Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Middle Atlantic States Pennsylvania Butler

Butler, Pennsylvania

Butler was incorporated as a borough in 1816 and as a city in 1918.

The Butler Water Company was incorporated in 1871 but did not built anything.

The Butler Water Company was incorporated on November 2, 1877 and built a pumping system that began service in November, 1878.

The company was sold to the American Water Works and Guarantee Company in July, 1897.

On August 18, 1903 the company's Boydstown dam collapsed after heavy rains, and the water supply was taken from a local creek as a new reservoir was then under construction.  The filter plant failed and for two weeks unfiltered water was distributed to customers, resulting in 1,348 persons being stricken with typhoid fever, of which 111 died..

Water is provided by Pennsylvania American Water.

1871 An act to incorporate the Butler Water Company.  May 6, 1871.

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

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

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

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

1896 Andrew Brymer et al. v. The Butler Water Co., Appellant, 172 Pa. 489, January 6, 1896, Pennsylvania Supreme Court
A water company incorporated under the act of April 29, 1874, P. L. 93, will be enjoined from collecting water rents where the company has supplied water utterly unfit for domestic use or for steam purposes.
It is inequitable that a corporation chartered to serve a public use, and actually undertaking to serve the public with one of the necessaries of life, should be allowed to collect the price of a supply of good water from those to whom it delivers an article that cannot be used, or be made fit for use by any process within their knowledge or reach.
A water company is not bound to provide water that is chemically pure, but water that is ordinarily and reasonably pure. After having secured a proper source of supply, the company is bound to exercise diligence in the effort to preserve the water from pollution and to deliver it to the public in no worse condition than that in which it is taken from the source of supply.
Where the source of supply of a water company is polluted by upper riparian owners pouring salt water from oil wells into the stream, rendering the water unfit for domestic use or steam purposes, the court can decree that the company shall not collect water rents, but it cannot, if the upper owners have a right to pollute the stream, decree that the company must obtain its supply from some other designated point. In such a case the discretion lies with the company to elect whether it will go out of business, or seek some new and independent source of supply.

1897 The Clarion Democrat, July 22, 1897, Page 5.
The Pittsburg parties that largely purchased the plants of the Warren and New Castle Water Companies have just closed another deal whereby they become the owners of the Butler Water Works.

1897 Standard Plate Glass Co. v. Butler Water Co., October 18, 1897, Pennsylvania Superior Court
A water company which exercises the right of eminent domain, bat which instead of condemning the water of the stream, builds works on the batiks, draws water from the stream and supplies its customers, its rights and duties are those of a riparian owner and it is liable for diminishing the flow of water to the injury of a lower riparian owner.
The illegal diversion of the water in such a case is a continuing trespass, and a lower riparian owner can recover the actual damage which be suffers and is not confined in bis proof of damages to the actual diminution of the selling value of the land during that period.
In such a case the building of the water works by the stream and the taking of water therefrom by the water company, but not at first in such quantities as to injure a lower riparian owner, is not sufficient notice of an intention on the part of the water company to permanently appropriate the stream to estop a lower riparian owner or his successor in title from bringing trespass for the subsequent taking by the company of water in quantities injurious to him.

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

1903 Nineteenth Annual Report of the State Board of Health and Vital Statistics of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Volume 1; Part 1
Pages 530-578:  The Typhoid Fever Epidemic at Butler

1904 Twentieth Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Board of Health and Vital Statistics of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Pages 8-9: Typhoid Fever.  The Butler Epidemic.

1904 Independent Natural Gas Company, Appellant, v. Butler Water Company, 210 Pa. 177, December 31, 1904, Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Where a water company has been compelled to condemn land for a dam owing to a necessity growing out of the increase of population of the community which it was incorporated to serve, a natural gas company which had its pipes laid under the land condemned, by a prior agreement with the landowner, is not entitled to an injunction to restrain the taking of the land, where it appears that by the expenditure of a few hundred dollars either before or after the construction of the dam, the pipes could be removed to other land of the water company not covered by the dam. Under the Act of April 29, 1874, P. L. 73, clause 2 of sec. 34, as amended by the Act of May 16, 1889, P. L. 226, water companies have the power to condemn franchises and property held for public use, and are not limited merely to private property.

1909 20th Century History of Butler and Butler County, Pa., and Representative Citizens, Volume 1, by James A. McKee
Pages 352-353:  History of the Water Supply
On the 1st of December, 1903, Dr. Wilbur R. Batt, quarantine officer at large, on duty in Pittsburg, investigating the outbreak of the smallpox in that city, was directed by the State Board of Health to come to Butler and investigate the water supply at this place. He was accompanied by Dr. John W. Adams, veterinarian to the State Board of Health of Philadelphia, who investigated the milk supply, and Dr. Thomas N. McKee, quarantine officer of Armstrong County, who is a member of the State Board of Health. These officers met with the members of the local board of health, the representatives of the School Board and representatives of the Town Council, and a thorough investigation was made of the water sheds at Thorn Run and Boydstown.
The water supply of Butler at this time was obtained from two sources. The Mutual Water Company of the Southside supplied a large area in the First Ward from five wells which were drilled at the top of the hill south of the town, in 1891. The main supply for the old part of the town was obtained from the Butler Water Company, which had a storage dam at Boydstown, and was then constructing a second storage dam on Thorn Run in Oakland Township. A brief history of the water supply of the town was given by Dr. Batt in his report on the typhoid fever epidemic at Butler, on the 31st of January, 1904, and may be of interest.
"Previous to 1877 the water supply of the town was obtained entirely from drilled wells. The Butler Water Company was chartered November 1, 1877, and built a reservoir at the top of the hill near the old St. Paul's Orphans’ Home property, which had a capacity of 3,000,000 gallons of water. The supply was taken from an intake on the Connoquenessing Creek near the pump station. In 1896 the water company experienced some difficulty on account of salt water pollution, which was caused by pumping oil wells along the Connoquenessing Creek Valley below Boydstown. In order to obviate this pollution of the water, the water company built the Boydstown dam, which has a drainage area of 9,000 acres. In July, 1897, the Butler Water Company disposed of their plant to the American Water Works and Guaranty Company, who are the present owners. During the summer of 1903 the company purchased a large tract of land on Thorn Run in Oakland Township and built the Thorn Run Dam, which was completed the last of October.
The consumption of water in the town increased from one and a quarter million gallons in 1901 to three million gallons daily in 1903. This sudden increase in consumption was caused by the erection of the Standard Steel Car Plant and the rapid increase in population that followed. In 1902 the Water Company installed a large filter plant at the pump station, and the consumers were thereafter supplied with filtered water. A succession of heavy rains and consequent high water destroyed the Boydstown dam on the 28th of August, 1903, and from that time until the 15th of November the water supply of the town was taken from an emergency intake on the creek above the pump station. This water was filtered and was of a fairly good quality until about the 20th of October, when the filter beds were out of commission for a few days on account of repairs. During this time the water supply was taken from the creek and pumped into the reservoir unfiltered. The officers of the State board found on examination of the water sheds of the Boydstown dam, the Thorn Run dam, and the valley of the creek below the Boydstown dam, that a number of typhoid fever cases had existed in farm houses and that the excreta from these dwellings was thrown into the runs that were tributary to the creek. It was also discovered that during the few days that the water supply had been taken from the bed of the creek, unfiltered, the water had been sufficiently contaminated with typhoid fewer germs to cause the fearful epidemic that began about the first of November."
As further evidence of this fact Dr. Batt shows in his report that from 1876 to 1896 the water supply of the town was taken from the Connoquenessing Creek and pumped into the reservoir unfiltered. From July, 1896, to July, 1897, the supply was obtained from Boydstown dam unfiltered. From July, 1897, to December, 1897, the supply again was taken from the Connoquenessing Creek unfiltered. From July, 1902, to August 28, 1903, the supply was taken from Boydstown dam and filtered. From August 28, 1903, to October 20, 1903, the supply was taken from the emergency intake on the Connoquenessing Creek and filtered. From October 20 to November 2 the supply was taken from the Connoquenessing Creek and the filter beds being out of commission at this time the water was furnished to the consumers unfiltered. From November 2 to November 15 the supply was taken from the creek and the filter beds having been repaired the water was filtered before it went to the consumers. On November 15, the Thorn Run dam, which had been completed, was placed in commission and the supply was taken from that source and the water filtered before it was pumped into the reservoir. The result of the investigation proved the contention of the local board of health that the fever was caused by contamination of the water supply.
The conclusion of Dr. Batt’s report on the subject of pollution of the water is as follows:
"That following the destruction of the Boydstown dam August 28, 1903, the water for distribution to the people of Butler was taken from Connoquenessing Creek through an emergency intake. An examination of the water of the creek showed that it maintained a fairly constant evidence of pollution and that at various periods the operation of the filter plant was particularly or entirely suspended and that as a result of this polluted water being used for domestic purposes, 1,348 persons were stricken with typhoid fever between October 1, 1903, and January 29, 1904, with 111 fatalities.”
The previous records of typhoid fever epidemics were broken at Butler. In 1885 a similar epidemic occurred at Plymouth, Pennsylvania, a town of 8,000 population. The number of cases reported at that time was 1,104, and the deaths 114. At Ithaca, New York, an epidemic occurred, in May, 1903, in which there were 1,300 cases reported, and seventy-eight deaths, among a population of 13,000 people.
George R. Harlow, of Philadelphia, engineer and inspector of the State Board of Health, made an official visit to the Boydstown dam and water shed on the 12th of December, 1903, and reported that eight cases of typhoid fever had been located in the vicinity of Boydstown from the first of August to the date of his visit in that year. This inspection confirmed the belief that the fever epidemic was caused by polluted water, and that the cause of the pollution came from the infected houses along the creek valley north of Butler.
In justice to Superintendent M. F. Wright and the American Waterworks & Guaranty Company it is recorded that the company, through its officials in Butler, did everything within its power to assist the State and local boards of health, and spared no expense in their efforts to remedy the evils that existed at that time, and to safeguard the health of the community in the future.

© 2019 Morris A. Pierce