Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Pacific States
California Nevada City

Nevada City, California

Nevada City was incorporated in 1856.

The first water works were built in 1852 by John Williams, who distributed water through 9,000 feet of lead pipe. The work were destroyed in a July, 1856, which melted the lead pipes buried in the ground.

The Nevada Water Company built a water system in 1860, but this proved unable to fight larger fires. 

The town contracted with Charles Marsh in 1861 to build a more robust system, which remained in service until being bought by the city in 1897.

Water is provided by the City of Nevada City.

1851 "Contract for Nevada City Waterworks," Nevada Journal, November 22, 1851, Page 2.. 
Offered by Chapman, Fordyce & Co.

1851 Nevada Journal, December 11, 1851.  Editorial urges the notion of introducing the waters of the Yuba River by an aqueduct at an approximate cost of $3 million.

1852 Nevada Journal, September 17, 1852.  Reprinted in News & Advertising in the Early Gold Camps of Nevada County, California: 1850-1854, 1:198, by David A. Comstock (2007).
On Broad street water has been brought in lead pipes, by Mr. John Williams, from Gold Run, a distance of a mile and a half, and will be ready for use in a few days. 

1853 "Introduction of Water into Nevada," Nevada Journal, May 6, 1853.  Reprinted in News & Advertising in the Early Gold Camps of Nevada County, California: 1850-1854, 2:50, by David A. Comstock (2007).
In our next we shall be able to give the full details of a plan now agitated in the city for the introduction from the ditches on the cayote range, of a large supply of water by iron pipes. The estimated cost is moderate; and as the water enforced by its elevated source and full head will render it an efficient agent in event of fire, we hope our citizens will give to the plan a careful consideration and prompt support. No city in the world has better advantages for the introduction of water, and no one needs it more. The revenue from the water that will be taken in the houses will pay a fine per centage on the investment. More next week.

1853 Young America, November 9, 1853.  Reprinted in News & Advertising in the Early Gold Camps of Nevada County, California: 1850-1854, 2:144-145, by David A. Comstock (2007).
The place is as well watered through lead pipes as is New York through her Croton Works.
Mr. Williams is extending his water pipes along upper Main street to the top of the hill.  Our city as at this time three thousand yards of pipe, conveying water from the mountain springs to most of the houses in this place.  Could a company construct a heavy reservoir above the altitude of the city, with large pipes distributed along the streets it would not only prove a great safeguard in case of fire, but profitable to the undertaker.

1856 Nevada City. The Red Castle.  [Account of July 1856 fire]
Only two years before, from the proposed site of a home they had planned to build on top of Prospect Hill, they, among scores of others, had looked down upon Nevada City at their feet and beyond - still smoking from the fire that had consumed the whole city. In less than an hour from the time of the alarm the town lay in ruins. It was a holocaust so fierce that it darted out tongues in all directions, licking every effort made by the early fire brigade.
About 400 wooden houses, the new courthouse, and all but six of the 28 brick buildings had burned with unparalleled rapidity, fanned by a wind of great intensity from the west. The roaring flames bore down upon the fleeing people so violently that thoughts of survival overshadowed any effort to save personal belongings.
Young Mary Searls, wife of lawyer Niles Searls was seen to flee her house on the hill approached by Main Street with son, Fred, under one arm and what she could carry in clothing over the other. Choking from the smoke and heat of the blaze and from the fear that she might not outrun the terrible inferno, she fled northeast from the town and joined masses of other residents. That frightful day was July 19, 1856 when the fire by pure accident started in Hughes' blacksmith shop on Pine Street about mid-afternoon.
John and Abigail's buildings on the south side of lower Main Street, that started at the Main Street Bridge and extended up to Union Alley, including Williams' Water Works, were nothing but charcoal dust. By mental notes, they knew their losses would be sizable because the loss of the Water Works alone, would be $4,000, a small fortune, in itself, in the 1850s.
John was a shrewd man. He was set and determined when he saw a need and moved to develop it first if he thought it would increase his fortune or enhance his name. Very early In the Fifties he developed the first and only water system to the town of Nevada City by a water right he, alone, owned, situated within and outside the corporate limits of Nevada City.
It started in the Cooleon (Kooleon) Incline and cut near Gold Flat. From that point he ran a line of boxes, ditches, and leaden pipes, with branches extending, conveying the water one mile or thereabouts, and distributing it to townspeople of Nevada City for household use. On Main Street there was a well with a Pump; but Williams supplied the establishments as well in the lower part of the town by running the leaden pipes to Broad Street and extending them along upper Main Street.
Ironically, the fire melted the leaden pipes, and the precious water disappeared into the hot soil. It was of no use at the critical moment to the frantic men fighting for the life of the town that was quickly vanishing.

1856 Brown & Dallison's Nevada, Grass Valley and Rough and Ready Directory, For the Year Commencing January 1st, 1856, Embracing a General Directory of Citizens, with an Historical Sketch of Nevada County, by Aaron Augustus Sargent
Page 34:  The first brick building erected in Nevada was by H. Davis, on Broad street, a fine two-story structure, in September, 1853.  In the same year water was introduced in lead pipes to all the houses and stores by two companies, one obtaining its water at Gold Flat, the other from the Cayote Hills.

1857 An act to supply the City of Nevada with Water, and to protect the City against Fires.  April 29, 1857.

1860 "Water for Nevada," Sacramento Daily Union, June 7, 1860, Page 2.
Two propositions have been submitted to the Board of Trustees of Nevada City for supplying it with water - one by the Nevada Water Company, and the other by Charles Marsh & Co.  The first propose to enlarge their reservoir, and the other to procure a reservoir capable of hold 1,200,000 gallons of water.

1861 "Nevada Water Works," Sacramento Daily Union, August 10, 1861, Page 2.
The Journal says: The splendid water works of Charles Marsh are completed and in the hight of good order.  The last branch of pipe, four inches in diameter and 1,200 feet in length, running across Deer creek before the Nevada foundry, and ending on Piety Hill, was completed on Monday last.  All parts of the city are now safe against fire, and we can boast of being, by the enterprise of one man, blessed with as complete a system of water works as any city in the world.

1867 Bean's History and Directory of Nevada County, California: Containing a Complete History of the County, with Sketches of the Various Towns and Mining Camps
Pages 90-91:  The efforts of the press and of a few individuals proving unavailing, the ladies undertook to raise money to protect the town somewhat against fires. By their exertions, a ball was gotten up, near the close of the year, which yielded about one thousand dollars. In April, 1860, the Nevada Water Company, so called, laid a large pipe to the corner of Broad and Pine streets.  It was furnished with two or three small hydrants, and for a small fire was rendered serviceable.  The reservoir of the company was a small one, on the southeastern slope of Lost Hill.  Water for house use had been previously supplied from the same point by small lead pipes, to most of the inhabitants in town, the lower part of the town being supplied from a spring on Gold Flat, by the same means.  A fire broke out in Sullivan's Ball Court, May 24th, 1860, which destroyed four buildings, with a loss of $12,000. The fire occurred near the junction of Broad and Commercial streets. The Keystone Hotel, the Ball Court, and residences of Thomas Buckner and J. A. Cross, were consumed. The water in the new water pipes was of essential service in checking the further progress of the flames. But, it was made evident that the works of the Nevada Water Company were not sufficient to give security against fires, and soon after, Charles Marsh, Esq., made a proposition to supply the city with an abundance of water in heavy cast iron pipes, from a large reservoir four hundred feet above the lowest part of the town, in accordance with a law passed in 1857 for.the purpose.  The proposition came up for acceptance or rejection, and a vote was had on the 7th of July, which resulted in the acceptance of the proposition. The pipes of the works, nearly two miles in length, were immediately ordered, and in June, 1861, the town was as well supplied with water for fire and other purposes as, perhaps, any town of its size in the world. The main pipe is ten inches in diameter, and the branches four and six inches. Twenty-eight hydrants were purchased with the pipes in Philadelphia. The whole cost of the works, when completed, was about $30,000. The franchise extends to twenty years. It is proper to add that a proposition from the Nevada Water Company to supply the town with water from their reservoir on Lost Hill was previously rejected, the proposition coming in a very indefinite shape, and the works contemplated being of too temporary a character.

1876 Los Angeles Herald, May 2, 1876, Page 2.
Charles Marsh died in San Francisco on Friday evening last from injuries received by being thrown from his buggy a few days before.  The deceased was one of California's pioneers.

1880 History of Nevada County, California
Page 84:  In 1852 the first attempt was made to supply the city with water.  John Williams laid pipes from Gold Run to Broad streets. On Main street were a well and pump. Williams extended his water pipes along upper Main street to the top of  the hill,  In 1853 most of the houses in town were supplied with water through 9,000 feet of pipe.
Page 85:  Early in 1860 the Nevada Water Company brought water into the city, laying a pipe to the corner of Broad and Pine streets.  On May 20, 1860 a fire broke out that would have proved a serious one had it not been for the water just brought in. A piece of leaky hose was procured, and with this and wet blankets the fire was prevented from spreading.
Page 86:  In June, 1860, an election was held to decide between water propositions submitted by Charles Marsh and the Nevada Water Co.  It resulted in favor of Marsh by a vote of 442 to 94, The proposition accepted was to build a reservoir of 1,200,000 gallons capacity on Buckeye Hill, fifty feet above the highest point in the city; pipes to be laid in all the principal streets; water to be furnished for fire purposes free of cost; Marsh to have the exclusive right to furnish the city with water for twenty years, except so far as others had already acquired rights.  By Act of the Legislature, April 17, 1861, Nevada City was empowered to levy an annual tax of twenty cents on every one hundred dollars to support the fire department.

1885 Nevada City, Engineering News, 13:349  (May 30, 1885)

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

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

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

1894 "The South Yuba Water Company," Mining and Scientific Press, 68:85-86 (February 10, 1894)
In Auburn and Newcastle the waterworks are owned by the company outright; in Lincoln there is only a half-interest; In Nevada City and Grass Valley local corporations own and run the system, purchasing of the South Yuba Company.

1895 "Nevada's Water Works," Los Angeles Herald, October 29, 1895, Page 2.
NEVADA, Cal.. Oct. 28.-The proposition to bond the city for $60,000 to construct public water works was carried by a vote of 530 to 106 today, in spite of the effort made in behalf of tho private system, which has been furnishing the city with water for thirty year.

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

2018 Morris A. Pierce