[Editor's Note: In honor of this month's observance of 'Our Town Week' in Lowell, which draws attention to municipal services and local government, this month's column focuses on one of the most important services -- fresh water -- and provides an early history of the utility.]
In November 1898 Lowell's first municipal water system was nearing completion, designed to furnish an abundant supply of pure water, besides providing fire protection to nearly every acre in town. The work had been started only two months before, and was slowed by stormy weather.
Three miles and 142 feet of water mains were laid, including eight-inch, six-inch, and four-inch diameter pipe, with 32 fire hydrants placed strategically for good fire protection.
Valves were also placed in the mains, so that direct force could be used in case of fire. The work on the new water system was completed soon after the big fire of 1898.
A large "standpipe" was installed at the town square, on the site of the present Senior Citizens Park. [Note from 2001: Senior Citizens Park is now called Olde Towne Square.] Constructed of high grade steel, it was 100 feet high and ten feet in diameter, with a capacity of over 59,000 gallons. Six hours of pumping was required to fill the huge tank. Through the years, many youths climbed the steel ladder to the top on a dare.
The 1898 pump house was built near the site of the present one on Liberty St., just north of the post office. It was a brick structure, 24-by-28 feet, 12 feet high, with two rooms. In the west room was a 60-horse-power boiler, while the east room housed a 40-horsepower engine and pump. The pump was a Deplex, capable of throwing 750,000 gallons of water in 24 hours, considered a very efficient machine.
The water was obtained from a well 180 feet deep and eight inches in diameter, with the soft water rising to within 10 inches of the top. The attached reservoir had a capacity of 15,000 gallons.
The contractors, Western Engineering and Construction Co. of Chicago, tested the new system in December 1898 and soon turned it over to the Town of Lowell. The editor of the Lowell Tribune remarked: "They have given our town an honest job." C.M. Sechner, secretary of the company, was said to be a first-class machinist with years of experience in the business.
Hack and Jull, who had the contract for digging the trenches, broke ground on the morning of Oct. 5, 1898, the morning after the big fire, and with many difficulties, pushed the work to rapid completion. It was said at that time that the Town of Lowell should feel proud of the improvement in the water works and that they would not be sorry for the investment.
In May 1910 a bond issue of $3,500 was granted for water improvements, and in October of that year, J.E. Pickens of Kankakee, Ill., was employed to draw plans and give specifications for a new well and machinery. Sealed bids were opened Dec. 9, 1910, and contracts for the work were let.
The old standpipe was cleaned at intervals of five or more years, and in March 1950, Tincher and Smith of Crown Point did extensive repairs and also fitted the old water tower with a needed cover.
For many years the annual water revenue collected was $6,500, from a flat rate fee. Revenues increased to $8,000 in 1949.
As Lowell grew, many two-inch and smaller mains were connected to the original system, and by 1955, 29 additional fire hydrants had been connected to the old mains. During that same year, the standpipe was drained of water due to the terrible heat of July and August.
Many of the old valves could not be operated, so plans were made for their replacement, along with 1,000 more feet of eight-inch main, 3,700 feet of six-inch main, more hydrants, and pumping improvements to meet the need.
A new elevated tank was proposed at a cost of $31,790, and service meters were to be installed at a cost of $60.22 each. A four-point water improvement program was recommended by the engineering firm of Clyde Williams and Associates, approved by the Indiana Public Service Commission, and included water treatment to remove the sulphur odor.
According to an article in the Lowell Tribune in January 1957, the size of the tank was 200,000 gallons, and the foundations were already finished near the pumping station on the east side of Liberty St. The town dump was also in the area, and plans were being made to cover the unsightly trash with fill and make a playground for children.
When the new tank was completed, the old standpipe on the town square was torn down, and improvements were made at the park there. The rim of the present fountain in Senior Citizens Park is the base of that old standpipe.
March 1957 began a new era in Lowell's history when odorless water began to flow through the faucets. The water tower on Liberty St. was completed and 'Lowell' was painted on the sides and the top. The desulphurizing equipment was installed and put into full operation by W.F. Brunt of Cedar Lake. Additional water mains were laid for many of the town's new subdivisions, and water meters were installed in homes and businesses by Nichols Plumbing of Lowell.
Years before, a large welcome sign appeared at the north entrance of the town reading "Drink Nature's Tonic, Lowell's Sulphur Water," but in 1957, the Lowell Tribune editor had this to say: "By early spring, Lowell visitors will no longer find the water offensive and residents will have lost their taste for good, old sulphur water."
Since 1957 many changes have taken place in Lowell's water system, with many more miles of pipe laid, new wells drilled, and an additional water tower constructed at Evergreen Park on Lowell's east side.
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