| 150 years ago: how water pioneers built a local water system
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150 years ago: how water pioneers built a local water system

The water sector has long been recognized for its resilience and dedicated professionals. This reputation was secured more than a century ago by organizations such as the City of Manchester Water Works (MWW) in New Hampshire, whose visionary founders developed the system that first pumped water from Lake Massabesic in 1874.

Phil CroasdaleTwo of MWW’s stalwart water pioneers -- an engineer who served as president of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the first manager of the pump house, dam and reservoir station – as well as a 50-year-plus tenured employee recently were honored by the MWW Board of Water Commissioners (BWC) and the City’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen. 

“These three leaders provided an inspiring glimpse into the extraordinary efforts made over the years to deliver safe and dependable water to our community,” said MWW Director Phil Croasdale, who researched the utility’s history and drafted the recognition recommendation to the BWC and Aldermen. “It’s fascinating to learn about the earlier days of MWW and the highly-trained, educated and talented engineers and water workers who made it all happen.”

John (J.T.) Thomas Fanning, C.E. (1837-1911)

J.T. FanningAccording to Croasdale, Fanning was an American architect and hydraulic engineer originally from Norwich, Conn. His contribution to fluid mechanics and hydraulic engineering is in the Fanning Friction Factor, which is still used by engineers to calculate the frictional pressure losses in flows inside pipes. (At left, Fanning photo courtesy of AWWA)

In 1872, at the age of 34, Fanning was contracted by the City of Manchester to design and build a water system for the city in response to local engineer Joseph B. Sawyer having identified Lake Massabesic as the feasible water source. At the time, Manchester was one of only four cities in the country with a population over 20,000 that did not have a public water system.

Cohas pump station interiorFrom 1871 through 1874, Fanning designed and oversaw construction of a system including the main dam, the Cohas Pump Station (pictured right), a 1,470-foot canal that went from the lake adjacent to the dam to the pump station, and a 13 -million-gallon reservoir. The project also included construction of a 9,000-foot access road, the laying of 20-inch pipe connecting the pump station to the reservoir, and more than 23 miles of distribution system into the City of Manchester.

On July 4, 1874, the system pumped water from Lake Massabesic for the first time, connecting water service to approximately 5,500 residents -- 25% of the local population. 

Total cost of the project was about $542,000. “Today, it would cost that much to relay 3,000 feet of 8-inch main pipe,” Croasdale said.

Fanning continued to work as MWW’s chief engineer until 1880. After leaving MWW, Fanning focused on his architectural skills. In addition to the Cohas Pump Station, he designed several buildings in Manchester, two of which currently are listed on the National Register of Historical Places. 

After moving to Minneapolis, Minn., in 1887, Fanning was appointed the sixth president of AWWA. For his considerable contributions to MWW, the Cohas Pump Station has been renamed in his honor.

Charles C. (C.C.) Cole (1821-1891)

Cohas Pump StationCole was an experienced and skillful mechanic originally employed as a foreman during construction of MWW’s canal and reservoir, Croasdale said. In recognition of his talents, Cole was hired as the first manager -- and tenant -- of the Cohas Pump Station (pictured right). In August 1874, upon Fanning’s recommendation, he was appointed by the BWC as manager of the pump station, canal and main dam.

The BWC’s Third Annual Report, dated Dec. 31, 1874, stated that “Mr. Cole, upon subsequently being appointed manager of the pumping station, by a vote of the Board, August 10, 1874, took possession of the tenement adjoining the pump house.”

Cole operated the pump house, canal and dam for 17 years, until his unexpected death in October 1891. 

According to Croasdale, the Superintendent’s Report to the Board of 1891 stated that Cole was an able and trusty man. “No accident happened in the 18 years he had charge, caused by any neglect or carelessness on his part, and in his death the city lost a faithful servant.”

To honor him, MWW has placed a plaque highlighting his service on the residence wing at the Cohas Pump Station.

Charles J. (Charlie) Smith (1906-1999)

Smith worked as an MWW utility foreman from June 1929 until his retirement in October 1983, spanning seven decades and more than 54 years.  
MWW distribution storage building“He was a dedicated water worker and well-liked and respected among his fellow employees, a thought shared by many of his former co-workers,” Croasdale said. 

MWW’s new distribution storage building (pictured left) has been named in honor of Smith, MWW’s longest tenured employee.

MWW provides drinking water and fire protection to the City of Manchester and surrounding areas in New Hampshire, serving a population of more than 200,000. As a member of the New England Water Works Association, an AWWA Section, MWW was recognized as Utility of the Year (large utilities) at the 2021 NEWWA Annual Conference. MWW also was bestowed the section’s Best Tasting Water Award. MWW Power and Process Controls Manager Roger Gagnon was awarded the Operator’s Meritorious Service Award, following a long line of exceptional MWW employees. Photos courtesy of MWW.