Documentary History of American Water-works

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Biography Caleb Leach

Caleb Leach

Caleb Leach was born in 1755 at Halifax, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.  He served in the Revolutionary War, after which he became a clockmaker and also built theodolites.  He is said to have built an orrery, although others had been built earlier examples in America.  He was engaged to build an aqueduct in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1796 and invented a machine to bore logs to make water pipes in 1797.  The machine turned the logs on a stationary auger, and one example was in the Plymouth Hall Museum for many years but may not exist anymore.  A copy of the patent and other descriptions have been identified and are being sought. 

Leach completed the the Plymouth works sometime in 1798, and before finished there he was hired to repair the pipes of the Boston Aqueduct Corporation.

Columbian Centinel, August 16, 1797, Page 3 Massachusetts Mercury, December 5, 1797, Page 3 Albany Centinel, February 20, 1798, Page 3

He was then hired as the agent of the Manhattan Company's water works in New York City, and was promoted to superintendent in 1803 to replace Joseph Browne.  During this time he also had a contract to bore pipe for the Philadelphia water works, although this may have been done by workmen he employed.

American Citizen (New York City, New York), May 16, 1805, Page 3. American Citizen (New York City, New York), April 29, 1806, Page 1.

Leach left New York City in 1806 and moved to Owego, and apparently had no further involvement in any water works systems. He died March 18, 1837 in Utica.

Caleb Leach's Water Works Experience
City State Years Projects
Plymouth MA 1796-1798 Contracted to build system, which was completed in 1798.
Boston MA 1797-1798 Relaid pipes, sold boring machine to Aqueduct Company.
Philadelphia PA 1827-1830 Contracted to bore water pipes, sold two boring machines to city water department.
New York City NY 1800-1806
Manhattan Company, Agent 1800-1803; Superintendent 1803-1806

1797 U.S. Patent #163X, Improvement in boring pumps, April 13, 1797, Caleb Leach

1797 Columbian Centinel, August 16, 1797, Page 3
Leach's patent Machinery for Boring and Finishing Conduit pipes.
In this Machinery, the Logs revolve in a mill of a simple construction, while the Augers remain fixed; and by Tools of a new construction, applied to the ends of the logs while in motion, they expeditiously tapers and rimed, so as to be accurately joined and to remain perfectly tight.  The Augers are on an improved plan, and effectually detect and expose any crack or defect in the Logs.  Many advantages in point of accuracy and dispatch, and been found to attend the use of this Machinery.  It has been successfully applied this summer, in constructing the Aqueduct at Plymouth, which the subscribe has nearly completed, to the approbation of those who have viewed it, and to the entire satisfaction of the Proprietors.
The Patentee will make and vend his Machines, and dispose of licenses for the use of the same, on application being made to him at Plymouth.
Plymouth, Aug 16.  Caleb Leach

1797 Aqueduct Corporation Minute Book.  Baker Library, Harvard University
Page 41:  Meeting Sep 16 1797, Treasurer authorized to pay Caleb Leach $250 in part for and in consideration of the Boreing Machine

1797 Massachusetts Mercury, December 5, 1797, Page 3
Leach's Patent Machine, for boring logs.
This Machine (simple in its construction) can, at a small expense, be made to operate by Water, or by a Horse.  It will bore smooth, true, and quick; and as the Log turns round, two men, having the proper tools (one at each end) prepare the log for laying.  By the adoption of this made of boring and fixing logs for an Aqueduct, much money can be saved, the work made more durable, and a larger quantity of water supplied, in a given time, owing to the peculiar smoothness of the water passage.  In addition to these, the Patentee hath made several improvements in the mode of laying Pipes.
For the privilege of using this Machinery, or any part separately, in the Counties of Suffolk, Middlesex, or Essex, application must be made to Nathan Bond, Agent to the purchasers of the Patent Right, Opposite the Mall N.B. The Machinery, or the Augers of any size, ready made, may be had by applying as above.  Dec. 5.

1798 Albany Centinel, February 20, 1798, Page 3
Leach's Patent Machinery For forming Aqueducts, Boring Pumps, &c.
This Machinery having been successfully used in forming an Aqueduct for the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and in relaying the Boston Aqueduct, which having been laid upon the usual plan had (owing to the leaks and long distance) immediately failed, but now is found to be perfectly tight and good.  Said machinery having undergone the strictest scrutiny, and having performed now only to the highest satisfaction of those concerned, but to the approbation of all those who have been its operation; the patentee flatters himself that he may (without ostentation) recommend it to a generous public as an improvement in which their expectations will not be disappointed.
As a minute description of this machine with its apparatus would be too lengthy for an advertisement, the patentee only observes, that the whole is on a new and improved plan, as well as the tools for inserting cross joints, side and upright pipes, as those for boring and preparing the logs, which by this machine are bored perfectly central, the joints formed wholly of the heart of the timber, and of course the work is much stronger and more durable.
The patentee holds himself in readiness to undertake or grant licenses, and for the better satisfaction of those who may apply, has annexed the following advertisement:
Caleb Leach, Patentee.  Plymouth, January 18, 1798.  Leach's Patent Machine for Boring Logs
This Machine (simple in its construction) can, at a small expense, be made to operate by Water, or by a Horse.  It will bore smooth, true, and quick; and as the Log turns round, two men, having the proper tools (one at each end) prepare the log for laying.  By the adoption of this made of boring and fixing logs for an Aqueduct, much money can be saved, the work made more durable, and a larger quantity of water supplied, in a given time, owing to the peculiar smoothness of the water passage.  In addition to these, the Patentee hath made several improvements in the mode of laying Pipes.
For the privilege of using this Machinery, or any part separately, in the Counties of Suffolk, Middlesex, or Essex, application must be made to Nathan Bond, Agent to the purchasers of the Patent right.  Boston, December 5, 1798.

1798 Columbian Centinel, July 11, 1798, Page 3
Leach's Patent Boring Machine.
This is the best constructed Machine for preparing logs for an Aqueduct, that ever was invented.  It is now in operation upon the beach, West-end of new State-house, by means of horses.  It operates with more dispatch by water.  In each way it bores and fixes logs smoother, truer, and with more dispatch than any mode heretofore adopted.
The formation of the Augers is certainly new; a man can by hand, bore double the quantity, in a given time, that he could by the use of Common Augers.
Any persons being desirous to use the above described Machine, or any of its parts, within the counties of Suffolk, Middlesex, or Essex, must apply to the subscriber, being Agent to the purchasers of the Patent Right.   July 11.   Nathan Bond, Common-street.

1802 Report of the Joint Committee Appointed by the Select and Common Councils for the Purpose of Superintending and Directing the Water Works, December 6, 1802.
Page 8:  A contract has been made with Caleb Leach for boring, banding, and preparing ready for laying, twenty-five thousand feet of timber, viz.
About 7,000 feet of 6 inches diameter, at 13 cents per foot.
16,000 feet of 4 inches diameter, at 10 cents per foot.
and 2,000 feet of 3 inches in diameter, at 7 cents per foot.
He has erected his machinery for boring on the lot above-mentioned, and takes the logs out of the water to bore, and as soon as they are bored and prepared, delivers them again into the water, from whence they are hauled to different parts of the city as required for laying and for repairs.

1803 Report of the Watering Committee to the Select and Common Councils of Philadelphia, November 1, 1803.
Several payments to Caleb Leach for boring pipe..

1804 Report of the Watering Committee to the Select and Common Councils, November 1, 1804.
Page 4:  A further contract has been entered into with Mr. Caleb Leach, for boring fifty thousand feet of pipe, as might be directed by the committee- wherein he was bound to bore twenty-five thousand feet during the season of 1804, and twenty-five thousand feet during the season of 1805: he has bored of the above quantity to the present time upwards of thirty-thousand feet; and if the season continues favourable will go on to bore some time longer.

1805 Report of the Watering Committee to the Select and Common Councils, October 7th, 1805
Payments to Caleb Leach for boring pipe..

1806 Aurora General Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), March 31, 1806, Page 3.
An ordinance, for raising supplies and making appropriations well for the common services of the city, for the year one thousand eight hundred and six, as for the more complete distribution of wholesome water.  March 25, 1806.
18.  For the payment of Caleb Leach for the purchase of two boring machines. $1700

1806 Report of the Watering Committee to the Select and Common Councils, November 13, 1806.
Page 4:  The boring mill has been removed to the lower engine from Kensington, and the pond given up on the first of October to its proprietors.  The purchase of the mill with the patent right has proved a saving of $853, in the quantity of pipe bored during the summer, calculating the value for boring per foot, the same as was formerly given to Caleb Leach.

1815 Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Volume III of the second series (reprinted 1968)
Page 170:  Notes on Plymouth, Mass. An Aqueduct supplies the houses north of the Brook with water from Billington sea. This work was performed
by Mr. Caleb Leach, who then lived in Plymouth, now of Oswego, New York, whose talents, as a self-taught mechanick, are of the very first order:* to these talents it is, that Boston and the city of New York, &c. are, in a degree, indebted for the like convenience.
* The orrery of Brown University was constructed by Mr. Leach, at Plymouth, for Dr. Forbes.

1870 Pilgrim memorials, and guide to Plymouth: With a lithographic map, and eight copperplate engravings by William Shaw Russell
Pages 187-188:  Plymouth Water Works. By an act of the General Court, passed Feb. 15, 1797, Joshua Thomas and others were constituted a corporation for the purpose of conveying water by subterranean pipes into the town, by the name of the Plymouth Aqueduct. The first recorded preliminary meeting on the subject was held July 27th, 1796. By an agreement executed Sept. 14th, 1796, between the Company and Mr. Caleb Leach, the main pipe was to be of cedar logs, one-third thereof to be ten, one-third, nine, and one-third eight inches, the bore to be two and five-eighth inches, commencing near the bridge at the foot of Deep Water Pond, to extend about six hundred rods, the trench to be three feet deep; the whole to be completed on the first day of July, 1797, to be paid four dollars per rod. On the 5th of June, 1797, it was voted "to write Mr. Leach, at Boston, to expedite the finishing of the cross-pipes;" van"d the water was probably introduced in the autumn of that year.
The late Samuel Davis, Esq., writing on this subject in 1815, observes, "This work was performed by Mr. Caleb Leach, who then lived in Plymouth, now of Oswego, New York, whose talents, as a self-taught mechanic, are of the very first order; to these talents it is that Boston, and the city of New York, etc., are in a degree indebted for the like convenience."
Mr. Leach, as we learn from Mr. David Turner, a son of the late Capt. Lothrop Turner, invented the first screwbit for boring pumps; previous to which the common pod-auger had been used for that purpose. The first auger of this kind made by Mr. Leach is now in possession of Mr. Turner, and measures twenty inches pod, bore two and five-eighth inches, with a shank of five and a half inches.
Mr. Leach was a native of Halifax, served in the revolution ; and, returning home for a while, removed to Plymouth about the year 1790. After leaving Plymouth, his eminent mechanical skill found a more enlarged sphere of action in the . State of New York, proving highly beneficial to the community, and honorable to himself.

1878 History of Oneida County, New York: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers
Page 353: DR. EBENEZER LEACH was born in Plymouth, Mass., March 18, 1797, and was a descendant in the maternal line of Miles Standish, his grandmother being a great-granddaughter of the distinguished pilgrim. His father, Caleb Leach, was a native of Halifax, Plymouth Co., Mass., and was noted in his day for general ability and great mechanical talents. In 1796 he constructed, under contract with the town of Plymouth, what for that time was a remarkable undertaking, namely, a system of general water-supply, by means of underground pipes. It was called the Plymouth Aqueduct. Wooden logs were used for the pipes, and the difficulty he experienced in boring the necessary holes through these led Mr. Leach to invent the screw auger; and the first one he made and used at that time is still to be seen among the articles preserved in Pilgrim Hall, at Plymouth, Mass. The success of these water-works gave Mr. Leach a wide reputation, and Boston, Philadelphia, and New York each sought and obtained the aid of his talents and services in similar undertakings; and in New York, at the urgent solicitation of De Witt Clinton, Aaron Burr, and others, he took the superintendence of the construction of the Manhattan Water-Works (which preceded the Croton), and brought them into successful operation. He also built one of the first long bridges over the Susquehanna River. He was a man of original mind, a great reader, and one of the earliest receivers in the country of the doctrines of Swedenborg, of whose writings he was a close student, possessing for years copeis of the original foreign editions of his works, including the voluminous "Arcana."  He died at Utica, where he lived the latter part of his life, March 18, 1837.

1906 Plymouth memories of an octogenarian, by William Thomas Davis
Pages 182-183:  About the year 1750 James Shurtleff built a house on the site which in 1789 came into the possession of Caleb Leach, who came to Plymouth from Bridgewater and projected the Plymouth water works, the first water works built in the United States. The company was chartered in 1796, the year after a company was chartered in Wilkesbarre, Penn., but the Plymouth works were constructed before the works of that town. The pipes were yellow or swamp pine logs, ten to twelve feet long, and ten inches in diameter, clear of sap, with a bore from two to four inches in diameter, and sharpened at one end, the other end bound with an iron hoop to prevent splitting when driven into the bore. During the latter years of the company iron connections with a flange in the middle were used.

1907 Owego. Some account of the early settlement of the village in Tioga County, N.Y., called Ah-wa-ga by the Indians, which name was corrupted by gradual evolution into Owago, Owego, Owegy, and finally Owego by LeRoy Wilson Kingman.
Pages 46-51:  CALEB LEACH
Nearly all the earliest settlers of Owego had been soldiers in the revolutionary war, and some of them were commissioned officers.  Caleb Leach who came here in 1806, saw service in that war.  He was born in 1755 at Plymouth, Mass., and was the eldest son of Peter Leach, who is supposed to have come from England and who died at Halifax, Mass. in 1744.
In early life Caleb Leach, who was possessed of considerable inventive genius, was apprenticed to a watch maker.  July 8, 1775, when twenty years of age, he enlisted from Bridgewater for eight months in Capt.  James Keith's company in the 28th regiment, commanded buy Col.  Paul D. Sargent. At the expiration of his term of service he re-enlisted for one year, and marched into Boston in 1776.  He was taken ill with small pox and went to Brooklyn hospital.  Upon his recovery he marched to Hell Gate, where his company; had a skirmish with the British troops.  At White Plains he was taken ill with bilious fever and was sent to Stamford hospital, and thence home on a furlough.  Sept. 10, 1777 he again enlisted at Halifax in Lieut. Jesse Sturdevant's company. marching to Albany, NY, to guard military stores, and while there was transferred to Capt. Amos Cogswell's company in Col. James Wesson's Eight Massachusetts Continental line.  They marched to near Trenton, NJ, then to White Marsh, Pa., and thence to Valley Forge, where they joined Gen. Washington's army and wintered.  He served three years in Col. Wesson'a regiment, the last ten months being sergeant in charge of field armory, and was discharged Sept., 10, 1780.
Upon leaving the army Mr. Leach returned to Halifax and resumed business as a watch and clock maker.  While thus engaged he made the first orrery that was ever made in America.  This orrery was presented to Brown university by Dr. Fobes, who was pastor of a church at Rayham., Mass., and at the same time a lecturer before the university.
In 1796, with Joshua Thomas and others, he organized the Plymouth aqueduct company and constructed the works, which are said to have been the first water-works constructed in America, and which continued to furnish water to Plymouth until 1855.  These works he built under contract, using conduits, bored out to from two to four inches in diameter.  For boring these logs he invented the screw auger and the machine for which he received a patent from the United States, dated April 13, 1797, to run fourteen years.  The patent was signed by John  Adams, president.  The first screw auger he invented is preserved in Plymouth Hall, with the name of the blacksmith who made it for him attached.
In 1799, at the solicitation of Aaron Burr, DeWitt Clinton and others, he went to New York city and built the Manhattan water-works. Upon whose charter the Manhattan bank was founded.  He was superintendent of these water-works until his removal to Owego in 1806.
One day in the fall of 1906 some laborers were excavating a trench at the intersection of Wall and Water streets when the unearthed a blackened log of wood, with a hole bored through it.  There was some speculation as to what it had been used for, but finally Guy Duval, of Brooklyn, whose office was near there, identified it as one of the oak pipes of the Manhattan water company.  It was as sound as when laid a century previous.  He had it sawed into sections and each section bound with brass, one of which he gave to editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, labeled as follows:  "Section of one of the first water pipes laid in New York by the Manhattan company in 1779, dug up at Wall and Water streets in 1806.  Presented to Dr. St. Clair McKelway by Guy Duvall."
In James Parton's "Life with Aaron Burr" may be found an interesting account ot the bitter partisan fight between the Federalists and Republicans over the establishment of the Manhattan bank, to accomplish which the water-works were built.
In 1800 and 1801 Mr. Leach built the first Fairmount water-works in Philadelphia.  In 1803 he was interested in the Jamaica Pond Aqueduct company of Boston.  In constructing water-works Mr. Leach became possessed of what was considered in those days a handsome competence.
Mr. Leach and his brother-in-law, Dr. Samuel Tinkham, who had settled in Owego in 1792, had purchased land here jointly, and Dr. Tinkham was probably, influential in inducing Mr. Leach to come here.  In a letter written by him to Mr. Leach, dated Sept. 5, 1801, Dr. Tinkham writes:  The deed of your lot is made out and will be completed in a few days.  The crops on the farm are tolerably good.  Wheat is likely to be plenty in this country this season. And we hear that it bears a good price down the river.  If you should think proper to make sale of your farm I believe there will be an opportunity within a twelve month.
This farm of 253 acres in the town of Tioga was sold by Col. David Pixley June 30, 1800, to Polly Tinkham (Dr.  Samuel Tinkham's wife and Col. Pixley's daughter) for a consideration of $100.  The same property was deeded Aug. 7, 1800 by Dr. Tinkham to Caleb Leach, consideration $1, 550.
April 25, 1806, Mr. Leach bought of Henry Stewart 140 acres of land on the Owego creek, partly in the town of Tioga, to which he added other land in 1812.  There he built in 1809 a grist mill, saw mill, woollen mill, and a distillery,  The distillery he soon dismantled and abandoned,  The saw mill was burned later, and the woollen mill was burned in 1855.
When Mr. Leach came to Owego he lived in the building on the south side of Front street, opposite the park, in a part of which was Dr. Tinkham's store, and remained there until 1809 when he built the mills and his residence in the town of Tioga. The house stood on the west side of the highway west of the mills.  It was rebuilt about 1822 and remained there until this year (1907) when it was torn down.
A few years after the death of his wife Mr. Leach divided his property among his children, reserving a small income, and retired from business.  For his service in the army he received a pension dated March 4, 1831, of $96.66 a year.  At about this time he went to Utica to live with his youngest son Dr. Ebenezer Leach, where he died March 18, 1837, aged 82 years.  His body was buried in the Friends' burying ground at New Hartford, about four miles from Utica.
Caleb Leach and Abigail Tinkham, daughter of Ephraim Tinkham, of Middleboro, Mass., were married Jan. 17, 1782, at Plympton, Mass.  She died July 2, 1818.  Their children were as follows:
1.  Ebenezer Leach born 3 Sept., 1782;  died 31 January, 1796.
2.  Abigail Leach, born 19 March, 1785;  died 24 Dec 1795.
3.  Dr. Caleb Leach, Jr., born 17 Nov., 1786;  married Harriet Duane, of Owego.
4.  Ephraim Leach born 10 Oct., 1788 at Plymouth, Mass.;  married Sophia Jones, of Owego, 4 Jan., 1812.  Died February 19, 1855.  On the day of his funeral the annual festival of the Pioneer Historical Association of The Susquehanna Valley was being held at Ahwaga hall.  Judge Avery announced his death and said that the funeral procession would arrive form Tioga at the Presbyterian church yard at 3:30 o'clock when his acquaintances and friends would have an opportunity of paying the last tribute of respect to his memory.  Ephraim Leach was a man of scientific attainments.
He planned and constructed the first bridge across the river at the foot of Court street in 1828 and he designed and constructed the first fire engine used in Owego, in 1830.  He conducted Leach's mills until his death, after which one of his sons, Stephen W. Leach, conducted them until Stephen'a death in April, 1899.
6.  Samuel Tinkham Leach, born 19 Sept., 1792; married Clarissa Hart, of Candor;  died 22 May, 1838.
7. Dr. Ebenezer Leach (2) born 18 March, 1797; married Olive Foster, of New Hartford, N. Y.; died at Utica 21 July, 1861.
8.  Abigail Leach (2) born 6 Oct., 1802;  died 5 Aug., 1803

