Documentary History of American Water-works

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Northwestern States
Kansas Lawrence

Lawrence, Kansas

Lawrence was founded in 1854 and incorporated as a city in 1858. 

A bill to incorporate the Lawrence Hydraulic Company (or Water Works) was passed by the Kansas Territorial Legislature on February 8, 1858, in which E. B. Whitman, A. Z. Sheldon, A. D. Searl and J. P. Otterson would be given the " exclusive right and privilege for supplying the City of Lawrence and its inhabitants from the Kansas River, or such other sources as the company shall deem most practicable, for the term of twenty years."   The bill was vetoed by Governor James W. Denver, who later said in a speech that the proposed bill would have required every one to pay the company for all water they used, regardless of its source, including their own wells.  The legislative Council overrode the veto on February 12, but a crowd of local residents crowded the Assembly members "into a little corner where they could scarcely turn around," after which they voted unanimously to sustain the veto.  No copy of the Governor's veto message has been found.  (See 1858 and 1884 references.)

The Lawrence City Water-works Company was incorporated in 1860 by C. W. Babcock, G. W. Deitzler, Albert G. Brooks, and George A. Reynolds. This company did nothing.

The Lawrence Water Company was incorporated on December 16, 1885 by J. D. Bowersock, A. Hadley, G. W. E. Griffith, R. C. Johnson, O. E. Learned and Elias Summerfield to build a water works in Lawrence.  These men petitioned the city council for a franchise, but after deliberation the council chose to advertise for bids, and received fifteen proposals in June 1886.  They selected the offering of  Henry C. Comegys and Jared E. Lewis of New York, and granted a twenty-year exclusive water works franchise to them on June 15, 1886.  Comegys & Lewis were a partnership that built about ten other water systems in the Midwest from 1885 to 1887, and from the many court cases they were involved in it would appear that they were not very good about paying their bills.  Despite this, their system began operating on April 21, 1887, pumping water from the Kansas river into a standpipe.  By September the city realized that the water was not "pure and wholesome" as required by the ordinance, and refused to pay the hydrant rental.  Amidst what became an ongoing dispute, Comegys & Lewis were sued by John Maxwell, the piping contractor, and Shickle, Harrison, and Howard Iron Company, who supplied the standpipe and pipe.  The system was sold at auction on February 10, 1890 to its bondholders for $55,000, while the appraised value was $82,000.

The Kansas Water and Light Company was incorporated on July 29, 1889.  The bondholders either sold the system to the Kansas Water and Light Company, or formed this company themselves to operate the system in well as another one in Paola, Kansas that had been built by Comegys & Lewis.   The Kansas Water and Light Company was controlled by the America Debenture Company of Chicago and the related bond brokers Coffin & Stanton of New York.  The company ran into financial difficulties from the city's non-payment of hydrant rental, and shut the water off on August 27, 1893.  Elias Summerfield (an incorporator of the 1885 company), had been hired to run American Debenture and was able to negotiate a temporary settlement to get the water back on September 1st and a more permanent ordinance amendment in December.  

Coffin & Stanton went into receivership in October, 1894, causing American Debenture to do the same.  Elias Summerfield was appointed receiver of the Debenture firm in Chicago while the eminent financier Newman Erb (whose sister Sarah was married to Elias's brother Marcus) was appointed receiver of the New York firm.  This led to the sale of Kansas Water and Light at auction in December, 1895 to Newman Erb, who sold the system 

The Lawrence Water Company was incorporated in Maine in April, 1895 and bought the Lawrence system from Erb in March, 1896.  This company was registered as a foreign corporation in Kansas on February 3, 1899 and went into receivership in 1904, when it was sold to its former owners, and again in 1914 which led to the city's acquisition of the system..

The city of Lawrence purchased the Lawrence Water Company on November 20, 1916.

Water is provided the City of Lawrence.

1858 Council Bill 117, An act to incorporate the Lawrence Hydraulic Company.  Vetoed by Governor Denver.  From the Kansas Historical Society.

1858 Council journal of the Legislative Assembly of Kansas Territory for the year 1858 : commenced at the City of Lecompton January fourth, and adjourned to and concluded at the City of Lawrence.  The Legislature convened in Lecompton on January 4, 1858, but adjourned the following day and moved to Lawrence where the session reconvened on January 9, 1858.
Page 339:  February 12, 1858.  Evening Session. The bill entitled "An act to incorporate the Lawrence Hydraulic Company," having been returned with the Governor's objections, and the question being upon the final passage of the bill, notwithstanding the veto, resulted as follows:  Yeas-10, Nays-none.

1858 House Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Kansas Territory, for the Year 1858.
Page 342:  Monday, February 8, 1858, Evening Session.  The following bills were read a second and third time and passed: Council Bill No. 117, "An act to incorporate the Lawrence Hydraulic Works."
Page 432:  Friday, February 12, 1858, Evening Session. Message from the Council:  Mr. Speaker:- The Council have passed the bill chartering the Lawrence Hydraulic Water Works, over the Governor's objections.  Asaph Allen, Assistant Clerk.
On motion of Mr. Cooper, Council Bill No. entitled "An act chartering the Lawrence Hydraulic Water Works," was taken up, and the vote by which it was passed was reconsidered, and the bill put upon its final passage, the objections of the Governor notwithstanding.
Mr. Still called for the reading of the bill.  The bill was read, and the ayes and noes were called, with the following results:  Ayes - none.  Noes- 33.  Necessary to pass, twenty-four.

1860 An act for supplying the city of Leavenworth with pure water.  February 27, 1860. 
Sec. 10. All the powers, privileges, rights and provisions of this act, be and the same are hereby conferred on C. W. Babcock, G. W. Deitzler, Albert G. Brooks, and George A. Reynolds, their associates and assigns, under the name and style of the Lawrence City Water-works Company, and said company is hereby authorized and empowered to proceed under the provisions of this act, and do the same things in the city of Lawrence, as fully and absolutely as if they had been specially chartered in a separate act.

1883 History of the State of Kansas: With Biographical Sketches and Portraits, by William G. Cutler | Also here |

1884 "Address of Ex-Gov. J. W. Denver," The Daily Commonwealth (Topeka, Kansas), September 19, 1884, Page 2.
Among the many wild schemes that were proposed at that time, the wildest perhaps, was that of the "Lawrence Water Company," by which the citizens of Lawrence were to be compelled to pay toll to a company for all the water they might use, no matter whether they got it out of the Kansas river or out of the wells.  I did not think the thing was exactly right.  I thought the water ought to be free to everybody, and that a man should have the right to dig on his own premises and get water wherever he could.  So I returned that bill with my objections in a veto message.  The bill had passed the Council by a majority.  It passed the Assembly by a nearly unanimous vote.  Of course I had to return it to the Council.  The worthy President of the Council had voted against the bill, and I thought, being a citizen of Lawrence that of course I was doing what he would approve; but when the veto message was read, he called some one else to the Chair and got on the floor and made a very violent assault on the Executive action; he thought he would not submit to any thing of that sort, although the Executive action had been on the same side that his vote had been.
They passed the bill in the Council over my veto, and some one came down and told me in a rather exciting manner what had been done.  I laughed and remarked in answer that that was all right, that if I had had any ill feelings towards the people of Lawrence, I certainly would have approved the bill, because it would put a tax upon them for all time to come, which, however, I did not think exactly right, because I thought they ought to get their water wherever they pleased.  In about a half an hour some one came and told me there was a great crowd in the Legislative Hall, I stepped up to see what was the matter, and I think the whole town of Lawrence was there.  They crowded the members into a little corner where they could scarcely turn around, and there was as much excitement as I ever saw when Jim Lane was making speeches against Jack Henderson.  At last they book a vote upon the question, and there was not a single vote against the veto.  The Governor was upheld that time by the unanimous vote of the Assembly.

1885 The Lawrence Gazette, December 24, 1885, Page 1.
Charter filed for Lawrence Water Company, composed of J. D. Bowersock, A. Hadley, G. W. E. Griffith, R. C. Johnson, O. E. Learned and Elias Summerfield, with a capital stock of $100,000.  It is understood that these gentlemen propose to put in a system of water-works in our city and it is hoped that encouragement will be given them to carry out the project.

1886 "Sealed Proposals," Lawrence Daily Journal, May 26, 1886, Page 1.
For the constructing and operating of water works in this city, will be received at this office until June 10, 1886 at 1 p.m.

1886 "The City Fathers Discuss Water Works," Lawrence Daily Journal, May 27, 1886, Page 1.

1886 "Mr. Wheeler on Water-Works," Lawrence Daily Journal, June 1, 1886, Page 3.

1886 "Water Works," Lawrence Daily Journal, June 11, 1886, Page 3.
The City Council Holds a Day Session to Receive Water Works Propositions–Fifteen Received.

1886 "Water Works Ordinance," Lawrence Daily Journal, June 12, 1886, Page 3.

1886 "Water Rates," Lawrence Daily Journal, June 13, 1886, Page 3.
Proposed rates from Lawrence Water Company and Comegys & Lewis.

1886 "Proposals," Lawrence Daily Journal, August 10, 1886, Page 3.
Will be received by the City Water Company for laying foundation of pump house.

1886 "The Water Works Trouble," The Lawrence Gazette, November 11, 1886, Page 3.
Trust Company refuses to sell bonds due to clause in ordinance.  Contractor stops works until resolved.

1886 "City Council Meeting," The Lawrence Gazette, December 30, 1886, Page 1.
Time for completing the works extended four months from the first of January, 1887.

1887 "Special Meeting of City Council," Lawrence Daily Journal, November 4, 1887, Page 3.
City refuses to receive or pay for any further water under said contract. 

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

1889 "Sheriff's Sale," Lawrence Daily Journal, January 24, 1889, Page 4.
Right, title and interest of Henry Comegys and Jared E. Lewis, The City of Lawrence, The City Water Company of Lawrence, and the American Loan and Trust Company of New York.

1889 "Notice of Suit," The Lawrence Gazette, October 17, 1889, Page 6.
The City Water Company of Lawrence and American Loan and Trust Company sued by Shickle, Harrison, and Howard Iron Company.

1890 "Lawrence Water Works Sold," Topeka Weekly Capital, February 13, 1890, Page 3.
Kansas City, Mo., February 10.- A special to the Star from Lawrence says:  The property of the Lawrence Water Works company was sold this afternoon by the sheriff.  The only bidder was Alex Gordon Black, of New York, who paid $55,000 for the property.  The appraised value was $82,000.  Mr. Black represented the bondholders.

1890 Lawrence Daily Journal, November 7, 1890, Page 4.
Report of special committee on water works is as follows:  Resolved, that the city clerk be instructed to acknowledge receipt of the communication of Messrs Coffin and Stanton of a recent date and to say to them that the city respectfully refers Messrs Coffin and Stanton to the contract made between Messrs Cornegy & Lewis and the city of Lawrence under date of January 15, '86, and to suggest that whenever the condition thereof shall be complied with by the owner of the plant, the city of Lawrence will be ready to fulfill its obligations under said contract.

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

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

1893 The Lawrence Gazette, August 24, 1893, Page 1.
Letter to The Honorable Mayor and Council of the City of Lawrence from George March, Manager, Kansas Water and Light Co.
The bondholders are unwilling to advance any more money to carry on these works, but there is enough on hand to pay the current expenses up to the 25th of this month, at which time the works must stop for want of funds.

1893 "Lawrence Waterworks Controversy," The Topeka Daily Capital, September 1, 1893, Page 1
The controversy between the city and the water company is in a fair way to be settled.  Elias Summerfield, special agent of the water company, arrived from Chicago today and fofered to start the pumps and run the plant for thirty days pending a settlement, provided that the operating expenses for the thirty days would be gauranteed.  This offer will probably be accepted and Lawrence will have at least a temporary supply of water.

1893 "Lawrence has Water," Lawrence Daily Journal, September 1, 1893, Page 4.
The Kansas Water and Light Company Resumes Operations under direction of Elias Summerfield.

1893 "The Water Settled," Lawrence Daily Gazette, December 7, 1893, Page 3.
Settlement negotiated by Elias Summerfield, special agent for the company.  Council approves amended water works ordinance.

1894 "Debenture Company Fails, Its collapse caused by that of Coffin & Stanton," The New York Times, October 11, 1894, Page 7.
Elias Summerfield appointed receiver.

1894 "Savings from a Wreck. Coffin & Stanton Creditors Were Not Entirely Ruined," The New York Times, December 10, 1894, Page 8.

1895 "A Question of Attorneyship," Lawrence Daily Gazette, March 7, 1895, Page 2.
City of Lawrence vs the Kansas Water & Light Co.- No 6,843, District Court in and for Douglas County, Kansas.  Suit to forfeit the franchise of the water company for non-performance of contract.

1895 Electricity: A Popular Electrical and Financial Journal, 8(18):248 (May 15, 1895)
The Lawrence Water Company, Portland, Maine-to manufacture gas and electricity and machinery and fixtures for gas works, water works, and electric light works.  Capital stock, $200,000.  Promoters:  Wm. C. Eaton, Edw. D. Noyes, Geo. F. Noyes, Portland.

1895 Lawrence Daily World, October 10, 1895, Page 3
The Knickerbocker Trust company has advertised the Lawrence water works to be sold Nov. 4 and the Paola works to be sold Nov 2.  It is thought the bond holders will buy them and the company will then re-organize.

1895 Lawrence Daily Journal, November 16, 1895, Page 4.
At the sale of the Lawrence water-works that took place recently at Minneapolis, Minn., the bondholders bought the property and the receiver will turn it over to them about the first of the year.

1895 "Erb Takes Possession," Lawrence Daily Journal, December 17, 1895, Page 4.
Judge Foster confirms sale yesterday of the property of the Kansas Water and Light company to Mr. Newman Erb.

1896 Lawrence Daily Journal, March 6, 1896, Page 4.
Real Estate Transfers.  Newman Erb and wife to Lawrence water company water works plant of Lawrence, all real estate and the entire property in Douglas county, Kansas; consideration $394,500.

1896 Lawrence Weekly World, March 12, 1896, Page 3.
A deed was filed with the register of deeds for the water works.  The new company is called the Lawrence Water Company.  The deed calls for consideration of $190,500, $70,000 first mortgage bonds.  The new company is now in possession.

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

1904 "Water Works Ordinance," Lawrence Daily World, January 7, 1904, Page 3. | Also here |

1904 The Jeffersonian Gazette, June 22, 1904, Page 3.
Lawrence Water Company has gone into the hands of a receiver.

1905 "Water Company Sold," The Daily Gazette, October 6, 1905, Page 3.
The Lawrence Water Company was formally sold today to its former owners.

1913 "The Water Works Problem," Lawrence Daily Journal-World, February 6, 1913, Page 6.

1913 "While Other Cities Suffered for Lack of Water this year, Lawrence had Plenty from the Lawrence Water Co.," from Lawrence: Today and Yesterday.

1913 Guide to the Pumping Plant for Lawrence Water Company Collection, Original plans for Pumping Plant for Lawrence Water Company

1914 "Water Works," The Daily Gazette, February 26, 1914, Page 4.

1914 "Waterworks Purchase Proposition was Beaten by Almost Four to One," The Daily Gazette, March 11, 1914, Page 1.
In favor 668, against 2,481.

1914 "Water Company in Receiver's Hands," Lawrence Daily Journal, October 21, 1914, Page 1.

1916 An ordinance directing the calling of an election to purchase the Lawrence Water Company.  January 25, 1916.  Election to be held March 7, 1916.

1916 "City Approves Purchase of Lawrence Water Plant," Lawrence Daily Journal, March 15, 1916, Page 1.
In favor 1,885, opposed 1,082.

1916 An ordinance directing the calling of a special election to purchase the Lawrence Water Company, a corporation duly organized under the laws of the state of Maine.  May 16, 1916.  Election to be held June 22, 1916.

1916 "To Decide Water Bond Suit," Municipal Journal and Public Works, 41(15):454 (October 12, 1916)
Mandamus suit to compel city commissioners of Lawrence to issue water bonds.

1916 "Deeds to City Filed," The Daily Gazette, November 21, 1916, Page 2.
The city now owns the water works.

2014 "The Children of Abraham and Hannah: Grocer, Doctor, Entrepreneur: The Summerfields of Lawrence, Kansas," by David M. Katzman, Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 37:2-19 (Spring 2014)

Samuel Henry Lockett Papers, 1820-1972,  Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Lockett (1837-1891) was the chief engineer for Comegys & Lewis during the construction of the Lawrence water works.

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce