The primitive beginnings of Trenton's public water supply, by force of time and circumstance, diffuse an element of historic importance over the personality of one Stephen Scales who lived on a farm now a part of the Fifth Ward near the old reservoir (now the site of the Stadium). Scales had on his land one of the best springs in this section of the country, and he determined to capitalize a demand then existing for a permanent water supply. With enterprising spirit he applied to the Legislature and received on December 3, 1801, the necessary charter to convey water from his spring through the streets of Trenton to supply the people of the city "with plenty of sweet and wholesome water." Scales was now in possession of full franchise rights for a public utility in embryo, and for some time he supplied a few families, but whether from lack of funds or initiative, or both, he failed to avail himself of the extensive construction rights under his charter, and he eventually made known his desire to sell out. At this time the inhabitants took their water from springs on their own property or from the springs in the neighborhood.

A group of the more prosperous men of the town had become interested in the project of forming a company to supply water to the city, and banded themselves together in a company under the name of "The President and Directors of the Trenton Water Works" with the aim "of erecting works for the purpose conveying water from the spring of Stephen Scales through the streets of the city of Trenton for the use of the inhabitants thereof." The company was capitalized at $1,200 to consist of sixty shares at a par value of $20 each. On September 18, 1802, Scales by agreement of that date sold his spring and franchise rights to the company. At a meeting of the company three later the following officers were elected: James Ewing, President; Peter Gordon and Thomas M. Potts, directors; Gershom Craft, secretary, and Alexander Chambers, treasurer. The sixty shares of stock had been subscribed for.8

  8 The sixty shares of stock were subscribed for by the following: Isaac Smith, Peter Gordon, Ellett Howel, Thomas M. Potter, Henry Pike, Jeremiah Woolsey, William Scott, Jacob Herbert, Abraham Hunt, Gershom Craft, George Dill, Ellett Tucker, Joseph Milnor, Joshua Newbold, Hannah H. Barnes, William Potts, Mary and Sarah Barnes, Joshua Wright, Stephen Scales, John R. Smith, A. Chambers, John Chambers, James Ewing and George Henry.  Lee, History of Trenton, p. 86.


The company was incorporated by Act of the Legislature passed on February 29, 1804, under the name of "The President and Directors of the Trenton Water Works," and began the construction of a fountain to supply the wooden trunks or pipes, which were nothing more than bored logs fitted together to make a pipe line. The plant operated successfully for three years when twenty additional shares were issued for the purpose of enlarging the works. The report of that year, which was the first report issued by the new company, showed receipts from water rents of $105.07; total receipts, $143.47; expenditures $95.33. The officers decided not to declare a dividend so that additional improvements might be made by laying the trunks down Warren Street to Front Street in order "that four families might be supplied." The company declared its first dividend, $3 per share in April 1811.

Opposition came into the field when the Legislature on February 8, 1811passed an Act to incorporate the proprietors of the Trenton Aqueduct Company which proposed to take its water supply from the Assunpink Creek. The officers were Andrew Reeder, president; Charles Rice, treasurer; and Stacy Potts, Joseph Broadhurst and Peter Howell, directors. The capital stock was not to exceed $3,000. The records of the Trenton Water Works show that its stockholders declined to combine with the Aqueduct Company, after many overtures had been made and eventually the new company was absorbed in the old one.

In 1848 the Trenton and South Trenton Aqueduct Company was incorporated for the purpose of supplying both Trenton and South Trenton with water, the company proposing to use the water of the Delaware River or of the Assunpink Creek below the dam. Its capital stock was $30,000 and its incorporators were John McKelway, William Halstead, Samuel McClurg, Charles Wright, Xenophon J. Maynard, John Sager and Alexander Armour.

In 1823 the report made at the annual meeting of the Trenton Water Works company showed an excess of liabilities over assets of $267.40 1/2. New officers were elected and the following year the indebtedness had been discharged and the company had a balance of $200.

Due to the continued growth of the city a modern water supply was deemed necessary and in April 1839 a committee was appointed by the corporation to make inquiry as to the ability of the fountain or spring to furnish an adequate supply; the cost of substituting iron pipes for the wooden logs then in use; the number of persons who paid water rents, and the probable increase of income from an increased and adequate water supply. The committee made its investigation and a few months later decision was reached to lay iron pipes. Four thousand dollars of additional stock was issued for this purpose and on October 18, 1839, the first iron pipe was laid. Mains and branches totaling 13,343 feet, at a cost of $19,774.59, were laid during the next two years.

