Documentary History of American Water-works

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South Atlantic States
Virginia Winchester

Winchester, Virginia

Winchester was settled as early as 1729.

The history of the Winchester water works begins in May of 1753, when Thomas Fairfax, Sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron, sold 1,241 acres of land to Colonel James Wood with the proviso that the sale would be void if Wood and his heirs did not "permit the Inhabitants of the said Town at any time to sink and lay Pipes to convey the Water from the said Spring to the Town for the future and mutual Benefit and advantage of its Inhabitants."  Fairfax and Wood had both been born in England and were well-educated, but the impetus for including this provison in the deedit is not known.  While some other early land grants protected water sources for communities, this is the only one known that mentions pipes to convey water.      

In 1794, Robert Wood, youngest son of Colonel James Wood, wrote to his brother General James Wood about an "Application of the Inhabitants of Winchester for permission to carry the water in pipes to the Town."  James, who was a member of Virginia's executive council and would be elected governor in 1796, replied in December that the application had not been received, but when it is "I shall answer that if it can be done with the General Consent of the people and without injury to Individuals, I shall not have the least Objection."

The Winchester Common Council in 1804 passed  "An act making provisions for watering the Corporation of Winchester," and raised funds from the residents to pay for the water pipes.  Around 1808, the Council engaged a "Dr. Brown" to construct the system using wooden logs bored using a horse-driven machine.  An 1890 history states that Winchester resident Robert Heterick "was very active in having water brought from the Town Run spring into Winchester in wooden pipes. In this he was aided by the late Dr. Brown, of Harper's Ferry."  This would likely have been Dr. Charles Brown, a former Army surgeon who was stationed at Harper's Ferry in 1800 while in the Army and later lived there until his death in August 1824.  Both Heterick and Brown were born in Scotland.

The Common Council began installing lead pipes in 1822, and a proposal to install cast-iron pipes in 1828 was delayed until the Virginia General Assembly passed a law in January 1829 allowing them to borrow money "for the purpose of producing and laying cast iron pipes, for conveying water into the corporation, from a spring adjacent to the corporation, instead of the wooden pipes now used for that purpose."  The first cast iron pipes were installed in August, 1829.

A new water system was needed around 1890, and local merchant Charles B. Rouss offered to pay half of the $60,000 cost for a new system if the city would provide the rest.  The city accepted his proposition and after some delay built a new system that had issues that took some time to remedy. (See 1909 reference)

The waterworks are currently owned by the City of Winchester.

1753 Thomas Lord Fairfax Land Grant to James Wood, May 21, 1753, from Winchester, Virginia, and its beginnings, 1743-1814 : from its founding by Colonel James Wood to the close of the life of his son, Brigadier-General and Governor James Wood, with the publication for the first time of valuable manuscripts, relics of their long tenure of public offices  by Katherine Glass Greene, 1926

1819 "Distressing Casualty," Farmers' Repository (Charles Town, West Virginia), July 7, 1819, Page 2. Jacob Rayer killed by trench cave-in while installing water pipes up a hill on South Market Street.

1828 A petition from the President and Common Council of Winchester asking for a law authorizing & empowering them to create a loan to substitute cast iron pipes for conveying water into the Corporation, instead of wooden pipes. Includes act.  December 13, 1828.

1829 An act to authorize the President and Common Council of the corporation of Winchester to borrow money for the purpose therein stated and other purposes, January 2, 1829

1829 Alexandria Gazette, August 17, 1829, Page 5.
We were rather premature last week in announcing the completion of the water works. - We alluded to the laying of the main pipe from the spring to the centre of town (opposite the jail).  The pipes for the cross streets have not yet been received from Philadelphia, and will not, we understand, for some weeks to come.  The old wooden pipes in these streets are consequently, for the present, attached to the iron pipe.  This has been done since our last publication, and was completed on Tuesday, when the water was let in and conveyed through the town. - Winchester Rep.

1835 A Comprehensive Description of Virginia and the District of Columbia: Containing a Copious Collection of Geographical, Statistical, Political, Commercial, Religious, Moral, and Miscellaneous Information, Chiefly from Original Sources by Joseph Martin, same text also in A New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia, and the District of Columbia by William Henry Brockenbrough
Page 345:  Winchester possesses one great and inestimable advantage as a place of residence, which would leave this article imperfect not to notice in detail.  We mean the never failing supply of pure, wholesome spring water. There is no place in the Union better supplied with water, or of better quality.  Philadelphia boasts of its water works, but the water there is river water, whilst that supplied to the citizens of Winchester is spring water, cold enough to be used without ice during the summer. The water was introduced into the town 28 or 30 years ago by wooden pipes, through which it was conducted from a fine, never failing spring, about half a mile west of the town,—the right to the use of which, was reserved to the citizens of Winchester by Lord Fairfax, by express provision. The wooden pipes were taken up in 1828, and iron pipes put down in their places. The main pipe has a bore of about 6 inches : the lateral pipes about 3 inches. The length of the iron pipes is about 3 ms. The whole cost to the corporation did not exceed $12,500. The water is now conveyed in these pipes through all the principal streets, and by lead pipes leading from the iron, into the yards of a majority of the citizens, without their paying any water tax for the privilege. The water is carried to the extreme parts of the town, affording a constant and abundant supply for all the purposes of domestic use, and to extinguish fire if necessary; for which purpose, fire plugs are provided at convenient distances.

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

1883 Winchester from Engineering News 10:101 (March 3, 1883)

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

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

1890 History of the Lower Shenandoah Valley Counties of Frederick, Berkeley, Jefferson and Clarke: Their Early Settlement and Progress to the Present Time; Geological Features; a Description of Their Historic and Interesting Localities; Cities, Towns and Villages; Portraits of Some of the Prominent Men, and Biographies of Many of the Representative Citizens, by J. E. Norris
Page 698:  Edward F. Heterick, farmer, P. O. Welltown, Frederick Co., Va., is the son of Robert Heterick, who was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1749, and educated at Edinburgh, emigrating to this country in 1784. He became principal of an academy at York, Penn., and afterward at Lancaster, same state, about the beginning of this century. He came to Winchester afterward, and was principal of the Winchester Academy for seventeen years. He was very active in having water brought from the Town Run spring into Winchester in wooden pipes. In this he was aided by the late Dr. Brown, of Harper's Ferry.

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

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

1909 "Water Supply" from Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants: A History of Frederick County, Virginia (illustrated) from Its Formation in 1738 to 1908, by Thomas Kemp Cartmell

1925 The Story of Winchester in Virginia: The Oldest Town in the Shenandoah Valley by Oren Frederic Morton | also here |
Page 109: The question of water supply has been rendered easy by the copious limestone springs just within the town limits.  When Colonel Wood caused Winchester to come into existence, he was required by Fairfax not to stop or alter the watercourse issuing from the "Federal Spring" near his house.  This was so that the people of the town might be supplied with water from it.  Because of the springs an ordinance against hogs running at large was enacted in 1791.  In addition to the springs wells were formerly much in use. Among these were four public wells, and for many years they were carefully guarded.  It is supposed to have been about 1808 that water was brought into town from the Tidball Spring, wooden pipes being used.  These pipes were bored by horsepower.  Every joint was secured by an iron ring sharpened at each end, and against these the pipes were forced.  For further security there was also an outer ring.  Sections of the wooden pipes with their collars are still dug up here and there.  In fact, there appears to be some authority for the statement that Winchester is the pioneer town in the United States to install water works.  A petition to the legislature, dated December 13, 1818, says it has been found necessary to substitute for the wooden tubes iron pipes from 1½ to 6 inches in diameter.  A fund of $10,000 was needed, and it could be redeemed in ten years.  Accordingly, in 1829 iron pipes were put into position.  About 1890, at an expense of $60,000, one-half of which was met by the city, the Hollingsworth Spring was purchased, and the water distributed from a reservoir.

1953 What I Know about Winchester: Recollections of William Greenway Russell, 1800-1891 by William Greenway Russell
Page 129-130:  Having arrived at the spring (a short distance to the southwest of which stands the former residence of Col. James Wood,) we will give you a history of the introduction of the water into the town in 1808. The authorities of the Corporation contracted with Dr. Brown to have the water brought in in wooden pipes. I cannot tell where the Doctor came from. He brought with him machinery for boring the logs; he had a horse-power, but the writer was too small to give any description of its construction. (He also brought with him about twenty wild geese, many of which lived to a good old age, and the half breeds were to be seen there twenty years after they were first introduced.)  After the logs were bored, they were joined together by an iron ring some three inches in width, made sharp on each edge and placed in the end of the log, where a circle had been cut for the ring to enter. Then with heavy maul they would drive the last laid log up, thus bringing the ends of the two logs together, and the ring buried half in each log, thus preventing the water from escaping, but some years later they used tubes which slightly tapered at each end, which was driven into the log. The latter were the best and least expensive.
The contract was only to bring the water to Loudoun Street, and then the citizens were required to open the ditch in front of their property; the Corporation would furnish the logs and lay them down. The logs that left the spring were of two inch bore and all the connections were one inch. They were placed in the streets, and any persons wishing to introduce water into their respective property had to do so at their own expense, and so it progressed until it began to be generally used over the lower part of town. In the year 1826, they used one six inch iron pipe from the spring to Cameron Street, and in 1856 they laid another of the same size, also to Cameron Street. Then from time to time the iron pipes were laid as the wooden gave out. Before the introduction of the wooden pipes, the persons who had no wells in their yards, would have to go in the mornings to where the run comes into Washington Street and get water for cooking and washing. For drinking water they used the well. When a boy I had a small wagon, made for me by my father, which had a ten gallon keg on it, I had to take it to the run and fill it every morning for cooking purposes. When the street or road was bad, our older brothers had to go and so we had it in the happiest days I have ever seen.

1955 "A modern water supply for historic Winchester", R. H. Lemmon,  The Iron Worker, 18:18-22 (Summer 1955)

2005 "Winchester Early Water Works," J. Floyd Wine, Winchester Frederick County Historical Society Journal, 17:83-110

2006 Winchester, by Kathryn Parker.  Good pictures of wooden water pipe and iron connector.

References referring to Charles Brown:

"The Independent City of Winchester Property Owners for 1815"

1803 tax list for Winchester

1800 Letter from Doctor Charles Brown in Harpers Ferry to Samuel Hodgdon in Philadelphia.  August 14, 1800, Letter, discusses medicine and medical supplies. Sent an assortment of medicine to Major Cass detachment at Winchester Virginia. The apothecary will not like methods of making returns. Will need more medicine before winter. House is partly finished and wishes to see Hodgdon at Harpers Ferry.

1800 Letter from Doctor Charles Brown in Harpers Ferry to Samuel Hodgdon in Philadelphia. November 24, 1800,  Reports of an ulcer on leg which has prevented leaving with last of troops departing Harpers Ferry. Reports on medical supplies; mentions pay and desire to know next destination and status of extra pay for attending to Indians.

1809 Farmers' Repository (Charles Town, West Virginia), July 7, 1809, Page 3.
The anniversary of American independence was celebrated at Harper's Ferry in a style truly elegant. The day was ushered in by a discharge of artillery, and at 11 o'clock the company began to assemble, & at 3 sat dowm to a sumptuous dinner, set out under an extensive arbour prepared for the occasion. The greatest harmony prevailed throughout the whole day, and the Amor Patriae seemed to pervade every breast. After dinner the following toasts were drank, accompanied with the firing of cannon, music, etc. Dr. Charles Brown, president, and Dr. James Wood, vice president.

1824 Daily National Intelligencer, August 20, 1824, Page 3.
At Harper's Ferry, Dr. Charles Brown, His remains were attended to the vault (prepared by his own orders on the mount near Jefferson's Rock) by a military and masonic procession, and a very large concourse of citizens, where the usual ceremonies were performed.  He has left the principal part of his estate to the Medical Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. Brown's Cave in Harper's Ferry

Robert Heterick held two patents, Stove of cast iron, June 11, 1793 and Improvement called the Columbia fireplace, June 30, 1803.

© 2017 Morris A. Pierce