HISTORY IN A NUTSHELL – - Waterworks Park – Part III — Recreation and the need for clean water.

February 10, 2012 6:41 am Published by Leave your thoughts

This is part three of six blogs on the history and development of Waterworks Park on Presque Isle.

            While the extension of the intake line reaching 5,000 feet into Lake Erie was somewhat successful, it did not fully solve the typhoid fever problem. Records show that in 1911, over 1,050 cases of typhoid were reported, and 135 deaths recorded from the fever.  By 1912, the Water Commission began treating the water using a hypo-chlorination process that included adding hypochlorite of lime to the water supply.  While this did clean and purify the water somewhat, it did not remove its murky appearance.  They also began a discussion about installing some form of water treatment plant at their Chestnut Street location. 

            In 1902, the Water Commission, to keep on the good side of the Erie citizenship, built a

First Week at New Pool

large community pool at their Chestnut Street location.  The area also had a boathouse which included bathing lockers for the convenience of the citizens using the pool.  This pool was very popular, and was improved in 1908 and again in 1912.  As a young boy in the 1940’s, I visited the pool many times.    

            Back on the peninsula, work was being done on the two settling basins.  The ponds were originally designed to each hold 24 million gallons of water.   Water pumped into the holding ponds was to be allowed to just sit for a short time, which allowed sediment to settle out.   The water would then be drawn out of the ponds by the pumps at the Chestnut Street plant as needed.

Water Lab

       The land that was cleared and filled in when the pipeline was installed was becoming a problem for the Water Commission.  Sand, dirt and debris were constantly blowing into the two basins.  This was becoming an annoying source of expense and extra work for the Water Commission.   Two things were begun to help the situation.  The first was the planting of trees and bushes all over the area.  The second was to invite the State Fish Commission to install a hatchery on the north end of the area.  In spite of this, there seems to be no record of any hatchery ever being built there.

            As a side, the historical and other records about Waterworks and Presque Isle in general are more than somewhat incomplete.  As I researched Waterworks, I found it amazing that detailed records from 1880 to 1960 seemed to be so rare.  From what I have been able to uncover, many of these records were destroyed about ten or fifteen years ago.  If this is true, it would be a shame, as I believe that history plays an important part of our lives.  If any readers know about other sources of historical information about Presque Isle and its development and history please let me know.  I am attempting to put together a reliable database on Presque Isle history. 

         The Water Commission realized by 1910 that both ponds were collecting large amounts of sediment in the form of mud and dirt, which indeed settled out of the lake water and then dropped to the bottom of the ponds.  This was encouraging the growth of weeds on the pond bottoms and sides. Both ponds were designed to be a uniform depth of 12 feet, except that now, they were rapidly filling with this sediment.  In 1911, the east pond was emptied and cleaned, and a liner of 12 inches thick concrete was then poured on the bottom, with 6-inch concrete poured on the newly slopping sides.  The west pond was cleaned, but was left with a muddy bottom and has remained that way to this day.  For unknown reasons, the west pond never developed a serious weed problem.  When the cleaning process was complete, the sand, shells and mud settlings that were removed from the bottom of the two ponds were used to fill in the marshy areas west of the peninsula ponds.  

          During the period from 1912 to 1916, the Water Commission made a decision that it was necessary to install a complete water treatment plant at its Chestnut Street location.  As part of

Filter Plant

this expansion, a laboratory was built on the second floor of the plant to do quality and safety testing.   This lab still exists today.   The treatment plant, located north of the pumping station, was erected on reclaimed land from Presque Isle Bay.  Today, it still operates on the northern side of the Bayfront Highway. The fill used for construction of the treatment plant was the ash left from steam boilers, which had collected over the previous 46 years.  The filter plant consisted of twelve filter units, each with the capacity to filter 2 million gallons of water per day.   The plant had its own railway siding, coal and ash handling equipment, plus two large storage areas for supplies. 

            At about the same time, next door at the Commission’s pumping station, Big Bertha, a

Big Bertha

20 million gallon a day triple expansion high duty pumping engine manufactured by Bethlehem Steel, was added to increase the pumping capacity to the new filter plant.  This pump, over three stories high, was installed by the Henry Shenk Company.  It was during these expansions that the standpipe was taken down and replaced with a new one located near the Water Commission’s new Sigsbee Street Reservoir.     

            Meanwhile back on Presque Isle, the Water Commission was also busy with the construction of a pump house beside the east settling basin.  Still in use today, the pump house was built by the Kirschner Brothers in 1917.  The reason for its construction was to house the pump used to lower the water level in east pond so it could be cleaned of sediment.  It was equipped with a 100 horsepower coal fired pump which could lower the water of the east pond to a near empty level.

Waterworks Pump House

Old records show that this cleaning was done only once.   In 1919, the east basin was cleaned and over 2 ¾ feet of muddy soil removed from the bottom.   About one year later, the west basin was cleaned and three feet of sediment removed, but the pump could not control the water level on this pond so the cleaning was a much more difficult task.   Even after these cleanings, muddiness and turbidity continued to be a problem.  In spite of this fact, it was found that the use of the basins did remove 50 to 60% of the murkiness from the water and their use continued until 1954 when the water was moved directly into the Chestnut Street treatment plant. 

       The pump was also used to control water distribution between the ponds and from the lake.  Today, as you walk the concrete path between the two ponds, the original large blue steel valves that controlled this flow are still visible.

            The next blog post on Waterworks will cover the period from 1920 t0 1945.  It will center on the development of this area of Presque Isle.  This was a period of significant change on the park.


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