of a new contract in January, 1892, by the provisions of which the University was empowered to lay down a new pipe all the way to the reservoir, without any connection whatever with the town main. This new conduit was six inches in diameter, and its construction entailed an expense of nearly seventeen thousand dollars. A deficiency having again occurred in 1896, the town put in a steam pump to force the water from Reservoir Creek into its ten-inch main. The University shared in this expense, and, as a compensation, obtained a proportionate increase in the supply for its own pipe.

1929 "Slow Sand Filtration at Charlottesville, Va.," by Lee H. Williamson, Municipal News and Water Works 76:275-278 (1929)

1960 "Charlottesville, Virginia Water Works," by G. G. Haney, Superintendent of filtration, Charlottesville, Va., Water & Sewage Works 107:95-97 (March 1960)

2007 "History," from Rotunda Historic Structure Report, University of Virginia Architect's Office
Page 60:  Attempts to Increase the University's Water Supply, 1854-1855
In 1854 the University engaged engineer Frederick Erdman of Philadelphia to devise a scheme to pipe water to the University from creeks located to the southwest of the grounds. Erdman's proposal proved too costly, however, and the following year the University hired civil engineer Charles Ellet, also of Philadelphia, who had won national acclaim in the previous decade as a designer of suspension bridges. Ellet’s solution to the water problem included installing tanks within the Rotunda walls.

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce