Documentary History of American Water-works

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Middle Atlantic States New York Poughkeepsie

Poughkeepsie, New York

Poughkeepsie was founded about 1735.

The Poughkeepsie Water Works was incorporated in 1831, with Walter Cunningham, James Hooker, Gilbert Brewster, William Thomas and Alexander Forbus appointed as commissioners for the purpose of furnishing a supply of water for the village of Poughkeepsie.  This company apparently didn't accomplish anything, but the village in 1833 passed an ordinance to build a reservoir and piping network for fire protection.  This was completed in 1835 at a cost of $30,000.

The Poughkeepsie Aqueduct and Hydraulic Company was incorporated in 1853 by Matthew Vassar, Seward Barculo, James Hooker, John Thompson, George C. Marshall, James Bowne and Samuel B. Dutton, to furnish water to the village of Poughkeepsie, for the purpose of extinguishing fires, upon such terms as may be agreed upon between them and the trustees of said village. The said company may make any agreements, contracts, grants and leases for the sale, use and distribution of water, and for the use and distribution of any surplus steam or mechanical power, as may be agreed upon between said company and any per son or persons, associations and corporations, which agreements, contracts, grants, and leases shall be valid and effectual in law.  An 1855 law allowed the city of Poughkeepsie to lease their existing water works, but nothing came of this.

An 1867 law allowed for the election of water commissioners, and John P. Kirkwood was engaged to design a new system that included the first filtration system in an American water works.  This system pumped water from the Hudson River using two steam engines, one to serve the filter beds and the second to pump filtered water into an elevated reservoir.  The filter beds were not well maintained until about 1880, and were expanded in 1894.  They were the subject of much study and discussion.

Water is provided by the City of Poughkeepsie.

1831 An act to incorporate "The Poughkeepsie Water-Works." March 30, 1831.

1834 "Village Water Works," Poughkeepsie Journal, January 15, 1834, Page 3.

1836 Gazetteer of the state of New York, by Thomas Francis Gordon
Page 431-432: Poughkeepsie Village. Since 1831, more than one hundred thousand dollars have been expended in opening, regulating, and paving streets; over twenty-five thousand dolalrs have been laid out in the construction of a reservoir, pipes, &c., for supplying the vilage with water for the extinguishment of fires. 

1853 An act to incorporate the Poughheepsie Aqueduct and Hydraulic Company.  April 11, 1853.

1854 An act to incorporate the city of Poughkeepsie.  March 18, 1854.
15. To regulate and keep in repair the reservoir, hydrants, water pipes and the public wells in said city, and to regulate the taking and using water from the same.

1855 An act to amend the charter of the city of Poughkeepsie, and to enable the city to provide a supply of pure and wholesome water for the inhabitants thereof.  April 12, 1855.
Section 1. The common council of the city of Poughkeepsie are hereby authorised to contract with any hydraulic company that is now formed or may hereafter be formed, for the purpose of supplying the city with pure and wholesome water, and shall have power to lease the reservoir, water pipes, hydrants, &c, now belonging to said city, for a term not exceeding fifty years.

1867 An act to provide for a supply of water in the City of Poughkeepsie, and for sewers therein.  April 12, 1867.

1869 An act to amend an act entitled "An act to provide for a supply of water in the city of Poughkeepsie and for sewers therein," passed April twelve, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, and to repeal chapter four hundred and
seventy-five of the laws of eighteen hundred and sixty-eight
. April 27, 1869.

1871 An act to amend an act entitled "An act to provide for a supply of water in the city of Poughkeepsie, and for sewers therein," passed April twelve, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven.  April 19, 1871.

1872 An act to amend "An act to provide for a supply of water in the city of Poughkeepsie, and for sewers therein," passed April twelfth, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven; and, also, to amend an act entitled "An act to amend an act entitled 'An act to provide for a supply of water in the city of Poughkeepsie, and for sewers therein,' " passed April twelfth, eighteen hun dred and sixty-seven, passed April ninth, eighteen hundred and seventy ; and, also to amend an act entitled "An act to amend an act entitled 'An act to provide for a supply of water in the city of Poughkeepsie, and for sewers therein,' " passed April twelfth, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, passed April nineteenth, eighteen hundred and seventy-one.  March 23, 1872.

1872 Daily Albany Argus, April 16, 1872, Page 2.
The large engine of the Poughkeepsie city water works was run for the first time on Friday last, and everything proved satisfactory.

1874 "The Worthington Pumping Engines at Poughkeepsie," by Richard H. Buel, The Engineering and Mining Journal 18:214 (October 3, 1874)

1881 Poughkeepsie, Engineering News, 8:313 (August 6, 1881)

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

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

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

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

1892 "The Filter Beds at Poughkeepsie, N. Y.," by Chas. E. Fowler, Superintendent Water-Works and Sewers. Engineering News 27:432-433 (April 28, 1892)

1893 Engineering News 29: 456 (May 18, 1893)
An unprecedented development of algae occurred on the filter beds of the water-works at Poughkeepsie, N. Y., in July, and continued until October. 1892. The algae grew upon the sand surface of the beds and in from 10 to 12 days, and in one instance in seven days, completly stopped filtration until removed. Beneath the suspended platforms used for cleaning the filter beds, which float in the water when not in use, no algae developed, nor did they in the covered intermediate and clear water basins. Water is pumped from the Hudson River. Mr. Chas. E. Fowler is superintendent.

1893 "Water Purification in America," Engineering News 30:94-95 (August 3, 1893)

1895 Engineering News 33: 470 (June 27, 1895)  Discussion about cover filter beds in Poughkeepsie to avoid the growth of algae.

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

1898 "The Operation of a Slow Sand Filter," by Charles E. Fowler, Superintendent and Engineer of Public Works, Poughkeepsie, N. Y. Read March 9, 1898.  Journal of the New England Water Works Association, 12(4):208-244 (June, 1898)

1905  The Eagle's History of Poughkeepsie: From the Earliest Settlements 1683 to 1905, by Edmund Platt
Pages 119-120: The Reservoir and the Big Fire of 1836.
The establishment of the first central water supply. was not effected without a long struggle. A water company was incorporated in 183I, but seems not to have done any work, and apparently its incorporators. Walter Cunningham. James Hooker. Gilbert Brewsetr, William Thomas and Alexander Forbus, did not oppose action by the village. The first definite action recorded was the resolution of March 1st, I833. passed by a “Meeting of the Trustees together with Freeholders and inhabitants" as follows:
Resolved that the Trustees be Authorized and empowered to purchase a Lot in their disgression for the purpose of erecting a cistern or fountain sufficient to supply the village with water from the Fallkill for the extinguishment of fires and leading the same over the village in pipes. if it shall be found expedient so to do and the following gentlemen shall be a committee associated with the Trustees for the purpose of determining as to the Expediency. Viz: James Hooker, Walter Cunningham, Matthew Vassar, Richard D. Davis and Rufus Potter.
The committee began to meet difficulties at the start. the most serious from the owners of mill privileges and water rights on the Fall Kill. Henry Swift, one of the leading lawyers of the day, gave a formal opinion that the trustees had the right to take water from the creek, and John Brush gave a contrary opinion at a meeting held July 25th. There was also a remonstrance from James Reynolds, Aaron Innis and other owners of mill privileges, and another from “Thomas Sweet. James Emott and ninety-one other individuals” asking that action be deferred. The trustees, under the presidency of George P. Oakley, nevertheless went ahead. At a special meeting August Ist “it was resolved unanimously that the Trustees proceed to build the reservoir. and lay pipes from it to the Dutch Reformed Church.” They had already chosen the Reservoir site on land purchased for $I,000 of Captain Joseph Harris on the top of the hill since known as Cannon Street Hill. A meeting of the “Freeholders and Inhabitants" authorized an expenditure not to exceed $15000. Then there was a law suit over water rights. but finally on May 10th. 1834, it is recorded that “Captain Harris delivered the deed to the village for Reservoir lots” and the Eagle of November 4th, 1835, rejoiced that the reservoir had at last beeen completed at a cost of $30,000. and controversies settled. It was to be used only for extinguishing fires.
The severe drought of that fall prevented it from getting any water until after the middle of December, and it was temporarily out of water again, undergoing repairs on the memorable night of Thursday, May 12th, 1836, when “Poughkeepsie was visited by the most extensive fire that has ever been known in this place,” words still true to-day. From the brick building now occupied by Charles L. Dates it burned all buildings on the south side of Main Street to Academy. When the fire broke out at 11.30 in the shop of Messrs. Gorman & Nelson, cabinet makers, there was a strong south wind blowing and the flames spread very rapidly. Sparks set fire to the roofs of several houses on the north side of the street “being all of wood and dry as tinder." The destruction of all the northern part of the village seemed inevitable, but, “At this critical and frightful juncture, (the forcing pump for supplying the reservoir having been put in operation almost as soon as the fire appeared) an abundant supply came down from the reservoir, and most fortunately at this time also the wind subsided to a calm."
Pages 210-214:  "The Water System."

1909 "The Poughkeepsie Water Works," by Dr. John C. Otis, Read September 9, 1909. Journal of the New England Water Works Association 23(3):283-301 (September 1909)

1910 "Poughkeepsie Water Works," Municipal Journal and Engineer, 28(4):102 (January 16, 1910)
Amount of Purification Secured by Sedimentation - Disinfecting with Chlorine - Results from Sand Filters.

1919 "Poughkeepsie's Water Supply," by E. W. Sylvester, Superintendent of Public Works, Fire and Water Engineering, 66(13):689-690 (September 24, 1919)

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce