Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
North Central States
Illinois Ottawa

Ottawa, Illinois

Ottawa was incorporated as a city in 1853.

John D. Caton installed a pipe to deliver water from springs to the Ottawa Starch factory in December, 1859.

The Ottawa Water Works was incorporated in 1861 by John D. Caton to own and operate the system, which was operating as late as 1915.

The city decided to build new water works in 1894 that it would own, but could not bond the entire amount.  The city adopted a novel way to pay for the water works, which were estimated to cost $160,000, but the city could only bond $60,000.  In May, 1894, the city granted a franchise to Gregory-Reed Co. of Chicago under the name Ottawa Water Company to build a water-works system, which, upon completion, the city would pay the company $60,000 in advance for hydrant rentals, issuing bonds to that amount, and at any time after acceptance of the works could take possession of the plant and place it in the hands of a trustee by agreeing to pay the balance of the cost of the works (i.e. $100,000), plus interest, in annual payments over a period of 20 years.  (See 1895 reference for more details.)  The company built a system pumping water from artesian wells into a standpipe on elevated ground.  The system began operating in April, 1895 and the city took possession of the system on June 3, 1896.

Water is provided the City of Ottawa.

1859 "The South Ottawa Water Works," The Ottawa Free Trader, September 3, 1859, Page 3.

1859 Chicago Press & Tribune, December 6, 1859, Page 2.
Ottawa Water Works.– Judge Caton has filled his contract with the Starch Factory by the introduction of a four-inch stream of the pure water of the great springs on the south aide into the factory. The water is so much purer than that of the canal, that it is used without filtration. Judge C. has also carried a six-inch stream to the Illinois River bridge, designed to supply the city.  We are not advised how soon it is proposed to lay the pipes through our streets, but as the water can now be supplied to families at a less expense than gas we see no reason why the work should be delayed–Ottawa Free Trader.

1861 An act to provide for supplying the City of Ottawa with sweet and wholesome water.  February 20, 1861.

1863 "Caton Water Works," The Ottawa Free Trader, June 20, 1863, Page 3.

1863 "Successful," The Ottawa Free Trader, July 4, 1863, Page 3.
Judge Caton installs 700 feet of heavy iron pipe on the bottom of the Illinois River.

1868 The Ottawa Free Trader, November 28, 1868, Page 1.
Bill of Ottawa Water Works, for hydrant and water supplied for same for one year, from December 1st, 1867 to December 1st, 1868, amounting to $225.

1877 History of LaSalle County, Illinois: Its Topography, Geology, Botany, Natural History, History of the Mound Builders, Indian Tribes, French Explorations, and a Sketch of the Pioneer Settlers of Each Town to 1840, with an Appendix, Giving the Present Status of the County, Its Population, Resources, Manufactures and Institutions, by Elmer Baldwin
Page 254: John Dean Caton, from Monroe, Orange County, New York, came to Chicago in 1833, and to La Salle County in 1842. His wife was Laura Adelaide Sherrell, of Utica, New York. They have three children: Carrie, now Mrs. Norman Williams, of Chicago; Arthur; and Laura.
Judge Caton was nearly the first lawyer in Chicago. He was Judge of the Circuit Court for the circuit embracing La Salle County, and subsequently one of the Supreme Judges and Chief Justice of the State. He has been largely connected with the telegraph interests, and has accumulated a large fortune.
Page 255:  South Ottawa.  A peculiar feature, is the existence of a fountain of water which lies a few feet below the surface between the Illinois river and Covell creek; there is a bed of coarse gravel several feet in thickness, which contains a fountain of pure water. It supplies North Ottawa by pipes running under the river, and the fountain is inexhaustible.

1888 "Water Works," The Ottawa Free Trader, July 21, 1888, Page 5. | Part two |
Petition from Ottawa Water Works Co. for a thirty-year franchise.

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

1889 "Water Works Again," The Ottawa Free Trader, June 29, 1889, Page 4. | Part two |
Another petition for water works.  Newspaper in favor of public ownership.

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

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

1894 The Inter Ocean, April 11, 1894, Page 8.
Secretary of State, New corporations.  Ottawa Water Company, Chicago; capital stock $100,000; incorporators, Jacob H. Gregory, William S. Reed, and M. Q. Coffeen.

1894 Chicago Tribune, June 29, 1894, Page 5.
150 men employed in the trenches of the Ottawa water works struck this afternoon for an increase in wages from $1.25 to $1.50 a day.

1895 The De Kalb Chronicle, March 2, 1895, Page 8.
The Ottawa Free Trader, of Feb. 28, is a fine edition and gave a full and complete account of the inception, progress and completion of the Ottawa water works.

1895 "The New Water-Works System of Ottawa, Ill.," Engineering News 33:254 (April 18, 1895)

1896 Decatur Daily Republican, August 4, 1896, Page 4.
Ottawa, Ill., June 4.- The Ottawa Water works were transferred to the city by the company today.  The total cost to the city is $165,000.

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

1900 Ottawa, Illinois in Nineteen Hundred, by LaSalle County Genealogy Guild | Also here |
Page 5:  Water and Water-Works. Ottawa is well supplied with excellent water, there being over 100 artesian wells in the city. These wells are from 300 to 350 feet deep, the water slightly impregnated in some cases with sulphur, in some with salt, but many free from any mineral admixture. It will rise about twenty feet above the well's mouth, not enough to permit it to be carried to the top of the bluffs, but a well 1,800 feet deep, near the north bluff, sends its water some three feet higher than the top of the bluff . This water is salt— too salt for use for many purposes. The city has a system of water-works consisting of six artesian wells, a reservoir and pumps and pumping engine, with a stand-pipe on the south side, the base of which is 100 feet above the level of the plain on which the city stands, and is 100 feet high, thus furnishing water under great pressure for extinguishing fires, watering streets, gardens, &c. The pumps can lift about 4,000,000 gallons per day.  The works are situated in the northeast part of the city and are run by Worthington compound duplex engine.

