Thursday, June 18, 2009

1898 Ypsilanti Water Works: "If You've Got a Barber Chair, A Public Bath Tub, and a Cow, That'll Be Extra"

Ypsilanti was known for having a good municipal water service, inaugurated in 1898. Three years later, the system had 900 connections serving 4,500 customers, out of a population of 6,000 (75% of residents). To compare, Kalamazoo's system at that time was 24 years old and only served 9,000 of its 23,000 residents (39%). The 1892 Michigan Engineer notes, "Four fifths of all the water works systems in the country are of this inferior type." In contrast, Ypsi offered good service and good water quality. It was housed in the former Cornwell Paper Mill building, at Stewart Street and the river, near Factory St. & Grove.

If the service was efficient, the billing system was anything but. The company used water meters for customers, but also tacked on a Byzantine array of extra charges depending on your water use. For example, if you signed up for the "lawn sprinkling" option, you were strictly prohibited from using this allotment for your garden (unless you also signed up for the extra "garden" option). Oh, and you could ONLY sprinkle your lawn from 5:30 to 8 a.m. or 5 to 7:30 p.m., with a hand-held hose NO WIDER than 3/4 inch WITH nozzle. If you didn't like hand-sprinkling, use of a mechanical sprinkler was $1 extra PER SPRINKLER, on TOP of the initial charge for...gahh! [head explodes]

You had better pin down precisely what type of toilet you had before signing up. Private pan? Flowing? Self-closing? Private automatic closing urinal? Single acting valve? Double acting valve?

Manufacturers with 10 employees or under were charged $5, but offices with only 4 employees or under were charged the same, for cryptic reasons.

Why were billiard halls charged per pool table, and not per restroom/faucet fixture? Another mystery.

Oh, and it looks as though in the entire dwelling house, which I take to mean private residence, there was usually only ONE faucet total in the entire building, and that in the kitchen.

Presumably each barber chair had its own sink, as today. They also apparently had "public bath tubs." DD will pass on that, thank you.

Phew. Imagine being the bookkeeper for the Ypsilanti Water Works! And now it's time to go make some lemonade with one of the TWO luxurious hot AND cold faucets in the house and go water the gar--er, I mean, lightly sprinkle the lawn. Just a little lawn-sprinkling, officer, that's all. With a regulation hose, see?


Fritz said...

"Cigar Manufacturers (10 hands and under) $6"

That doesn't seem like a common buisness. But if I remember right, Ypsilanti had one. I can just imagine some guy sitting down and trying to think of all the businesses in town, and making up numbers for what to charge them.

Dusty D said...

Yeah, there was one cigar maker listed in the 1901 business survey:

I know!--the water rates list has a VERY ad hoc air about it. It was the first year, after all--they were kinda makin' it up as they went, understandably.

What is it about the 10 and under cigar makers that uses $1 more water than the 10 and under manufacturers?

Seems like a trivial question but there might be some interesting historical info about the nature of the businesses in the answer.

Fritz said...

I wondered about $6 vs. $5.

Maybe cigar making takes more water than I imagine. Or maybe the guy making the list didn't like the cigar factory's owner very much.

Dusty D said...

Huh. I thought mebbe each worker uses a bowl of water to seal the cigar...or something...but this cigar-maker is just making 'em at a desk. The only special equipment he has is the shaping rack & the rack press: