Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Pacific States
Oregon Portland

Portland, Oregon

Portland was incorporated in 1851. 

The first waterworks were built by John Cline, Robert Pentland, and Stephen Coffin in 1857.  Pentland also built the first water works in The Dalles in 1862.

The works were sold in 1861 to Henry D. Green, his brother John Green, and Herman C. Leonard, who formed the Portland Water Company and built a more extensive system using 600 tons of cast-iron pipes Leonard purchased in New York City and brought to Portland on a chartered ship..

The City of Portland took possession of the Portland Water Company on January 3, 1887.

The waterworks are currently owned by the City of Portland Water Bureau, which has a good history page.

1857 "Mayor's Message," The Weekly Oregonian, April 25, 1857, Page 1.
The water works constructed by Stephen Coffin, Esq., and others, is worthy of the highest praise, and the projectors of the same, I trust, will reap the reward the undertaking is justly entitled to."

1858 "Water Pipes," by John S. Hawkins, New England Farmer 10:89 (February 1858)
I have laid about two miles of log pipe, to furnish the city of Portland with water.  The fountain head is not sufficient, and another pipe will be laid down.  I wish to know whether clay pipe wil do, and what pressure it will bear.  The pipe can be made here.

1858 "The Water Works," Weekly Oregonian, August 14, 1858, Page 2.
Robert Pentland has purchased the "water works" granted by the City Council to Caruthers and others.  His purpose is to improve and extend the same so that a bountiful supply of water can be furnished to every house in the city at all seasons of the year.

1862 Oregonian, April 19, 1862, Page 3.
Notice.  We have this day sold to H. D. Green the property known as the Portland Water Works, and all rights and privileges pertaining thereto; and the said H. D. Green is hereby authorized to collect and receipt for all bills due for Water rents from and after the 1st of April, 1862. 
Robert Pentland, S. Coffin
Portland, April 12th, 1862.

1862 Morning Oregonian, May 16, 1862, Page 3.
Notice to Takers of Water of the Portland Water Works.

1867 "Portland Water Company," Sacramento Daily Union, October 18, 1867, Page 3.
The Portland Water Company, organized last spring with $800,000 capital, and General George F. Shepley as President, will commence immediately the construction of works to bring the water to the city from Lake Sebago, and will probably have them completed and in operation next year.  The American Water and Gas Pipe Company of Jersey City, New Jersey, will manufacture all of the pipe requisite, establishing a permanent branch in Portland for the purpose.

1872 "Holly Water Works," Weekly Oregon Statesman (Salem, Oregon), March 27, 1872, Page 4.
Meeting in Portland to hear President T. T. Flagler of the Holly Company.

1883 Portland, Engineering News, 10:184 (April 21, 1883)

1885 "The Water Proposition," The Morning Oregonian, June 19, 1885, Page 2.

1885 "P. F. Morey Hydraulic Elevator company proposal," The Morning Astorian, June 20, 1885, Page 3.

1885 "The City Council. The Morey water ordinance passes," and "The Morey Injunction," The Morning Oregonian, June 25, 1885, Page 9.

1885 An act to amend an Act entitled “An Act to Incorporate the City of Portland,” approved October 24, 1882.  November 25, 1885.

1886 "The Waterworks," Morning Oregonian, December 11, 1886, Page 4.

1886 "Details of the Sale." Agreement Between the Water Company and the Committee," Morning Oregonian, December 14, 1886, Page 8.

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

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

1890 History of Portland, Oregon: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers, by Harvey Whitefield Scott
Pages 188-189: Water works. The necessity of a sufficient supply of pure water for the city was
early recognized, and by the first charter the city was authorized to build and operate water works. In preference, however, to carrying on this work by supervision of the municipality, a water company was formed and invested with power to conduct the business.  Works were erected in 1851, the supply of water being from the springs in hills near town, which were sufficient for all needs.  Within a number of years the old wooden works were superceded by a capacious and well constructed reservoir of brick and stone on Fourth street. As the city increased in population and the consumption of water became great, the springs failed to meet the demand, and recourse was had to the Willamette, from which an increasingly large proportion has been pumped, until it is now practically the sole source. While in the Spring and Autumn the water of our river is remarkably pure and wholesome, it is very liable to pollution from the sewerage of towns from up the river, from the general drainage of the valley, and in the Summer freshet of the Columbia by the sewerage of Portland itself, as it is carried up the river by the backward-setting current, sometimes caused by the rapid rise of the stream below. Moreover, it is thick with mud during times of Winter freshets. The pumping apparatus has been placed some three miles above the city, and the water is drawn deep from the bed of the stream.
Some years since the reservoir on Tenth street was abandoned for a larger one, built on Seventh and Lincoln streets, near the foot of the hill, at a much greater elevation. The circle of buildings on the skirts of the hills, still above the reservoir, is supplied from small reservoirs which are fed by springs and located conveniently in the ravines.
Great efforts have been made to provide for bringing an inexhaustable supply of presumably fresh and pure water from some one of the many streams of the Cascade mountains. The enterprise which calls for an expenditure of not less than $5,000,000 has met with temporary reverses, but will not be much longer delayed.
After many years trial of the method of water supply by a private company, it was seen that this was not the most economical. It was also generally recognized that an article like water, an absolute necessity of life, ought not to be subject to private monopoly.  Accordingly, by legislative act, in 1885, the city was fully empowered to provide water works of its own. A committee was appointed by this act, consisting of the following men, then residents of Portland: John Gates, F. C. Smith, C. H. Lewis, Henry Failing, W. S. Ladd, Frank Dekum, L. Fleischner, H. W. Corbett, W. L. K. Smith, J. Loewenberg, S. G. Reed, R. B. Knapp, L. Therkelson, Thomas M. Richardson and A. H. Johnson. They were to be a permanent body, with plenary power, and independent of all others, filling vacancies in their number by their own act. Bonds to the amount of $500,000 might be issued by them for purchasing or building works, and laying mains and pipes. The plant of the old company was acquired with the new reservoir on Lincoln and Seventh streets. Under the present management it is intended to charge rates only sufficient to meet expenses. The receipts for 1888 were $79,530.09 and disbursements, $78,524.85, including $25,000 interest on $500,000 bonds. The management is efficient and economical. Mr. Henry Failing is president and Mr. P. C. Schuyler, clerk of the committee.
Page 536:  Henry D. Green, In 1861, Mr. Green, in connection with his brother and H. C. Leonard, purchased the Portland water works from the original grantee, Robert Pentland. At that time the whole plant consisted of less than one mile of small wooden pipe, and the source of water supply was the small stream in Caruther's canyon, where a pump was located in the saw mill at the foot of Mill street. Mr. Green at once commenced the foundations of the present water system of the city. He was president of the company and at the date of his death, the corporation had grown to be one of the strongest in the city. The plant had been yearly increased to keep pace with the growth of the city until over thirty miles of iron mains, from three to thirty inches, had been laid within and without the city. The three reservoirs now in use and the substantial pumping works, with a daily capacity of 12,000,000 gallons were constructed under his personal supervision.
Pages 631-632:  Parker Farnsworth Morey. At Portland he entered into a contract to put in a hydraulic ram elevator. A large amount of money had been spent in a previous attempt to put in such an elevator, but without success owing to beds of gravel below the surface. After great difficulty Mr. Morey was successful on his contract, although the whole community had predicted failure. Seeing that Portland was not supplied with elevators and that he could be successful in such a business, he obtained sufficient backing and organized the Portland Hydraulic Elevator Company, for the particular purpose of supplying freight elevators. Mr. Morey has been, since the formation of this company, and is now its vice-president and manager. The success of this company is due almost wholly to inventions of Mr. Morey, making a now perfect hydraulic telescope ram elevator. This telescope elevator is necessary at Portland, owing to the fact that there are several successive layers of boulders and gravel lying beneath the surface. These layers of gravel make it extremely difficult to put in a hydraulic ram elevator unless it be of a telescope pattern.
In 1883, through Mr. Morey's efforts, after considerable opposition, Portland entered into a contract with the Elevator Company to furnish high pressure hydrants for the extinguishment of fires. It was these hydrants which saved Portland twice in one week from the fires at the Esmond Hotel and Coloma Dock. These fires were both of incendiary origin. But for the elevator hydrants either of these fires would undoubtedly have been more disastrous than the Seattle or Spokane Falls fires. The hydrants in extinguishing these fires more than paid the contract price for the whole term of ten years for which they were put in.
The success of the Portland Hydraulic Elevator Company, under Mr. Morey's management, aroused the hostility of the Portland Water Company. This water company with its inefficient service and high rates are now merely matters of the past. For years it had defied public opinion and had escaped legislative and municipal control. It then determined to crush out the Elevator Company.
In 1885, learning of the plans of the Portland Water Co., Mr. Morey determined to carry the war into the enemy's country. Within a very short period he had made a personal examination of the plan of bringing the waters of Bull Run river into Portland. He made his estimates and plans and proposed to the city of Portland for annual payments for twenty years to supply all water, at sufficient pressure to do away with fire engines, and for all municipal needs.
Immediately after the ordinance authorizing this contract had been duly passed and approved, the water company obtained a preliminary injunction from the United States Court restraining the city from entering into such a contract. Pending these legal proceedings a special session of the Legislature was called to elect a United States senator. Fifteen citizens of Portland, seeing the feasibility of Mr. Morey's plan and that the water company had received its death blow from Mr. Morey, organized themselves into a water committee and obtained the necessary legislation to furnish Portland with water, as a part of the municipal authority of the city. The bill confirming this authority made it impossible for Mr. Morey's plan to be carried out.
Mr. Morey's plan was that the city should pay him $40,000 a year for twenty years. In return he was to furnish the city with water at sufficient pressure so that the fire engines would have been discarded and their places would have been taken by hose carriages. In addition the city was to have for twenty years, without extra compensation all the water necessary for all other purposes—sprinkling streets, flushing sewers, etc. At the end of twenty years all water for said municipal purposes was to be furnished free forever. The price of water to private consumers was made about half of the rates charged by the water company and the common council were given authority to reduce all rates so established. In addition the city was given the right to purchase, within five years from the date of the contract, all of the Morey Water Works by paying therefor the actual cost, together with an advance of but six per centum on such cost.
Had Mr. Morey's plan been carried out Portland would now be supplied with water from Bull Run river. The water committee has done better than was thought it would or could do. Without disparagement to its management, which has been remarkably economical and efficient, still the fact remains that sufficient time has elapsed to prove that Mr. Morey's plan, under his management would have been far cheaper and efficient for the city and its inhabitants than the water committee's will be even when Bull Run water is brought to Portland.
Without detracting from the praise due to the water committee it is but fair to say that undoubtedly but for Mr. Morey the Portland Water Company would still be the only means by which Portland would be supplied with water, and that the present abundant supply and low rates would not be in existence.

