Documentary History of American Water-works

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South Atlantic States
Virginia Richmond

Richmond, Virginia

Richmond was laid out in 1737.

Richmond was served by at least two water systems in the early 1800s.  The Richmond Aqueduct was formed in 1803 and it or another company were building works in 1809.  One of more hydraulic rams were offered to the town in 1805 by M. La Paype, but no further information has been found about them.

The Richmond Aqueduct Company was incorporated in 1823 with William Foushee, Sr., Robert G. Scott, John G. Williams, James Rawlings, Benjamin Tate, William H. Hubbard, John Goddin, Christopher Tompkins, and John Rutherfoord appointed as stock subscription agents.  The company's charter was revived in 1825, but they do not appear to have built anything. 

In 1829, Richmond was authorized to construct its own water works, and engaged Albert Stein to design and construct them.  The works were completed in 1832 and included a filtering bed, although Stein was "doubtful of its proving a success."  Nevertheless this is the first attempt to filter a public water supply in the United States.

The waterworks are currently owned by the City of Richmond.

1803 Richmond Argus, August 20, 1803
Notice The Subscribers to the Richmond Aqueduct are particularly requested to attend a meeting to be held at the Bell Tavern, on Tuesday next, at 5 o'clock in the afternoon.

1805 Morning Chronicle (New York, New York), November 16, 1805, Page 3.
This is the approbation given by Mr. Jefferson to the invention of the Hydraulic Ram, which was offered by Mr. Lapaype, to the inhabitants of Richmond, for the utility and ornament of that city; and of which he has made also some experiments at this house at Monticello.  Balt. Amer.
"I hereby certify, that I attended an experiment made with the Hydraulic Ram of Mr. Lapoyde, that with a descending tube of 1 inch diameter and 4 feet long, it through from 1/2 to 1/16 of the water 22 feet above the reservoir - and am satisfied, had it not been for the leaking pipes affixed to it, it would have thrown the water much higher.  I am well satisfied of the effect of the machine, and pleased with the simplicity of its construction, that I have had one made for myself to be placed under the cove of the house, to catch the rain water from them, and throw up a sufficient porition of it into the cistern on the top of the house as a resource in case of fire.  "Given my hand at Monticello, the 27th of Sept, 1805. Thomas Jefferson

1805 From Thomas Jefferson to James Oldham, 16 November 1805
Mr Poype having obtained from mr Montgolfier the inventor of the Hydraulic ram permission to use his patent right to the advantage of mr Poype who has need of it, I do not think myself at liberty to make any communication of it’s construction to his prejudice. on the same ground I have not put to use yet the one he permitted me to have made from his model. I understood there would be a subscription in Richmond for employing mr Poype in the setting up a number of them, which will give to the city the benefit of the construction.

1809 Richmond Enquirer, June 13, 1809
I wish to hire ten or twelve able strong Men, to work at the Water-works, & on the streets of Richmond.  For such I will give a generous price, for two or three months.  John P. Shields

1823 An act incorporating the Richmond Aqueduct Company, January 30, 1823.

1825 An act to revive and amend “an act incorporating the Richmond Aqueduct Company, passed the thirtieth of January, eighteen hundred and twenty-three.” February 10, 1825.

1829 An act to authorize the Common Council of the city of Richmond to cause said city to be supplied with water in certain cases, and to impose taxes to defray the expense thereof. January 29, 1829.

1830 "Water Works," Richmond Enquirer, July 20, 1830, Page 3.
Vote in favor of water works 317; against 108.

1830 Boston Traveler, November 23, 1830, Page 2
Water Works for the Supply of Richmond -- The Richmond Compiler states, that every arrangement is making for expediting the progress of the works.  The iron pipes are laid down, and covered over, in several of the upper streets of the city.  The reservoirs [to have two apartments each and three filters,] are digging with great rapidity.  The foundation of the stone pump-house is said to be most substantially and handsomely built, on the edge of the James river bank, below the canal -- and several hundred feet from the reservoir.  Within less than one hundred yards of from the pump-house, the dam is commenced -- to stop the water in on one great sluice of the river, and direct it down a channel to be called in on the off side to pour the water upon the works of the pump-house.

1831 An act concerning the water works in the city of Richmond.  March 23, 1831.

1832 An act providing for a supply of water for the use of the Penitentiary and the public buildings on the capitol square.  March 3, 1832.

1834 "Report from the Watering Committee, May 10, 1834," Richmond Whig, May 16, 1834, Pages 2-3.

1835 A New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia, and the District of Columbia by William Henry Brockenbrough
Pages 191-192:  Richmond.  The remaining expenses are  on account of the public markets, fire companies, salaries of officers, paving of streets and various contingencies. The city debt at this time amounts to $136,150;— $95,000 of which, bearing an interest of 5 per centum only, was incurred on account of the water works. These works were commenced in September 1830, under the direction of Albert Stein, an accomplished Engineer from Holland, and were completed as far as originally designed, at the end of the ensuing year. Since that time, a second pump and wheel, and a third reservoir have been added; making the cost of the whole work about $100,000. The pumps are each calculated to raise from the river, and propel into the reservoirs at a distance of 800 yards, and at a considerable elevation 400,000 gallons of water in 24 hours. These pumps are designed to operate alternately, either being competent to fill the reservoirs in sufficient time. The reservoirs will each of them contain 1,000,000 gallons,—and double lines of pipes extend from them to the pump house on the margin of the river. The main pipe from the reservoirs to the intersection of H. and 1st streets is 2,058 yards in length; and the smallest pipes extend from this thro' the principal streets, lessening in diameter to the point of greatest depression from the level of the reservoirs, a distance of about 3 ms. Fire plugs are placed at convenient distances along the line of pipes, and afford an ample supply of water for extinguishing fires. In the lower part of the city the pressure is sufficient to force the water to the tops of the houses through hose, without the aid of engines.  Three hundred and forty houses and tenements are already furnished with water, and the rents which are daily increasing, amount at this time, April 1834, to $4,000. The annual expense of superintendence, &c. is $1,000. These works may justly be considered the pride of the city. The water which they supply is not only pure and wholesome, but for a considerable part of the year is sufficiently clear to be used without filters.

1836 Report of the water works committee of the Commercial Bank of New Orleans. Presented February 18, 1836, and published by order of the board of directors

1838 Sketch of the civil engineering of North America: comprising remarks on the harbours, river and lake navigation, lighthouses, steam-navigation, water-works, canals, roads, railways, bridges, and other works in that country, by David Stevenson
Page 288-289:  The supply of water for the town of Richmond in Virginia, is procured from the James River, in the same manner as at Philadelphia; but the works are on a much smaller scale. The water is raised 160 feet by two water-wheels into two reservoirs, measuring 194 feet in length, 104 feet in breadth, and ten feet eight inches in depth, which are capable of containing upwards of two millions of gallons of water. Before leaving the reservoirs, the water is purified by passing through two gravel filters. The water-wheels are eighteen feet in diameter, and ten feet in breadth, and the fall is ten feet. The barrels of the two forcepumps are nine inches in diameter, and six feet in length of stroke, and, in the ordinary state of working, when only one wheel is in operation, raise about 400,000 gallons of water in twenty-four hours.
The cast-iron main which leads from the pumps to the reservoir is eight inches in diameter and about 2400 feet in length. Mr Stein was engineer for the work, which is said to have cost about £20,000.

1856 Richmond in by-gone days by Samuel Mordecai
Page 304-305: Thus also by private subscription, water was conducted from the basin in wooden pipes as far as the market bridge, with hydrants at several corners, always flowing.  Myriads of minute eels would ascend the moist wall of the bridge and wriggle their way to the very spouts of the hydrants. By similar pipes, water was conveyed from the Bloody Run Spring (not then a sanguinary stream) as far as the Bell Tavern. Some of these are yet conduits, a short distance from their source. In excavating the streets, the pipes are frequently found and in perfect preservation from decay — after fifty years' interment of those from the basin.
About twenty-five years after the wooden water-pipes were laid, and when the increased population of the city had rendered many of the wells unfit for use, the river was put in requisition to pump a portion of its own water to an elevation higher than the city, and from its reservoir there, to circulate by subterranean channels to each domicile; though not always in a transparent state. 

1859 Report on the Enlargement of the Water Works, of the City of Richmond by Richmond Water Works (Richmond, Va.)

1881 Richmond Water Works, from Engineering News 8:264 (July 2, 1881)

1881 Richmond Water Works Pumping Engines, from Engineering News 8:418 (October 15, 1881)

1882 Richmond, Va., Water-Works, from Engineering News 9:229 (July 8, 1882)  Description of new water works.

1883 Annual Report of the Superintendent of the City Water Works for the fiscal year ending February 1, 1883, includes "A Brief history of the origin and erection of the water works of the city of Richmond, Va." (pages 47-64) 

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

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

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

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

1899 "Water Department" from A History of the Government of the City of Richmond, Virginia and a Sketch of Those who Administer Its Affairs by Robert R. Nuckols

1900 Annual Report of the Superintendent of the City Water-Works to the Mayor of the City, for the Fiscal Year Ending ... Richmond (Va.) Office of the City Water Works

1900 "A Brief History and Description of the Richmond Water Works," by Charles E. Bolling, from Report of Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Convention of the American Water Works Association 20:144-150 (1900)

1918 "Prices and Depreciation of Cast Iron Pipe (with discussion)," by Burt B. Hodgman, A. F. Kirstein, J. N. Chester, George A. Main, Rudolph Hering, Charles F. Barrett, E. E. Davis, Leonard Metcalf, F. N. Connet and B. B. Hodgman, from Journal of the American Water Works Association, 5(2):145-162 (June, 1918)

1962 "Richmond," 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

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce