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July 26, 1800 letter from Dr. Joseph Browne to Judge Aedanus Burke in Charleston, South Carolina

Dr. Joseph Browne was the superintendent of the Manhattan Company's Water WorksJudge Aedanus Burke from Charleston was a congressman and Chief Judge of South Carolina.

Charleston City Gazette, August 27, 1800, page 2 | Also in the Carolina Gazette, August 28, 1800, page 2 | Independent Gazetteer (Worcester, Massachusetts), October 7, 1800, page 4


Copy of a letter from Mr. Joseph Browne, to the honorable Judge Burke, New-York, July 26, 1800

Dear sir, your favor of the 29th May did not come to hand before yesterday.  I take the earliest opportunity to thank you for the very flattering manner in which you speak of the memoir I gave to the corporation of this city, and one of the success attending its execution.  Many of the principles contained in that pamphlet are equally applicable to Charleston.  It would be extremely gratifying to me, if my feeble efforts should in any degree tend to promote that interest of that city.  When we consider the genius, activity, and penetration of the inhabitants of our maritime cities, it is very astonishing, that the want of pure wholesome water, which so essentially contributes to health and comfort, should have continued to the present time, particularly when an adequate quantity of good, might in all of them be procured, at less expence than their scanty supply of bad.

It gives me great pleasure to find, by your letter, than the city of Charleston might be furnished with this desirable article, from a source only ten miles distant.  This distance, compared with the object in view, is of trifling consequence: it would however be possible to point out that the best mode of conducting it to the city, without precise information respecting the quantity of water wanted and to be procured, and without a topographical knowledge of the country.

The benevolent interest you take in the success of the undertaking here, and the desire you express to acquire information for a similar project with you, induce me to communicate with you most willingly, every knowledge I possess of the subject.

The wells and machinery for pumping water were completed on the 1st of September last, from which time to the beginning of November, about 3 miles of pipes of conduit were laid through the streets.  As soon as the frost had left the ground, that is, about the 1st of April, the works were again resumed, and we have now, on the 26th July, more than nine miles of pipes laid, and upwards of 600 families supplied with water from the acqueducts; besides, five fountains were erected on the margin of the North and East rivers, for the purpose of watering the shipping in the harbour.  The pipes of conduit through the principal streets are 4 inch bore; those through the intersecting streets, are of 2 inch bore.  Fire plugs are placed in the pipes, at the distance of about 200 feet from each other.  The houses are supplied with water from the mains through leaden pipes, which are laid at the expence of the proprietors or occupants.  As the water is intended to be constantly received from the pipes, it has not been thought necessary to regulate the size of this small pipe; in general they are about half an inch diameter.  The price paid by the inhabitants for water, is in proportion to the number of fire places that the house contains, being rated at one dollar 25 cents for each fire place per annum; no house, however, is to pay less than 5 dollars per annum, nor more than 20.  From this regulation are excepted taverns, stables, and manufactories requiring an extra supply of water.  The expences hitherto incured do not amount to 45,000 dollars, including the lands purchased for the wells, reservoirs, &c.  The reservoir is not yet finished; it will contain 100,000 gallons, and will cost about 12,000 dollars, being to be faced with marble.  When it was contemplated to bring the water from a distant source, it was proposed to build the reservoir to contain a million of gallons, as a fund in case of fire, or of any other delays that might arise from temporary repairs to the pumps, pipes, &c.  But as the water now used is taken from a well near the center of the city, it has been thought better, instead of a large reservoir, to sink two wells, and erect two sets of pumps, by which means a greatly certainly of water is obtained at a less expence.  Each set of pumps, (that is, three pumps worked by a triple crank) is capable of raising 250,000 gallons of water per 24 hours; to the heighth of 60 feet, and costs 2,500 dollars each, including machinery, and every way complete for working; but exclusive of horses and buildings.  These pumps require the power of four horses to work them, and whenever it shall be necessary to work them constantly, each set will require four relays of horses; at present we find eight horses enough.

Having thus given you a short history of the Manhattan water works, I will endeavor to answer your interrogatories.

To answer the first, with any tolerable precision, it ought to be known for what purposes the water is intended to be used; that is, whether for mere culinary objects, or for washing, bathing, &c.  In New-York the water distributed through the pipes contains a small quantity of muriate of magnesia; it therefore curdles slightly a solution of soap in water, and is not the most proper for washing.  As it is excellent for all other purposes, this circumstance, is not much regretted here, as almost all the houses are furnished with rain water cisterns.  Our calculation has been, that 50 gallons of water per day for each house, will be sufficient for the necessities of families, one with another, and if they can be prevented from wasting it.  I have no doubt it will be enough. To prevent any great waste of water, it is not permitted to any person to have the pipe place in such a situation as, by turning the cock, the water can be discharged into the street or common sewer.

2d.  250,000 gallons of water can be raised every 24 hours to the heighth of 60 feet, by 16 horses and two drivers.  Horse pumps are so simple and durable in their structure, that they require but little intelligence in those who take care of them.  The pumps in New-York are at present worked by contract; the contractor finds eight horses and one driver, and is to keep the pumps and machinery in repair for 1500 dollars per annum.  The water is forced up nearly 60 feet, to a cistern which contains 10,600 gallons, from whence it is distributed through the city.

3d.  In New-York we have made use of pipes of iron and wood.  Those of iron, are 7 inches diameter, and convey the water from the well to the cistern, a distance of our 400 feet, and cost 3 dollars per foot, including the putting down.  The wooden pipes are bored by contract for 8 cents per foot, running measure, for a 4 inch bore; and 5 cents per foot for a 2 inch.  The same person who bored the logs, lays them in the trenches for 4 cents per foot, and warrants the joints tight.  The logs which are of white pine, and 14 feet in length, cost, delivered in the water alongside of the boring machine, one dollars each; they are not to be less than 12 inches diameter at the smallest end.  The trenches are dug at 88 cents per rod, which are 3 1/2 feet deep, 18 inches wide at the bottom and 3 feet at the top.  These trenches, when the  pipes are laid in them, are filled in again and the streets paved at 50 cents per rod.  Into the butt end of each pipe an iron ring is driven, to prevent it from splitting, which costs 21 cents.  For drawing the legs to the shore at the boring mill, is paid 12 cents each, and as much for carting it to the trenches.  Pipes made of potter's ware have lately been made in England; nothing can be sweeter than such pipes, or more durable, barring accidents, but they are liable to be broken; and when broken, difficult to be repaired.

4th.  When a city is to be furnished with water from a distant source, it is obvious that the supply must be precarious, in proportion to the length of the pipe, and the materials made use of.  The size of the reservoir ought therefore to be proportioned to the risk of daily supply.  In the proceeding part of my letter, I have already mentioned the capacity and expence of the reservoir building here.

5th.  The small lateral pipes, extending from the mains to the houses, are generally made of lead; some few have been made of wood; the expence is about 50 cents per foot, including the taking up and replacing the pavement, &c.

6th  When the whole of the work shall be compleated, an intelligent mechanic will alone be competent to keep them in repair.  In New-York it is intended that the whole of the works shall be under the charge of a superintendent, with an adequate salary, who will likewise have in his department the collecting of the revenue, and all of the concerns belonging thereto.

Lastly, If the municipality of Charleston should think property to engage in this business, I think I can send to them persons every which to be relied on for carrying it into effect.  And if if should be thought that my personal services on the spot could any way facilitate the undertaking, I would visit your city any time after November next.

I have the Honor to be, with esteem and respect, your most humble servant.  Joseph Browne.

2015 Morris A. Pierce