The following is the first of six blogs to be posted on consecutive Fridays which will cover the history and development of the Waterworks Area of Presque Isle.
When the Civil War started in 1861, Erie, like many cities in the northern United States, was in the beginning stages of moving into an industrial economy. As the war began, most of Erie’s residents were sure that there was no way it would last more than three or four months. They would soon find that the war would last much longer. As a side benefit to our region, the demands of this war thrust growth of mills and factories onto the area.
During this time, Presque Isle was a weekend picnic and party area where residents could enjoy themselves, pick cranberries and hunt small game. However, before long, the townspeople began to realize the importance of Presque Isle to the commerce of the whole region. Earlier in the century, during the War of 1812, they had seen how Commodore Perry used the harbor to construct his fleet and how labor and material could be brought here from many different sources. In addition, during the Civil War the USS Michigan, the first iron-hulled warship, made Erie its home port. The Michigan patrolled all of Lake Erie throughout the Civil War. All during this period, numerous commercial fishermen began operating on both sides of Lake Erie and many used Erie and Presque Isle as home base.
By the end of the Civil War, Erie was continuing rapid growth in both population and industrial expansion. In 1865, the population of Erie was nearly 10,000. Five years later, it would grow to over 18,000. These two factors, population growth and industrial expansion, combined to emphasize a mounting need for safe, drinkable water. Even back then, as it is today, clean water was seen as a key factor in the successful growth of a community.
By 1866, the city fathers understood clearly that they must do something to increase the
supply of GOOD water to the town. Prior to this, the city depended on two wells and a spring located on the Reed farm near today’s Parade and18th Streets. There were also two small springs located at 6th and State Street at the Brown’s Hotel. These sources met the needs of the city for its fire hydrants. They unfortunately served only a relatively few private citizen. The water supply was totally inadequate for general city use. Many citizens were forced to drill their own shallow-water wells, which were extremely unreliable due to their locations near the bay and lake.
At one point, the city fathers considered taking most of the needed water directly from the bay at the foot of French Street. Many citizens and some of the city fathers were concerned about the raw sewage that continued to be routinely dumped directly into the bay and into the creeks that flowed into the bay. This was especially true for the nearby Mill Creek which was located at the eastern end of the bay near State and French Streets. They explored other sources of water, including hauling water from Lake Pleasant, which is southeast of the city. At one point, they even tried an open floating flume to help supply water. The flume was simply a floating channel used to direct water to a specific area. It was positioned in the bay and was 640 feet long and supported by timber piers and was designed to keep the water free of floating contaminates. They, however, soon found that it could not escape the ever encroaching pollution.
Finally, in 1867, they voted to spend $350,000 to install an underwater intake into the bay. Its total length was to be 915 feet. It was to be located on the bayfront at Chestnut Street. Construction on the intake started immediately. When it was completed, it was actually 975 feet in length. The intake was in three sections of 52 feet, 590 feet and 333 feet. The first section was made of brick and was 14 feet in diameter. The middle section was constructed of wood and just 4 ¼ feet in diameter. A pipe of 4-foot boiler iron completed the intake. All were located just four feet below the surface of the bay. This fact was to later add to the continuing problem of contaminated water.
It did not take long before the continuing high levels of typhoid fever in the city made it obvious that the relatively short intake pipe was still pulling contaminated water into the system. The city ignored the problem and refused to construct an adequate sewer system in the city. That is when the citizens banded together under the leadership of then Mayor William L. Scott and bypassed the other city fathers and forced the formation of a Water Commission to help end the water problems. This was done by having the State Legislature pass an act that created a board of three Commissioners of Water Works in the City of Erie.
To make the intake successful and provide service to the city, they had to build a pump house which was completed in 1869. The pump house construction was started only after a bitter two year battle over what many thought were the excessive costs of the project. The project was twice rejected by the city fathers. However, once the pumping station was completed and operational, they also decided to add a 233 feet high standpipe to store water. A few years later, this standpipe was expanded to 265 feet. This whole complex was built at the current Water Authority property at the foot of Chestnut Street. The construction of the standpipe, which was done by Erie Iron Works, was quite unique because the top sections were built first, and each new section was riveted at the bottom. At the time, it was claimed to be the highest waterworks standpipe in the world.
Part II of Waterworks Park on Presque Isle will cover how this commission took steps that eventually ended with the development of the Waterworks Park area on Presque Isle.
This post was written by admin