CHAPTER XXIV THE WATER SUPPLY
By nature this region about the Rapids of Grand river was abundantly supplied with the finest and healthiest of spring water. Except on the west side flats, there were few places where it did not come bubbling and sparkling from the bosom of Mother Earth. All along the bases of the hilly elevations, and well up their sides also, were springs of most excellent water; and on the lower levels it was necessary to dig but a few feet for an ample supply for the households of the early comers. But by nature there was no civilized community here, and hence no natural nor artificial foulness of civilization to defile water sources and courses. In the beginning the white settlers rejoiced over their luxuriant supply, and imagined that it would never prove deficient either in quantity or quality. The growth to a village and then to a city changed all that. Where at first every family had a fine spring almost at its door, the thickening of the population befouled the water and created the necessity for other and artificial supply. In the infancy of this settlement there was a large spring, from which came a rivulet large enough to run a turning establishment, half way up the hill north of East Bridge street -- clear, cool and excellent for domestic use. Just a little southwest from where the Central school building stands, under the brow of the hill, was another, from which a brook ran down Fountain street. In 1848 the latter, and a few years afterward the former, was turned log pipes for the people "down town," and both sources are still used in the works of the Grand Rapids Hydraulic Company, though at this day they constitute only a very small portion of its supply. But from this start grew the very comprehensive but not yet perfected system of water works now in use -- or rather systems, for there are two; that of the Hydraulic Company being the older, started in 1848, while that of the City Water Works was not fairly established until 1874.
In the course of examinations for sources of water supply in the city and the adjoining country, the elevations of a considerable number of bodies of water were ascertained, and in 1886 the following statement of them was made by the City Engineer: Reservoir when full, 178 feet; Green Lake, 199; Reeds Lake and Fisk Lake, 141; Church Lake, 167; Saddlebag or Powers Lake, 190; Lamberton Creek (at river), 17; Lamberton Lake, 72.2; Button Lake, 85; Crooked Lake, 114; Hydraulic Well (Penney's add.), 82.67. The base from which these elevations are calculated is low water at Fulton Street Bridge.
GRAND RAPIDS HYDRAULIC COMPANY.
In the fall of 1848 a number of gentlemen, of whom among the active workers were Canton Smith and Joseph J. Baxter, started the enterprise of supplying the most thickly settled portion of the then village with good spring water for domestic use. For that purpose they took the water from a large spring situated between Ransom and Bostwick streets, a few rods north of Fountain, from which flowed a lively creek down Fountain street. The pipes were the old fashioned pump logs -- pine logs of about a foot in diameter, with three inch bore. The boring of the logs was done by Lucius A. Thayer, who fitted an auger especially for that purpose, and operated it by waterpower in one of the factories above Bridge street between the canal and the river. The pointing and fitting of the logs was done by hand by a ship carpenter. A square curb made of two inch oak plank was sunk at the spring. The trench in which the logs were laid was a ditch, at no point more than three feet in depth. The piping was completed that fall from the spring down Fountain street to Ionia, thence to the National Hotel on Monroe street. In the following year the pipes were extended to the foot of Monroe, when it was found that the company had as many customers as that spring would supply. Meantime application was made to the Legislature for an act of incorporation, which was passed April 2, 1849, constituting George Coggeshall, Thompson Sinclair, Charles Shepard, Canton Smith, James M. Nelson, and their successors and assigns, a body corporate, to be known as "The President and Directors of The Grand Rapids Hydraulic Company," with a capital not to exceed $30,000. The purpose of the organization was to be (in the language of the charter) that of "conducting a plentiful supply of pure wholesome water to said village, for the use of the inhabitants of said village, and to supply reservoirs for extinguishing fires." The charter provided that the supply should "be obtained from the springs of water in and about said village, from Coldbrook, from the lake or lakes from which it has a source, or either of them, and from no other source." This charter was very comprehensive in the powers which it granted to the company, giving the right to enter and use streets, land and springs in and about the village, as might be requisite for its legitimate work, and moreover its franchises were given substantially in perpetuity. The latter point was determined in 1887 through a decision of the Superior Court, affirmed by the State Supreme Court, affirmed by the State Supreme Court, in a suit wherein the city attempted to restrain and enjoin the Grand Rapids Hydraulic Company from further laying of water pipes within the city. The decree of the courts was in favor of the Hydraulic Company.
The Hydraulic Company's charter was drawn by Solomon l. Withey, who obtained some valuable hints for its ground work from the famous charter of the Manhattan Company of New York. Mr. Withey became a member of the company, and its first meeting was held June 20, 1849, at which time its organization was completed by the election of officers. Canton Smith was its first President, and its stock books were opened for subscription June 22, 1849. Having reached the limit of its supply, while the demand was steadily increasing, the Company began to look about for more water. This they obtained from springs a little south of Wealthy Avenue and east of Jefferson, laying logs from that locality to Fulton street, and thence toward the river. They then had a fairly adequate supply for the residents along their lines, and that portion of the then business part of the town west of Division and south of Pearl street. But the city continued to grow, while the springs did not, and more water must be had. The company went still further south and gathered the outflow from several springs on what is called the "Penney eighty."
About 1854 Christopher Kusterer and John Mangold began the use of the large spring between Bridge and Hastings, a little east of Ottawa street, as a source of water supply for domestic use. Previously, at a very early day, a portion of the stream from that spring had been carried down Bridge street to a watering trough in front of the Bridge Street House, which for years made an excellent watering place for horse. In the summer of 1855 the Council gave permission to the proprietors of the Bridge Street House and Western Hotel, to lay pipes from the spring mentioned for their own use. Kusterer & Mangold, under a franchise obtained in 1859 from the Council, after having constructed a reservoir in which they collected the waters from this and other contiguous springs, laid pump logs down Bridge street and through Kent alley to Lyon street; also to and along by the buildings on the west side of Canal street, as far south as Huron, and down Canal street, as far south as Huron, and down Canal street to near Pearl, giving the residents thus reached a fair supply of excellent water for domestic use. Neither they nor the Hydraulic Company had sufficient pressure to carry water much above the second floors of the buildings even on the lower levels. Only wooden pipes or logs were used until 1857, when upon the first paving of Monroe street, the Hydraulic Company laid a small iron main down at thoroughfare.
In 1864 Amos Roberts, Warren P. Mills, James Lyman and Joseph Penney became stockholders in the Grand Rapids Hydraulic Company. The total stock subscription October 29 of that year, was $24,800. In 1870 the water rights of the Kusterer & Mangold company were by mutual arrangement merged in those of the Hydraulic Company. In 1872 the company undertook the construction of a deep reservoir upon ground purchased of Mr. Penney toward the southeastern part of the city, in the hope of greatly increasing its supply. This was a large brick curb with a cast-iron shoe at the bottom, sunk to a depth of about thirty feet. The water from that source is of excellent quality, and though not so abundant in quantity as the company had hoped, it enabled them to largely extend their distribution. Not much addition was made to their water resources until 1886, when they procured a site near the east bank of the river about three-fourths of a mile north of the city, where they sank a reservoir or well, and have established a pumping house station. The well curb is of brick, twenty feet in diameter, and about the same depth, and coated with cement outside and in, so that the inflow is at the bottom. It is fed by spring water from the higher lands adjacent, east, northeast and southeast, where are some fine springs and spring brooks. Their pump house is supplied with one compound and one high pressure engine, and two boilers, five feet in diameter and sixteen feet long; four-inch flues, sixty-four in each. Their pumping capacity is estimated at 3,000,000 gallons daily.
Warren P. Mills, from 1864 up to the time of his death in 1868, was collector and principal business manager of the company. Since that time Robert I. Shoemaker has been Superintendent of the pipe system.
The Grand Hydraulic Company have not increased, technically, their original capital stock of $30,000, but have issued stock certificates to a large amount, for enlarging and improving their works. Up to the end of 1888 they had laid about fifteen miles of iron mains, from six to twelve inches in diameter, and displaced all but three or four miles of the old wood and small pipes. They have also erected at the corner of Clinton and Newberry streets a stand pipe, 100 feet high and 20 feet in diameter. This is made of steel boiler plate, half an inch thick at the top. The officers of the company are, Moses R. Crow, President; John E. More, Vice President and Secretary; David A. Crow, Treasurer, and Robert I. Shoemaker, Superintendent.
Robert I. Shoemaker is a native of Germany Flats, Herkimer county, N.Y., born February 12, 1812. He came to Grand Rapids in April, 1838; was a carpenter and joiner, worked many years at that trade, and has been a busy man all his life. He officiated as bell ringer and as sexton several years in the latter part of the village and early part of the city period. He has seen nearly all there was and is of Grand Rapids, and has not quit work.
THE CITY WATER WORKS.
Prior to 1874 the main reliance of the city for water, for either domestic or public use, was upon the Grand Rapids Hydraulic Company's works. That company's system was chiefly for the supply of water to private parties -- for residences, stores and other buildings. Supply for city uses procured from that source was small, although many reservoirs at street corners were fed therefrom. It was of much benefit, but inadequate for great emergencies; in case of fire the pressure furnished was not sufficient to carry large quantities much above the ground floors of buildings. Soon after two or three disastrous fires, in 1870, the citizens began to discuss seriously the necessity of an ample water supply, within the ownership and under the full control of the city. At a public meeting a resolution was adopted to the effect that, "We need a better water supply, and are able to have it." In the spring of 1871, a Council committee was appointed to investigate and report as to sources of supply, and plan of distribution. J.L. Pillsbury, a hydraulic engineer of Boston, was called, and in company with our resident engineers, made an examination of the springs, streams and lakes, in and near the city. His report was substantially in favor of using Reeds Lake, and of a system of iron pipes for the distribution. The discussion was continued without arriving at a definite decision for two or three years. In the spring of 1873, Peter Hogan, of Albany, N.Y., was called in, and another examination made. Mr. Hogan, in an elaborate report, recommended the construction of a reservoir in the hill, the use of cemented wrought iron pipes, and the utilization of the waters of Carrier Creek, Coldbrook and Lamberton Creek, as the necessities of the city might require. No immediate steps were taken, but by the disastrous fire of July 13, in that year, north of Bridge street, the people were again aroused to the great need of decisive action. A Board of Public Works had been created for the city, by an act passed in March, 1873, under whose control the subject of water supply and the construction of the necessary works was placed, after a general plan should have been submitted to the Council. The Board in July submitted the plan of Mr. Hogan, with the recommendation that $250,000 be raised for that purpose, which was submitted to popular vote and adopted. The financial panic of that year delayed the work somewhat, but pipes were purchased, and before the first of December about two miles were laid down in Bridge, Canal and Monroe streets, and connected with a small reservoir belonging to C.C. Comstock, on the brow of the hill, near Newberry street. Thus a temporary supply of water was obtained, adding considerably to the means for extinguishing fires. In the spring of 1874 work was resumed, and in that year about eleven miles of the banded wood pipe known as Wyckoff patent pipe was laid. The site for a reservoir, comprising about five and one half acres, was purchased, and the reservoir constructed, at a total cost of $54,082.71. A site for the pumping house, on the bank of the river at the mouth of Coldbrook, was also purchased, and the building erected that year. This ground includes five lots, and has 250 feet front on Canal by 186 feet on Coldbrook street. The choice of this site gave, in addition to the control of the water in the creeks above mentioned, access to Grand River, rendering it certain that in no event would the city ever be short of water, as least as good as the river would afford.
The works, as constructed, combine the reservoir and direct pressure systems; the pumps working directly into the mains, all surplus water passing into the reservoir, which is only drawn upon when the pumps are not running, or in case of emergency. The reservoir is on top of the bluff, at the head of Livingston and Mason streets, occupying an area of three and one-fourth acres. It was built by T.C. Brooks and A.C. Sekell, contractors, under the superintendence of Assistant Engineer William Thornton. The pumping house, erected at the mouth of Coldbrook Creek, is cruciform, 75 by 97 feet in extreme dimensions, and, except a two-story front, one story high. The chimney is 100 feet high. It rests upon solid rock. Robert Hilton and Robert Davidson were the contractors. The original pumping engines were designed by Demetrius Turner, and constructed by Butterworth & Lowe, of Grand Rapids. The river water being considered unfit for use in summer, resort was had to Coldbrook and Carrier Creeks, near their junction, about 1,900 feet east of the pumping works. The distribution at first included about twelve miles of pipe -- about two miles being of cast iron, and the rest of wood (Wyckoff patent). The iron pipe was laid by Charles Peterson, and the Wyckoff pipe by T. B. Farrington and H.A. Branch. The reservoir pressure is sufficient to throw water over any building on the lower levels of the city.
Work done in 1874 on the city water works costing upward of $260,000, of which about $118,000 was for the pipe system. A published statement showed at the end of that year 10,389 feet of iron pipe laid, and 56,262 feet of Wyckoff pipe -- about 12.7 miles in all. This Wyckoff wood pipe was made by turning from the logs the outside sapwood, then boring out the center to the requisite sizes, which varied from four to sixteen inches. The pipe was then wound spirally with strong hoop iron, three thicknesses, at a distance of about three inches between coils, and over all was put a coat of liquefied asphalt, rendering it impervious to water and air. These pipes were kept in use about fourteen, doing good service under strong pressure.
The work during the year 1875, in addition to laying of pipes in the streets, included a pipe across the river for supplying the west side, and the purchase of ground for, and the construction of a settling basin, the latter being located on Coldbrook, just above the crossing of the railroad track, where it is joined by Carrier Creek. On the first of January, 1876, the city had 99,668 feet of water mains laid. Attached to these were 199 public and several private hydrants, and 107 stop valves. The engineer estimated the cost of the works up to that time at about $341,000. During 1876, about three and a half miles of water mains were added (17,766 lineal feet), and thirty-six hydrants. The amount expended upon the works that year was $29,328. In April, 1878, City Surveyor Sekell, made a test trial of the pumping engine at the water-works. The average steam pressure during the trial was 34 pounds. Water was taken directly from the twenty-inch supply main leading from the settling basin. The test showed a result of 25,483,915 pounds raised one foot for every hundred pounds of wood, or about two and a half times that amount for every hundred pounds of wood, or about two and a half times that amount for every hundred pounds of coal. The pump delivered was 97.82 gallons at each revolution, the piston having a stroke of six feet. A duplicate pumping machine was purchased which cost $11,200.
From 1878 onward for several years very little progress was made in improving the city water works, the chief labor and outlay being for their care and preservation. September 2, 1880, after a heavy fall of rain, occurred a serious disaster to the force-main, which is a pipe leading from the pumping house to the reservoir. A portion of the end leading up the sand hill, was undermined, only a few rods below the reservoir, through the washing out of the sand by the storm, and between 300 and 400 feet of the main was carried out. This was of the Wyckoff pipe, 16 inches in diameter; thus broken up into its original sections of eight or ten feet in length. In repairing, this was replace with iron pipe. Various efforts were made to obtain funds to procure an increase of water supply. A proposition submitted for a loan of $100,000, July 24, 1883, was defeated by a majority of 430 votes against it. Another for $300,000, July 7, 1885, was defeated by an adverse majority of 515 votes. April 5, 1886, a proposition for a loan of $75,000, was likewise defeated. December 14, 1886, a proposition for a loan of $500,100 met with 1,104 adverse majority. Still another effort for a loan of $250,000, was voted down, December 6, 1887, the majority against it being 1,095. But in the following year there came a great change in the public mind, and on the 7th of August, 1888, the electors of the city voted -- yeas, 2,799; nays, 946 -- in favor of procuring by loan $150,000 to extend the mains and improve the water supply. Bonds to that amount were issued, and from this sale $168,248.35 were realized. Contract was made for 41 miles of pipe, and 13 miles were laid before the end of 1888. Other improvements made to the water system included a filtering crib in the center of the river, with a pipe from the crib to the pumping-house well; also a new boiler-house. It was estimated that the sum in hand would be sufficient to extend the supply mains to an aggregate of 59 miles with 445 hydrants attached. A very important item in the water works systems is the cast iron main, 16 inches in diameter and 600 feet long, laid across the river in 1886, near the pumping station. This takes the place of an earlier and smaller one which had become valueless.
The Legislature at the session of 1889 passed an act authorizing the city to borrow a sum not exceeding $80,000, issuing bonds therefor, to substitute iron pipe for the Wyckoff wooden pipe, for the erection of a standpipe, and for other improvements of the water works system. In accordance with a vote of the Common Council, bonds to the amount of $80,000 were issued, which were sold at a premium, and the proceeds applied as designated in the act -- the more important improvements being the replacing of the wood pipe with iron, the extension of the mains, the erection of a standpipe, and the construction of the filtering bends in the channel of Grand River nearly opposite the pumping house. The later plans and work involve the abandonment, substantially of Coldbrook and Carrier creeks, as sources of supply, the great growth of the city in that direction having too much contaminated their waters; and with them the setting basin also goes out of the use for which it was made.
The status of the City Water Works system, as represented by F. A. Twamley, Secretary of the Board of Public Works, in July, 1889, was substantially as follows:
Water supply: Grand river through three gravel filtering beds, built in excavations in solid rock in center of the river, and below the river bottom. Sizes of filter beds: No. 1, 8 by 10 feet; No. 2, 6 by 104 feet; No. 3, 40 by 460 feet, with galleries below and conduit 3 by 3 feet in size from galleries to pump well on bank of river. Pumping to reservoir for low service; pumping to standpipe for high service.
Pumping machinery: Daily capacity, 12,000,000 gallons. For low service, horizontal direct acting condensing pump with 33 inch stream and 20 inch water cylinder of 72 inch stroke, made by Eagle Iron Works, Detroit, capacity 5,000,000 gallons. One horizontal direct acting condensing pump with 33 inch steam and 15 inch water cylinder of 72 inch stroke, made by Butterworth & Lowe, Grand Rapids, capacity 3,000,000 gallons. High service: One duplex compound condensing pump with 18 inch and 30 inch steam, and 16 inch water cylinder, 24 inch stroke, made by Smith, Vaile & Co., Dayton, Ohio, capacity 2,500,000 gallons. One Gordon and Maxwell duplex high pressure condensing pump with 20 inch steam cylinders and 12 inch water cylinders, 18 inch stroke, to be used as an auxiliary pump, daily capacity 1,500,000 gallons. Pumping machinery and force mains of high and low pressure interchangeable.
Distributing reservoir: Capacity 6,000,000 gallons. In excavation and embankment 196 feet in diameter at the bottom, 271 feet at the top; twenty-five feet deep, with twenty feet of water. The bank is mostly of sand, with puddle in the center along the natural surface, and over the bottom. The bank is twelve feet wide on top with an inner slope of one and a half to one, and outer of two to one. The inner slope is paved with one foot of cobble stones laid on one foot of concrete, except the upper two feet of the slope, which has six inches of cobble set in gravel. The bottom has an eight-inch cobble stone pavement on eight inches of concrete. The flow line is 177 feet above the river. The reservoir has never leaked. The sixteen-inch force main and twenty-inch effluent pipe are carried under the bank, enclosed in masonry piers. The force main ends in a mass of masonry, and the effluent pipe begins in a small masonry well, both at the foot of the inner slope.
Standpipe: Of iron, capacity 397,000 gallons, thirty feet in diameter and seventy-five feet high, on a substantial masonry foundation.
Distribution: Mains 59 miles of length. All cast iron except four miles of wood, which are shortly to be relaid with cast iron. Two cast iron submerged mains cross the river, 12 and 16 inches in size. Services -- lead. Taps -- 2,568. Meters -- Worthington, Crown, Ball & Fitts duplex, 400. Hydrants -- Mathews, Galvin Mathews, Ludlow and Lowry, 604. Valves -- Galvin & Eddy, 412. Average consumption -- 2,716,736 gallons daily. Pressure -- 70 pounds low service, 35 pounds high service.
Cost of entire works, $715,885.52. Debt, $612,000; $382,000 at 8 per cent, and $230,000 at 5 per center. Annual operating expense, $22,084.44. Annual revenue, $41,838.66. No revenue from the city.
Besides the eight deep wells sunk in this immediate vicinity in the efforts to establish the manufacture of salt, a considerable number have been bored to procure water for domestic and factory uses. In most of these flowing veins have been struck, at depths varying between 150 and 325 feet, with pressure sufficient to elevate the water a considerable distance above the ground; in some cases to a height of upward of 30 feet in localities not far above the river level. The Butterworth well, started to procure salt, was subsequently used for a time to furnish medicinal baths. These were abandoned, and the water is running to waste, except that it is frequently partaken of by persons living or working in the vicinity, who deem it a healthful beverage for occasional use.
In the spring of 1873, William T. Powers put down a well in the Arcade under his opera house, and at a depth of 304 feet, procured a fine flowing stream. He put in tubing and constructed a fountain, where thousands of passers by take refreshing draughts daily. An analysis of the water shows it free from organic matter, and in that sense perfectly pure, while it carries about 157 grains to the gallon of mineral agents in solution, and is deemed excellent for its medicinal properties. Its temperature is agreeable, and its taste not unpleasant.
At the Phoenix furniture factory, a well was sunk in the spring of 1883. Here was produced a stream flowing about 2,000 barrels daily, with a pressure furnishing a head of about 38 feet. Its depth is 168 feet. The water is useful for different purposes about the factory, and is deemed good for drinking, having a slight mineral taste. Two years later, another well was bored, on South Front street at Wallin's Tannery. This went down 151, and from it the water flowed to a height of 30 feet, clear, pure and cold. Soon afterward a well was drilled at the Eagle Hotel, from which water pronounced good as a beverage came up in abundance. In 1886, in the Widdicomb Block, a bore 210 feet deep struck apparently the same vein that was reach at the Eagle Hotel.
Other artesian wells have been made -- at Weirich's Brewery, at the Houseman Block, at the Gas Company's works, at the County Jail, and at Veit and Rathman's brewery. The latter was test for making beer, but the water was found unfit for that use. A well sunk in the Eagle printing office building, and stopped in solid rock at a depth of only 30 feet, furnished pure, limpid, soft water, flowing nearly to the surface of the ground, which, utilized by pumping, was found excellent for making steam, leaving no incrustations on the boiler, and healthful as a beverage. For use in the building, the water pumped from this well averages about 200 barrels daily.
In 1888 was put down a well by the northeast corner of the Hermitage block, at the junction of Canal and Bridge streets, from which the water came up in a rapid current from a depth of 323 feet, through a six inch tube, and with pressure sufficient to carry it several feet above the ground. This water is strongly impregnated with mineral substances, acids and carbonates. It is not palatable for drinking, yet is thought to possess some medicinal qualities, and is useful for several other purpose, through not good for the laundry. This well cost $1,194.40. The flow at first was at the rate of 160 gallons per minute, or about 7,432 barrels daily, and there appears to be no sensible diminution.
January 15, 1887, a company was organized in this city with the avowed purpose, as one of them expressed it, of "going for salt, coal, petroleum, gas or China." In other words, their object was to sink an experimental test well, to ascertain the character of the geological structure underlying the town, and to determine the question whether or not oil, inflammable gas, salt, coal or other valuable substance could be found available for profitable use or manufacture. They started with the intention of putting the well down 3,000 feet, or reach Trenton rock, if necessary to the accomplishment of their object. Upward of fifty prominent business citizens invested in stock of this association, of which the capital was placed at $10,000. The following directors were chosen: Freeman Godfrey, John L. Shaw, William T. Powers, Robert B. Woodcock, Adolph Leitelt, William Widdicomb, and James K. Johnson -- President, Freeman Godfrey; Vice President, J. L. Shaw; Secretary and Treasurer, William Widdicomb.
The contract for sinking the well was let to Noble & Co., who at once entered upon the work. At the depth of 240 feet there was a flow of fresh water. At 452 feet the water was cased off. From that down to 1,205 feet the drilling with mostly dry and through hard strata. Then came sand rock with a flow of strong salt water. At 1,500 feet there were traces of oil and gas. The flow increased until at 2,200 feet it burned at the mouth of the well, with a bluish flame four feet in length, and the quantity of gas continued to increase until strong salt water came in about 2,220 feet and drowned it out. At 2,300 feet boring was suspended and the well cased with 4 1/2 inch tube, internal diameter. After this the drilling was continued to 2,340 and there stopped, the bore having become clogged, leaving the detached drill at or near the bottom. This well was sunk at a point near where Godfrey Avenue comes to the railroad track. It is commonly called the Godfrey well, or the "Deep Well." Freeman Godfrey, who kept a close record of the borings, and took much interest in studying the geological features, says that if the experiment shall ever be renewed, he would advise as follows: Drill a hole 10 inches in diameter to the depth of 440 feet, and at that point case the water off by tubing. Drill then to about 1,550 feet from the top, to the black shale, and case with a tube 4 1/4 inches diameter. Continue the boring with four-inch bore to the Trenton rock, which is gas bearing (estimated total depth 3,700 feet, and penetrate that rock about 30 feet.) This he thinks will sufficiently test the gas-bearing strata of the Trenton rock, and he fully believes that the work would be richly successful.
The original charter of the city invested the Common Council with "full power and authority to construct, repair and preserve sewers and drains." There was at the time abundant need of such work, but the city did not fully wake up to a realization of that fact during the first three or four years. The work was begun sparingly and economically. Some of the early sewers consisted simply of lines of box pipes made of plank, put together in square form, and of various inside dimensions from six to twelve inches. But about 1855, when grading began in earnest, more permanent materials for sewering, and more systematic methods, were found necessary. The first brick sewer designed to be permanent was laid down in Monroe street when that thoroughfare was paved with cobblestone in 1856, previous to which time efforts at drainage had been limited mostly to the wooden pipes, open ditches, and cheaply constructed culverts at the places where spring rivulets crossed the streets. Short sewers or drains were put in about 1857 at the foot of Canal and Bridge streets and Crescent Avenue, and one of greater length from Washington street toward the river. The work proceeded in a desultory manner, without much system, here and there on both sides of the river, until about 1865. In the early part of that year, what was called a city grade bench was established. It was made of a large granite boulder, appropriately marked and sunk in the ground at the southwest corner of the triangular park in which stands the Soldiers' Monument. This was adopted as a starting point from which to establish grades, and thereafter the fixing of grades of sewers, and thereafter the fixing of grades of sewers, as well as streets east of the river, was determined with reference thereto. Thus was established a general uniformity of descent and flowage, as near as might be, through these conduits. The slopes of the east part of the city are such as to make this system of drainage most excellent and well-nigh perfect. The trunk sewers made since that date from the vicinity of Washington and Jefferson, and in Fulton, Monroe, Fountain and Ionia, Crescent Avenue, Bridge, the alley between Canal and Kent, and also in South Division street, all constructed of brick, are quite large and expensive. They are laid at a depth sufficient for the drainage of small buildings, cellars and basements adjacent, and a small fee is exacted of the property holder for each connection with a sewer. On the west side also are several large conduits of considerable length, especially that in West Bridge street, and the main trunk coming down from the northward across Bridge street a little east of the railroad track and curing to the river below, where formerly ran a brook. At the west line of the city is a flowage of considerable volume through a large open ditch, going out southward, which will some day need transformation into a covered sewer. Being so nearly level, the outflow of drainage on that side is rather sluggish; yet, the conditions considered, the sewerage is generally good and efficient. Considerable difficulty has been encountered in the matter of the disposable of sewerage, or its discharge into the river. From the foot of Lyon street down to near the steamboat landing, a large, arched culvert receives the contents of several trunk sewers, and conducts them below. Yet there has been a great complaint of the offensive odors arising from the comparatively still water into which they discharge, below the rapids. To remedy this, will require sometime a large outlay. The aggregate length of the sewers in 1888, is given as follows:
Brick sewers: 17,486
Glazed pipe sewers: 22,690
Cement pipe sewers: .480
Wood sewers: 1,853
Iron pipe in river: .160