A Water-Works Question I Find Very Interesting To Contemplate
My research has dug up three Indiana cities either interested in, or constructing water-works in 1870:
Indianapolis, population : 50,000
Evansville, population,: 21,830
Ft. Wayne, population: 17,718
Columbus, population: 3,359
What motivated such a small town to take on such an enormous debt and invest $50,000 (in today’s terms, almost a million dollars) for a new water-works?
Cause for speculation is narrowed somewhat by understanding the Holly system of water distribution was solely for fighting fires (and watering down the dusty streets in the summer). As far as harnessing water power for industry? That importance was still several years out.
I have a hunch about this, and it points at Francis Jefferson Crump.
F. J.'s downtown property holdings were great, and, more important, Crump did not believe in insurance policies. Every fire in a Crump-owned building I’ve come across stated the Crump-owned building was not insured.
One of F. J.’s largest losses was the December 30, 1870 fire at the northeast corner of Fourth and Washington. Crump lost everything. Damage was estimated at $50,000. No insurance.
Three years later, F. J. incurred another loss at that same corner (F. J. Crump’s Opera House), resulting in a $25,000 loss. No insurance.
F. J. fancied himself a fire fighter. George Pence has written about F. J. being in charge of bucket brigades. F. J. even bought some sort of apparatus for fighting fires. Turns out, it performed so poorly that after one particular fire, he ordered a group of boys to push it to the Driftwood River and throw it in (it was most likely forever lost when the early 1900s filter was constructed).
I can see where F. J. would have a major stake in the water-works decision, even if he wasn’t sitting on the city council.
Of course, this is all speculation in this day and age.
Columbus is in the Top 25 of the Earliest Cities in the U. S. to Construct a Water-Works (out of 2,000+ cities to eventually adopt and build the Holly system of water distribution), and if my research is correct, the Columbus water-works went online before Indianapolis, thus making it the first city in Indiana to have an operating water-works system.
Photo credit: Cindy Hopkins