Documentary History of American Water-works

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Middle Atlantic States Pennsylvania Oil City

Oil City, Pennsylvania

Oil City was incorporated as a borough in 1862 and as a city in 1871.

The Petrolia Gas and Water Company was incorporated on March 22, 1865 to supply Oil City with water, but did not build anything.

The first water works were built by local resident George V. Foreman and his associates in 1865, using wood (probably Wyckoff) pipe to distribute water from a reservoir at Park Road and Plumer Street.  Sometime the following year the Charley Run Water Company was organized and built a dam across Charley Run that supplied water to the Third Ward.  Foreman's system did not work well, but the Charley Run plant was bought by the city around 1873.

The city was authorized to build water works in 1872 and built a system that pumped water from the Allegheny River to a reservoir above the mouth of Sage Run using steam engines. The water source was changed to wells after a typhoid epidemic in 1894.

Water is provided by the City of Oil City.

1865 An act to incorporate the Petrolia Gas and Water Company.  March 22, 1865.

1866 The Titusville Herald, November 14, 1866, Page 3.
The Wooden Water Pipe Company of Rochester, offer to furnish this city 1,000 or 2,000 feet of six-inch pipe for 30 cents per foot.  The water works at Elmira and Oil City, were supplied by the same company.

1872 An act authorizing the city of Oil City to provide water works and gas works, and to borrow money.  March 14, 1872.

1874 Lancaster Intelligencer, June 26, 1874, Page 2.
The Oil City water works are said to be a failure and the $200,000 spent on them "a waste."

1874 "From Oil City, Pa.," The Pittsburgh Commercial, October 7, 1874, Page 2.
The failure of the Oil City Water Works is a fact too widely known to need any retelling.  After having shouldered the costly luxury, the city authorities have been exercising their inventive proclivities in trying to stop the mulifarious leaks in the mains.  The process is simple, expensive, and experimental.
You see, the immense pressure of water is too great for the capacity of the mains.  A large force of workmen have employed themselves constantly for the past six months stopping the leaks.

1877 Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, June 28, 1877, Page 1.
The reservoir of the Oil City Water works is the highest in the United States.

1879 History of Venango County, Pennsylvania: And Incidentally of Petroleum, Together with Accounts of the Early Settlement and Progress of Each Township, Borough and Village, with Personal and Biographical Sketches of the Early Settlers, Representative Men, Family Records, Etc., by J. H. Newton
Page 511:  Oil City Water Works. 
The work began in the spring of 1872, and in the snmmer of 1873 an abundant water supply was afforded the people. The steam pumping works are located on the Allegheny river, about a mile and a half from the center of the city. The water is taken from that river and raised three hundred and ten feet to the reservoir located on a hill immediately above the engine house. The capacity of the reservoir is seventy-five thousand barrels. The supply is ample, and the head is so great that it can be carried over the tops of the buildings in the lower portions of the town.
The delivery main is twelve inches in diameter, and has proved hitherto amply sufficient for all required purposes. Hydrants are located in every corner, and the entire city is supplied with water. The cost of the water works, as an entirety, was over $175,000.

1882 Oil City, from Engineering News, 9:131 (April 22, 1882)

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

1883 The Canton Independent-Sentinel (Canton, Pennsylvania), May 11, 1883, Page 5.
Natural gas has taken the place of coal at the Oil City water works.

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

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

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

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

1906 Quality of Water in the Upper Ohio River Basin and at Erie, Pa., by Samuel James Lewis, USGS Water Supply Paper No. 161.
Pages 17-18:  Oil City, Pa. typhoid epidemic

1907 A digest of the ordinances and principal resolutions for the government of the city of Oil City in Venango County, Pennsylvania, in force January 1st, 1907
Page 284:  Water and Lighting Department.  Brief Historical Sketch

1908 "HIghly Satisfactory," Oil City Derrick, March 10, 1908, Page 2.
Oil City's Magnificent Water Works has paid for itself.

1916 "The Water System of Oil City," Fire and Water Engineering 59(13):196 (March 29, 1916) | also here |
Following is an account which was recently issued of the origin and the development of the Oil City, Pa., water works system: From 1860 to 1865 Oil City had grown from a raftsman’s haven to a town of 7,000 or 8,000 people, with no system of water supply. There were many wells, some fine springs and much water was hauled from the river and sold by the barrel. About 1865 the first attempt to furnish water by a system of pipes was made by George V. Foreman and associates under the name of Venangs Water Company. They built a small reservoir or tank near the intersection of Park road an Plumer street, and from this point by means of wooden pipe wrapped with iron bands, the water was conducted to various parts of Palace and Cottage hills. The supply from this source was pure and wholesome, but inadequate and somewhat inconvenient, for water was only delivered on specified days of the week, there are no surface marks to indicate where the line was located, but in digging trenches for sewers on both Palace and Cottage hills, some of the old wooden pipes are uncovered. About a year later the Charley Run Water Company was organized. Phis company constructed a stone masonry dam across Charley run at an elevation far enough up the stream to give a very creditable pressure in the Third Ward, which at that time was the principal business section of Oil City. Some of these pipes are in a remarkable state of preservation. They were made of pine lumber and given a coating of coal tar. Very little of the tar remains on the pipe. The iron bands, which were bound in a spiral, are still found on the pipe.
Nucleus of the System.
The city of Oil City was incorporated by an Act of Assembly approved March 1, 1871. One of the first matters of importance taken up was the water problem. An act was passed by the State Legislature entitled: “An Act authorizing the City of Oil City to provide water works and gas works and to borrow money,” approved March 14, 1872. By this Act of Assembly it was given full power in the premises and authorized to borrow for said purpose not to exceed $100,000 and to issue bonds therefor bearing interest not to exceed 10 per cent, per annum. In April, 1872, Mr. Birkenbine, a prominent engineer, was employed to prepare plans and specifications for the construction of a reservoir of 8,000,000 gallons capacity to be located as at present above the mouth of Sage run, a distribution system, and a pumping plant of 1,000,000 gallons daily. Preliminary plans were prepared by the engineer, which on May 7, 1872, the Water and Light committee submitted to the councils and were approved and a resolution was adopted that water works be built by the city. After making some minor changes and increasing the capacity of the pumping plant, proposals were advertised for, and on June 14, 1872, contracts for building the water works were awarded as follows! Smith, of Pittsburgh, furnishing pipe, hydrants and valves and laying mains; J. & W. C. McGowan, of New Brighton, Pa., building pump house and reservoir; W. H. Clulcy, of Pittsburgh, Pa., for consructing and erecting the pumps in the pump house. All contracts were to be completed December 1, 1872. Some difficulty was had in negotiating the loans but on September 16, 1872, arrangements had been made to place $100,000 worth of bonds at 8 per cent, with 2 per cent, commission. The pumps were accepted October 20, 1873, and the boiler December 15, 1873. About the time the city began the construction of its plant the Charley Run Water Company’s plant had been turned over to the city and furnished a large amount of water. Part of the wooden pipes were replaced during 1870 and 1880 by cast iron pipe. In 1884 the dam was abandoned and the pipe extended up the run. to springs which had an elevation high enough so that the surplus \vatar from the Charley run springs flowed into the reservoir. In 1886 the pumping station was destroyed by fire and replaced by a brick building and a new pump was purchased from the Holley Manufacturing Company with a daily capacity of 1,500,000 gallons. In 1889 a line was built to Rich hill and two iron tanks built thereon with a capacity of 120,000 gallons. In 1891 land was purchased on Hasson heights for a reservoir site and in 1894 a line was laid to the site and two steel tanks erected thereon with a capacity of 672,000 gallons. From the building of the plant up to the year 1891 the city assisted the department financially by paying part of the bonds and interest. Since 1891 the water department has not only been self-sustaining, but has taken care of its own bonds and interest and repaid the city part of its former advances. In 1891 the city purchased a direct-acting compound condensing engine, with cylinders 20x40-17x20-inch from the Snow' Steam Pump Company of Buffalo. The capacity of this engine was 3,000,000 gallons per 24 hours and was a marked improvement over the old pumps. About this time complaints began to appear on account of a number of cases of typhoid fever and the water board, with their engineer, made an examination of a number of watersheds in the vicinity. Cherry run promised a good supply, but upon a second measurement of the stream it was found that the flow during dry weather was insufficient. The city continued to get the large bulk of the supply from the Allegheny river and in 1894 a serious typhoid epidemic occurred in the city, which left no doubt in the mind of anyone that a purer supply must be obtained and that as soon as possible. A number of propositions were investigated and finally in 1896 the city purchased a part of what was known as the Seneca farm, fronting on the Allegheny river, about one mile above the pump station. This same year the city was very fortunate in having A. Smedley, chief engineer of the National Transit Company, agree to act, and was elected president of the w'ater board. There were large sums to be invested in making the change of the source of the supply and through his efforts and good engineering advice the city has obtained its present pure supply of water and brought the efficiency of the plant to a high standard. Wells were drilled on the Seneca farm, tested and then connected to a large brick-lined settling well, from which the water is conducted through a 24-inch riveted steel siphon 5,500 feet long, flowing into two suction wells.
Present-Day Conditions.
From a storage capacity of 3,000,000 gallons and pumping capacity of 1,000,000 gallons in 1872, the plant has increased until at the present time it has machinery installed with capacity enough to pump 8,000,000 gallons daily. The plant includes two pumping engines, each of 3,500,000, and one high-pressure pump with a capacity of 1,000,000 gallons. Storage capacity at the present time includes the twin brick and concrete reservoirs on Sage run, 290 feet above the settling well at the power house, 3,000.000 gallons ; Hasson Heights tank, 545 feet above, 672,000 gallons; Rich Hill tanks, 440 feet above, 120,000 gallons. All water supplied is through meters with the following charges: For domestic purposes, 20 cents per 1,000 gallons: livery barns, restaurants, etc., 15 cents; manufacturing, elevators and railroads, 6 cents; power purposes outside of manufacturing, 9 cents. The annual report of the seeretarv of the board for 1915 showed total receipts from all sources during 1915 to have been $84,130.47, with disbursements of $82,095.70, leaving a balance on hand of $2,034.77. The disbursements included payment of a loan at the Oil Citv Trust Company of $10,000. For the new high service pump installed earlier in the year, $22,900 was paid, and besides $17,400 was paid the city for money advanced from various funds of the municipality in previous years. Recently samples of water from the Sage Run reservoir and the city were forwarded to the Pittsburgh Testing Laboratory for analysis. The report received by the department is the best vet received. The report follows; City Hall Sample—Total bacteria in C. C. at 37° C., none; total bacteria in 1 C. C. at 20° C., 50; B. Coli in 1 cubic centimeter, none; B. Coli in 10 cubic centimeters, none. Sage Run Reservoir Sample—Total bacteria in 1 C. C. at 37° C.. 2; total bacteria in 1 C. C. at 20° C., 5; B. Coli in 1 cubic centimeter, none; B. Coli in 10 cubic centimeters, none.

© 2019 Morris A. Pierce