Saturday, June 20, 2009

Man Held Aloft on Mighty Geyser of Water from Ypsilanti Water Works, 1890

Kind readers may have understandably scoffed when Dusty D recently informed them that Ypsilanti's 1898 water system was one of the best in the state. "Poppycock!" they may have muttered, "they couldn't even bill people sanely." Dusty D understands the skepticism, but what if I told you the water was so pure it cured kidney ailments, allegedly, and so mighty it could keep a man aloft on its Old Faithful-like stream? The latter is precisely what happened in March of 1890, as recorded by the Ypsi Sentinel. Doubters, take heed.

"An interesting exhibition of the water works was given a short time since at the Cross Street Bridge," notes the article. At the time, pipes for hooking up people were spreading out through the city, and in the previous summer, the first house had been connected: the Cornwell House at 203 N. Huron [now Beyer Apartments].
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The engineers and spectators at the Cross Street bridge that day were out to test the strength of the system. First was a test of how far the water could spray horizontally. "A plug was fastened to the end of a long tape-line, and inserted in the nozzle of the hydrant. At the word, water was turned on, and away shot the plug, leading out the line like a bomb of a life saving station" [a rope lifeline "shot" to, e.g., someone drowning]. The amazing distance of 175 feet, six and five-eighths inches was recorded. The crowd cheered and clapped.

Now for the vertical test. The engineers pointed the nozzle straight up. "The same plug and string were used, but the plug fell off on the ascent, and the exact measurement was lost." Oh, no!

"The engineer was not to be foiled, however. Detaching the plug, and taking the end of the line between his teeth, he grasped the ascending column of water, and up he shot to the height of one hundred and fifty feet, at which point, the ascending stream began to fall back." From his roaring, foamy perch, the gutsy engineer got a blurry glimpse of the city, far below, through a shimmering rainbow.

"When his assistant below saw that his ascent was stopped, he marked the line, sang out "ALL RIGHT!" and the daring climber slid down the column of water as gracefully as ever a sailor came down a rope from a mast-head."

Now, THIS was the caliber of the dauntless, resourceful, adventurous men who built our water system in 1898. Surely no one can now doubt its excellence. A tip of the hard hat to the engineers who gave Ypsilanti this awe-inspiring system of renown.


Dusty D said...

The Cornwell home was also the first in the city to receive telephone service, incidentally.

Fritz said...

While it might not have cured kidney ailments, an easy, indoor supply of clean water probably did improve peoples' health. Because in late February, with an inch of ice in the well, tasks requiring clean water might just seem a lot less important. Plus, the city water works was a nice long way from the outhouse.

Dusty D said...

Fritz: Well, it wasn't all roses...

From a July 15, 1973 article [warning: gross]:

"There were some troubles. If a householder shared his water with a neighbor whose house was not connected to the system, the householder was likely to find his supply shut off in punishment. Another problem was the practice of using the old individual wells for cesspools, thus infecting wells still being used for water supply."

Blerghh. "Hey, the privy's full, so we should dig a new hole...hey, waitaminute, we've already got one right here that we don't need anymore!" Ugh!

Steve Pierce said...

Aren't they also called the Haabs Apartments?

Dusty D said...

Steve: Hmm, a quick Google search brings up nothing, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Dang, I just had James Mann over for dinner; I should have asked him, but I will.