Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Middle Atlantic States New York Batavia

Batavia, New York

Batavia was incorporated as a village in 1823 and as a city in 1915.

The village built a Holly water works system that was tested on December 14, 1869.  This was the first Holly works to use a quarter-crank gang pump in addition to a Holly rotary pump that was also used on earlier systems. The initial system was primarily for fire protection and was later expanded to provide a domestic supply.

Water is provided by the City of Batavia.

1864 An act to amend the charter of the Village of Batavia.  April 2, 1864.

1866 An act to amend chapter one hundred and forty of the laws of eighteen hundred and fifty-three, entitled "An act to consolidate and amend the several acts relating to the village of Batavia, to alter the bounds and enlarge the powers of the corporation of said village," and also to amend chapter one hundred and eight of the laws of eighteen hundred and sixty-four, entitled "An act to amend the charter of the village of Batavia." February 8, 1866.

1869 B. Holly's System of Fire Protection and Water Supply for Cities and Villages, Third Edition | Holly pump for Batavia, from a different copy of this pamphlet |
Page 28:  Batavia, N.Y.
The ninth set of works constructed by the Holly Company was for the beautiful village of Batavia. It has a population of about 3,000—is probably the wealthiest village of its size in the State—and could well afford to protect the property within its borders from destruction by fire. The works for Batavia are to be propelled by steam, and are guaranteed to throw from hydrants four streams at a time, 100 feet high. The works are primarily for fire purposes, but will be used especially in the summer for sprinkling the streets and watering the lawns connected with the many beautiful residences of that village. The machinery is finished and awaits shipment when the building in process of erection for it is complete. A view of this machinery—so far as it can be shown in one view—as set up in the manufactory, may be seen on the cover of this pamphlet.  There are very many other villages which would find this set of machinery admirably adapted to their wants for tire protection and water supply. 

1869 "Trial of the Water Works," The Republican Advocate (Batavia, New York), December 16, 1869, Page 3.
On Tuesday we witnessed a trial of the Water Works recently put up under the direction of the Haweley Manufacturing Company of Lockport, and we should judge that the trial must have been satisfactory, as to the power of the Engine and the p1an by which the water was forced through the pipes and hose.  We were present at the engine house and saw the fire set to the fuel, and in less than fourteen minutes the indicator showed that the engine had seventy pounds of steam on. The engine could have been set to work with twenty-five pound, but Mr. Hawley, the builder, wanted to show the Trustees and spectators what the machine would do. At this time the steam was applied to the engine, and in an instant the ponderous machinery was in motion. Almost immediately, on looking up Main street, we saw the effects. On the corner of State, Jackson and Center streets, were three streams of water rising to the height of the tallest steeple. Indeed, the jets went several feet above the top of the steeple of the new Methodist Church - much the tallest one in town. At the same time another stream was high in air on Jackson street, near the railroad. Water was thrown many feet over the battlements of the building on the corner of Main and State streets, formerly the Genesee House, and that, too, with sufficient force to have quenched the hottest fire.
We do not know what the Trustees thought of the trial, but for our part, we can hardly imagine a more satisfactory test, unless it were a real conflagration, and that would be hardly worth the while to get up for the purpose.
The only fault we can find with the works is that it requires so many mean to get the engine running, in tending the fire and fanning the flames.  This looks like a bad features.

1869 "The Batavia Water Works," Progressive Batavian, December 17, 1869, Page 4
The apparatus secured to our village for the purpose of suppressing fires, and thus enhancing the security and value of our property, was thoroughly tested on Tuesday last, and demonstrated an efficiency highly satisfactory to our citizens. We have little time or room to particularize this week, and it must suffice to say that in just ten minutes after the fire was kindled, the steam gauge indicated thirty pounds of steam — and in thirteen and one fourth minutes sixty pounds. Hose pipes were attached to the hydrants at four different points in our village, and four unbroken, one-inch streams were thrown, at the same time, to a height exceeding one hundred feet. We are told that the Engine costs $9,000; that a mile and a quarter of water-pipe has been laid in our streets at an aggregate cost of $8,000, and that other expenses, including the cost of the Engine House and Fireman's Building, will swell the total to about $30,000. These figures seem pretty steep, but, if they proportionately increase the security of iur property, can well be afforded..

1882 Batavia, Engineering News, 9:39 (February 4, 1882)

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

1885 "Angry Workmen," The Norwood News (Norwood, New York), September 15, 1885, Page 2.
Batavia decided to build water works at a cost of $50,000.  The decision was largely due to the vote of the laboring men of the place, who supposed they would get plenty to do while the works were building.  A large number of Italians were recently imported, as laboring men believe, to do the work at 75 cents per day.  Friday night a meeting of angry men was held in the streets.  Speeches inflammatory in Character, alternated with more conservative counsels were made.  A member of the water commissioner's board tried to explain matters to the indignant workmen, but he was hissed off the platform.

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

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

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

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

2015 The History of Batavia: 1801-2015, by Larry D. Barnes, Batavia City Historian
1861-1871 - The most significant improvement in infrastructure was a set of hydrants for the purpose of providing water to fight fires in the downtown area. It served as the forerunner of a Village-wide municipal water system.
A proposal to provide hydrants was first advanced no later than 1868 (“Batavia Water Works,” Spirit of the Times, Batavia, N.Y., 17 October 1868). Actual construction took place in 1869. Hydrants were located in four places: the corner of Main and State, the corner of Main and Jackson, the corner of Main and Center, and on Jackson near the railroad tracks. (“Batavia Water Works,” Spirit of the Times, Batavia, N.Y., 18 December 1869) A pumping station for supplying water appears to have been near the Creek south of the intersection of West Main and Ellicott streets. A total of 1-1/4 miles of pipe were required for the installation (The Western New Yorker, Warsaw, N.Y., 23 December 1869).
The hydrants were not pressurized unless a fire had broken out. It then took 14 minutes to reach 70 lb. of steam pressure, although the system could operate with as little as 25 lb. At 70 lb. of pressure, streams of water could exceed the height of the tallest church steeple. It was claimed that there was “sufficient force to…quench the hottest fire.” (“Batavia Water Work,” Spirit of the Times, Batavia, N.Y., 18 December 1869)
The 60 horsepower steam engine was manufactured in Lockport (“What We See and What We Hear,” Spirit of the Times, Batavia, N.Y., 10 July 1869). The engine, plus the hydrants, pipes, engine house, and firemen’s building cost about $30,000 (The Western New Yorker, Warsaw, N.Y., 23 December 1869). According to William Seaver, the only fault of the system was that it required many men to get the engine running, to tend the fire, and to fan the flames (“Batavia Water Work,” Spirit of the Times, Batavia, N.Y., 18 December 1869).
1871-1888 - However, in this decade, an extensive system of water mains was built. By October of 1877, workmen had laid 20,000 feet of water mains that served most of the principal streets. Hydrants were placed “at all desirable locations.” Apparently the primary mains ran down Main Street (and East and West Main), since “strap valves” were reportedly installed at most of the streets “diverging from Main.” These valves were provided in order to shut off water flow in an emergency. According to the Spirit of the Times, Batavia thus had water for extinguishing fires and for general purposes surpassed by no other village of its size in the State. (“Batavia Water Works,” Spirit of the Times,” Batavia, N.Y. 13 October 1877)
Water for the mains came from the Tonawanda Creek via a pumping station located south of the intersection of Ellicott and West Main streets. The pump (or pumps) was powered by steam. The steam was generated by either a wood- or coal-fired boiler, probably the latter. (It is known that new boilers installed a decade later were coal-fired, but it is not clear whether the earlier one was.)
1881-1890 - Water mains supplying water throughout the Village were built in the 1870s with most of the principal streets being served by 1877. The water was supplied by a pumping station located on the Creek south of the intersection of Ellicott and West Main streets. This appears to have been below the dam and near the Genesee Country Mills, a facility, at least originally, powered by water impounded by the dam. In August of 1884, the mill structure burned and soon afterwards the property was purchased by Village authorities for the purpose of building a new pumping station. (Frederick W. Beers, Gazetteer and Biographical Record of Genesee County, N.Y. 1788-1890 [Syracuse, N.Y.: J. W. Vose & Co., Publisher, 1890] p. 186)
By September of 1884, the work of setting boilers for the new water works was about complete. A smokestack 80 ft. tall was erected. Work was also proceeding on a building, measuring 20 x 98 ft., to house the boilers. In the course of this construction, the Village Trustees decided to lay a feeder line from a point somewhere above the dam, rather than from the then current location below the dam, in order to insure a more wholesome water supply. (“Local Record,” Progressive Batavian, Batavia, N.Y., 5 September 1884) The new water works were completed by January of 1886 (The Daily News, Batavia, N.Y., 20 January 1886), apparently a good thing since the roof on the old water works building burned the month before (The Daily News, Batavia, N.Y., 11 December 1885).
Coal was used to fire the boilers of the water works, as was clearly indicated in the specifics of a law suit brought against the Village by George Brisbane in 1886. Brisbane complained that smoke and cinders emitted from the water works chimney fouled the water of his cistern in his home across West Main Street. (The suit appears to have later been dropped.) (Larry Barnes, The Brisbanes of Batavia [Batavia, N.Y.: self-published, 2009] p. 12).
In April of 1887, an article in The Daily News reported on plans to further extend the Village water mains (The Daily News, Batavia, N.Y., 13 April 1887). By 1888, there were 8-1/2 miles of water mains ranging in diameter from 4-in. to 12-in. (Batavia Village Miscellaneous Directory, 1888, Genesee County History Department, Batavia, N.Y.) In May of 1890, the Village Trustees voted to add another 3,900 ft. of new water pipe (“To Extend Water Mains,” The Daily News, Batavia, N.Y., 24 May 1890).

© 2018 Morris A. Pierce