Documentary History of American Water-works

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South Atlantic States
West Virginia Wheeling

Wheeling, West Virginia

Wheeling was established as a town in 1795.

The first waterworks were built in 1834 by the City of Wheeling when it was still part of Virginia.  Funds for the water works was apparently raised by a lottery and first pumped water on August 16, 1834 through cast-iron pipes.  They have been expanded and improved ever since.

The waterworks are currently owned by the City of Wheeling.

1829 An act authorizing the Mayor and Commonalty of the Borough of Wheeling to raise a sum of money by way of a lottery, January 3, 1829.  Authorized raising $30,000 to build water works.

1882 Wheeling, from Engineering News 9:411 (December 2, 1882)

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

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

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

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

1902 History of Wheeling City and Ohio County, West Virginia and Representative Citizens, by Gibson Lamb Cranmer
The City Water Works were completed and started in running order on the 16th day of August, 1834, at which date the machinery was first put in motion, and the first jet of water from the river was raised to the reservoir.
Previous to this time the city was supplied with water by the water carts, a cart consisting of a large hogshead holding about 120 gallons placed on the axle of a common cart. This was taken to the river and backed in as far as the hubs of the wheels, and a dipper formed by a bucket attached to a pole was used by the driver; the contents of the water cart when full were furnished to the consumer and for this service the drawer was paid a “levy” (12 1/2 cents). The proprietor of the principal water cart in the city was an aged Germen of the name of Adam Carp, who died soon after he recognized the fact that his occupation was gone, at the advanced age of nearly if not quite one hundred years.
The first hydrant for use was put in by F. B. Hornbrook, Esq., and the dimension of the pipe was one-half inch lead, and was made by horse power at the chemical works of the father of Mr. Hornbrook, then located on what is now South Chapline street.

1912 History of Greater Wheeling and vicinity, a chronical of progress and a narrative account of the industries, institutions and people of the city and tributary territory, by Charles A. Wingerter
Pages 251-253:  An account of Wheeling as it was in 1815 states that at the base of the hill near Tenth street, and back of the old court house and jail, was a spring, the waters of which were used by many of the residents. Some of the springs that gush from the hills have since been covered by buildings, while others are still in use. The people living on the riverside probably used the river water for all purposes. The supplying of the home or factory with water was for many years entirely left to individual effort. The first improvement on this method was the use of water carts — consisting of a 120-gallon barrel fixed on the axle of a two-wheeled cart. The barrel was filled at the river and its contents transferred to a similar vessel kept by the householder. The town government licensed this primitive water works by fixing the maximum rate at which the water might be delivered to the consumers at 12˝ cents a barrel.
It is noteworthy that Wheeling was among the first of the trans-Allegheny cities to adopt a public system of water supply. Its establishment, too, marked the first big advance in securing those distinctive services and advantages which naturally belong to a city. An interesting illustration of a familiar practice of the times, and one that is now not only obsolete but outlawed, is given in the act of the general assembly which granted the means by which the town of Wheeling was to secure the water works. The act of January 3, 1829, is entitled “An act authorizing the Mayor and Commonalty of the borough of Wheeling to raise a sum of money by way of lottery.”  M. Wilson, Thomas Woods, George Dulty, C. D. Knox, and John McLure were named as commissioners to raise by lottery or lotteries the sum of thirty thousand dollars. This sum or any part thereof, as soon as raised, was to be paid to the mayor and commonalty and by them appropriated “to the erection of such waterworks as may be deemed necessary to convey water from the Ohio river into and through the said borough.” No record has been found concerning the holding of this lottery, nor as to how much was raised by this means. But from the history of that period it is known that lotteries for nearly every imaginable purpose, public or charitable, were employed throughout the country, and much space of the local papers of the next and following decades is taken up by advertisements of lotteries, both in Virginia and other states. Hence it is very probable that a waterworks lottery was held under the grant of the assembly as above described.
The waterworks were completed and the machinery started on August 16, 1834, nearly two years before Wheeling became a chartered city. A rather quaint description of the water works, as they were in 1839, will be interesting:
“The city of Wheeling is supplied with water from the Ohio river, through the means of waterworks, under the superintendence of Mr. John Moore, which gentleman is also the duly authorized inspector of steamboat engines for the port of Wheeling.  The building is at the foot of Adams street, upon the margin of the river, and contains an engine with a 20-inch cylinder, and 8 feet stroke — it has four boilers, each 30 inches in diameter, and 20 feet long, and a 12-inch pump, 8 feet long. The pump discharges twice at each revolution of the wheel 94 gallons of water, and makes 11 revolutions in a minute, in which time 1034 gallons are propelled through the main shaft, which is 1000 feet in length, and 14 inches diameter, into a reservoir, containing about half a million of gallons, situated on the brow of Wheeling hill, 172 feet above the pump, which is planted at low water mark — an elevation sufficient to force the water into the highest stories of all the buildings throughout the city. The works are kept daily in operation, 12 hours in each 24, Sabbaths excepted. One hundred and twenty bushels of coal are consumed daily, which cost 3˝ cents per bushel. The water is conveyed through the city in iron pipes to the amount of 744,480 gallons daily. These waterworks yield the corporation an annual clear profit of from 1500 to 2000 dollars. But the city authorities, in consequence of the rapid improvement of the city, and the ingress of settlers, have in progress of building a large addition to the present water house, whose internal arrangement is projected upon an improved plan, and which is calculated to discharge a quantity of water, exceeding that of the present works, in the ratio as 10 to 12 [?].”

1925 "Historical Sketch of Wheeling Water Works," by J. W. Shull, Journal of the American Water Works Association, Vol. 13, No. 3 (May, 1925), pp. 280-283

1941 "Development of Public Water Supplies in West Virginia", by H. K. Gidley, Journal of the American Water Works Association, Vol. 33, No. 5 (May, 1941), pp. 948-952

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce