Documentary History of American Water-works

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New England States Rhode Island Woonsocket

Woonsocket, Rhode Island

Woonsocket was originally settled in 1661  Woonsocket Falls Village was founded in the 1820s.  Woonsocket was established as a town in 1867 as Woonsocket Falls, Social and Jenckesville were combined.  Woonsocket was incorporated as a city in 1888.      

The first water works were built around 1835 by Darius D. Buffum, who had secured the right to use water from a spring on the land of Smith Arnold "to convey the waters thereof into the village of Woonsocket Falls, for the supply of such inhabitants of said village as may live easterly of, or on the Cumberland side of, the Blackstone River, and included within the limits of School District No. 1."  This spring was the subject of an 1857 court case that Buffum lost, and it is not known what became of the system.  Buffum was an incorporator of the 1855 Bernon Fountain Company.

The Woonsocket Water Works Company was incorporated on January 19, 1882.  George H. Norman was the first contractor, but he withdrew in 1883 and Horace G. H. Tarr was engaged to finish the project, which began operating in 1884.   Local voters approved buying the company in 1884, which was effected on April 1, 1885 for $298,612.62.

Water is provided by the City of Woonsocket.

1858 Darius D. Buffum v Edward Harris, 5 R.I. 243, Filed March 6, 1858, Supreme Court of Rhode Island.  Case about a fountain serving a water system in Woonsocket Falls.
At the trial of this case before the chief justice, with a jury, Buffum v. Harris, at the September term of this court, 1857, under the general issue, it appeared that the plaintiff, by deed of Smith Arnold, a former owner of the land of the defendant, dated May 6, 1835, was the grantee of a certain fountain and rights appurtenant, situated in an orchard lot belonging to the defendant, and not far from his house in Cumberland. The words of said grant to the plaintiff, descriptive of the subject and extent of it, were as follows:
"A certain spring or fountain of water, situated in said Cumberland, on the Benjamin Arnold farm, (so called,) westerly of the old house spot on said farm, and over which fountain there is a building now standing; also, the privilege of deepening the reservoir of said fountain beneath said building, and of making such other improvements on the land of this grantor about said fountain as may be necessary for the full use and benefit of the water thereof in the manner hereinafter provided; also, the house now standing over said fountain, together with the benefit of all the improvements now made around said fountain; also, the privilege of conveying the waters of said fountain through the land of this grantor to the foot of the hill southerly from said fountain at the line of land of Waldo Earle, about twenty rods, together with the pipe now laid in said land, for the purpose of conveying said water; also, the privilege of entering upon the land of said Smith Arnold to view said fountain and the improvements and appurtenances thereof, and the pipe above mentioned, and to make repairs upon the same at all times; provided, always, that the said Darius D. Buffum shall do no unnecessary injury to the said land, or the crops which may be growing thereon; and shall always, and at all times, level or carry away the earth which he may dig out, and fill holes which for any of the purposes of improving said spring he may dig; and remove the stones and rocks which he may dig out, so as to leave said land in as good order as may be, and with as little injury by reason of said improvements as may be, for the purposes of husbandry." "And I, the said Smith Arnold, having sold to the said Buffum the aforesaid fountain to convey the waters thereof into the village of Woonsocket Falls, for the supply of such inhabitants of said village as may live easterly of, or on the Cumberland side of, the Blackstone River, and included within the limits of School District No. 1, of said Cumberland, as now bounded, do hereby covenant as aforesaid, that if the waters of said fountain shall, upon trial, be found sufficient to supply the wants of the inhabitants within the aforesaid limits, then, so long as the same are sufficient for that purpose, I will neither convey nor conduct myself, nor sell to be conveyed or conducted by any person to that part of the village of Woonsocket Falls indicated above, the waters of any other fountain on land which I now own; still, however, retaining the right, in case the waters of the aforesaid fountain shall at any time hereafter be found insufficient to supply the inhabitants of said village within the limits aforesaid, to sell the waters of any other fountain which I now own, to be conveyed as aforesaid; provided, always, that the said Darius D. Buffum, his heirs and assigns, who may at such times hereafter own the fountain hereinbefore conveyed, shall, for such other fountain or fountains have, what is called, the first offer; i. e., shall have the privilege of buying the same upon paying therefor as much as any other person. And furthermore, the said Smith Arnold, having granted and conveyed the aforesaid fountain and privileges to the said Darius D. Buffum, to enable him to convey the waters of said fountain into the said village of Woonsocket Falls for the supply of the inhabitants within the limits aforesaid, it is throughout expressly understood, and for the better understanding of the true intent and meaning hereof, it is expressed, that whenever the said Buffum, his heirs and assigns, shall discontinue the use of said waters for the purposes aforesaid, then the same shall revert to me or my legal representatives."

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

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

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

1891 History of Providence County, Rhode Island, Volume II, by Richard Mather Bayles.
Pages 278-280:  The rapid growth of the town, after 1880, awakened a desire for a system of pure water supply, and the construction of works was urged upon the council. But before that body acted in the matter, the "Woonsocket Water Works Company " was chartered and as a corporation endeavored to secure the co-operation of the town in supplying water by submitting a propositionto that end. On the 19th of January, 1882, the town appointed Francis L. O'Reilly, A. J. Elwell, John W. Ellis, Charles Nourse and James C. Molten a committee "to consider the whole subject matter, as presented by that corporation." In their report they recommended that a survey be made to ascertain the cost of such works, etc. But this proposition was rejected by the council the same month.
Thereupon the company determined to erect the works on its own account, and in the spring of 1883 it contracted with George H. Norman to build them. He began operations, but in May, 1883, he abandoned the contract, after having already spent several thousand dollars on the work. In July, 1883, H. G. H. Tarr, of New York, became interested with the company in this enterprise and under his direction work was begun at once, with John W. Ellis as the civil engineer in charge of the construction corps. Dams for reservoirs, on Crooks Fall brook, and a brick pumping station at that place were built that year.  A stand pipe on Logee hill was also begun. The laying of mains and distributing pipes from the latter place was done on contract by John B. Rutherford, of New Jersey, who began that work in April, 1884.
In June of that year, the town council agreed with Horace A. Jenckes, Francis L. O'Reilly and George H. Grant, of the Woonsocket Water Works Company, for a supply of water for the use of the town, to be properly distributed, and to be available through 300 fire hydrants.  Operations were now actively pushed and the works were practically built in 1884. Since that time the system has been extended and the works perfected until they were in first-class condition.
On the 30th of October, 1884, the town voted by 120 yeas and 56 nays to buy the works from the company at an advance of $50,000 over the amount expended. Oscar J. Rathbun, Joseph E. Cole, George A. Wilbur, Charles F. Ballou and John McDonald were appointed a committee on behalf of the town to effect the purchase. The same committee also secured the necessary legislation to bond the debt which would thus be incurred. The purchase was made April 1st, 1885, and the price paid was $298,612.62. The extensions and maintenance of the works have since cost nearly $100,000 more. On the 11th of February, 1886, the dam of the works was damaged $7,000, 100 feet being washed away by the freshet.
The water supply is from Crooks Fall brook, in North Smithfield township, the dams being about two and a half miles from the center of the city. There are two reservoirs, about 1,000 feet apart. The upper has an area of nearly 11 acres and holds 36,000,000 gallons. The area of the lower is 8 1/2 acres and its capacity 15,000,000 gallons. These reservoirs have a source of supply from seven square miles of contiguous country.  One half a mile distant, on Logee hill, is a stand pipe, holding 339,400 gallons, which receives and stores the surplus pumped water forced through the pipes by two Worthington pumping
engines. This tank is on an elevation 239 feet above Market Square, and when full gives a pressure of 105 pounds to the square inch, enabling a stream of water in a firehose to be thrown over the highest building in the city. On the same hill another stand pipe, to hold 513,000 gallons has been built.  In 1889 there were nearly 25 miles of mains, 374 fire hydrants, nearly 800 meters, and over 900 services, supplying about 2,400 families and 350 other consumers with nearly 300,000 gallons of water daily.
The works are profitably maintained and in the past year the expenditures have been but two-thirds of the receipts. A pleasing feature of the system is the maintenance of a number of attractive drinking fountains, for man and beast, which are located at Market Square, Monument Square, Greene street and Hamlet avenue, Social and Rathbun streets, Blackstone street and Harris avenue. South Main and Mason streets, and at the Harris Institute. The water is pure and its average temperature is about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  Until April 1st, 1889, the superintendent of the works was Willard Kent. At the date named he was succeeded by Byron I. Cook.

1895 "Current Strikes," Boston Post, August 7, 1895, Page 2.
One hundred and eighty-three laborers, mostly Italians, employed by J. B. Reilly & Co., contractors, struck at the Woonsocket water works storage reservoir.  They say they will work under Supintendent J. W. Keyser, the junior partner, at present rates, $1.25 a day, but want $1.50 if the new man is in charge.  Laborers of other nationalities say that they want $1.50 a day, anyway.

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

1897 "Woonsocket Water Works Reservoir and Dam No. 3," by Byron I. Cook, Superintendent, Woonstocket R.I. Read September 9, 1897.  Journal of the New England Water Works Association 12(1):20-35 (September 1897)

2010 Photos of the 1884 plant taken by Rich Hanzel | one | two | three | four |

Woonsocket's Original Mill Villages

2017 Morris A. Pierce