Madison Water System-Laying Pipes in the Ohio River-View 1

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Madison Water System-Laying Pipes in the Ohio River-View 1


Water utilities; Pumping stations; Reservoirs


The first water system for Madison was built between 1814 and 1817. While it did not serve everyone in the city it must have been a monumental achievement for such an early age.

The first water ducts were hollowed out logs fitted into each other forming a kind of pipeline from the natural spring at the top of Michigan Hill. The line extended through what is now Springdale Cemetery and into the town proper.

There were three "plugs" from which one could draw water; one was at the corner of Second and Main Street (now Jefferson Street); one was at Main Cross (Main Street) and Main (Jefferson); and one was at Main Cross (Main) and West Street. At these points there were upright posts, bored out, with holes in the sides stopped with wooden plugs.

There were also water wagons that brought water downtown and it seems some of these entrepreneurs were not above occasionally cutting the pipes to ensure their livelihoods.

All in all, it was a rather precarious system and by 1834 a new system was sought by the trustees of the corporation of Madison. An agreement was made with John Sheets for "watering the town of Madison." Sheets, his heirs and assigns, received "the entire and exclusive right and privilege of supplying the inhabitants of the said town of Madison with water for all purposes as well private as public, by conveying the same in iron pipes from the Ohio River to any or every part of the town for and during the full sixty years..." After that the pipes and all things connected were to belong to Madison.

Sheets was to get an engine with power to raise water to a reservoir and the pressure was to be enough to give a force and head of eight feet above the surface of the ground at the intersection of Main and Main Cross.

The work was to start within two years and be completed within five. Mr. Sheets, however, turned over control of this undertaking to the city in 1837 and the project was abandoned.

In 1846 another contract was let to Thomas Godman who was to locate a reservoir on his own property near the railroad cut. This was done around 1850 and soon the city took over the water system. The city continued to muddle along for another 20 years or so with its hodge-podge of a water system.

There were pipes laid in the Ohio River through which water was pumped to a reservoir. We have been unable to determine exactly when this piping system was installed; however, this system proved unsatisfactory. It was said that a bucket of water, when left sitting for a few hours, would have two inches of mud in the bottom. It was also deemed to be unsanitary.

In 1877 a new waterworks system, with steam pumps, was completed near the river. The pumping station was located east of Ferry Street and pumped water from drilled wells along the banks of the river. This system proved much more satisfactory and served until the present system was installed.


Harry Lemen, photographer


Madison Courier; Historical Files; Indianapolis News


Date unknown


Madison-Jefferson County Public Library


Permission to reproduce this image for other than personal use must be requested from the Director of the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library. Please contact at 420 W. Main Street Madison, IN 47250 (812) 265-2744


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Harry Lemen, photographer, "Madison Water System-Laying Pipes in the Ohio River-View 1," in Harry Lemen Historic Photo Collection, Item #100, (accessed May 28, 2015).