|Introduction||Historical Background||Chronology||Geography||Biography||Technology||Ownership and Financing||General Bibliography|
San Francisco is a city in Marin County, in which the first Spanish settlement was established in 1817.
Early settlers in San Francisco used springs and wells for their water supply, with others including shipping using water delivered by water-boats from Sausalito. After the city was ravaged by fires in 1850 and 1851, the city built cisterns filled from a spring on Sacramento street delivered through underground pipes.
On June 11, 1851, the city council granted two water supply franchises. One, to Conrad K. Hotaling, was to build a salt-water fire protection system that would use a steam engine to pump water from the bay into a reservoir at Green and Montgomery streets capable of holding 2,000,000 gallons of water, from which it would be distributed through underground pipes to fire hydrants. Hotaling could not interest enough people to participate in the project and it was abandoned. Sixty-two years later the city built a dedicated fire protection water system that could use either fresh or salt water. Hotaling also did engineering work for the Mountain Lake Water Company and was an incorporator of the 1855 San Francisco Water Company. In 1856, he built a water system in Grass Valley, where he owned a mine.
The other franchise was granted to Azro D. Merrifield for the privilege of introducing into the city, Pure Fresh Water. Merrifield did not accomplish anything, but he transferred his franchise to the Mountain Lake Water Company, which was incorporated on August 14, 1851 with a capital stock of $500,000 divided into 10,000 shares of $50 each.
|Daily Alta California, October 29, 1851, Page 2.||New York Daily Times, October 13, 1852, Page 7.||Daily Alta California, November 24, 1853, Page 2.|
The Mountain Lake Water Company planned to distribute water from Mountain Lake, near the Presidio, to the city, but was unable to secure enough financing to complete the work. The company did arrange for a large loan from New York capitalists, but when they came to close the deal they realized that the company's franchise and charter did not allow for borrowing money on bonds. The company tried unsuccessfully to raise the necessary capital and were basically out of business by 1862, having built some portion of the works
The San Francisco City
Water Works was incorporated on June 14, 1857 by John Bensley, Alexis
Waldemar Von Schmidt and Anthony Chabot. On September 15, 1858 they
delivered water into the city from Lobos Creek near Mountain Lake.
An act passed by the legislature on April 23, 1858 authorized "George H.
Ensign and other owners of the Spring Valley Water Works to lay down water
in the public streets of San Francisco." Ensign incorporated the
Spring Valley Water Works Company on June 19, 1858 with Henry Baker and
Edward Jones. The Spring Valley firm introduced the waters of Islaid
creek into the city on April 4, 1861, filling a new reservoir on Potero
|The San Francisco directory for the year 1863, by Henry G. Langley|
The two companies competed vigorously, and in 1864 Bensley was running short of water. He mentioned to some of his employees that if an "accidental" connection could be made to the Spring Valley pipes that would be very beneficial. Von Schmidt, who had gone to work for Spring Valley, noticed that something was amiss and after digging up most of the city found the "accidental" connection, which led to a great uproar, arrests, and a great trial that even debated the point of whether water could be considered property, and if not, how could it be stolen? The outcome was the consolidation of the two companies under Spring Valley's control, and they ran a profitable operation until it was sold to the city and county of San Francisco in 1930.
The Hetch Hetchy system was developed in the 1920s to deliver water from a dam and reservoir in Yosemite National Park to San Francisco through the 167 mile Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, arriving in city on October 28, 1934.
The City and County of San Francisco bought the Spring Valley Water Company on March 3, 1930 for $39,962,606.51.
Water is provided by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which has a history page. The water system also serves several other communities in the Bay area.
|Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System Map|
1849 "Water! Water!!" Weekly Alta California, September 6, 1849, Page 2.
San Francisco Water Works, foot of Sansome and Pine Streets, in front of Happy Valley, at $5 per ton, or at two cents per gallons. Orders will be received either at the works or at the store of Voorhies, Sutton & co., Montgomery st.
and Reservoirs," Daily Alta California, June 19, 1850, Page
Reservoirs to contain 25,000 gallons of water each, are to be constructed in Portsmouth Square, corner of Pacific and Dupont streets, and corner of California and Montgomery streets. There is also to be a reservoir on the corner of Montgomery and Washington streets. The first three are to be supplied by artesian wells. Messrs. John Cochran and Timanns are the contractors for the building of the reservoirs.
Water Works Stopped," Daily Alta California, July 23, 1850,
We regret to announce that Messrs. Cochran & Timmans, the contractors for constructing the reservoirs in Portsmouth square, Pacific, Washington, and California streets have been compelled to cease operations for want of means. They have been working on, day after day, fulfilling the terms of their contract, exhausting their own private resources in the purchase of materials and the payment of their employees, and hoping daily to receive their money. They are now compelled to stop when the work is nearly completed. The reservoir in Pacific street is so far done as not to require more than a day's additional labor, and that in Washington street simply requires planking over. The cost of the four reservoirs was to be $30,000, payable according to the estimate of the Engineer, Mr. Eddy, in proportion to the work performed, every two weeks. Two estimates have been made, giving the contractors about $6000 each, and yet they have received but $1000 each. We earnestly call the attention of our citizens to this matter as one of the greatest importance. We know not what moment we may be visited by a fourth disastrous conflagration, and yet, as far as regards a supply of water, we are almost as poorly off as ever. The necessity of having the wells and reservoirs completed, then, cannot require demonstration. Immediately alter the last fire the utmost interest was manifested in the subject and a large sum of money subscribed for the purpose of having proper reservoirs constructed and wells dug. There was no one who was not willing to give something towards this fund, especially as he was to receive an equivalent in city scrip, which would be taken in payment of taxes, if not redeemed prior to their collection. A portion of the money subscribed has been paid into the hands of the Treasurer, about $3500, which has been duly paid over to Messrs. Cochran and Timmans, and Mr. Eddy, who it making the well. It is now necessary to make some provision which will enable the contractors to resume operations and conduct them to a speedy completion, and we earnestly appeal to the citizens to make up the necessary amount. Until that is done, we would recommend that the Comptroller be authorized to issue city scrip to the contractors, in order to give them some assurance that they have not buried their hopes and their money in the ground.
1851 "Supplying Water," Sacramento
Transcript, March 21, 1851, Page 2.
Mr. A. D. Mansfield, has made a proposition to the Council to furnish that City with water on the principle of the Croton water works in New York.
1851 "Water for the City," Daily Alta California, April 22, 1851, Page 2.
1851 "Supplying the City with Water," Daily Alta California, June 7, 1851, Page 2.
for Salt Water Works," Daily Alta California, June 9, 1851,
We have been requested by Mr. Hotaling to say that the necessary materials for constructing the Salt Water Works proposed by him, can be had in this city, and that the most important portion of the work can be accomplished in three months.
1851 Ordinance No. 167.
Granting to Azro D. Merrifield, or his assigns, a the privilege of
introducing into the city, Pure Fresh Water.
The People of the City of San Francisco do ordain as follows :
Section 1. That Azro D. Merrifield, or his assigns, be and are hereby authorized to lay down pipes through the streets of the city of San Francisco, for the conveyance of pure fresh water, for the term of twenty-five years, upon conditions hereinafter named. The said pipes to be laid from a reservoir constructed so as to contain one million gallons and to at an elevation of not less than fifty (50) feet above the intersection of Clay and Dupont streets, and that the pipes leading from said reservoir shall be equal to the discharge of said one million of gallons every twenty-four hours.
Sec. 2. Said Azro D. Merrifield, and his assigns, the liberty of receiving from the inhabitants of the city of San Francisco, who may elect to take such water, rates of compensation to be fixed by a board of three commissioners, to be appointed annually by the Common Council. The first appointment of said commissioners to be made at the first regular meeting in the month of January, eighteen hundred and fifty-three, (1853,) or sooner, if the works are completed. The said commissioners to receive a salary from the city which shall be established by the said Common Council at the time of their appointment.
Sec. 3. Said Azro D. Merrifield, and his assigns, shall, in all cases, replace the planking of the streets, and replace the earth of the streets not planked, after laying down the pipes, and shall leave them in as good condition as he finds them.
Sec. 4. The corporate authorities of the city of San Francisco shall be entitled to the use of the water for the purpose of extinguishing fires, and for hospital and prison purposes, without charge; and the said Common Council shall have the power, under the directions of the Mayor and Chief Engineer, to tap the pipes and connect the same with hydrants, at such places as they may deem For other proper; and in case they shall require water for any other purposes, the Commissioners provided for in section two, of this ordinance, shall fix the rate of charge in the manner therein provided.
Sec. 5. Nothing herein contained shall be construed as granting an exclusive privilege to said Azro D. Merrifield, or assigns, or any other party. Also, Provided, that nothing herein contained shall be so construed, as in any manner to recognize the claim or title of any person or persons to the Spring or Lake from which the water may be brought, by the said Merrifield, or to the land immediately around the same, or through which the pipes may be laid, from said Lake or Spring to the city.
Sec. 6. Provided further, that at the expiration of twenty-five (25) years, after the first day of January, eighteen hundred and fifty-three, (1853,) the Water Works entire shall be deeded the city of San Francisco, by the said Azro D. Merrifield, and his assigns and associates, in consideration of the privileges and benefits that may accrue to the said Azro D. Merrifield, his assigns and associates, during such term of twenty-five years, from the aforesaid first of January, eighteen hundred and fifty-three, (1853,) or to dato from time of completion, provided, it be sooner.
Sec. 7. The said Azro D. Mcrrificld, or his assigns, shall give good and sufficient bonds in the sum of fifty thousand dollars, to the city of San Francisco, within thirty days after the passage of this ordinance, to be approved by the Mayor and Presidents of both Boards of Aldermen, that the said works shall be completed on or before the first day of January, eighteen hundred and fifty-three (1853).
R.S. DORR, President of the Board of Aldermen.
JOSEPH F. ATWILL, President of the Board of Assistant Aldermen.
Approved June 11, 1851. C.J. BRENHAM, Mayor.
1851 Ordinance 168. An ordinance for the introduction of salt water into the city of San Francisco; approved June 11, 1851.
1851 "The Merrifield Ordinance," Daily Alta California, June 12, 1851, Page 2.
Council," Daily Alta California, June 17, 1851, Page 2.
An ordinance giving to C.R. Hotaling the privilege of introducing salt water into the city for the extinguishment of fires and other purposes. The ordinances provides that a reservoir shall be constructed near the junction of Green and Montgomery streets, capable of holding 2,000,000 gallons of water, with engines of sufficient power to keep it full all the time. The work to be commenced within thirty days, and completed in less than six month. On failure, the work done shall become the property of the city, so far as finished. He is required to keep it in good repair for a term of three years, after the time of its completion, after which time it shall be deeded to the City by said Hotaling or his assigns.
1851 "Mr. Hotaling's Water Project," Daily Alta California, June 30, 1851, Page 2.
1851 "The Water Project," Daily Alta California, July 14, 1851, Page 2.
1851 "Marine Water Works," Daily Alta California, July 22, 1851, Page 2.
Alta California, July 26, 1851, Page 2.
Workmen are now busily engaged in "laying pipe" through Sacramento, Dupont and Clay street to the Plaza, for the purpose of conducting water from the head of the first named street, where there is a spring, to the cistern on the Plaza, and from there to different sections of the city. This is about the best thing the city authorities have ever done.
Plaza Water-Works," Daily Alta California, August 22, 1851,
Who says now that the Plaza of San Francisco cannot be adorned with "green trees," and that the "gentle zephyrs" cannot be persuaded to blow through and toss the light spray of the "sparkling fountains" about? The water from the Sacramento reservoir was turned on yesterday morning in the presence of a number of admiring spectators, who stood on the steps of the California Exchange and the Union, and clapped their hands for joy. The arrangements are "illigant." Just on the edge of the defunct Artesian, a small pipe branches off from the main one, which, when the water is turned on, sends out a stream at least twelve feet high. It has a rich, yellow color, unlike the usual pale appearance of water. The arrangement in the location of the fountain is admirable, making the nice optical illusion of the water appearing to issue from the Artesian well itself. When all the cisterns are filled, the water is to be allowed to issue in a jet all the time. The water was also turned into the cistern on the Plaza, which it will probably fill in the course of three or four days, when, if the water holds out, pipes will be laid conveying it to the other cisterns of the city. During the day, the water of the fountain was occasionally turned on to show to some alderman, or other "big-bug," until a perfect muddy stream ran down the Plaza, very much to the annoyance of ladies who had to pass by there, and who secretly wished in their hearts that they had on "Bloomers."
Water Projects," Daily Alta California, September 18, 1851,
What have become of the immense water projects, which, after weeks of hard work, were finally sanctioned by tbe Common Council last spring? Neither the plan of Mr. Merrifiald or Mr. Hotaling have at yet been put in operation, and not even a commencement has been made. With the exception of the pipes laid from the Sacramento street spring, no attempt has been made for the protection of the city from fire, and in case another one should break out, we shall he as badly prepared for it as ever before, in fact, we shall be in a worse condition, as the water, which might have been obtained from the bay in the vicinity of Montgomery street, has been encroached upon by building, and where three months since the tide flowed, earth has been filled in, and large and easily combustible buildings erected. Greater danger may be anticipated from a fire should another one occur, than ever before, from the fact that the shipping in the harbor would be placed in closer connection with the fire. Wharves and buildings have extended until they have reached nearly to the ship channel, and houses and ships are now strangely mingled together. After our city has been so many times destroyed by fire, and we have been obliged to look on powerless, without being able to move a hand toward the suppression of the raging element, it is high time that some decisive action should be taken to prevent the recurrence of such disastrous results in the future. One plan by which the cisterns, certainly, could be kept continually full daring the rainy season at least, would be to conduct the sewers from certain streets into the cisterns in their vicinities. This would at least be economizing the water, and turning the rain into a source of protection, at the same time that it is so annoying in other ways.
1851 "A Water Project," Daily Alta California, October 9, 1851, Page 2.
1851 "The Mountain Lake Water Company," Daily Alta California, October 11, 1851, Page 2.
1851 Mountain Lake Water Company, of San Francisco. Capital stock, $500,000, divided into 10,000 shares of $50 each. [San Francisco, Printed at the California Courier Office, 1851, 14 pages, October 1851?]
1851 Map of the city of San Francisco with its additions : showing two of the routes for the introduction of water by the Mountain Lake Water Company, by Henry S Dexter. December 1851. Original map in black and white.
1852 An act To ratify and confirm an Ordinance passed by the city of San Francisco on the eleventh day of June, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-one, authorizing Azro D. Merryfield and his assigns to introduce Water into the city of San Francisco. May 3, 1852.
1852 "The Mountain Lake Water Company," Daily Alta California, June 15, 1852, Page 2.
1852 Ordinance No. 243.
Amending ordinance No. 167, granting to Azro D. Merrifield, and his
assigns, the privilege to introduce into the city pure fresh water.
The People of the City of San Francisco do ordain as follows:
Section 1. Ordinance No. 167, granting to Azro D. Merrifield, and his assigns, the privilege to introduce into the city pure fresh water, is hereby amended to read as follows: That the Mountain Lake Water Company, the assignees of said Azro D. Merrifield, and their successors and assigns, shall be and are hereby authorized to lay down pipes through the streets of the city of San Francisco for the conveyance of pure fresh water, for the term of twenty years, under and pursuant to an Act of the Legislature of the State of California, entitled "An Act to provide for the incorporation of Water Companies," passed May third, eighteen hundred and fifty-two. The said pipes to be laid from a reservoir, constructed so as to contain not less than one million of gallons, and at an elevation of no less than one hundred feet above tide level; and the pipes leading to and from said reservoir shall be capable of discharging one million of gallons every twenty-four hours.
Sec. 2. Said Mountain Lake Water Company, and their successors and assigns, shall have the liberty of receiving from the inhabitants of the city of San Francisco, who may elect to take said water, compensation according to rates to be fixed by a Board of five Commissioners, three to be chosen by the Common Council, and two by the said Mountain Lake Water Company. The first election to be had at the first regular meeting of the Common Council, after the completion of said water works, and notice thereof. The commissioners elected by the Common Council, to hold their offices during the pleasure of the Common Council.
Sec. 3. Said Mountain Lake Water Company shall, in all To replace cases, replace the planking of the streets, and replace the earth of the streets not planked after laying down the pipes, and shall leave the streets in as good condition as they find them.
Sec. 4. The corporate authorities of the city of San Francisco shall be entitled to the use of the water for the purposes of extinguishing fires, and also for all other purposes, without charge; but they shall in no case be allowed to sell water. And the said Common Council shall have the power, under the direction of the Mayor and Chief Engineer, to tap the pipes and connect the same with hydrants, at such places as they may deem proper.
Sec. 5. The time within which said work shall be completed, is extended until the first day of January, 1854, provided that said Mountain Lake Water Company shall actually and permanently expend in the prosecution of their works, in good faith, not less than fifty thousand dollars, hereafter and before the expiration of six months from the date of the approval of this ordinance, and at least fifty thousand dollars during every six months thereafter, until the expiration of the term hereby granted as exclusive, otherwise the privilege granted by this ordinance shall be of no effect.
Sec. 6. Upon the full performance by said company of all the requirements of this ordinance, the privilege hereby granted shall be exclusive to said company for the term of five years from the first of January, 1853.
Sec. 7. This ordinance shall expire at such time after the first day of January, 1855, as the said Water Company shall refuse to supply the water to any part of said city, and at such elevation as the Common Council shall declare it expedient that the same should be supplied, or whenever after the completion of said Water Works, the said company shall become unable, or shall fail to supply the city the said one million of gallons of pure and wholesome fresh water during every twenty-four hours.
NATHANIEL HOLLAND, President of the Board of Assistant Aldermen.
J.H. BLOOD, President of the Board of Aldermen.
Approved, July 14, 1852. S.R. HARRIS, Mayor.
Mountain Lake Water Company," Daily Alta California, July
15, 1852, Page 2.
Lieut. Gov. Purdy, who left on the Golden Gate, has gone for the purpose of purchasing the requisite pipe and fixtures, and the entire work will be put under cntract as soon as Gov. Purdy can be heard from.
The company has been reorganized, and the following gentlemen have been appointed officers, viz: Pesident, Lieut. Gov. Purdy; Secretary Wm. G. Wood; Treasurer, Henry Haight; Bankers, Page, Bacon & Co; Engineer, H.S. Dexter; Directors, Messrs. Samuel Purdy, John Middleton, Ferdinand Vassault, George W. Wright, Edw. J. Sage, Lorenzo Hubbard, Wm. G. Wood.
1852 Mountain lake water company of San Francisco. Organized August 14th 1851, under the general incorporation act of California, capital stock, $500,000, divided into 10,000 shares of $50 each. [New York, 43 pages]
1852 "Water for San
Francisco," New-York Observer, August 19, 1852, Page 7.
An ordinance has passed, giving the exclusive privilege of supplying the city with water for five years, to the Mountain Lake Water Company, and such was the confidence in the investment that the entire stock was immediately taken. the company having thoroughly surveyed the work, are now taking energetic steps to carr it into prompt and faithful execution. Gov. Purdy, now the President of the company, left on the last trip of the Golden Gate, for New York, to purchase the requisite pipes and other materials.
1852 "$250,000 San Francisco Water Loan," The New York Times, October 13, 1852, Page 7.
1852 "Artesian Wells," Daily Alta California, October 25, 1852, Page 2.
1852 Manual of the Corporation of the City of San Francisco: Containing a Map of the City, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of California, the Charters of the City, the Revised Ordinances Still in Force, and Certain Laws Relating Particularly to the City of San Francisco
to Contractors," Daily Alta California, April 19, 1853, Page
Sealed proposals for tunnelling and excavating.
1853 "Mountain Lake Inaugural Ceremonies," Daily Alta California, May 15, 1853, Page 2.
Herald of Freedom (Wilmington, Ohio), June 24, 1853, Page 2.
On the 14th ult., the first ground was broken by the Mountain Lake Water Company, San Francisco. The ceremony was carried out on a grand scal
1853 Ordinance No. 420. Extending the Time within which the Mountain Lake Water Company shall Complete their Works. August 29, 1853. Completion time extended twelve months from and after the first day of January, 1854.
of San Francisco for the year 1853," Daily Alta California,
January 4, 1854, Page 2.
May 14th- Mountain Lake Water Works begin with festivities.
August 25th- A spring furnishing 50,000 gallons of water per day was discovered on the works of the Mountain Lake Water Company.
September 31st- Works of Mountain Lake Water Company arrested for want of funds.
Alta California, June 20, 1854, Page 2.
At a meeting of the Councils last night a memorial was presented from the Mountain Lake Water Company, setting forth their inability of proceeding with those works under the present organization, and praying the Councils to grant such aid or relief as may be necessary to enable the Company to bring this important work to a conclusion, or that the City will assume the execution of it on a surrender of the privileges of the Company on equitable considerations.
1854 Ordinance No. 644. Appropriating Two Thousand Dollars for the Survey of the Works of the Mountain Lake Water Company. August 31, 1854.
1854 Ordinance No. 673. Extending the time within which the Mountain Lake Water Company shall complete their Works. September 19, 1854. Time extended twelve months from and after the first day of February, 1855.
Francisco Water Company. Articles of Association. San
Francisco, Feb. 20, 1855. Additional Note
Signed by the trustees: James C. Stebbins, Fayette Howe, Lorenzo Hubbard, Conrad K. Hotaling and James W. Jenkins. From the Honeyman Collection.
1856 Ordinance No. 856, Authorizing the Mountain Lake Water Company to introduce fresh water into the city, March 19, 1856.
1856 Map of the city of San Francisco with its additions : showing two of the routes for the introduction of water by the Mountain Lake Water Company, by Henry S Dexter. December 1851. Annotations: Portion colored blue is to be supplied water in the first instance. The yellow is above the level of the reservoir. George H. Goddard Civil Engineer, San Francisco Dec 4. 1856. The part colored green shows the work done. The red the unfinished portion.
1858 An Act for the relief of the Mountain Lake Water Company. March 18, 1858.
1858 An Act to ratify and approve Order number forty-six, of the board of supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco, approved August sixth, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven. March 18, 1858.
1858 An Act to authorize George H. Ensign and others, (owners of the Spring Valley Water-Works,) to lay down Water-Pipes in the public streets of the City and County of San Francisco. April 23, 1858.
Daily Union, June 23, 1858, Page 2
Articles of incorporation were filed yesterday in the office of the Secretary of .Hate by the Spring Valley Water Works Company.
1859 An Act to amend an Act entitled “An Act to authorize George H. Ensign and others, owners of the Spring Valley Water-works, to lay down Water-pipes in the Public Streets of the City and County of San Francisco,” passed April twenty-third, eighteen hundred and fifty-eight. April 11, 1859.
1859 Bensley v. The Mountain Lake Water Company, 13 Cal. 306, April Term, 1859, Supreme Court of the State of California
1860 An Act to Ratify and Confirm Order, Number One Hundred and Seventy-Two, of the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco. April 12, 1860.
1860 The charter of the San Francisco City Water Works, together with copies of the acts of the Legislature and ordinances of the city of San Francisco, from which are derived the incorporation, powers and rights of said company
Daily Union, April 4, 1867, Page 2. Azro David
Merrifield, born Vermont September 1821
Died. In San Francisco, April 1st, Azro D. Merrifield, aged 45 years and 7 months.
1871 Report to the Lake Tahoe and San Francisco Water Works Company, on Its Sources of Supply: Proposed Line of Works; Estimated Cost and Income, by Alexis Waldemar Von Schmidt, October 1, 1871.
1872 Reports by Engineers and Others on a Permanent Supply of Pure Fresh Water to the City of San Francisco, by the San Francisco Water Company, incorporated July 22, 1867 by James Thomas Boyd, John H. Turney, William H. Hanford, and Milo Hoadley.
and Descriptive Sketch Book of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino:
Comprising Sketches of Their Topography, Productions, History,
Scenery, and Peculiar Attractions, by Campbell Augustus
Page 233: Lake County Historical Sketch.
During 1864 the "Bensley Water Company," sometimes called "Clear Lake Water Works," whose ostensible aim was, and is, to convey water from Clear Lake to the city of San Francisco, commenced building a dam across Cache Creek, near the lake. This dam, constructed for the purpose of obtaining motive power for their extensive mills, being on the only outlet to the Lake, caused the waters thereof to rise about thirteen feet above the medium height. Thousands of acres of naturally dry land, and of great fertility, was thereby overflowed and rendered worthless to the owners. Many suits for damages were instituted against "the Company," but some were compromised, some dropped, and none prosecuted to judgment. On the 14th of October, 1868, some three hundred armed men arrived at the works of the Company, tore out the dam, removed the machinery from the mills, and — the buildings were that night destroyed by fire. The "Bensley Water Company" instituted suit against the county of Lake to recover $200,000. After many delays the suit was set for the May (1873) term of the District Court in Yolo county.
1874 An act to authorize the city and county of San Francisco to provide and maintain public water-works for said city and county, and to condemn and purchase private property for that purpose. March 30, 1874.
1874 The City and County of San Francisco v. The Spring Valley Water Works, 48 Cal. 493, July, 1874, Supreme Court of the State of California.
Supplies," San Francisco Municipal Reports for the Fiscal Year
1874-1875, ending June 30, 1875.
Includes report by engineer Theodore R. Scowden.
1876 An Act to authorize the City and County of San Francisco to provide and maintain public water-works for said city and county, and to condemn and purchase private property for that purpose. March 27, 1876.
Water Problem," San Francisco Chronicle, October 6, 1876,
Page 5. | Part 2
Its History from the Very Beginning. The Different Corporations – How John Bensley Tapped Spring Valley – Etc.
In glancing over the history of San Francisco it is discovered that the water problem has always been a vexed one. In early days the cry was that water cost more than whisky, and now it is demonstrated that it costs twice as much as bread. The very early settlers were the most fortunate regarding the quality, quantity and cost of their water supply. It was obtained from springs and wells and delivered by water-carts to the doors of customers. In the business were some of our more prominent and wealthy men were engaged, and thus gained their start in life. When the springs and small wells failed to furnish an adequate supply, artesian wells were sunk by the cart men along the line of Market street. The shipping was supplied by water-boats from Saucelito by Goodall of the present steamship line. These boats also supplied a large number of customers on the city front and did a good business. There was no regular water-rate, but the lively competition between the owners of the water-boats and the proprietors of the water-carts kept the charges very reasonable, running from $1 per week for a barrel a day to higher figures. The city cisterns and reservoirs were kept supplied by contract, but they were often found wholly or partially empty, and after the destructive fires it was determined to secure if possible an abundant supply. Accordingly, on the 3d of June, 1851, an ordinance was passed by the council granting to Arzo D. Merrifield and his associates the privileges of introducing fresh water by pipes into the city. The danger from fires as well as the desire to have an abundant supply has long led parties to consider the best means of piping the water in from a distance. Various schemes were talked of and discussed in the journals published at the time. Merrifield's plan was to bring water from the lagoon known as "Mountain Lake," four miles west of the plaza and
THE SOURCE OF LOBOS CREEK
Flowing down toward the ocean through the sands of the Presidio. On condition of his plans being carried into effect Merrifield was granted certain privileges for the term of twenty-five years, and he was authorized to break open the streets and lay down water pipes in the same upon properly filling up and replacing the openings; the quantity of water to be provided in a general reservoir and the amount of discharge by pipes were both fixed; and provision was made for the rate to be paid by the citizens using the water, which rates were to be adjusted by a Board of Commissioners to be annually chosen by the Common Council. At the end of twenty-five years from and after the 1st of January, 1853, the entire water works were to be deeded to the city in consideration of the benefits that might accrue to the projector and his assigns for the term of years in which they would have a monopoly. The city was also to be entitled to the gratuitous use of water for extinguishing fires and other municipal purposes. Agreeably to the terms of this Act Merrifield filed a bond for $50,000 that the works should be completed on or before the 1st of June, 1853. Shortly afterward he conveyed his rights to a joint stock company called the Mountain Lake Water Company. To ratify this change another ordinance, dated July 14, 1852, was passed, whereby the former one was amended to the effect that the new company should only be entitled to the privileges granted by the first ordinance for a term of twenty years; that the Board of Commissioners to fix rates should be chosen – three by the Common Council and two by the Mountain Lake Water Company – under the regulations specified in the ordinance; that the term within which the works should be completed should be extended to the 1st of January, 1854, provided the water company should extend $50,000 on the works within six months of the date of the ordinance, and at least a similar sum every six months thereafter until the said last-mentioned date; that the privileges granted to the company should be exclusive for the term of five years after the 1st of January, 1853; and lastly, that the ordinance should expire at such after the 1st of January, 1855, as the company should refuse or be unable
TO SUPPLY THE CITY
At such such elevation as the Common Council should fix, "one million gallons of pure and wholesome fresh water during every twenty-four hours." As the city now consumers but 14,000,000 gallons per diem, it will be seen that the requirements of the ordinance were pretty stringent. On the 14th of May, 1853, the company celebrated the commencement of their works by imposing ceremonies at the foot of the hill near the Presidio. At the time there was considerable enthusiasm, as it was thought the bringing in of the Lobos creek water would supply the city for all time to come. The small sheet of water called Mountain Lake, from which the company took its name, was not expected to be sufficient, but a few hundred years from its northern margin sprang a subterranean river, or great spring, which many argued was but the open end of a great natural siphon, discharging the rains and dews of the whole north peninsula. This stream gave 20,000,000 daily and still furnishes that amount. After making a fair start, however, the Mountain Lake Water Company, through bad engineering and financial embarassments, were forced to throw up the undertaking. The company was incorporated on the 14th of August, 1851, with a capital of $500,000, which was subsequently increased to $1,000,000, but it did no good. On the 15th of June, 1857, John Bensley, A.W. Von Schmidt and A. Chabot organized the San Francisco Water Works Company, with a capital stock of $1,500,000, and jumped at the property of the Mountain Lake Company, on the grounds that they had not completed the works. Several Acts were obtained by the Mountain Lake Water Company extending the time allowed in which to introduce water; but, in 1862, the company practically ceased to exist, as it had failed to complete the works. On the 16th of September, 1868[sic], the San Francisco City Water Works Company introduced water into the city to supply the inhabitants and the city for public purposes.
