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The Wealth of East Orange is Its Water

The year 1881 was a turning point, for East Orange. A long drought had played havoc with wells and springs. The exigencies of this dry spell turned the thoughts of the citizens towards less capricious water supplies. In 1865, some enterprising citizens had formed a water company for the purpose of serving East Orange. Lack of interest on the part of prospective purchasers had resulted in this franchise lying dormant. But the 1881 drought revived the project. A corporation was formed. Borings were taken at Boiling Springs, which lay on the Bloomfield line at Grove Street, and a large underground current of pure water was tapped.

In 1899, East Orange township officially incorporated as the City of East Orange, and elected its first mayor, Edward E. Bruen.

By 1902, the city wells were supplying 2,200 families. Equipment and additional land were bought to yield 1,400,000 gallons a day. Still, this wasn’t enough. Water had to be bought from Newark. The new city under Mayor Bruen, foreseeing problems, decided it was time to buy the assets of the company to insure itself an adequate supply by going into the water business on a larger scale. The Water Department was organized on January 1, 1903, and within the next two years began laying the foundation for a municipal water system that is unique. From that day onward, the city has never suffered a water shortage, no matter how quickly it grew, nor how dire the straits of its neighbors or the rest of the area.

 

The backbone of the water system is the land which was bought in 1905 at White Oak Ridge in Millburn and Livingston because of the urging of our second mayor, William Cardwell. Subsequent purchases in this same area gave the city a reservation containing 2,300 acres, with 12 wells able to supply 10,000,000 gallons of water a day.

This photo dates from about 1934, and shows Frank Woodruff of Roosevelt Avenue (now called Northfield Avenue), Livingston posing with a cow owned by Charles Ross. How do we know? It was written on the back of the photo and from the collection of old photos still stored at the present day (2013) Water Works. It shows that most of the surrounding area was farm land. The original farm on the site was called the Meeker farm. Mr. Meeker sued the City of East Orange because he felt they were depriving his cows of ground water, so the City bought his farm. Other neighboring farmers, seeing how well Meeker had made out, sold their farms to the City as well.


The East Orange Water Works c.1942

That smoke stack was part of the pumping system before it was replaced by an all electrical system . Coal was burned to operate the steam generators. Today the smoke stack is used as a microwave tower for communications.

The Main Pump c.1942

The text on the sign reads:

4,000,000 Gal. Pump
Installed 1904
Redesigned to 5,000,000 gal.
capacity 1937

And then capacity increased in 1942
to deliver 6,000,000 gal. in 24 hours
saving $45,000 cost
of an additional pump.

This capacity has been increased through the years, always steps ahead of even the most optimistic estimates of growth in commerce and residences. All this growth, also, has been accomplished to the merry ringing of the Water Department’s cash register, which continues to pile up surplus after surplus. The citizens, at this same time, enjoyed one of the lowest rates in the state for this excellent service.


Photo by Frederick Goode

From 1976 to 1982, improvements were made to the system as recorded in this commorative plaque that hangs inside the Water Works building today (2013). The text of the plaque is as follows:

Water System Improvements

1976-1982

Pursuant to the authority invested by the charter of the city of East Orange, the board of water commissioners, in order to assure an adequate and dependable supply of water to the residents of the city, constructed four additional wells, implemented an emergency interconnection system with Commonwealth Water Company, and installed automated transmission control valves at the Wyoming Avenue Reservoir.

These improvements guarantee the continued unimpeded flow of water from this water reserve to the city of East Orange and the residents for many years to come.

The Honorable Thomas H. Cooke, Jr., Mayor

Commissioners
Frank A. McHenry, President
Franklin A. Banks, Vice President
John R. Kidd, Secretary
Edward E. Ruhnke, Sr., Secretary 1975-1977

Anthony J. Scillia
Water Engineer

Elson T. Killam Associates, Inc.
Consulting Engineers

 


Photo by Frederick Goode

A second plaque continues the history of the improvements to the Water Works from 1982 to 1986. The text of the plaque is as follows:

Water System Improvements

1982-1986

Pursuant to the authority invested by the charter of the city of East Orange, the board of water commissioners, in order to assure an adequate and dependable supply of water to the residents of the city, rehabilitated a major interconnection with the city of Newark as an emergency water supply, constructed new supply division administrative offices and a vehicle storage building to consolidate operations, replaced power supply lines to the Braidburn and Dickinson wellfields to maintain system reliability, totally rehabilitated the white oak ridge pumping station to floodproof the structure, conserve energy and provide a safe working environment, installed new service pumps five and six to increase energy efficiency and improve pumping flexibility, and constructed Dickenson well number four to complete the long term plan of providing backup wells in each wellfield.


Mayor Hatcher, 1986-1989

The Honorable John C. Hatcher, Jr., Mayor
The Honorable Thomas H. Cooke, Jr., Mayor 1978-1985

Commissioners
Frank A. McHenry, President
Franklin A. Banks, Vice President
John R. Kidd, Secretary


Mayor Cooke, 1978-1985

     

Anthony J. Scillia
Water Engineer

 

Elson T. Killam Associates, Inc.
Consulting Engineers

 


The East Orange Water Works today (2013).
Photo by Al-Quadir Marsh

Today, the Water Works has a total of 18 wells run by a computerized system that provides chlorinated water to South Orange and East Orange.


Photo by Al-Quadir Marsh

Tyrone Brinkley shows us how the wells used to be monitored and regulated until just a few years ago before the system was computerized. This old control panel is still on site, but now it has all been replaced.


Photo by Al-Quadir Marsh

Gary Forbes shows us how it's done today, sitting in front of a computer that is directly linked to each well, and by himself he is capable of monitoring the entire system from his desk.


Photo by Frederick Goode

Thanks to Tyrone Brinkley, Gary Forbes, Bill Bierwas, Jim and the other workers at the East Orange Water Works facility for sharing their afternoon with us so we could bring all this up-to-date and create a Virtual Tour of how the East Orange Water Works ...works! The old photos of the Water Works came from the above Conference Room wall photos and other archived old photos from their collections.

Special thanks to 2013 mayoral candidate Kevin Taylor for pointing out this overlooked part of our history and its meaning for the future of the city and citizens of East Orange, and sending us up here to check it all out.

Excerpts from: A Centennial History of East Orange, By Mark A. Stuart, Managing Editor, East Orange Record, and Jessie Boutillier, President of the East Orange Historical Society, 1963. The book is available in the East Orange Public Library, and a paperback version printed by Lulu.com may be ordered on-line from the East Orange Interactive Museum: http://eohistory.info/EOTimeLine/1963.htm

Link to South Orange Water Supply

Link to East Orange Water Commission Water Supply Page

Link to East Orange Water Commission History Page

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