Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Worries Over the Region's Water Supply in 1891

As the populations of Mount Vernon, Pelham and New Rochelle grew in the 1880s and early 1890s, worries about the region's water supply also grew, particularly given the rather crude sewerage treatment technologies of the day.  A lengthy editorial about the water supply problem appeared in the September 8, 1891 issue of The Chronicle published in Mount Vernon.  The editorial is transcribed below in its entirety.

"Our Water Supply.

The Board of Trustees are to meet next Wednesday evening, the 9th inst., at eight o'clock, to consider our water supply.  On that occasion it is probable that the New York and Mount Vernon Water Company and the New York and Westchester Water Company will be represented.  The former now furnishes, or tries to furnish Mount Vernon with water, the latter desires an opportunity to do so.  The present is therefore a fitting moment for a statement of what Mount Vernon wants and what the Water Company which serves us must supply. 

1.  We must have an abundant supply of water.

2.   It must be pure and wholesome.

3.  It must be furnished at reasonable rates.

4.  We must have a storage reservoir sufficient to supply us in any period of drought which is likely to occur.

Let us test the New York and Mount Vernon Water Company by these standards.

First.--It has not an abundant supply of water.  The New Rochelle Water Company owns the headwaters of Hutchinson River, down to and below Duryea's Mill Pond, so that all the water therefrom which the New York and Mount Vernon Water Company receives can be cut off at any moment.  To make bad worse the New York and Westchester Water Co. own the Hutchinson River below Duryea's Mill Pond down to and south of Glen Drake, so that all the water of the Hutchinson River nnorth of Glen Drake can be cut off at any time.

From Glen Drake to the reservoir of the New York and Mount Vernon Water Company is a distance of a mile; from the source of the Hutchinson River to Glen Drake is four miles.  How small a part of the watershed of the Hutchinson River is left to the New York and Mount Vernon Water Company, these figures show at a glance.  Moreover, we do not known how soon portions of this little strip of watershed may be bought up by rival companies. 

It is evident therefore that our supply of water from the Hutchinson River is likely to grow small by degrees and beautifully less, as the village increases in population.  We are informed that most of the water furnished in our village comes from artesian or driven wells.  The failure of these wells lately shows their insufficiency; artesian wells are not affected to any material extent by droughts. 

How much water recently acquired, Huguenot Lake will furnish we know not; but we do know that although the pipe therefrom to the reservoir has been laid for more than two weeks, and during those two weeks it has rained frequently, the water in the reservoir up to last Saturday, had not risen two feet.  The number of customers the company has is about 1,700.  As there are an average five to a family, about 8,000 people in Mount Vernon use the water.  They use about 60 gallons per haed.  Our Water Company should have a supply for at least 35,000 people -- that is three times the number it now supplies.  It has nothing of the sort.

2.--The quality of water.  That which comes from the artesian wells is, we believe, excellent, but that which comes from the Hutchinson River is not.  On its watershed are Pelhamville, Chester Park, Highland Parg and the Wartburg and Infant Asylums.  Guard these as you will, their sewerage will to some extent leak into the river; and as these places grow the leakage will be greater.

Hence the sooner the Hutchinson River is abandoned by us as a water-supply, the better.


These are excessive when compared with those in New York City and in our other neighbors.  If the New York and Mount Vernon Water Company desires to keep the patronage of Mount Vernon, it must, like Capt. Scott's coon, come down.


We must have a new storage reservoir and it should not be where it is.  It is immaterial where the water comes from as long as the location of the reservoir is unchanged.  The purest of water, if pumped into it, will be contaminated with the impurities and sewage which find their way into the river.

The reservoir holds only 30,000,000 gallons or thereabouts when full.  It barely holds a month's supply for Mount Vernon to-day; and it will not be a fortnight's supply two years hence.  The New Rochelle reservoir holds 130,000,000 gallons.  It is therefore almost six times as large as ours, although the population is not half as numerous.


Now if the New York and Mount Vernon Water Company will remedy all these defects, it should be preferred to any other company.  If it will not, then any other company which will give us a better supply should have our patronage.


The New York and Westchester Water Company propose to get most of their water from the Pocantico River.  This is a small stream that flows into the Hudson River at Tarrytown.  How much of its watershed the company owns we know not.  How many gallons a day it supplies we know not.  How pure the water is we know not.  Neither do we know what rates the company proposes to charge, nor the size of its storage reservoirs."

Source:  Our Water Supply, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Sep. 8, 1891, p. ?, col. 1 (page number not printed on newspaper page). 

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