Water Works collapse 111 years ago
The new Water Works was built from 1898-1900 after the original one closer to downtown became obsolete. The land where the plant resides today was purchased in 1895 and has been in service ever since. There was however a fiasco in 1904 that almost saw the new structure become short-lived.
Water Works postcard c1900 (Courtesy Thomas E and Gina Topper Collection, EVPL)
A cave in at the Water Works emerged around New Year’s Day 1904. It was near the intake and was only 50 feet away from the river-facing wall. The collapse ate out the ground and caused cracks in the building.
Almost immediately, the old West End pumping station was prepared for emergency use. The original Water Works on Riverside Dr, which had been abandoned since the new one became operational, was also considered.
Cartoon of the Water Works asking for help January 8, 1904. The building at right is the original Water Works that was abandoned when the new one was built
Additional cave ins occurred January 9 and the dry well, and caisson were abandoned. A new trench along the route of intake pipes was proposed. There was some concern that water supply to city would be affected, but the water department assured it would not.
Continued problems for the new Water Works plant
The administration brought in an expert engineer from St Louis. Walter Luddington designed an interlocking steel piling to seal off work around the dry well. The cave in kept growing larger and mud passing into pipes January 27 forced the Water Works to post a worker at the old plant and the West End Station too. The Courier was very against the administration and demanded who would pay for the repairs and reported an incident where the Akin-Erskine mill had its machines clogged by muddy water. Contrarily, the Journal-News downplayed any problems and said the muddy water was due to high flood waters and not the present issue.
On January 30, Cincinnati Water Works offered to send Evansville a pump boat, but their boat was in disrepair and would need fixing. To make matters worse, the river wall of the Water Works was showing signs of settling, and it was claimed that the auxiliary stations were incapable of handling the whole load of the city. Nonetheless superintendent Charles Thuman remained optimistic that the Water Works would soon be restored.
Cave in in the basement of the Water Works February 3, 1904
On February 3, a section of the basement caved in and pipes broke at the entrance to the caisson. This would most likely cause the intake to choke, and it was feared the plant would have to shut down. The outer wall sank 8-12 inches, and a collapse was expected . The next day the roof was braced, and the plant was closed to the public. Things seem to worsen as the Cincinnati pump boat was delayed by ice, and Luddington was called back from St Louis to build new intakes.
Braced wall at the Water Works
The deteriorating condition caused Evansville’s mayor to issue a proclamation to conserve water February 5. When the building settled the next day carpenters stopped working, and excavation for intakes halted. The Courier claimed the administration was asleep at the wheel as the city engineer was off to Mardi Gras, whereas the news didn’t event make the front page on the Journal-News.
Water Works collapse on the west (river-facing) wall
On February 10, the river wall was knocked down with a battering ram and the greatest threat of collapse was managed. That day Chandler School was closed as water pressure there (and over much of the city, really) was low.
The Water Works station officially closed February 13, and the old Water Works plant and the West End Pumping Station were used. On February 15, the plant was attempted to go back online, but it didn’t work. Problems were compounded when ice broke off the West End Pumping Station and again when the tunnel shaft began to cave during the next week. During a fire at Babcock & Seitz February 25, it was discovered that there was no water pressure. Pump boats from Cincinnati and St Louis were utilized, but the damage was significantly more than it should have been.
The Water Works plant was back online March 5 after having been delayed by high wind. A temporary intake was utilized with a more permanent design to be implemented at a later date. All in all, the bill to fix the collapse neared $50,000, but with the building being so new Evansville citizens were perplexed as to how something like this could happen.
The collapse at the new Water Works left residents wondering who would foot the bill and why the new one was even built