1912 Ottawa, Old and New: A Complete History of Ottawa, Illinois, 1823-1914 | 1984 Reprint |
Page 94: Water Works Completed-1895.
Ottawa's municipal water system was completed Thursday, February 28, 1895, and the occasion was celebrated with a banquet at the Clifton hotel, following a complete and satisfactory test of the system from various fire plugs.
Mayors and members of city councils of many Northern Illinois cities had been invited to be guests of Ottawa on that occasion and they were here in great numbers.
The guests began arriving in Ottawa early in the day. The party was taken first to the pumping station and then followed in carriages along the line of tests that were made.
The need of a system of water works was first called officially to the attention of the city council by Mayor Al. F. Schoch in a communication read February 1, 1892. Then followed much preliminary work by committees and engineers. The members of the first committee named by Mayor Schoch were H. G. Cotton, J. C. Corcoran, J. E. Cooke, W. J. Sinon and J. B. Bailey. May 10th Mayor Schoch named as members of a special water works committee aldermen Cotton, Corcoran, Sinos, Cooke, Ed. Alschuler and David Farnsworth.
The plans and specifications for the new system were drawn by Geo. C. Morgan, of Chicago.
The city purchased three acres of land from the driving park association for $300, on which to locate the pumping station, and two lots of James J. Conway in South Ottawa, on which to locate the stand-pipe.
The city entered into a contract with W. S. Reed & Co., of Chicago, to construct the plant. April 3, 1894, The contract provided that $60,000 should be paid by the city at the time of acceptance and $100,000 in mortgage bonds on the plant.
The members of the council at the time the water works system was being built, in addition to those already mentioned were George H. Haigt, Paul Zickler, T. C. Trenary, Michael Dinneen, W. J. Dwyer, Jerry Canty, Paul Teissedre, M. N. Armstrong, Frank Finnerty, W. P. Leahy, William Dunn, J. J. Ellis, E. P. Nitschelm, E. Pettit, A. C. Godfrey, H. L. Hossack, M. Callahan, H. P. Kelly, I. N. Beem. Jas. J. Farrell was clerk and D. R. Burke city attorney.
At the banquet given at the Clifton hotel in celebration of the completion of the water works Samuel Richolson presided at toast-master. The Aeolian quartet sang, Mayor J. C. Murphy, of Aurora, spoke, as did B. F. Lincoln, J. H. Gregory, Henry Mayo, Rev. J. T. Burhoe, Andrew Rosewater, of Omaha, Neb., D. W. Mead, Rockford, and M. N. Armstrong.
Pages 167-168:  Water Works Owned by City.
Few cities of the country are blessed with such a water supply as Ottawa may well boast of. Chemists' analyses have pronounced it pure and healthful, and it is secured from an apparently inexhaustible reservoir 1,200 feet under ground, the wells being located at the east end of Norris street. Numerous private artesian wells are scattered through different portions of the city, some of them supplying several families, but the municipally owned plant furnishes most of the water consumed in Ottawa.
Prior to 1860 most of the business houses, in common with the residence owners, had their bored wells, with hand pumps or windlass, while a few were fortunate enough to have springs or flowing wells on the premises. In 1860 the late John D. Caton, who was heavily interested in the starch factory, in order to supply water for use in that plant, built a reservoir on some of his property in South Ottawa capable of holding a large quantity of water that flowed into it from a large spring that bubbled up near by, and from this pipes were laid to the starch factory, which stood on the present site of the Pioneer plant. Finding that he had more than enough water to supply the factory's needs, Mr. Caton offered to supply the business district and mains were at once laid and the buildings piped. The fall from the top of the South Ottawa bluff to the street level down town was so great that the pressure easily forced the water into the second stories. The reservoir was located on the west side of the Bloomington road, just south of where the Marseilles road branches off, on the property now occupied by Louis Clairmont. Until the present water works were placed in operation in 1895 practically all the down town buildings were supplied with this Caton water.
In 1892 A. F. Schoch, then mayor, crystallized the movement for a municipal plant, which had been growing for several years, by demanding that the city council take some definite action, with the result that the water works now owned by the city were completed February 28, 1895.
The story of how this was accomplished is interestingly told on page 94 of this work.
The water is now distributed throughout the city through 32 miles of mains, and the average daily consumption of city water is nearly 600,000 gallons. The capacity of the plant is something over 600,000 gallons per day. Fire plugs to the number of 153 are distributed about the city in such a manner that the fire department may couple on a lead of hose and give quick fire protection
in all parts of Ottawa. Special pressure may be put on when fire alarms are sounded, but the regular pressure of 80 pounds to the inch will send a stream about 75 feet in the air, or a distance of about 180 feet ahead.
The entire output of the pumping station is first pumped to a huge standpipe in South Ottawa, 100 feet high and 20 feet in diameter, which has a capacity of 250,000 gallons. The water goes from there to the consumer, gravity maintaining the steady pressure of 80 pounds to the inch.
Charles Hahn was the first superintendent of the waterworks after the city took over the plant a few months after completion, and he served until July, 1900, when he was succeeded by Mark Duffy, who has served continuously since that time. The day engineer at the pumping station is August Lindenmeyer, and Martin Lanigan is the night engineer.

1915 Statistical Report, Part III.  Officers and Directors of Public Utilities, State Public Utilities Commission of Illinois
Page 1539:  Ottawa Water Works.  Organized in 1860-61, under the laws of the State of Illinois.  President, Charles H. Caton; Vice President, T. D. Catlin


© 2017 Morris A. Pierce