Documentary History of American Water-works

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New England States Vermont Vergennes

Vergennes, Vermont

Vergennes was first settled in 1766.

The Vergennes Aqueduct Company was incorporated in 1809 by Josias Smith, Reuben Brush, Enoch D. Woodbridge and Amos W. Barnum "for the purpose of making, using and enjoying an aqueduct, to supply the citizens of Vergennes with water."  These were successful businessman, lawyers, and politicians in the community.  An 1886 history notes that Barnum had "the most attractive house and grounds in the city, with "chained bears, running water in the back yard, brought from the hills."  No other information has been found on this system.

In 1868, the City of Vergennes built new water works and contracted with the Holly Manufacturing Company to supply three water-driven pumps for the system.  This was the fifth Holly direct pressure water supply system, and like other early Holly systems had problems with the water-driven pump due to its high rotation speed.  The city was unhappy enough that they engaged a local mechanic, John P. Flanders, to design and built a better pump that operated at a much slower speed and was easier to maintain.  Flanders pumps were installed in September, 1871 and were very successful.  He and others formed the Vergennes Machine Company to build and market the pumps to other cities, and like Holly they offered a complete package.  They replaced Holly pumps in Troy and Ogdensburgh, New York, and bult pumps for South Bend, Indiana; Piqua, Ohio; Meadville, Pennsylvania; Peekskill, New York; Lake View, Illinois; Nashua, New Hampshire; St. Johnsbury, Vermont; and Ottumwa, Iowa.  The company was not well managed and their property was eventually seized and sold.  They had also come to the attention of the Holly Manufacturing Company in Lockport, which filed a patent infringement suit against them in 1876.

Despite these difficulties, local lawyer John T. Drew saw value in Flanders' patents as well as those of William H. Lang, who had built the pumps for Flanders.  He organized a new company chartered in Connecticut and located in Burlington, Vermont, and promised good business in a July, 1879 prospectus that dismissed the danger of the Holly lawsuit.  Unfortunately for them, Holly prevailed in the patent case in October, 1880 and nothing more was heard from the Flanders & Lang Pump Company, although a Lang pump was purchased by Ogdensburg, New York, in May of 1880 and it was installed in December.  Flanders had moved to Ottumwa, Iowa to install pumps for water works and by 1890 was chief engineer of a pumping plant for the Omaha water works, where he was in charge of a Holly pump.  He died in Omaha on July 29, 1893 at age 66.   

Water has been provided to the City of Vergennes by the Vergennes-Panton Water District since 1973. The Water District is a municipal corporation (24 V.S.A. 3341) chartered in the State of Vermont on June 13, 1966 as the Vergennes-Panton Water District. The Water District is comprised of the City of Vergennes and the Town of Panton. Control of the Water District is vested in a Board of Water
Commissioners with four representatives from Vergennes and three from Panton.

1809 An act to incorporate certain persons by the name of the Vergennes Aqueduct Company, November 4, 1809.

1868 Green-Mountain Freeman, December 23, 1868, Page 3
The extensive water works at Vergennes, are in operation.

1869 Vermont Watchman and State Journal, January 13, 1869
On Tuesday last the of C. D. Keller, of Vergennes, was discovered to be on fire, and for a time, the loss of $100,000 in property seemed inevitable; but through the agency of the Holley Water works, which have just been so far completed to develop only a part of their capacity, the fire was promptly subdued, with a loss of only $6,000 to $8,000.  But a single pump was used, throwing water at the rate of 20 barrels a minute for two hours.

1870 An act relating to the water department of the City of Vergennes, November 22, 1870

1873 "Improvement in double-acting force-pumps," John P. Flanders, U.S. Patent 140,819, July 15, 1873

1873 "The Efficacy of the Flanders' Pumps," The South Bend Tribune, October 20, 1873, Page 2.

1874 "Improvement in puppet-valves," John P. Flanders, U.S. Patent 154,177, August 18, 1874

1874 "Improvement in pumps," John P. Flanders, U.S. Patent 154,468, August 24, 1874

1874 Burlington  Free Press, November 20, 1874, Page 2
Reports of committees --From committee on education, against H. 323, an act to incorporate the Flanders' Pump Manufacturing company, third reading refused.

1874 The Rutland Daily Globe, December 1, 1874, Page 4.
H.M. Mitchell, of the Vergennes Machine company, has closed a contract with the authorities of Muskegon, Michigan, to furnish them with the Flanders pumping machinery for $21,000.

1875 "The Vergennes Water Works," Rutland Daily Globe, January 25, 1875, Page 2.  History of the Enterprise and a Description of the Invention and its Workings. | also here |

1876 Burlington Weekly Free Press., April 28, 1876, Page 3
Important Litigation
Suit was begun a few days since in the United States Circuit Court for this District by Birdsill Holly, of Lockport, New York, against Lucy Kingsland, Jacob D. Kingsland, Jacob D. Kingsland, Elizabeth Wainwright, Charles G. Wainwright, Henry M. Mitchell, Eli B. Hayes, Frederick E. Woodbridge, John P. Flanders and Mrs. John P. Flanders, engaged in business at Vergennes as the Vergennes Machine Company.  The bill alleges that Birdsill Holly was the inventor of a new system of water works for cities, known as the Holly system, and of certain regulator and safety valves used in water works machinery; that since he invented the same he, and the Holly Manufacturing Company, of Lockport, who are manufacturing under his patents, have invented large sums of money in putting said inventions into practice, and that systems of water works made under said patents have been put into use in over sixty cities of the United States, to the great benefit of the public and the profit of the complainant; that the defendants have combined together to make and sell and put into use systems of water works that are an infringement upon the patents granted to complainant.
The bills asks for an injunction against the defendants to prevent further manufacture by them and also for the profits that defendants have made from their manufacture in the past, and the damages suffered by complainant by reason of said manufacture.
The principal claim on which the suit is founded is for a system of water works for supplying a city with water when the water is pumped cirectly into the water mains, without reservoir or standpipe, the works being supplied with contrivances for keeping the pressure in the mains uniform.
Suite are pending in the west upon the same patents.  The present suit was brought by Messrs. Hatch and Parkinson, of Cincinnati, O., who have in charge all the litigation under the Holly patents, and associated is Charles J. Alger, Esq., of this city.

1876 The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont), May 19, 1876,Page 3.
A test of the Flanders pumping machinery at the Lake View Water Works, Chicago, was made on the 1st and 2d inst.

1876 Burlington  Free Press, December 1, 1876, Page 3
"The Flanders Pump Company," with increased capital and enlarged facilities for manufacture, are to be the successors of the Vergennes Machine Company.  So much is decided; but whether the company will be located at Vergennes or at Burlington or at Plattsburgh is as yet undecided, and depends upon certain contingencies.  There is only one thing certain, and that is the increased demand of the public for these pumps and water-works machinery make it absolutely necessary for the company to have larger machine shops immediately.  The old Rutland depot buildings and grounds here, or additional machine shops at Vergennes, would probably meet their requirements at present, and the question of location will probably be decided by the concessions that may be offered in each case.  The Vergennes Machine Company have fully $80,000 worth of material, patterns, etc., to say nothing of the three valuable patents of J. P. Flanders, the inventor of the Flanders pumps, all of which belong to the company.  The suit of Birdsell Holley and the Holley Company against the Vergennes Machine Company is not regarded as either dangerous or likely to be a very severe burden, as many other manufacturers are ready to meet a liberal share of it; but the company very naturally desire a speedy trial of the case, as they are confident there is no infringement on their part.  This would seem to have been the view of the counsel for complainants, since, after fully examining the Flanders pumps and machinery as constructed by the Vergennes Machine Company, he would discover nothing that could help him in making out even a prima facie case for infringement.  The success of the Flanders pumps is assured by the large demand for them by cities all over the United States.  Much of this is due to the energy and practical knowledge of Henry M. Mitchell, Esq, the competent manager of the company.

1877 "Improvement in pumps for town and city supply," William H. Lang, U. S. Patent 187,719, February 27, 1877

1878 The Springfield Daily Republican, November 16, 1878, page 7
The Vergennes machine, a Flanders pump company, have been short of funds for some time, and now their property has been attached by the Vergennes water-power company for a mortgage on the machinery, and interest, amounting to some $5,000, and for several thousand dollars of rent, which has been running for several years.

1879 "More Patent Litigation," The St. Albans Advertiser, April 29, 1879, Page 1.
The suit against a Vergennes Company.

1879 "Water Supply by Pumping," St. Albans Daily Messenger, July 3, 1879, Page 2

1879 "The Flanders & Lang Pump Company," St. Albans Daily Messenger, July 3, 1879, Page 3

1879 The Springfield Daily Republican, August 26, 1879, page 7
The property of the Flanders pump company, known also as the Vergennes machine company, is advertised for sale by the sheriff to satisfy a $4,500 attachment in favor of the Vergennes water-power company, and their comployees and customers will probably lose their customers and claims.

1880 Birdsill Holly vs. The Vergennes Machine Company and others, Circuit Court, District of Vermont, October 5, 1880. | Also here |

1881 Boston Journal, June 15, 1881, Page 4
An agent of the Holly Pump and Engine Company has made a demand on the city of Vergennes for the sum of $6,000 for the use of the Flanders pump in the city water works, and which the courts have decided is an infringement on the Holly patent.  It seems that the city purchased a Holly pump a few years since with all rights pertaining thereto, bugt afterward discarded it and put in a Flanders pump.  The city is given two weeks to settle this claim, which it will probably contest.

1881 The Springfield Daily Republican, June 20, 1881, Page 6.
It turns out that the case of the Holly pump company against the city of Vergennes, claiming $6000 damages for the use of the Flanders pump, said to be an infringement on the Holly patent, was only carried to the United States circuit court.  The Flanders company having failed, no one could contest the suit, and Judge Wheeler decided for the plaintiff.  The right of appeal to the supreme court does not expire for three years and Vergennes will probably carry the case to the end, the estimated expense of which will not exceed $1000.  It is said several other corporations interested are negotiating with a view of pooling their issues and joining in the defense.  The Holly company is rich and a big fight is expected.  The city had before bought the right to use the Holly pump which they discharged for the Flanders pump.

1881 Springfield Republican, July 26, 1881, Page 6
The Holly pump company have served notice on the city of Vergennes to appear at the September term of the United States circuit court at Burlington to answer to a claim for damages in using a Flanders pump claimed to be an infringement on the Holly patent.  The Holy company recently offered to settle their claim for $1000, which was declined by the city officers, who, however, indicated a willingness to pay $500.

1881 The Springfield Daily Republican, September 15, 1881, Page 6.
Vergennes - A hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction takes place before Judge Wheeler at Brattleboro the 16th in the Holly manufacturing company's suit against Vergennes.

1883 Vergennes, from Engineering News 10:412 (September 1, 1883)

1884 An act in addition to "An act relating to the water department of the City of Vergennes," approved November 22, 1870, November 24, 1884

1886 History of Addison County Vermont: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers, Henry Perry Smith
Page 684: Next to the Hindes house on Green street was the most attractive house and grounds in the city the home of Amos W. Barnum, at that time a bold and successful operator in the extensive and various business enterprises in which he was engaged. In his yard were tame deer, and bears chained; running water in the back yard, brought from the hill; stables filled with racing and breeding horses of great fame; the house and grounds and stock evidencing the wealth and taste and skill of the owner.

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

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

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

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

1919 "Vergennes Pumping Station", by Henry W. Taylor, Fire and Water Engineering 65(18):985-985 (April 30, 1919)

1984 City of Vergennes v. State of Vermont, et al., 144 Vt. 146 (Vt. 1984), Supreme Court of Vermont, February 3, 1984

Vergennes Pump House

Vergennes City Waterworks Painting of the 1874 Water pumping station on Otter Creek, which is still in existence.

Vergennes Pumphouse view from above the Vergennes Falls

2015 Morris A. Pierce