The company had been organized forty years before but comparatively few citizens had given up the use of springs and pumps, because the report for the year 1840 shows that the receipts from water rents amounted to but $1,428 in a population of 4,035. In the period from 1840 to 1850 the records show that many of the stockholders were dissatisfied with the manner in which the company operated. In 1850 Jonathan Steward was elected president; Thomas J. Stryker and William P. Sherman directors; Samuel Evans, treasurer; and Joseph G. Brearley, secretary. These officers issued a statement to the stockholders that apparently quieted the discontent. In 1855 the receipts of the company amounted to $2,313.44.

In 1851 the capacity of the Stephen Scales spring or fountain began to fall short of the demand for water, and in 1852 the Legislature authorized the company to take water from the Delaware River and store it in basins or reservoirs. The capital stock of the company was thereupon increased by 1,076 shares for the purpose of constructing a reservoir and making other improvements. A tract of land facing on Reservoir Street was purchased for $6,000 and a basin built, twelve feet in depth with a capacity of 1,414,082 gallons. On the river bank was built a pumping-station costing $3,000.


Municipal ownership of the city water supply was now being agitated and in March 1858, in accordance with an enabling statute, the citizens of Trenton at a referendum election voted to purchase the company-owned water works, and on March 1, 1859, the Legislature gave authority for the transfer of the plant to the city. The city paid $88,000 in cash for the plant and the sum of $12,000 remained in the hands of individual stockholders who refused to part with their stock until some time later. The administration of the water works became vested in a board of commissioners created by legislative Act, who were appointed by Common Council. The first water board consisted of Charles Moore, Philemon Dickinson, Daniel Lodor, David S. Anderson, Jacob M. Taylor and Albert J. Whittaker. From that time to the present the control of Trenton's water supply has been in the hands of the municipality.

Erected in 1853 the old reservoir was enlarged in 1855 and again in 1871. In 1874 a serious leak occurred which flooded a part of the city near the reservoir, but it was found that the trouble was not in the reservoir itself but in the pipes through which the water entered the basin. These pipes were in such dangerous and menacing condition that radical changes in plant and equipment were found necessary. The board authorized the construction of a new pump-house, the erection of a pump and engine of one hundred horse-power with a capacity of two million gallons daily, the repairing of the faulty pipes and the raising of the reservoir bank six feet. In 1884, due to population increase, it was found necessary to augment the pumping power, and a Worthington pump was purchased with a daily capacity of five million gallons.

The management of the water works passed into the control of the board of public works in 1892 and this board erected the river wall at the pumping station, installed a triple compound engine capable of pumping ten million gallons daily, and adopted plans for the building of a new pump-house. The board of public works having been legislated out of office in 1894, the erection of the pump-house was left to the incoming water board that took office in June 1894 and consisted of Charles H. Skirm, Joseph Stokes, Charles G. Roebling, Lewis Lawton, Duncan Mackenzie and Robert B. Bonney. Mr. Roebling did not qualify and A. V. Manning was selected in his place. This board erected a pumping station, boiler house and electric light plant at a cost of $26,000. The public opening of the new buildings occurred on June 9, 1896.

Additional reservoir capacity was now required. Frequent breaks were also occurring in the bank of the old reservoir, and the Seventh Ward was being supplied with water from a stand-pipe. In 1896 a site needed for a new reservoir was purchased on the high land centering at the corner of Prospect Street and Pennington Avenue at a cost of $52,245 from James Brook, George E. Fell and Mrs. Feran. The contract was awarded in 1896 to Lewis Lawton, and C. A. Hague was appointed hydraulic engineer. The contract price was $349,489, and with extras including professional fees, pipes, etc., the cost reached the sum Of $444,930.

Due to the provisions of the law governing its functions and powers, the water department under the board system was viewed as a separate entity of the city government. The members, although appointed by Common Council, administered the department as an independent body without check or interference from any other constituted municipal authority. With the abolition of all boards and commissions in 1911, the water department was assigned to three of the municipal departments, but today is under the control of the department of public works with the exception of its business office and fiscal system which come under the administration of the department of revenue and finance.

Source:  Trenton Historical Society