Ashland Water Works in 1895

This building housed Ashland’s first water works and was constructed in 1895.

ASHLAND -- Cholera is a bacterial infection that sometimes causes illness through contaminated water. Still today, Cholera causes over 100,000 deaths worldwide due to poor living conditions.

It was in the late 1800’s that Ashland officials felt it necessary to establish a water works that would reduce continuous concern over a cholera epidemic and provide a better source of water to fight fires.

It was commonplace to lose buildings constructed of wood to fire damage because the old bucket brigades were not a timely or effective way to extinguish a fire.

Mayor William Heltman along with councilmen David Phillips, J.I. Dorland, W.H. Brubaker, William Boren, Charles Gamble and William Davidson did the research and promoted the need for Ashland to build a water works. It was placed on the ballot and passed. At the March 11, 1895 city council meeting, officials approved the contract to Snyder and Williams of Dayton for $44,087.

1962 Ashland's meter readers

In 1962, Meter Readers Asa Mumaw, George Corral, Jack Gantes, Bob Coffman (L-R Rear), Roy Winland and Charles Wright (L-R Front) pose in front of a City of Ashland truck with a water tank in the background.

Nine shallow wells were drilled at the rear of the present water treatment plant. The wells produced 500,000 gallons of water a day for the city’s population of 3,000. The original water service building housed a high pump station system that was steam powered by coal-fired boilers.

A 165,000-gallon water storage tank was built on Claremont Avenue near Fairbanks Street. The storage tank provided standard water pressure and served as a water reserve in case there was a fire. A team of horses pulling a plow were utilized to dig the ditches and then the water lines were installed.

In September, 1895 the system was up and running. Four hydrants with hoses were installed downtown on Main Street. They were opened up to display the water power and each stream of water towered above the Opera House where the water department office was once located. The city eventually installed 171 fire hydrants.

If residential customers wanted to tap into the water line, the charge for running the pipe was $5.

The yearly rate for water in an average size home was $3.50 plus an additional $3 if there was a bathtub. Business customers were charged various rates based on potential usage. Hotels with bathtubs, saloons and soda shops paid $10 a year. By 1906 water use was metered and customers paid $5 for one year of water service starting on March 1 for the first 2,000 cu. ft.

After that, additional water usage was charged on a prorated basis from 5.5 cents per 100 cu. ft. to 13 cents per 100 cu. ft. maximum. The more you used, the more of a volume discount you received and as we all know, that eventually changed.

1963 Ashland Waterworks building razed

In 1963 the original water works building was razed when a new service garage was opened.

As the city grew during the 20th century and the demand for water became greater, many improvements and expansions were made. An additional water main was added downtown, a 119-million gallon reservoir was built along US 42 north in about 1919, the water was chlorinated to eliminate typhoid fever, and the 2-million gallon standpipe was built at Claremont and Mifflin Avenues.

In addition, more filtering was added, softener basins were included, the water was fluorinated, more water storage towers were built, and the size of the treatment plant has been continually expanded and upgraded over the years.

In 1924, very costly repairs had to be made when ice plugged the overflow pipe at the reservoir and caused the dam to collapse. All the water was lost and it took a long time to repair the damage.

During the July 4, 1969 flood, Ashland received about 11.4 inches of rain in the water treatment plant’s water pollution control gauge. As a result, the water and wastewater treatment plants were rendered inoperable, and the entire spillway of the city’s water supply reservoir washed out and lost about 110-million gallons of water that went south along the Jerome Fork Valley.

No loss of life occurred from this specific event but the city lost about one-third of its raw water supply. The other two-thirds was supplied by four wells which held 2.5-million gallons of water and was Ashland’s average daily flow at that time. The water treatment plant was completely down until the following Monday evening, July 7.

City officials were advised it would cost $1 million to replace the reservoir which was money they didn’t have and after 49 years of existence and diminished reliability, it was not replaced.

Instead, a $106,000 Federal Disaster Assistance grant was utilized to complete hydrologic studies and more wells were eventually drilled and placed into operation using income tax funds and revenue sharing funds.

The city ended up with a better system for a lot less cost based on the studies.

Some of the first water works superintendents were Frank Rupert, O. K Brown and A. H. Kennel. Donald Copeland was Ashland’s chemist and superintendent of filtration for a number of years. There is little doubt that their work made a significant improvement to early life in Ashland and today we often take indoor plumbing and safe drinking water for granted since it’s been around for so many years.

Support Our Journalism

History is about understanding where we’ve been. A membership with the Source supports where we’re going. Keep the richest parts of our heritage alive by joining today!