Documentary History of American Water-works

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Pacific States
Oregon Oregon City

Oregon City, Oregon

Oregon City was founded in 1829 and in 1844 became the first U.S. city west of the Rocky Mountains to be incorporated.

The Oregon City Water Company was incorporated in 1854 with a capital stock of $30,000 by Horace Baker, Jacob M. Wair, Jos. N. Preacott, Peter G. Stewart and John Preson "for the purpose of furnishing the said city with a constant supply of fresh and pure water."  No evidence has been found that this company built anything.

The first water system was built in 1860 to supply water from a hydraulic ram at Daniel Harvey's mill to his residence.  The water also filled a large cistern in Main Street as well as supplied a fountain in front of Elijah Milwain's store at the corner of Main and Third streets.

The next water system in Oregon City was built in 1867 by the Oregon City Water Works Company, a partnership between George A. Pease, George Jerome, Charles P. Church, Stephen T. Church, and P. Shannon, distributing water by gravity through iron pipes.  The partnership was dissolved in 1868 and Pease became the sole proprietor.  It is not known how long this system operated.

Oregon City built its own water system in 1886, pumping water from the Willamette river into a reservoir and standpipe using water-power.

After a local typhoid epidemic in 1913 caused by polluted river water, local residents agitated for a water supply from the mountains.  In January, 1915, Oregon City bought rights to build a water line from the mouth of the South Fork River to Oregon City.  West Linn joined with Oregon City and the two shared the construction, maintenance, and water costs.  The two cities formed the South Fork Water Commission in March, 1915 and construction of the mountain line was completed in October of that year.  This line was shut down in 1985 and since then the lower Clackamas has supplied all of the water for Oregon City and West Linn.

Water is supplied by the South Fork Water Board and distributed by Oregon City.  The South Fork Water Board has a history page.

1854 An act to incorporate the Oregon City Water Company.  January 27, 1854.

1859 The Oregon Argus, September 24, 1859, Page 2.
Hydraulic Ram. - Mr. Milwain the other evening set up a hydraulic ram for Mr. Harvey, near his mill, for the purpose of supplying water to Mr. Harvey's residence.  The cistern in the street, containing 1,600 cubic feet, was filled in something near thirty-six hours, through a supply of pipe an inch in diameter.  The drive-pipe is three inches in diameter.  This ram is Douglas's patent, and will raise water ten feet for every foot fall.  As it stands now, it will carry water over the bluff.

1860 The Oregon Argus, June 30, 1860, Page 3.
Water Works. - Pipe has been laid from the cisterns on Main Street, so as to connect with the hydraulic ram at Mr. Harvey's mill.  By this means, the cisterns are kept filled with water, and a beautiful jet thrown up in front of Milwain's store.

1866 Oregon City Enterprise, December 1, 1866, Page 2.  | also here |
Letters to the Editor:
City Affairs.
Ed. Enterprise
Allow me through the medium of you paper to state a few facts to our growing population of the past and present City Council of Oregon City in relation to the Fire Department. There is a loud call for fire engines, or water pipes, and very justly so; as nothing is more needed with our rapid increase of buildings than some available protection from fire. Buy why blame the City Fathers and hearken to idle tales. Some ten years ago a strong effort was made to introduce water pipes through the streets of Oregon City. The Council went so far by a unanimous vote of the people (minus Mr. Holland) to levy a tax of one percent; they also procured of the Croton Works of New York, an estimate of pipes and hydrants, all of which at that time could have been laid down for three thousand dollars and owned by the city at that. But before the order was perfected a new Council came in (Democratic if you please) who in their wisdom resolved to lay the old Bill on the table and make a new one providing for pipes of wood. Fortunately the Bill proved a failure in the house, inasmuch as no estimate could be made satisfactory to Mayor Prescott – however, during the past summer, at the request of certain parties and in accordance with the wishes of the people, an ordinance was passed by the City Council granting a perpetual right of way through the streets, and all water privileges on the bluff, or through the city, for water works and the sole privilege of selling water to the best advantage for house uses, besides an annual payment of eight hundred dollars to furnish the city with water for fire purposes for fifteen or more years. What more can the City Fathers do – with an empty treasury? Although our city taxes are only seven mills on the dollar, nevertheless some people grumble at their reasonable assessments. One mill on the dollar additional to pay those expenses would be but a small hardship, to that of a conflagrated and consuming fire. The investment in water works would be a safe and lucrative one which at the lowest calculation would pay from two to three percent on the first outlay with a fair prospect of increasing in value. There is a great need of pure wholesome water; it is well known that most of the wells of the city are rendered muddy and unfit for use during winter rains, and are almost dry in summer, when two-thirds of the people below the bluff have no wholesome water. The fire cisterns, from decay, being dangerous are ordered to be filled up with dirt. The fire engine is very greatly out of repair – and certainly it is not advisable to buy a new one, when there is no access to water.
More Anon.

1867 Oregon City Enterprise, January 12, 1867, Page 3. | also here |
WATER WORKS – At the last meeting of the City council a proposition was submitted, providing for the laying of street mains, the erection of fire hydrants, and a reservoir with capacity sufficient to supply the city with water, for both private and public necessities. The proposition was referred to a committee, which now has the subject under consideration. It is earnestly hoped that some action may be had for the furtherance of the project. This will be the case, most likely, if the articles of the proposal are not at variance with the city charter.

1867 Oregon City Enterprise, March 16, 1867, Page 3. | also here |
FIRE DEPARTMENT – These past cold days of extraordinary high wind, have caused many of our citizens to “sleep with one eye open,” that they might be ready to start on the jump at any time to a fire alarm. We may yet possibly regret that we have no engine, or hook and ladder company. The Dalles, Portland, Vancouver, Salem – all these towns waited until they were partly destroyed by fires before they moved in the matter. They are now all well supplied. There may be some hope for this place. At an adjourned meeting of the City Council, held on the evening of the 9th, Mayor Barclay submitted a message recommending the formation of a department, and the immediate construction of hooks and ladders suitable for present use, also a strict enforcement of the ordinance requiring the city marshal to investigate the condition of stove pipes, flues, chimneys, etc. throughout the City. The Mayor asked the Council at the same time, to make some liberal offer as an inducement for the construction of water works and fire plugs on Main Street. The message was well received, and the Council passed an order offering $1,000 per annum, and the free privilege to sell water, to any company, corporation or individual who will come forward and lay the mains, construct the works, and put it into operation. The idea seems ridiculous, that we should do more than make this statement of the case. That the business would be profitable to those engaged in it, no doubt, yet it seems there are no persons who are able to carry out the plans, that regard it in very favorable light, from some cause. When the horses are stolen, then the stable will be securely fastened.

1867 Oregon City Enterprise, April 27, 1867, Page 3. | Also here |
WATER WORKS – At length the Oregon City Water Works Company is a fact. At a meeting of the City Council on Saturday evening last, a final accomplishment was effected and the city entered into an agreement with Messrs. Jerome, Pease and others to furnish water to street hydrants at the corners. The works will be erected the present season, and our devil is jubilant over the idea that it will not be necessary for him to pack the compound of oxygen and hydrogen very many days after the first of September.

1867 Oregon City Enterprise, May 18, 1867, Page 3. | also here |
OREGON CITY WATER WORKS – It is the intention of our townsmen Capt. George A. Pease, to leave for California today, where he goes for the purpose of obtaining water pipe for the Oregon City Water Works Company. The company are going ahead with a zeal that is very commendable, for the early completion of this much needed improvement.

1867 Oregon City Enterprise, June 22, 1867, Page 3.
Commenced. - We observed on Tuesday last that Messrs. McNamara and Endy were engaged in getting out building rock on the block, for the reservoir for the Oregon City Water Work Company.

1867 Oregon City Enterprise, July 6, 1867, Page 3.
Coming. - The pipes for the street mains of the Oregon City Water Works Company were ordered to come along as speedily as possible.  The preparatory work for erecting the reservoir on the bluff, is progressing fully.  Main street will have ten hydrants.  Won't that be healthy on a warm day.

1867 Oregon City Enterprise, July 20, 1867, Page 3.
Water Pipe. - C. W. Pope & Co. of this city, are now busily engaged in manufacturing the pipes for the Oregon City Water Works Company.

1867 Oregon City Enterprise, November 30, 1867, Page 3.
There can no longer be any doubt about the success of the Oregon City water works.  On Thursday last, with an inch and a half nozzle, as pretty a stream as was ever thrown came from the hydrant in front of our office, passing over the adjoining buildings - the highest in town, with perfect ease.  A stream was thrown over the woolen factory from a hydrant in that locality.  Four to six hydrants were open at one time.

1868 Oregon City Enterprise, July 18, 1868, Page 3.
The laying of cast iron pipes for street mains to the Oregon City Water Works, was commenced on Wednesday last.

1867 Oregon City Enterprise, June 13, 1868, Page 4.
Dissolution Notice. Oregon City Water Works Company.

1878 Pacific Coast Business Directory for 1876-78, Compiled by Henry G. Langley, San Francisco, 1875.
Pease George A, proprietor Oregon City Water Works

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

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

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

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

1913 "City Committee Water Report," Oregon City Courier, November 13, 1913, Page 1.

1914 Morning Oregonian, March 4, 1914, Page 7.
Declaring that the filtered water used in Oregon City is absolutely pure, J. E. Hedges, secretary of the Board of Water Commissioners, clashed today with Dr. L. A. Morris, chairman of the Pure Water League, who is promoting a campaign for a bond issue of $325,000 for a new supply of water from the South Fork of the Clackamas River.
Mr. Hedges read at length from bacteriological authorities. He said that not many people know what bacteria and colon bacilli are and he insisted that many false and slanderous statements had been made against the water supply of Oregon City. He asserted that Oregon City has the purest water at the faucet in the entire state.
Dr. Morris and L. Stipp controverted the statements of Mr. Hedges. They said the danger in the present supply of water was in the fact that the source was contaminated by human sewage. He admitted that the presence of some bacteria in water did not conclusively prove its impurity, but declared water was in serious danger from pollution when the source was considered.
H. L. Moody, who is marketing property in West Linn, said his community is anxious to obtain pure water from Oregon City. He confirmed a statement of Mr. Hedges that he had applied to the Board of Water Commissioners for permission to use a part of the present supply that came from the filters, but permission was refused on the ground of scarcity of water. 
George Randall defended the present supply and insisted that the filtered water is pure.

1915 A Picture Story of Pure Mountain Water from the South Fork of the Clackamas River to Oregon City and West Lynn, photographs by S. P. Davis.  Includes a map of the system.

1997 South Fork Clackamas River Watershed Analysis, February 1997

2016 The Week That Was, September 18, 2016
In March 1855 the City Council had approved the formation of McLoughlin Fire Company No. 1 and the purchase of a second-hand fire engine with pump. The volunteer fire department depended on cisterns along Main Street for water until 1865 when local businessman George Pease laid the first water pipes and hydrants along Main Street from the basin to Ninth Street, charging the City quarterly for use of the water for fire purposes. The pipes were filled from a reservoir on the property where the McLoughlin House now stands and used gravity to create pressure.

© 2017 Morris A. Pierce