Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Northwestern States
Iowa Dubuque

Dubuque, Iowa

Dubuque was chartered as a city in 1833.

The city awarded a water works franchise on July 25, 1870 to a group that intended to adopt the Holly water works system. The Dubuque Water Works Company was incorporated on July 27, 1870 by John Thomopson, Julius R. Graves, Richard A. Babbage, Joseph R. Rhomberg, L. D. Randall, D. N. Cooley, W. Hyde Clark, J. M. Griffith, Peter Kiene, F. W. H. Sheffield, Wm. Andrew, R. S. Harris, Wm. R. Peabody, T. C. Roberts, Alex. Young, J. B. Howrd, A. Tredway, and Geo. W. Mitchell.  This company was unable to deliver the system, and was disbanded on October 29, 1870.

The city then awarded a franchise to Selah Chamberlain and his associates, who formed the Dubuque Water Company on December 5, 1870.  This company engaged engineer J. L. Pillsbury of Boston to design the works.  The system was tested on October 20, 1871 under the supervision of Theodore R. Scowden

The American Water Works and Guarantee Company offered to buy the works in 1892, but was unable to come to an acceptable agreement with the city.

The city bought the water works system on June 1, 1900 for $545,000. 

The waterworks are currently owned by the City of Dubuque, which has a history page.

1855 "Water Works," The Morning Democrat (Davenport, Iowa), January 20, 1855, Page 2.
A company has been organized in Dubuque for the purpose of supplying the denizens of that city with water.   It is time that water works were established here.  Mr. LeClaire has reserved the most elevated site in all this region of country for that very purpose and no doubt would become a heavy stockholder were such a company to be formed in this city.  What has become of fellow citizen, Sylvester Marsh, Esq., who whilome took so much interest in this matter. 

1855 An act conferring certain privileges to a water company of Dubuque. January 25, 1855.

1870 "City Council," Dubuque Daily Herald, July 15, 1870, Page 4.
An Important Special Session.  Water Works!

1870 "City Council," Daily Times (Dubuque, Iowa), July 15, 1870, Page 2.
Proposition in Regard to the Holly System of Water Works.

1870 "City Council," Dubuque Daily Herald, July 26, 1870, Page 4.  | pdf |
Action on the Water Works Question.  Charter Granted by the Casting Vote of the Mayor.  A lively Discussion.

1870 "The Water Works," Dubuque Daily Times, July 28, 1870, Page 4.
Incorporators and Articles of Incorporation.

1870 "Water Works Ordinance," Dubuque Daily Times, July 31, 1870, Page 1.

1870 "Dubuque Water Works," Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, July 30, Page 2.

1870 "Water Works Ordinance," Dubuque Daily Times, July 31, 1870, Page 1.

1870 "Dubuque Water Works," Dubuque Daily Herald, July 31, 1870, Page 4.
Complete Organization by the Election of Officers.  Full Report on the Action of the Machinery.

1870 Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, August 2, 1870, Page 2.
The Dubuque Water Works are to have a capacity of 6,000,00 gallons daily.

1870 "Notice of formation of the Dubuque Water Works Company," Dubuque Daily Times, August 4, 1870, Page 1.

1870 "Waterworks Company," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 29, 1870, Page 4.
Meeting of Stockholders and Directors  Vote on the Proposition to Disband the Company.  Steps taken to Wind up its affairs.

1870 "City Council," Dubuque Daily Times, December 3, 1870, Page 4.
Favorable action on water works

1870 An ordinance authorizing S. Chamberian and others to construct, maintain and operate Water Works, and supply water to the duty and citizens of Dubuque, defining their powers and privileges and prescribing their duties. December 5, 1870.

1870 "City Council," Dubuque Daily Herald, December 6, 1870, Page 4.
Waterworks Ordinance Passed.

1870 "Charter Accepted," Dubuque Daily Herald, December 11, 1870, Page 4.

1870 "Water Works Ordinance," Dubuque Daily Times, December 17, 1870, Page 4.

1871 "Water Works," Dubuque Daily Times, February 17, 1871, Page 4
Active operations to be Commenced shortly.  Yesterday morning the engineer of the company, Mr. J. L. Pillsbury, of Boston arrived in the city.

1871 North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), October 5, 1871, Page 1.
The Dubuque Water-works, the first in the State of Iowa, will be in operation in ten days.

1871 "Waterworks," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 21, 1871, Page 4.
Friday's Tests.  Complete Success in Every REspect.  Equal to Any in the County.  Their Capacity, &c. &c.

1872 Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, November 20, 1872, Page 2.
The Dubuque Water Company on Friday filled its new reservoir, which as a capacity of 2,500,000 gallons, and cost upwards of $25,000.

1880 The History of Dubuque County, Iowa, Containing a History of the County, Its Cities, Towns, &c
Pages 565-547:  Water-Works
In the year 1864, the “Dubuque Level and Lead Mining Company” was formed, and began the work of running an adit into the bluff in the vicinity of the G. O. Karrick diggings. Among the stockholders of that company, formed exclusively for mining purposes, was Henry W. Clark, a resident of Cleveland, Ohio. The mining company shared the delays and vexations which large corporations inevitably meet, and the discouragements caused some of those identified with the enterprise to withdraw from it. But Mr. Clark held on, and, after many days, his liberality and persistency realized a success commensurate with their merits.
During the year 1870, the formation of a company to supply the city with water was agitated and took shape in the summer resulting in its incorporation, the charter bearing date December 5, 1870, and the incorporators being Selah Chamberlain, Henry W. Clark, Randall J. Gibbs, J. W. Parker and Nelson W. Kimball. The capital stock was established at $200,000, and, at a meeting of the stockholders, convened in the office of Gibbs & Coates, December 13 thereafter, Selah Chamberlain was elected President, J. W. Parker, Vice President, and R. J. Gibbs, Secretary.
The adit was purchased by Mr. Chamberlain prior to 1870 and appropriated to the purposes of conducting the water to reservoirs, for a consideration equal to one-third of the capital stock.
Thus was the organization completed and active work begun at once, with a view to place the enterprise upon a paying basis with the least possible delay.
On the 25th of April, 1871, a contract was concluded with Gaylord & Son, of Cincinnati, for pipes, etc., and, shortly afterward, the first reservoir was completed, under the supervision of Peter Mihm, at a cost of $4,000. During that year, there were over four miles of pipe laid, and water was supplied from the bluff springs (the source of supply) to a large number of consumers.
On Friday, October 21, 1871, the works were fully tested, under the supervision of R. T. Scowden, consulting engineer, and found to be in every respect according to contract, with the following capacity : Storage capacity of the reservoir, 250,000 gallons; minimum supply of water per diem, 619,000 gallons, or 30 gallons per day to each inhabitant, allowing the population of Dubuque to be 20,000. The height of the reservoir above low water is 129½ feet, the greatest head is at the corner of Main and Eighth, and the least head at the corner of Bluff and Fifteenth streets.
In 1872, the demand becoming unexpectedly large, it was decided to build another reservoir, that would be able to accommodate consumers for a period of time beyond the memory of the proverbial oldest inhabitant. This was done during that year, being completed in the fall, under the direction of Joseph Brophy, and costing a matter of $15,000. The dimensions of both reservoirs according to the measurements made by the City Engineer, are as follows : The large reservoir measures 184¼ feet in length, 53 7/12 feet in width and 16 9/12 feet in depth. The bottom of the inside or the invert of the waste-pipe is 2 8/12 feet below the top of the reservoir wall. The water is one foot below the invert of the waste-pipe, leaving a depth of 13½ feet of water in the reservoir. The covered reservoir is 400 feet in length and 4 10/12 by 6 feet in sections arched over, making an area of 38 45/100 square feet. The storage capacity of these two reservoirs is as follows :
                Large open reservoir, gallons 1,220,014
                      Covered reservoir, gallons   135,012
                                         Total capacity 1,355,026
The “forehead,” or end of the level, is 180 feet below the surface of the ground. The water issues from a crevice at the bottom of the level, which is capable of supplying 307,800 gallons per hour. An additional supply, from a higher level, is being secured, which in a short time will be available. The extent of this supply is uncertain. No immediate danger need be apprehended by the city for lack of water for fire purposes, and yet, many think, it would be a wise policy for the city to have an additional reservoir capable of containing 2,000,000 gallons — this to be kept filled for any emergency that might occur in case of any failure on the part of the level to supply the required amount.
Great credit is due to the parties who have had the project in hand, for the substantial and thorough manner in which the work has been done. As a safer guard against frost, the pipes have been laid at a depth of six feet below the surface, the hydrants inclosed in wooden boxes, and filled round to prevent freezing.
The advantages claimed for the Dubuque Water Works are many. In the first place, there are no different degrees of pressure, as in other systems, but one constant, undiminishing power, which can be used at all times. There is nothing artificial. It furnishes its own motive power in the natural flow of the water ; there is no need of engines. The quality of the water is pronounced by chemists to be ' absolutely “simon pure,” and there is nothing that can deteriorate from this quality.
Since 1872, the distance of pipes laid has been increased to thirteen miles, and the consumers from a nominal number to nearly one thousand. The following officers were elected for the year 1879, to administer a trust valued at $250,000 : Selah Chamberlain, President; Peter Kiene, Vice President, and N. W. Kimball, Secretary and Treasurer.
The water is supplied from what some argue is an exhausted lead mine, filled by natural springs of pure water, which in turn, conveyed through pipes, supplies the thirsty consumer. Others insist that the source of supply is a mine never worked, in consequence of the presence of these springs, and, notwithstanding every effort that science can suggest has been employed to drain the mine, it still remains inaccessible, but furnishes the city with pure water, at an expense to each consumer at from $10 to $20 per annum.