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

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

1907 "Free Water for All" from Bulletin of the League of American Municipalities 7:119 (April, 1907)
The city of Portland, Oregon, has, perhaps, the only association of citizens in the country which has for its object the procurement of free water for all; that it, without the payment of what are commonly called “water rents.’ It is known as the Free Water Association.
A petition signed by 1,400 of Portland’s citizens was recently presented to the proper official asking for an amendment to the city charter which would grant the wishes of the petitioners. If the amendment is submitted to and passed by the people free water will be provided for drinking, cooking, washing, bath and toilet in all houses, stores, workshops and offices in the city, which have connection with the water mains. No limit whatever is placed on the amount of water which may be used by any consumer; Water for sprinkling, commercial and other purposes, not covered in the free water clause, will be sold by the water department at meter rates, which will necessitate the installation of meters over the entire city.
Revenue to defray the cost of maintenance and operation of the water works will be derived from a one mill levy upon all taxable property in the city, in addition to the amounts which will be received for water used for purposes not included in the free list.

1913 "Water Department," from Organization and Business Methods of The City Government of Portland, Oregon, Bureau of Municipal Research | also here | and here |

1922 The Municipal Water System of Portland, Oregon: Historical, Descriptive, Statistical, by Lawrence S. Kaiser, Superintendent

1928 History of the Columbia River Valley from The Dalles to the sea, Volume 1, by Fred Lockley.
Pages 284-285:  Herman C. Leonard. "Returning to Portland my partner and I decided to take over the Portland City Water Works. At that time the water was distributed through Portland in wooden pipes, logs having been bored out by hand.  We bought the water works and I went to New York City where I bought 600 tons of cast iron pipe and also pumping engines for the water works. I found that freight rates were so high that instead of paying freight I chartered a boat and started for Portland by the long and hazardous trip around the Horn. We had good luck on our trip and arrived in Portland safely. In 1876 we sold the water works to the City of Portland.  In 1892 we sold the gas works. As I am over ninety years old, I have retired more or less from active business life and am resting on my oars."

1930 “The Portland Water Supply,” by Charles E. Oliver, Pacific Engineer 9(4):3-6 (April 1930)

1930 History of the Water Bureau to 1930s, by Charles Oliver.  Typescript in Portland Water Bureau Technical Laboratory.

1952 City on the Willamette: The Story of Portland Oregon by Percy Maddux | Also here |
Page 36:  The Pioneer Water Works, established by John Cline, Robert Pentland, and Stephen Coffin, obtained a franchise in 1857 to give Portland its first water system.  Fir logs bored with a hole two and a half inches in diameter were laid as water mains to bring water from Caruthers Creek west of Seventh Street. When this source of supply proved insufficient, a steam pump was installed near the foot of Mill Street.
In 1861 the franchise was sold to H. C. Leonard and John Green, who laid 5,000 new feet of logs, this time redwood ones brought from California.  In October of the following year they incorporated at $50,000 the Portland Water Company.  Then they built a pipe line from Balch Creek near the Willamette Heights.  A pumping station was installed at the foot of Lincoln Street in 1869.
A new pumping station was established five miles south of the city in 1883. The water was brought to Portland from there in wrought iron mains. Two years later the legislature authorized the city to purchase the works,
which was done on January 1, 1887, at a cost of $464,551 for the system. Since the various places from which the city water had been coming had all proved unsatisfactory, various other sources were considered. Finally the decision was made - and a happy one it proved to be - to bring water from the spring discovered by the civil engineer Talbot about thirty miles east of Portland known as Bull Run.
Page 192:  Washington Park.  In 1894 the City Water Works erected a reservoir in the park.

1962 "Portland," from Public Water Supplies of the 100 Largest Cities in the United States, 1962, US Geological Survey Water Supply Paper 1812, by Charles Norman Durfor and Edith Becker

1976 The shaping of a city: business and politics in Portland, Oregon, 1885-1915, E. Kimbark MacColl

1978 Bull Run: A Reserve and a Water System: History of the Bureau of Water Works, Portland, Oregon, 1850-1978, by Sondra M. Pearlman, Portland: Portland Bureau of Water Works.

1991 Northwest Portland Historic Inventory, Historic Context Statement, Northwest District Association, August 1991
Page 9:   In 1861, H. D. Green, John Green, and H. C. Leonard bought out the small Portland water system, which consisted of one mile of wooden pipe and a small pump at a spring at the foot of Mill Street. They incorporated as the Portland Water Company in 1862. In the same year, the city granted a franchise to W. S. Ladd and others to tap the waters of Balch Creek. The Greens and Leonard purchased the western half of the Balch claim in 1863. The Portland Water Company then laid pipes from the Creek to the of the city in 1863-64. An aqueduct led Balch Creek water around the base of the hills to a reservoir at Fourth and Market. According to the editor of The Oregonian, the new water system gave "an inexhaustible store of as fine mountain water as any city in the world" (January 9, 1864). However, Balch Creek soon proved an inadequate supply, and the company built a new pump in the Willamette at the foot of Lincoln Street and a new reservoir at 7th and Lincoln streets in 1868.

1996 "Oregon Places: The Bull Run Watershed: Portland's Enduring Jewel," by Rick Harmon, Oregon Historical Quarterly 96(2/3):242-270 (Summer - Fall, 1995)

[2009] Portland's Wooden Water Pipes:  the untold story by Ica Coyne, Toni Killough, and Aaron Peyton.

© 2017 Morris A. Pierce