Documentary History of American Water-works

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South Atlantic States
Virginia Norfolk

Norfolk, Virginia

Norfolk was founded as a town in 1682 and incorporated as a city in 1845.

The Norfolk Aqueduct Company was incorporated in 1831 by George Newton, Thomas Williamson, John Southgate, Frederick Myers, William B. Lamb, Thomas Reilly and Albert Almand "for the purpose of conducting a constant and ample supply of good and wholesome water from Briggs's Point or elsewhere, into and along some one or any or all of the streets of the said borough."  This company did not build anything.

The Norfolk City Water Company was incorporated in 1856 with Marshall Parks, Christopher Hall, Myer Myers, John E. Doyle, John Bonsal, J. J. Bloodgood, G. W. Farant, E. T. Hardy, James Gordon, John W. Parks, and J. Cary Weston appointed to sell stock "for supplying the said city with water."  This company did not build anything. 

Agitation for a water system started anew right after the close of the Civil War, resulting in an overwhelming vote in favor of borrowing $500,000 to build water works.  Norfolk's abysmal credit made progress impossible in the short term, but continued pressure and new legislation resulted in the hiring of qualified engineers, including William J. McAlpine.  The system began service in July, 1873, pumping water from Moore's Bridges using a Holly direct pressure system with a 2 MGD Quadraplex pumping engine and a pair of Holly rotary pumps driven by steam.  Worthington steam pumping engines were added in 1875 and 1880, resulting in a patent infringement claim by the Holly Manufacturing Company, which was settled amicably.  Additional Holly and Worthington pumps were added later. 

Water service is provided the City of Norfolk.

1831 An act incorporating the Norfolk aqueduct company.  January 6, 1831.

1856 An act to incorporate the Norfolk city water company.  February 18, 1856.

1865 "Anti-Water," The Norfolk Post, June 29, 1865, Page 2.

1865 "Water-Works," The Norfolk Post, July 1, 1865, Page 2.

1865 "The Water Meeting," The Norfolk Post, October 3, 1865, Page 3.

1865 "The Water Movement," The Norfolk Post, October 9, 1865, Page 2.

1865 "The Water Question" and "The Water Demonstration," The Norfolk Post, October 12, 1865, Page 2.

1865 "Water," The Norfolk Post, October 13, 1865, Page 2.
The question permitted was, whether the corporation should fatten $500,000 of the bonds at seven per cent, and the vote stood - for water 451; against water 149.

1866 The Revised Ordinances of the City of Norfolk

1867 An act amending and re-enacting the 7th and 8th sections of an act passed February 18, 1856, entitled an act to incorporate the Norfolk City Water Company.  January 14, 1867.

1867 An act to authorize the city of Norfolk to construct water works for use by the people of said city.  January 14, 1867.

1871 Report and plans of the Hon. W. J. McAlpine for a supply of water for the city of Norfolk, February, 1871.

1871 An act to amend and re-enact the first and fourth sections of an act entitled an act to authorize the city of Norfolk to construct Water Works for the use of the people of said city. Passed January 14, 1867.  March 22, 1871.

1873 The Daily State Journal (Alexandria, Virginia), July 26, 1873, Page 1.
The Norfolk water works have been tested and found to be all right.

1873 "Destructive Fire in Norfolk," The Daily State Journal (Alexandria, Virginia), July 26, 1873, Page 1.
Owing to the bursting of a water main the day before, and the limited resources of the fire department, the fire gradually gained headway.

1873 "Great Fire at Norfolk," New York Herald, July 28, 1873, Page 10.
The Water Works were put in operation; as the main pipe, which had bursted about a mile from the city, had been repaired; but in less than half an hour it burst again immediately opposite the old fire on Main Street.  Tired and worried at five P.M. after sixteen hours and engines not in good condition, the firemen returned to their quarters.

1877 The History of Norfolk, Virginia: A Review of Important Events and Incidents which Occurred from 1736-1877 ; Also a Record of Personal Reminiscences and Political, Commercial, and Curious Facts, by Harrison W. Burton
Pages 218-219: The most judicious investment of money that the city of Norfolk ever made was the building of our City Water Works, which are located in the comity of Princess Anne, about five miles from the city [the nearest accessible point to fresh water]. The expense of erecting these works was enormous; and as the money had to be raised by taxation, the enterprise was vigorously opposed by a large number of citizens—many of whom are now ashamed to acknowledge that they did oppose such a valuable institution. However, a large majority of the people voted "for the works," and the scheme to build them was successfully carried out. The machinery is of the Holly system, and works admirably. The water was regularly introduced into the city in 1873, and up to the 1st of January, 1874, the number of "taps" in use (connections with the main pipes for family use) was 185; January 1st, 1875, there were 535; January 1st, 1876, 771; and on the 1st of January this year (1877) there were over one thousand families taking the city water— 955 "taps" being in use. This shows how steadily the list of water-takers has increased. It is also a well known fact that since the Water Works have been in successful operation we have had but few (if any) disastrous fires in the city—(but strange to say, the rates of fire insurance have not been reduced).
The number of persons engaged in the conduct of our Water Department is thirteen, to-wit: George K. Goodridge, W. W. Chamberlaine and William J. Baker, Water Commissioners; Charles H. Rowland, Superintendent; John R. Todd, Registrar; William Wright, Chief Engineer; William Luck, First Assistant Engineer; James Wright, Second Assistant Engineer; James F. Parker, line man and Inspector; John Armaml, Chief fireman, and two colored assistants; also, one office boy.
The number of gallons of water pumped into the city each month during 1876 is as follows:
January      15,278,889
February    14,143,494
March        15,263,446
April          14,449,602
May           16,016,730
June           17,388.862
July           19,407,182
August      18,053,874
September 17,155,752
October     16,560,646
November 15,946,756
December 19,664,678
Total for year 199,229,401
Fire-plugs are stationed all through the city, and with 90 pounds of steam pressure at the works (nearly five miles distant) a stream of water, one inch in diameter, can be forced through 300 feet of hose over any building in the city. (Our steam fire engines are seldom used now.)

1881 The Norfolk (Va.) Water Works, from Engineering News 8:51 (February 5, 1881) Dispute between Holly and Worthington.

1881 Norfolk from Engineering News 8:333 (August 20, 1881)

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

1885 The Ordinances of the City of Norfolk and Acts of Assembly of Virginia Relating to the City Government, with an Appendix. 1885

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

1888 Our Twin Cities of the Nineteenth Century (Norfolk and Portsmouth): Their Past, Present, and Future, by Robert W. Lamb
Pages 38-40:  1872. During this year the city of Norfolk made an investment which was bitterly opposed by many of her leading citizens and yet was loudly called for by the necessities of growth and progress. We refer to the Water works, which were erected at an enormous expense about five miles out of town. The machinery is of the Holly system and works well. The character of the water supplied we do not intend to discuss. Incidentally, however, we may remark that though after a drouth it has been objected to for drinking purposes, when there is a full capacity of water in Lake Lawson—as the natural reservoir is called—we think the character will compare favorably with the supply of that of other cities of the country; at the same time a judicious system of filtration we deem both practicable and expedient. Nor will this, in our judgment, prove unnecessary even if a larger supply is added from other neighboring natural reservoirs.
On the 18th of October, 1873, the Councils elected the first Board of Water Commissioners, which consisted of Messrs. Geo. K. Goodridge, W. W. Chamberlaine and John S. Tucker.  Up to January, 1874, only 185 taps or connections had been made.

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

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

1892 An act to incorporate the Berkeley and South Norfolk Water and Electric Light Company.  February 16, 1892.

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

1900 "The Norfolk, Virginia, Filter Plant," by Edmund B. Weston, Consulting Engineer, Providence, R.I., Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the American Water Works Association 20:108-120

1900 "The Norfolk, Va. Filter Plant," Public Works, 9:14-15 (July 1900)

1902 An act to authorize the consolidation of the Portsmouth and Suffolk Water Company, the Berkley and South Norfolk Water and Electric Light Company, and the Nansemond Water Company.  January 16, 1902.

1904 "Waterworks Deal Closed," The Baltimore Sun, December 2, 1904, Page 12.
Portsmouth, Suffolk and Berkley Waterworks Company sold to American Water Works and Guarantee Company of Pittsburgh.

1922 "Laying 30-inch Submerged Pipe for Norfolk Water-Works," by Davis A. Decker and John O. Miller, Engineering News 89:393-395 (September 7, 1922)

1931 Norfolk: Historic Southern Port, by Thomas J. Wertenbaker
Pages 271-274:  So early as 1865 a movement was started for a new water supply. To the more enterprising citizens existing conditions were intolerable. "How can we attract manufacturers," they asked, "if we have not the water essential for their needs?  How can we ask capitalists to settle among us, and partake of ·contaminated water from our cisterns and wells? How can we insure public health by means of a sewerage system, unless we have water in abundance?" The Norfolk Post declared that "half the cisterns and nearly all the pumps ran dry during the summer," and people have to borrow water even for cooking purposes. "Just imagine, ye advocates of pumps and cisterns, the contents of such inconvenient receptacles." We ourselves saw taken from the old well on the corner of Main and Nebraska streets, "four copies of the old Index, any quantity of tin-pots and kettles, several infantile genus canine, one old tabby, and boots and shoes accordingly."
None the less, the "Old Fogies," closing their ranks, fired broadside after broadside in the papers. "These people have water on the brain," declared Common Sense, "but, I, for one, can't see the point. We have a very good supply of water and every time it rains, it is freshened and the supply renewed."  Another scribe, signing himself Madison, wished to know "what is the use of talking of a luxury which is to cost $1,000,000 to a people that haven't got the money?"
The controversy waxed doubly hot when Mayor Tabb announced that he would place the matter before the voters on October 12, 1865.  If one ventured on Main Street, he found the people discussing water, if he entered Beardsley's to enjoy a game of billiards or partake of a bowl of oyster soup, water was the all-absorbing topic. At Tuttle's soda-fountain, in the parlor of the Atlantic, the saloon of the National, at Sangster's, the post-office, the Custom House, in the photographic saloons, in Freemason and Granby streets, at Town Point, water was the unceasing topic of conversation. The night before the election the advocates of good water formed a procession, led by the band of the Thirtieth Illinois Regiment playing "The Juniper Quickstep." Behind came the fire companies with torches, followed by decorated wagons and citizens bearing transparencies with such inscriptions as: "Sacred to the memory of the town pump," "Juniper will be our greatest blessing," "Vote for the new drink-water," "Mix Juniper with your whiskey to prevent chills." The next day the "Old Fogies" were overwhelmingly defeated, and the government was empowered, by 451 votes to 149, to borrow five hundred thousand dollars to erect the water works.
Unfortunately the city's credit was low, and so difficult did it prove to float bonds that the matter had to be postponed. But a severe drought, in the summer of 1869, with the attendant shortage of drinking water, brought matters once more to a crisis. With the cisterns going dry, with well water brackish and unwholesome, with many depending upon barrels left out to catch an occasional shower, the cry for immediate action became insistent. "For five years we have been talking, writing, and voting," said the Journal. "The time has come when we must have water." And now began a lively controversy as to the proper source of supply. The old suggestion that water be pumped from Lake Drummond brought forth renewed protests.  Juniper water was not fit to drink, it was so strong it would eat through iron in a few month's time, it would stain clothes, it could not be used in factories. When a letter appeared in one of the papers dilating on the advantages of Doyle's Lake, at Ocean View, the writer was overwhelmed with ridicule. "This little pond has no outlet," it was pointed out, "and does not contain enough water for a week's supply. It is to be doubted if the pond were filled with lager, it would supply our German fellow citizens with the beverage for one week."
In November, 1869, three engineers made an examination of a number of small lakes north-east of the city, in Princess Anne County, and reported favorably. The nearest available body of water was Broad Creek, at Moore's Bridges, they said.  The stream at this point was brackish from the ebb and flow of tide water, but by building a dam across the creek, a sufficient supply of pure water could be had. However, since the new basin would have to be dredged and dyked and ditches cut in the nearby marshes to bring in the water, they considered the two Bradford lakes, near the shore beyond Little Creek, as the best source. Here the water basin was already made, the water excellent, the supply adequate for present and future needs.
William J. McAlpine, who made a thorough study of the situation and reported in February, 1871, came to an entirely different conclusion. Believing that the Princess Anne lakes and creeks would prove inadequate for a growing city, he thought that the water should be brought from Lake Drummond or from the Nansemond River. The belief that the juniper water from the lake was so highly charged with tannin as to corrode iron, he denied vigorously. "The lock-gates of the feeder were taken off a year since," he said, "after having been in the water directly from Lake Drummond for twenty-three years. The wrought iron clamps, spikes, etc., were found to be so little oxidized that they were a11 used in the new gates."  With a supply of pure water sufficient for a city of a million people, the greater cost of the Lake Drummond plan should not influence the councils to reject it. "The streams at Moore's Bridges and the lakes beyond will furnish a supply for a population of 50,000," he said, "and when the city increases beyond this demand, all of the expenditure ... will be lost.."
After a careful consideration of McAlpine's report, the councils decided to draw their water, neither from Moore's Bridges nor Lake Drummond, but from Deep Creek, a tributary of the Southern Branch. The contract was let to William H. Allen and Co., and the work of laying down pipes begun.  This, however, was a palpable infringement upon the rights of the Dismal Swamp Canal, and when that body protested, the city turned to the Moore's Bridges plan. A few months later the work had been completed, and the water began to course along the conduit and throughout the city. But now that the people had water at their very doors, they were slow to avail themselves of it, many continuing for twenty years or more to depend upon cisterns. In January, 1874, only 185 connections had been made, while so late as 1893 the Chamber of Commerce reported that some rain-water cisterns were still in use, although "almost entirely out of date."  However, for the time being the vexed water question had been settled.
Pages 277-278:  The completion of the waterworks afforded a protection from fire, in itself worth the money spent on this project. Unfortunately, it was in July, 1872, while the workmen were sti11 laying pipes, that a severe conflagration swept the fire-trap section of Main Street, from Market Square to Union, destroying property valued at $250,000.  It was with a deep sense of relief, then, that the crowd looked on at a fire in February, 1874, while the firemen poured in a stream of water from one of the new mains. As the hissing steam arose and the flames died down, a great shout went up, in recognition of the fact that an important victory had been won over one of Norfolk's most deadly enemies.

1962 "Norfolk," 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

1994 Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, by Thomas C. Parramore, Peter C. Stewart, and Tommy L. Bogger
Pages 233-234:  After the police force, water was the most urgent postwar need, and voters in October 1864 endorsed a plan to borrow $500,000 for a waterworks.  Given Norfolk's poor credit, this proved to be a daunting problem requiring a serious drought in 1869–when pump water was too brackish to drink and supplied had to be brought in from Washington–to force action.  Four years later later water began flowing through pipes from the new waterworks at Moore's Bridges.  It was still many years, however, before most citizens ceased to rely on their accustomed pumps and dust-collecting cisterns.

[2013] Municipal Waterworks, by Peggy Haile McPhillips, City Historian.

© 2017 Morris A. Pierce