Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
South Atlantic States
Virginia Alexandria

Alexandria, Virginia

Alexandria was first settled in 1695 and was included in the 1791 territory given to the United States for the new national capital in District of Columbia..  The Virginia portion of the District was retroceded in 1846, and Alexandria became an independent city in 1870.

The Alexandria Water Company was incorporated in 1850 by Hugh C. Smith, Stephen Shinn, Cassius F. Lee, James Green, Francis L. Smith, Robert H. Miller, Peter G. Uhler, Thomas W. Smith and George D. Fowler "for the purpose of conducting water into said town."  The City of Alexandria agreed to subscribe to $10,000 of the company's stock the following March.  The company built a system that pumped water into a reservoir using a water wheel, a steam engine was added in 1855 as an alternate source of pumping energy.  The system was engineered by Frederick Erdman, and began service on June 15, 1852.

After several years of negotiation and legal proceedings, a condemnation commission awarded the company nearly $45 million for their property, which did not include their local distribution system.  The company and Fairfax County accepted the amount of the award, and the property was transferred on October 10, 1967.  

The water company was acquired by the American Water Works and Electric Co. in 1929.

Water service is provided by Virginia American Water Company, which purchases bulk water from the Fairfax County Water Authority.

1850 An act to incorporate the Alexandria water company.  March 22, 1850.

1851 "Water Meeting," Alexandria Gazette, January 10, 1851, Page 2.

1851 "In Council, March 7, 1851," Alexandria Gazette, March 8, 1851, Page 3.
The Commissioners of Election made return of the votes taken on the 4th inst., upon the question of a subscription of $10,000 by the Corporation, to the stock of the Alexandria Water Company, showing 416 votes for it, and 58 against it.

1851 An act to authorize a subscription to the Stock of the Alexandria Water Company. March 7, 1851.  Common Council of Alexandria, Alexandria Gazette, March 8, 1851, Page 3.

1851 "Alexandria Water Works-Cast Iron Pipes, &c.," Alexandria Gazette, May 27, 1851, Page 3.

1851 "Alexandria Water Company Groundbreaking," The Baltimore Sun, June 12, 1851, Page 4.

1851 Alexandria Gazette, July 10, 1851, Page 3.
We learn that the President of the Alexandria Water Company has made a contract with Iricks & Co., of Lumberton, N. J. for furnishing the water pipes, the delivery of which is to commence during this month.

1851 "First Annual Meeting of the Alexandria Water Company," Alexandria Gazette, November 27, 1851, Page 2.

1852 "Rates of Water Rents-Adopted by the Alexandria Water Company," Alexandria Gazette, April 29, 1852, Page 3.

1852 "Alexandria Water Company, Report of the President and Directors to the Stockholder," Alexandria Gazette, May 14, 1852, Page 2.

1852 "Revised Water Rates, Alexandria Water Company," Alexandria Gazette, July 8, 1852, Page 2.

1852 "Second Annual Meeting of the Alexandria Water Company," Alexandria Gazette, December 21, 1852, Page 2.
The water was let into the Pipes, and conveyed into town, on the 15th of June, just 15 months after the appointment of the Board, and after the first commencement of the undertaking.

1856 "Alexandria Water Company Annual Meeting," Alexandria Gazette, January 9, 1856, Page 3.  Includes details of the new steam engine.

1881 Alexandria from Engineering News 8:312 (August 6, 1881)

1881 "Alexandria Affairs. The Alexandria Water Company," The Evening Star, December 27, 1881, Page 4.

1883 Autobiography of Benjamin Hallowell, by Benjamin Hallowell
Page 195-204:  Letter on the subject of the Alexandria water-works.

1884 "Alexandria Affairs. The Alexandria Water Company," The Evening Star, January 10, 1884, Page 4.

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

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

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

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

1928 The History of Old Alexandria, Virginia: From July 13, 1749 to May 24, 1861, Mary Gregory Powell
One of the schemes undertaken by the Lyceum Association was for supplying Alexandria with pure water from Cameron Run in 1851.  This was done largely through the influence, energy and ability of Benjamin Hallowell. A charter of the Alexandria Water Company was granted by the Virginia Legislature, March 22nd, 1850.  Previous to this the water used by the city came from wells on the street corners and from the diagonal pumps.  An attempt was made of boring for water in the market square, but the project was given up.
The Corporation of Alexandria subscribed a quarter of a million of dollars towards the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on condition that it be connected with a branch canal to Alexandria.  Among other benefits to be derived from this was its being the means of supplying the town with water.  This was afterwards found not feasible, nor was the project for forcing the water into a reservoir from the Potomac. The most reasonable project was for collecting the streams in the valley west of the town into one channel, and thus supplying the town.
Mr. Hallowell's attention was turned to getting "Cameron Run" to the top of Shuter's Hill, and letting it pass its own flow into the streets and houses of Alexandria. This idea found much encouragement, and a large meeting of citizens at the Lyceum gave evidence of the interest felt in the subject.
A subscription was opened in the winter of 1850-1. The shares were twenty dollars each, and were afterwards raised to twenty-five dollars each, and few people failed to subscribe at least one share.
Benjamin Hallowell was elected President without a salary, and had the privilege of choosing a competent engineer of experience, and Frederick Erdmein [Erdman], who had been engineer of the Harrisburg Company, was selected. On surveying the spot chosen for the location of the reservoir by the Board of Directors, he condemned it as being unsuitable, and selected the present site, which was some distance south, and not on as high ground as the one first chosen. His decision saved the Company many thousands of dollars.
In the spring of 1851, the imposing ceremony of breaking ground began and was duly recorded in the Alexandria Gazette.  This took place on the lot purchased in the rear of Shuter's Hill, where Mr. Hallowell, spade in hand, took the lead, followed by other townsmen.
Water was let into the pipes conveying it to the town on June 15th, 1852, just fifteen months from the appointment of the Board which undertook this momentous work.
A memorial tablet to Benjamin Hallowell, first President the Alexandria Water Company, was placed on the bank of the reservoir on the 10th of March, 1874.  It is unnecessary to state that the Cameron Run water used by the City of Alexandria has always maintained an unquestionable reputation as to its abundance and healthfulness.

1929 The Akron Beacon Journal, July 2, 1929, Page 34.
American Water Works.  The Alexandria Water Co.serving Alexandria, Va., and portions of Arlington and Fairfax Counties in that state, has been acquired by the American Water Works & Electric Co.  The terms were not revealed.  The American Water Works Co. now owns and operates 40 water companies in 16 states.

1951 "A New Water Supply for the Alexandria Water Company," by Elwood H. Aldrich, Journal of the American Water Works Association 43(5):332-348 (May 1951)

1963 Board of County Supervisors v. Alexandria Water Co., 204 Va. 434, 132 S.E.2d 440 (September 11, 1963)

1969 "Completion of the Fairfax County Water Authority Acquisition Program," by James J. Corbalis Jr., Journal of the American Water Works Association 63(3):139-144 (March 1969)
Page 142: Alexandria Properties' Acquisition.  Acquisition of the company's prop- erties by the authority may be likened to a court-ordered marriage of an always enthusiastic groom who relentlessly pursued a most reluctant bride through a never peaceful 10-year courtship!

1971 National Capital Region Water and Waste Management Report, EPA
Page 44: Alexandria Water Company - The Company purchases finished water from Fairfax County Water Authority for distribution in the City of Alexandria. The Company is a subsidiary of the American Water Works Company. It began operations in 1852 and was the owner and operator of the Occoquan Creek Reservoir, the filtration plant, and distribution facilities in a large part of Fairfax County until 1967. The Reservoir, filtration plant, and Fairfax County facilities were obtained for the Fairfax County Water Authority in a condemnation suit by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

1980 A Historical Survey of Alexandria's Water Supply: 1755-1852, by Catherine Perge

1991 Alexandria on the Potomac: The Portrait of an Antebellum Community, by Harold W. Hurst

1996 West End: Prepared For Norfolk Southern Corporation (Carlyle Project), by Kurt P. Schweigert.
Page 7-4: In 1851 the Roberts brothers sold the "country mill" to the Alexandria Water Company, which used the mill machinery to pump water into a reservoir at the foot of Shooter's Hill to the north. By agreement between Robert F. Roberts and the Alexandria Water Company, the mill equipment was later returned to Roberts and was apparently subsequently used by both parties. This mill, too, remained in operation as a pumping station until at least 1902. The water system included iron pipes along the north and south sides of the Little River Turnpike through West End, and a number of residents of West End were among the first customers of the water system. The Alexandria Water Company reservoir remains in place on the slope of Shooter's Hill in 1996.

2017 Report on the Early History of the Alexandria, Virginia Sewerage System, by Jason Tercha, January 16, 2017.  Includes several references to the Alexandria Water Company.

2015 Morris A. Pierce