Documentary History of American Water-works

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

Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania

German immigrant Alexander Schaeffer founded a settlement in the town of Heidelberg in Lebanon County in 1743 which became known as Schaefferstown.  He built The King George hotel around 1746, which still stands as The Franklin House, and constructed a water system from a spring on a nearby hill sometime before 1750.  Schaeffer and his wife deeded the water system to local residents on July 16, 1763 and it may have been called "The Fountain Company of Heidelberg."  The entity was owned an operated by local water consumers who prayed for a corporate charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was granted April 16, 1845 as the "Schaefferstown Water Company." This company continues to own and operate the water system which only supplies two fountains in the town.  The company is organized on a cooperative basis.

This system is not mentioned in any 19th Century waterworks inventory and only came to widespread notice in 1896 when Julius Frederich Sachse wrote about it in a series of articles for the Lebanon Daily News, although it is mentioned in an 1882 newspaper article in the Harrisburg Telegraph.

The Schaefferstown Water Company has an historical marker and the company also issued paper scrip in the 19th Century as shown below, although the 1845 charter "shall not be so construed as giving the company any banking privileges."

In 1909 the Michigan Pipe Company installed Wyckoff wood pipes which proved unsatisfactory.

1845 An Act to incorporate the Schaefferstown Water Company, April 16, 1845.

1882 Harrisburg Telegraph, June 20, 1882, Page 2.
Schaefferstown, Lebanon county, has the oldest public water works in the State.  They were the gift of Alexander Schaeffer, founder of the town, to the inhabitants of Market street, in that place.  They have been running since 1775, with slight intermissions, when repairs were necessary.  It is also the most economically conducted corporation in the State, the total revenue from last year's water works being about fifteen dollars.  All the officers serve gratis.

1896 "Historic Millbach Valley," by Julius Friedrich Sachse, Lebanon Daily News, August 29, 1896, Page 1.
Schaefferstown, the Oldest Settlement in the Valley - Its Water Works Described.

1896 Philadelphia Inquirer, September 1, 1896, Page 6.
Schaefferstown, Lebanon county, has the oldest public water works in the United States.  The water was brought down the mountain and supplied to the houses, and at regular distances watering troughs and fountains were placed in the street.  Julius Sachse, who has been making a tour of the valley, says a trip-hammer force and a boring mill were Revolutionary and frontiers rifles were made may still be seen in the valley.

1901 "Man's Memory Runneth Not," Lebanon Daily News, November 14, 1901, Page 2.
To Time When Schaefferstown Water Work Were Established.  Oldest in the County.

1901 A Brief History of Schaefferstown, by Abraham S. Brendle
Page 14:  The Water Works.
There are those who claim that the Schaefferstown water works are the oldest of their kind in the United States. The exact date of their construction is unknown, but it is fixed by good authority prior to 1750. The source of the water supply is a never failing spring of pure soft water, located at about the middle of the northern slope of Tower Hill, at a distance of between two hundred and fifty and three hundred yards from the center of Market square. A small reservoir was constructed at the spring and covered and enclosed with a stone arch; and from this the water was conducted by means of underground pipes to and along Market street north to the northwest corner of Market square. A fountain, or hydrant, was placed there, and another about a hundred yards south of the first; and from both of these the water flows without interruption throughout the year. The title to the lot on which the spring is located was conveyed by Alexander Schaeffer and Anna Engel, his wife, by deed dated July 16, 1763, to George Ulrich and Frederick Albright, trustees and overseers of said leading spring and tract of land, for the use of the inhabitants of Market street, of the town of Heidelberg; under and subject, however, to the customary ground rent to be paid yearly to said grantor, his heirs and assigns forever.
By act of assembly, dated April 16, 1845, a charter was granted to the inhabitants of Market street, Schaefferstown, under the title of The Schaefferstown Water Company, with certain powers, rights and privileges, therein set forth. The following officers were named in the charter: George Renner, President; George F. Miller, Secretary; Henry Iba, Treasurer; Thomas Bender and John Staley, fountain overseers. The affairs of the company have been carefully administered. The Stiegel lot has been added to the original fountain lot, and both converted into a beautiful park.

1911 "Oldest Water Works in U.S.," The Daily News (Lebanon, Pennsylvania), February 18, 1911, Page 3.

1962 "Free Water Offered for Past 199 Years," from Mueller Record 12-13 (June, 1962)

1963 Schaeffestown, Pennsylvania, 1763-1963, by Charles H. Huber
Pages 24-39: History of the Schaefferstown Water Company

1986 1763 Plus Then, Now and Forever! Is Our Prayer Wasser Fum Gott.  History of the Schaefferstown Water Company, Incorporated, by Charles S. Mock and Ruth D. Mock.  Published by the Schaefferstown Water Company.

2014 Schaefferstown and Heidelberg Township, Lebanon County, by Diane Wenger and Jan Taylor
Pages 51-54: The Waterworks.

2016 "Small town early American life is on display in Schaefferstown's Thomas R. Brendle Museum", by Marylouise Sholly, Reading Eagle, July 12, 2016
"We do have unique things here," Taylor said of the museum's eclectic collection.
Even the two humble pieces of wooden water pipe stationed on the floor have a story to tell. The hollowed-out tree trunks are braced by rusting metal, and were part of the water system installed throughout the town in 1909 by the Michigan Pipe Company. The pipes leaked so badly that they were replaced three years later.
A photograph taken around that time shows a horse-drawn parade float full of angry-looking men, their faces smeared with dirt and wearing shabby clothing, their arms upraised and waving hammers. The homemade sign on the float reads "Michigan Pipe Company."
"They were deriding the Michigan Pipe Company," Taylor said, surprised that the men of the town would publicly flaunt their scorn for the company.

2015 Morris A. Pierce