THE SPRING VALLEY WATER COMPANY
Originated as early as April 23, 1858, when a bill passed the Legislature entitled "An act to authorize George H. Ensign and other owners of the Spring Valley Water Works to lay down water in the public streets of San Francisco." This Ensign franchise was really nothing more than the right to utilize the waters of a little spring on Mason street, near Washington. No pipes were ever laid under this franchise; but on the 19th of June, 1858, Ensign incorporated the Spring Valley Company, with a capital of 300 shares of $200 each, George H. Ensign, Henry Baker and Edward Jones comprising the company. On the 4th of April, 1861, the Spring Valley Company, with all the ceremony of speechifying and lunch-eating, introduced the waters of Islaid creek into the city, filling the new reservoir on Potero hill. In 1862-63 water was introduced from San Mateo county, and then there was a lively competition between Spring Valley and its rival, the San Francisco, or, as it was more commonly known, the Bensley Water Company. Between these two there was a very bitter and withal amusing fight till their consolidation on the 13th of February, 1865, Spring Valley buying out the property and Franchises of the Bensley Company. Previous to the consolidation the two companies had some pretty lively tilts with each other. One of these is deserving of mention. In the Spring of 1864 the San Francisco Water Company did not have quite fluid enough to supply their customers and began to cast about for a remedy. The case was getting to be very desperate, and a good many customers were going over every day to the rival company, when John Bensley hit upon the brilliant plan of stealing Spring Valley water. No sooner was the idea brought out than the plan was put into execution. Bensley called in three of his employees – Quinlan, Straser and Wright – and informed them if they could make an accidental connection with Spring Valley it would work to their advantage. Pursuant to the hint
THE CONNECTION WAS MADE.
And as he had the low service customers, Bensley used to sit in the office and laugh till the tears rolled down his cheeks at the way in which the other fellows were being fooled. But in a few months Von Schmidt, who had gone over [to] the Spring Valley, began to suspect that there was something wrong. There was an immense consumption of water and very little money coming in for it. The first thought was that the customers were stealing the water. He commenced to investigate, and after digging nearly the whole city over found the connection of the pipes of the two companies in a little alley way off Stockton street. A great hue and cry was raised, and the individuals composing the San Francisco Water Company arrested, and charged with grand larceny in the stealing for five months of 2000 gallons of water per month from Spring Valley. The employees – Quinlan, Straser, and Wright – were also arrested, and when the case came up for trial in the Police Court there was not even standing room. All the water magnates were there and half the population of the city. Bensley at first claimed that the connection was all an accident, but as the case developed, it all rested on point whether water was property or not, and if not, how its taking could be construed as grand larceny. For weeks and weeks the trial dragged along, being burlesqued by the daily papers and illustrated by doggerel verse ad lib.
THE SUIT WAS FINALLY SETTLED by the consolidation of the two companies on the date above mentioned. This gave the Spring Valley the monopoly which they have ever since enjoyed. Spring Valley never paid a cent of interest on the capital invested. On the 18th of June, 1860, the capital stock was increased from $60,000 to $3,000,000. In February, 1865 – the time of the consolidation – the capital stock was increased from $3,000,000 to $6,000,000; on the 21st of March, 1868, from $6,000,000 to $16,000,000. As above stated, from the incorporation of the company to its consolidation in 1865, no interest was paid. During 1865 and 1867, 6 per cent was paid on the $6,000,000 capital, and from '68 to '73, inclusive, 8 percent was paid on the $8,000,000 capital. In 1874-5 9 percent was paid, and for '76 the rate will be the same. Of course the company earned more money than this, but it was put into the construction of a reservoir and an increased service. This brings the history of the water problem up to the present time, and to the present Board of Water Commissioners is left the future of a water supply for the city and county.
1877 Report on the Various Projects for the Water Supply of San Francisco, Cal., Made to the Mayor, the Auditor, and the District Attorney, Constituting the Board of Water Commissioners, by George H. Mendel, Engineer of the Water Commission.
1877 San Francisco Municipal Reports for the Fiscal Year 1876-77, Ending June 30, 1877. Includes water rate litigation and reports of water supply proposals.
1877 Propositions of the San Joaquin and San Francisco Water Works Company (Also included in San Francisco Municipal Reports 1876-77)
1878 San Francisco Municipal Reports for the Fiscal Year 1877-78, Ending June 30, 1878.
1879 A Memoir on the Water Supply of the City of San Francisco, by Wm. J. McAlpine
water supply of San Francisco, 1880, by George Howard.
History of the development of San Francisco's water supply, the San Francisco Water Works and Spring Valley Water Company., With this: brief biographical sketch of Charles Webb Howard. With note by George H. Morrison.
1884 Spring Valley Waterworks v. Schottler, 110 U.S. 347, February 4, 1884, United States Supreme Court
1882 San Francisco, Engineering News, 8:163 (April 23, 1881)
1882 San Francisco from "The Water-Supply of Certain Cities and Towns of the United States," by Walter G. Elliot, C. E., Ph. D.
of Anthony Chabot," Daily Alta California, January 7, 1888,
The originator of the San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Vallejo Water Systems.
1888 "San Francisco," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 1.
1890 "San Francisco," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 2.
1891 "San Francisco," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 3.
Mountain Lake Folly," The San Francisco Call, May 31, 1893,
Page 10. | Also here
In the very early days of San Francisco, only two years after the argonauts of ‘49 arrived here, some enterprising gentlemen, gifted more with long purses than prophetic foresight, came to the conclusion that the city needed a water system.
They invested about $300,000 in tunneling under the hills of Mountain Lake, near the Marine Hospital, to Larkin and Pacific streets.
It was a big brick and concrete tunnel, big enough for a small man to walk through without ducking his head, and it is still there.
For a mile or more its runs under the center of Pacific street, then cuts into the hills through the Presidio reservation, and opens out within a hundred yards or less of Mountain Lake.
It is a very expensive tunnel, very well constructed, but of no utter use in all the world. Nor was it ever of any service. Shortly after its completion the whole scheme collapsed, as it should have done in its infancy.
It is a very interesting story and not known to the younger people of this generation. It was the first movement towards securing a water supply for San Francisco, and the prime movers in the scheme were John Middleton, Ferdinand Vassault, A. D. Merrifield and William G. Wood.
Of these only Ferdinand Vassault is alive today, and he is a very old, white-haired gentleman, with a remarkable facility of speech and excellent memory for one so old.
He told the story to a Call man in the following sequence: “In 1851 I bought the eighty-acre tract in which Mountain Lake is situated,” he begins, “from Edward M. Parker, who had located there and carried on a small vegetable farm. The land lies in the rear and adjoining the Government reservation.
“Governor Samuel Purdy soon afterward became the part owner of and the representative of the whole of an undivided one-half of the tract of eighty acres.
“Major Robert Allen, then Quartermaster-General for the Pacific Coast, William G. Wood, John Middleton, A. D. Merrifield, Governor Purdy and myself then organized a company for the purpose of utilizing the water of Mountain Lake in supplying the city of San Francisco. The corporation was known as the Mountain Lake Water Company.
“June 1, 1851, we secured a franchise for building the tunnel and laying our mains. Then at a cost of $280,000 we built a big brick tunnel 5 feet by 4½, interior dimensions.
“Major Allen, Governor Purdy and myself were the principal owners of both the land and the company. The surveys for the water system were made by John Morris and a noted civil engineer of that time named Hotalling. When the tunnel was built and the surveys all completed we found that we had invested altogether $280,000. About $500,000 was still needed to complete the enterprise, and this amount we could not borrow on bonds here save at a frightening high rate of interest.
“So Nathaniel Bennett, Governor Purdy and Mr. Wood went on to New York to negotiate the loan. Through the house Horace Ketcham & Co. the loan was finally engineered at a reasonable rate of interest, and a day was set upon which the papers were to be signed and the money placed in the bank subject to our order.
“When the day arrived for the consummation of the deal Charles O’Connell, who was the attorney for Horace Ketcham & Co., after examining our franchise and act of incorporation, raised the technical point that the latter document did not empower our corporation to raise money on bonds.
“It was then agreed that the matter should stay over until the Legislature of California convened again, when the technicality should be remedied and the money loaned without further delay.
“That year the Assembly met at Vallejo and the great water-front question was brought up. There was great excitement over the settlement of this controversy and as a consequence all lesser matters were lost sight of.
“Hall McAllister, who was out here then, Mr. Wood and myself went to Vallejo to try to resurrect our forgotten cause.
“At that time I had organized a company with certain Russian officials for the purpose of bringing ice down here from Sitka. We wanted a special law passed enabling the Russian Government officials to become partners with us in the enterprise.
“In this matter we were successful and the best legal authorities on the coast assured us that in this enactment the very point raised by the attorney for Horace Ketcham & Co. was fully covered. We were satisfied with that and did not feel like asking the Legislature to duplicate its motion for our especial benefit.
“But when the New York attorney looked into the question he came to the opinion that the point he had raised was not covered at all by the Russian law.
“As so the matter of the loan dropped entirely. We had already lost a good deal of money in the water company as none of us could afford to get further involved in it the whole thing fell through.”
In 1857 John Seuslcy A. W. von Schmidt and A. Chabot organized the San Francisco Water Works. Their plan was to run off the water from Mountain Lake through Lobos Creek and carry the water down to the city in wooden flumes.
But on testing the capacity of Mountain Lake, which is the outlet of a deep spring, the found it inadequate to the demands, and the principal supply for the water system came from Lobos Creek. To this day the system founded by these men is in operation, and one may follow the course of their wooden flumes along the coast line from Lobos Creek till it passes Fort Point and is lost under the hill several miles from its source.
In 1865 Spring Valley became the successor of the San Francisco Water Works, but it still employs the Lobos Creek flumes and system.
The Mountain Lake Water Company’s project met with less favor from succeeding water-supply companies, and even its costly brick aqueduct has never been turned to account.
This fact alone seems to argue the folly of the scheme. The civil engineers of to-day smile derisively when asked for an opinion as to the utility of that tunnel or the practicability of using the Mountain Lake spring as a water supply.
Of course, the Larkin street end of the big aqueduct has been covered up long since, and the only sign left now of the pretentious water system is a grass-grown trench running from Mountain Lake about 200 yards to the mouth of the brick aqueduct.
But the mouth of the aqueduct itself is filled with tons of earth that fall over it so very long ago that to-day it is grown over with weeds and grass, and the bright yellow poppies blooming there seem to have ever grown and thrived in the outlet of a useless tunnel that cost $280,000.
1897 "San Francisco," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 4.
1900 "Ferdinand Vassault's Long Life has Ended," The San Francisco Call, January 14, 1900, Page 17.
1900 "Shall San Francisco Municipalize its Water Supply," by A.S. Baldwin, Municipal Affairs: A Quarterly Magazine Devoted to the Consideration of City Problems from the Standpoint of the Taxpayer and Citizen 4(2):317-328 (June, 1900)
1903 Report on the Present Value of the Property of the Spring Valley Water Works, by Rudolph Hering, July 25, 1903.
on the City of San Franciso, Cal., issued by the National
Board of Fire Underwriters, Committee of Twenty, Report Number 35.
Pages 8-26: Water Supply
1905 In the matter of the application of the city and county of San Francisco for reservoir rights of way in Hetch Hetchy Valley and Lake Eleanor, within the Yosemite National Park. Reply to objections of the honorable secretaries of the interior and of commerce and labor. On behalf of the city and county of San Francisco.
1906 The water supply of San Francisco, California, before, during and after the earthquake of April 18th, 1906, and the subsequent conflagration, by Hermann Schussler, Chief Engineer of the Spring Valley Water Company, July 23d, 1906.
Struggle for Water in the Great Cities of the United States," by
Marsden Manson, Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies
38(3):103-124 (March, 1907)
Pages 110-: Brief Outline of the History of the Water Supply of San Francisco and of the Efforts to Attain Municipal Ownership of the Same.
1907 A Municipal Salt Water High Pressure Fire Protection System for San Francisco, California, by Harold F. Gray, A thesis prepared in the College of Civil Engineering, University of California, April 30, 1907.
1907 Efforts to obtain a water supply for San Francisco from Tuolumne River, by Marsden Manson
1908 Reports on the water supply of San Francisco, California, 1900 to 1908, inclusive. Pub. by authority of the Board of Supervisors. C.E. Grunsky, city engineer, 1900-1903. Marsden Manson ... city engineer, 1908.
1908 Reports on an auxiliary water supply system for fire protection for San Francisco, California. A report by Marsden Manson, E.E., city engineer, also a report by H]D.H. Connick chief assistant engineer, Board of Public works, and T.W. Ransom, consulting mechanical engineer. Prepared under the direction of the Board of public works and under the authority of Ordinance no.353 (new series) of the Board of supervisors and a report by W.C. Robinson, chief engineer of the Underwriters laboratories, incorporated, Chicago, to the Committee on fire department and water supply of the Board of fire underwriters of the Pacific, on a proposed auxiliary water supply system for fire protection in San Francisco, California.
1908 The past, present and future water supply of San Francisco, by Hermann Schussler
1909 San Francisco and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir: Hearings Held Before the Committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, January 9 and 12, [20 and 21] 1909, on H.J. Res. 223
1909 "Fire Protection for San Francisco," Municipal Journal and Engineer 26:1099-1102 (June 16, 1909)
1909 "Spring Valley Water Company Offers to Sell its Property to City," Municipal Record 2(48):457 (December 2, 1909) Offered to sell for $35 million.
1909 "History of the City's Attempts to Own Its Water Supply," Municipal Record 2(49):457 (December 9, 1909)
Water Supply Sought in 1871," San Francisco Call, December
26, 1909, Page
Supervisors publish concise history of city's long fight to solve the problem.
1909 The Water Supply of San Francisco, by Hermann Schussler
1910 Book of franchises granted by the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco: including street and steam railroad, telephone, telegraph and miscellaneous franchises, pipe line, spur track and miscellaneous permits
1912 The Future Water Supply of San Francisco: A Report to the Honorable the Secretary of the Interior and the Advisory Board of Engineers of the United States Army, by the Spring Valley Water Company. | also here |
the Proposed Use of a Portion of the Hetch Hetchy, Eleanor and Cherry
Valleys as Reservoirs for the Water Supply of San Francisco,
California, and Neighboring Cities, by John Ripley Freeman
Page 386-390: The History of the Development of the Water Supply of San Francisco
1912 Estimate of Cost of Development of the Present Undeveloped Resources of the Spring Valley Water Company for the Future Water Supply of San Francisco for the Purpose of Comparison: Based Upon the Methods, Points of Delivery, and Cost Units Used by John R. Freeman in His Report of July 15, 1912, on the Hetch Hetchy Supply, by F. C. Herrmann, J. C. Branner, Thomas Willard Espy, G. P. Dillman
1912 The water supply of San Francisco, by Spring Valley Water Company
1913 An Act Granting to the city and county of San Francisco certain rights of way in, over, and through certain public lands, the Yosemite National Park, and Stanislaus National Forest, and certain lands in the Yosemite National Park, the Stanislaus National Forest, and the public lands in the State of California, and for other purposes. December 19, 1913.
1913 Hetch Hetchy Valley: report of Advisory Board of Army Engineers to the Secretary of the Interior on investigations relative to sources of water supply for San Francisco and Bay communities
1916 Spring Valley Water Company, complainant, vs. city and county of San Francisco, et al, defendants. Nos. 14, 735; 14, 892; 15, 131; 15, 344; 15, 569; Circuit Court of the U.S., Ninth Judicial Circuit, North District of California and 26 and 96 District Court of U.S., Northern District of California, second division. Abstract of testimony [and oral arguments] taken before Hon. H.M. Wright | also here |
1918 Spring Valley Water Co. v. City and County of San Francisco, 246 US 391, April 15, 1918, United States Supreme Court
1922 "San Francisco's Water Supply," from Twenty-ninth convention of the Pacific Coast Firechiefs, August 9-12, 1922, and Golden anniversary congress of International Association of Fire Engineers, August 15-18, 1922
1922-1930 San Francisco Water, Volumes 1-8, by Spring Valley Water Company
1928 "Spring Valley Water Company: The Water Supply of San Francisco," by George A. Elliot from History of San Mateo County, California, Volume 1, by Ray Cloud
1929 "High-pressure fire protection in San Francisco," by L.B. Cheminant, Assistant City Engineer, San Francisco, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 19(2):80-85 (June 1, 1929)
1934 Hetch Hetchy; its origin and history, by Michael Maurice O'Shaughnessy
1936 "High pressure fire protection system of San Francisco"
1940 "The Water Supply System of San Francisco," by Nelson A. Eckart, Journal of the American Water Works Association 32(5):751-794 (May, 1940)
1948 "The early history of San Francisco's water supply, 1776-1858," by Barton Harvey Knowles, Master's Thesis, University of California at Berkeley
1959 "San Francisco's Water Supply," by James H. Turner, General Manager and Chief Engineer, Water Department, San Francisco, California, Journal of the American Water Works Association 51(9):1061-1078 (September 1959)
1962 "San Francisco," from Public Water Supplies of the 100 Largest Cities in the United States, 1962, US Geological Survey Water Supply Paper 1812, by Charles Norman Durfor and Edith Becker
1974 "'Why Shouldn't California Have the Grandest Aqueduct in the World?': Alexis Von Schmidt's Lake Tahoe Scheme," by Donald J. Pisani, California Historical Quarterly 53(4):347-360 (Winter, 1974)
Francisco, 1846-1856: From Hamlet to City, by Roger W. Lotchin
Pages 182-183: Hotaling and Merriman
1985 San Francisco water and power : a history of the Municipal Water Department and Hetch Hetchy system, by Warren D. Hanson
1989 "The Phoenix Rising: San Francisco Confronts the Danger of Earthquake and Fire, 1906-1914," by Stephen O. Tobriner, from American Public Architecture: European Roots and Native Expressions, edited by Craig Zabel and Susan Scott Munshower, Papers in Art History from The Pennsylvania State University, Volume V
1994 San Francisco water and power : a history of the Municipal Water Department and Hetch Hetchy system, by Warren D. Hanson
2012 Hetch Hetchy, by Beverly Hennessey
Emergency Firefighting Water System Program
Water Supply Systems, San Francisco Fire Department
Hetch Hetchy, Wikipedia
Raker Act, Wikipedia
© 2018 Morris A. Pierce