1914 History of Buchanan County, Iowa, and Its People, Volume 2, Harry Church Chappell, Katharyn Joella Allen Chappell
Pages 596-597:  Ephraim Leach.
Caleb Leach. In 1796 he organized the Plymouth aqueduct, which is said to have been the first waterworks built in this country. He invented a pop auger for boring holes and received his patent for the same signed by John Adams, president. In 1798 he presented the sword of Miles Standish to the Massachusetts Historical Society. Two years later, in company with Aaron Burr, DeWitt Clinton and others, he went to New York city and built the Manhattan waterworks, on whose charter the Manhattan Bank was founded. He was superintendent of the water company and a director and stockholder in the Manhattan Bank. He also built the Fairmount waterworks at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He eventually removed to Owego. New York, where he became one of the leaders in the development of the business interests of the community. He built a grist mill, a woolen mill and a distillery, all of which he conducted successfully. He took a prominent part in public affairs and was also active in church work.
Ephraim Leach, Sr., father of our subject, assisted his father in the building of the waterworks in New York city and Philadelphia, and mills at Owego, New York. He was a civil engineer and a man of considerable note in his locality.

1921 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society
Page 193:  Gifts to the Society, February meeting, 1921. 
From Captain Philip Leach, U.S.N., a photostat of the letters patent, granted on April 13, 1797, to Caleb Leach of Plymouth, for invention of machinery for boring and finishing wooden conduit pipes.

1989 Chapter 3, "Managing the Water Works," from "The Manhattan Company: managing a multi-unit corporation in New York, 1799-1842," by Gregory S. Hunter, A dissertation submitted to the graduate school of arts and sciences in partial fulfillment of the degree of Doctor of Philosphy at New York University, February, 1989.  Also published as a book, see following entry.
Page 265:  Caleb Leach ("Agent") 1800-1803; Superintendent 1803-1806

1989 The Manhattan Company : managing a multi-unit corporation in New York, 1799-1842, by Gregory S Hunter.  Reprinted in 2017.
Leach, Caleb.  Agent of water works, $1,000, 12/29/1800; superintendent, 8/1/1803, resigned 7/3/1806.

2000 Water for Gotham by Gerard T. Koeppel
Page 97:  By then [mid-1800s], six miles of pipe had been laid, half of it purchased from Caleb Leach, who had lost out to Browne for superintendent.  At the end of the year, Leach was hired as the company's "agent," reporting to Browne and earning a $1,000 salary.  Leach had charge of all pipe purchases and maintenance, and was authorized to hire service pipe installers and set the price of installation; Browne was authorized to cut off the pies of customers deemed to be wasting water.
Page 99:  After writing a July 1803 report with his [Browne's] street commissioner's pen recommending that the city and company recommending that the city and company share street repair costs, the company had fired him (and hired Caleb Leach.)
Page 101:  After William Thompsn had finally succeeded in selling off the Hardenbrook family land containing the [Tea Water] pump early in 1804, company superintendent Leach informed his employers "that the supplying of the tea cater carts at that place will soon be discontinued, and ... it may be said that the introduction of the Manhattan Water Works has discouraged the tea water interest."  The company ignored Leach's suggestion that it take over the Tea Water concession.

2018 Early Oswego Clock Makers, by Tamara Manker Gates, May 19, 2018
Biography of Caleb Leach

Leach Family Papers, from the Massachusetts Historical Society (search for Leach Family)

Caleb Leach Papers, Huntington Library,:Manuscripts Department, Finding Aid

Miniature Tall Clock, made by Caleb Leach (active ca. 1776-1790), Plymouth, Massachusetts.

An exceptionally rare Chippendale mahogany and inlaid antique brass dial shelf clock, by Caleb Leach, Plymouth, Massachusetts, circa 1785.

Brass Simple Theodolite by Caleb Leach

2018 Morris A. Pierce