Old Water Works of Salem

Old Water Works of Salem

The excavations which are being made by the Salem, Mass., street department in various highways of the city are occasionally unearthing fragments of the wooden, or log, pipes which at one time conveyed the waters of Spring Pond, on the Boston road, to the streets and homes of that ancient city. The Salem & Danvers Aqueduct Company, chartered in 1797 with a capital of $10,000 for the purpose of conveying a supply of pure water from Bring Pond, so called, to the streets of the town of Salem, began its operations in a most primitive fashion. According to the story of C. M. Endicott published in 1860, the company’s first reservoir was an ordinary fish hogshead, and its first piping was of saplings, three-inch bore, in 1798 the company had a larger reservoir at the summit of the far-famed Gallows Hill. It was of brick, 24 feet square and lb feet deep. The size of the log piping was increased. With this simple equipment the company actually began its business of water supply in 1799. The innovation must have been popular, as before the end of the year the company declared its first dividend. Land at the pond was purchased in 1800. Logs were contracted for wherever they could be found, and the number of water renters in the town increased to such an extent that it was difficult to connect them all within satisfying time after the application. By 1804 the dividends amounted to an annual 6 per cent, investment. Then came repairs and alterations, and an increase in the schedule of rates. These vicissitudes of the business had a tendency to unsettle matters. By 1804 also the fish-hogshead, the original reservoir, had worn out its usefulness. Its replacement was a small expense, but the constant decay of the pipes caused a considerable output of money. It was at this time that a public-spirited citizen, Joseph Peabody, announced his willingness to assume the burden of wholesale repairs all along the line, which, with an increase in the rates, gave the really doomed wooden pipe water system another brief lease of Life. The rate tables were quaintly worded, and it is seen that “cows in families,” as well as “horses in families,” were expensive luxuries because of the additional water rate exacted in all such cases. In 1834 the first iron pipe was laid from North street down Essex street to Newbury street. This improvement cost $7000, and the payment of the bill was made from the company’s earnings. From that time the iron pine gradually replaced the old wooden conduits. The company continued to pay dividends, to build reservoirs, and by 1860 its affairs seemed to be on a solid foundation. The entire construction expense up to 1860 was $246,200, at the rate of $216 per share. In 1869 the capital stock of the Salem & Danvers Aqueduct Company was doubled to $20,000, and the number of water takers bad increased from the original 500 to 3,000. Through the first half century of the company’s progress there seems to have been unfailing faith among the promoters in the prosperity of the undertaking. The record speaks of a uniform and efficient water service, coupled with a fair return to the stockholders.

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