1881 Dubuque Level and Lead Mining Company, et al, v. Selah Chamberlain, et al., September 22, 1881, District Court

1881 "Important Decision," Chicago Daily Tribune, September 23, 1881, Page 8.
Dubuque Level and Lead Mining Company, v. Selah Chamberlain,

1881 Dubuque, from Engineering News 8:469 (November 19,  1881)

1882 Dubuque from "The Water-Supply of Certain Cities and Towns of the United States," by Walter G. Elliot, C. E., Ph. D.

1884 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Dubuque, Dubuque County, Iowa. February 1884

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

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

1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Dubuque, Dubuque County, Iowa.

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

1892 "Wants the Water Works," Dubuque Daily Herald, July 31, 1892, Page 8.
A Pittsburgh Company Will Ask the City to Waive its Rights of Purchase.  American Water Works and Guarantee Company.

1892 "The Water Works," Dubuque Daily Herald, August 19, 1892, Page 4.
Conditions under which the city will waive its right to buy - Proposal for Home Company

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

1900 "City Council," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 6, 1900, Page 3.
Purchase of Dubuque Water Company

1901 The Revised Ordinances of 1901 of the City of Dubuque: Including Charter and Statutes Applicable to Special Charter Cities to 1901
Pages 315-317: An ordinance in relation to the purchase, maintenance and operation of Waterworks by the City of Dubuque.  January 29, 1900.

1907 "M.O.A. failure in Dubuque," Sioux City Journal, February 15, 1907, Page 8.
Story of a city's struggle for good water.  The city purchased a plant that had never declared a dividend, going in debt fot it, and the trustees produced nothing but a deficit.

1907 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Dubuque, Dubuque County, Iowa. Central Business District

1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Dubuque, Dubuque County, Iowa.

1926 "History of Dubuque's Water Plant," by J. W. McEvoy, Journal of the American Water Works Association 16(4); 486-490 (October, 1926)

1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Dubuque, Dubuque County, Iowa. May 1950

Water Department article from Encyclopedia Dubuque

© 2020 Morris A. Pierce