Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Northwestern States
Nebraska Omaha

Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha was founded in 1854.

Water works were first investigated in 1857.  The first waterworks were built in 1881 by the City Water-Works Company.

The city bought the system on July 1, 1912, for $6,319,000.

The waterworks are currently owned by the Metropolitan Utilities District of Omaha.

1879 Daily Press and Dakotaian (Yankton, South Dakota), August 19, 1879, Page 2.
Omaha, Aug. 27 - The council this morning passed the Holly water works ordinance over the veto of the mayor.  The opponents of the Holly system was taking measures to enjoin the company from contracting with the Holly company.

1880 The Railway Age Monthly and Railway Service Magazine 1(11):662 (November, 1880)
The Omaha Republican says:
Mr. Nathan Shelton, who has for many years been connected with the Union Pacific railway as cashier, has resigned that position to enter a wider field of business – the investment of securities, state, county, municipal, bonds, etc. Mr. Shelton’s ability as a financier is well known in this city. He is the treasurer of the White Lead works, which institution he helped to establish, and which has proved a magnificent success. He is also the treasurer of the Waterworks company, of which he was one of the originators, organizers and promoters. He is an active, enterprising and successful business man. His successor as cashier of the Union Pacific is Mr. Frank D. Brown, who has long been assistant cashier. The position upon which Mr. Brown enters is an important and responsible one, but he is in every way competent for the place, as he has long been thoroughly posted with the duties. He has been one of the most faithful and competent employees in the service of the Union Pacific, and the promotion is a deserved one, and at the same time the selection is a very wise one on the part of the company, and will prove eminently satisfactory.

1881 "Pumping Begun," Omaha Daily Bee, August 9, 1881, Page 8.
The Ponderous Water Works Engine Started Yesterday.

1882 Omaha, Engineering News, 9:14 (January 14, 1882)

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

1885 "Lincoln," Omaha Daily Bee, August 8, 1885, Page 5.
Some Points About the New Sewer Engineer, Chester B. Davis
The attention of Lincoln people at present la more or less directed toward public improvements of all kinds and in order to have them of a substantial character, care should be taken that competent persons have them in charge; those who have the welfare of Lincoln at heart and are honest and capable besides.  At the last two meetings of the city council some action was taken with regard to a survey for a sewerage system, and Mayor Burr recommended the appointment of Chester B. Davis, a so-called sanitary engineer from Chicago.  A proposition has been made by that individual to make a survey of the city for sewers and charge only $2,000 for his services from this time to January 1, 1886. Mr. Davis requires, however, that the amount shall be paid him in advance.
Mr. Davis is not an entire stranger in Nebraska and for the benefit of a confiding public his immediate history will be given. He came to Omaha during the time work was being done on the river front at that point under government auspices, and was a raw graduate from the Troy Polytechnic school and was without an hour's practical experience. Max Boehmer had charge of the work and in a short time Mr. Davis severed his connection with the rip-rapping and opened on engineer's office In Omaha.
When the water works were projected at that city considerable difficulty was experienced In finally deciding the proper system. At length H. H. Cook , a very competent engineer from Toledo, Ohio, drew plans with were accepted and adopted by the company and work was commenced.
Nathan Shelton, at that time an employee of the Union Pacific railroad, became interested In the works, and through his instrumentality Davis was given employment in the water works, and after the work had progressed to the given stage, Cook was displaced and Davis given supervision.  It is alleged that this was due to a put up job between Shelton, himself, and one or two others for interested motives.  Any way the work done under Davis was extravagantly done, and In the opinion and knowledge of stockholders of the company, the plan cost about $75,000, more than it should on account of the loose and ignorant management of Davis.  He was finally let out of this job, and then went into the iron founding business with a citizen of Omaha named Richards.  He soon ran that business In the ground.  After that, Nathan Shelton, at present of Evanston, III., started out to build water works through the states of Iowa and Illinois.  He took Davis with him as stool pigeon, and together, and by rather questionable methods they succeeded in securing contracts for building works in several small towns in the state  named.  Shelton would work a sentiment in favor of water works and get the clt1zens to call a special election for voting bonds and authorizing the work.  Mr. Davis would happen along, as an expert engineer, and Shelton would suggest that he draw the plans and do the work.  He always got It.
The twain have kept quiet for the past year and it is possible that Davis came to Lincoln on a skirmishing tour to see how things are.  Davis lives in Chicago, while Shelton, as stated, resides at Evanston which is a suburb of Chicago.  It is more than likely that these two gentlemen have their eyes fixed on Lincoln, an after Mr. Davis makes the survey, if Mayor Burr proposes to let him, Mr. Shelton will be on hand to do the work.

1885 "Lincoln," Omaha Daily Bee, August 12, 1885, Page 5.
Chester B. Davis Awarded the Contract for Sewerage Plant.
At the last mooting of the city council, Councilman Brock read a letter from Mayor Boyd, of Omaha, in which the latter states that Chester B. Davis, the engineer who is in Lincoln for the purpose of securing the work of surveying a system of sewerage, is a competent man and fully qualified for the work he desired to undertake. In his letter to Mr. Brock he does not deny that there are defects in the Omaha water works system, as engineered by Davis, but he charges the fault to the city council nf Omaha in not letting Davis have his way. Any one at all familiar with the water works at Omaha, knows perfectly well that the company is a private Institution, and that the works were constructed under the supervision of Nathan Shelton, the manager, and that the city council had no more to do with any defective work than if they had lived in Australia during their construction. Mayor Boyd, of Omaha, ought to know this important fact. The water works were accepted by the city council after their final completion, as they will fall into the hands of the city after twenty-five years, but of their immediate construction the city had nothing to do. Therefore Mr. Davis was free to act and plan as ho wanted to. He did plan, as heretofore stated in the Bee, with a direct loss to the water works company of over $65,000.

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

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

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

1893 "Omaha Water Works," United States Investor 3(41):13 (October 14, 1893)
To the holders of American Water Works Company (Omaha) 5 per cent and 6 per cent bonds.

1894 History of the City of Omaha, Nebraska, by James Woodruff Savage and John Thomas Bell
Pages 267-272: Chapter XXVII.  Omaha's System of Water Works.

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

1908 Omaha Water Co. v. City of Omaha, 162 Fed. 225, April 7, 1908, Circuit Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

1923  The story of Omaha from the pioneer days to the present time, by Alfred Rasmus Sorenson
Pages 626-629:  Waterworks

1942 Water supply : the story of Omaha's municipal water system.  

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce