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Charles Kurtz and The York Water Company

York Water Company offices from 1906 to 1929 (2015 S. H. Smith photo taken at York Water Company Open House)
York Water Company offices from 1906 to 1929 (2015 S. H. Smith photo taken at York Water Company Open House)

Charles Kurtz was a Director of The York Water Company for 35-years and was President of the company during the last 15-years of his life. Several major infrastructure projects were completed during those 15-years; such as the construction of the impounding dam, creating Lake Williams. During the years Charles Kurtz was President, the company offices were located at 42-44 East Market Street, as shown in this photo. After The York Water Company moved to 130 East Market Street in 1929, the building with these 1906 to 1929 offices was torn down to build the westside addition to the Yorktowne Hotel.

This post is a follow-up to Dempwolf building stood next to Bonham House,  that dealt with the Charles Kutrz residence at 146 East Market Street. I like to use trade journals as a research source. During my research into the varied businesses interests of Charles Kurtz [1857-1927] I discovered an extensive article in the trade publication “Fire and Water Engineering” providing a detailed look at the first hundred years of The York Water Company.

Charles Kurtz was a Director of The York Water Company from 1891 to 1927 and was President of the company from 1911 until his death on February 15, 1927, at the age of 69-years. The company completed construction of the impounding dam on January 7, 1913 and the water level in Lake Williams first reached the dam overflow on February 4, 1913.

The York Water Company observed its 100th-year in 1916, which is the reason the following article, entitled “THE WATER WORKS PLANT AT YORK,” appeared in the August 16, 1916 issue of “Fire and Water Engineering.” Quoting the full article:

Part One of the Text in that Article:

The York, Pa., Water Company this year completed one hundred years of corporate existence and issued a sketch telling of the organization and administration, the former plant and the plant to-day. It was compiled for the company by George Hay Kain and illustrated with a number of views of the plant.

The present officials of the company are: President, Charles Kurtz; vice-president, George S. Billmeyer; secretary, Smyser Williams; treasurer, John J. Frick; general manager, William H. C. Ramsey; assistant secretary, Edgar P. Kable; managers, George S. Billmeyer, Charles Kurtz, Grier Hersh, W. F. O. Rosenmiller, Edwin Meyers, Theodore R. Helb, James H. Schall, Samuel Small, Jr., and George Hay Kain. The sketch issued includes the following:


On February 23, 1816, Simon Snyder, Governor of Pennsylvania, issued letters patent incorporating The York Water Company, under and by virtue of the provisions of an Act of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, entitled, “An Act authorizing the Governor to incorporate The York Water Company,” approved February 8, 1816. The life of the company may be divided generally into three periods: from 1816 to 1849, when the reservoirs were supplied from springs by gravity; from 1849 to 1897, when the supply was obtained partly by gravity from the springs and partly by pumping from the Codorus; and from 1897 to the present time, when the entire supply was pumped from the Codorus.

During its existence of one hundred years the capital stock has been increased from $13,000 to $1,900,000, while the authorized capital stock is $3,000,000. The managers after authorizing the purchase of logs from which to make pipes, they, on April 6 and April 17, examined “the springs and ground with a view of fixing the reservoir and the route of the aqueduct.”

The McClean lot was purchased, and on April 25 the Board formally decided to erect the reservoir thereon, and thereupon let the contracts for laying the pipes and for the construction of the reservoir. By January, 1817, “it was made to appear to the Board that fifty-five persons have the water now in their premises.”

On June 30, 1817, the construction was apparently completed, for Peter Small was appointed “Superintendent of the water works” and his duties were defined. By 1820 a scarcity of water was felt and the company increased its supply by purchasing the rights in certain springs on Erwin’s land which adjoined the land bought from Peter Small.

For many years there were but few general rates. It was customary to fix separately all commercial rates, as the nature of the business in questions seemed to warrant. This custom gradually gave way to a general schedule covering practically every service. As early as 1822 double rental was charged where two families occupied the same dwelling. In 1848 separate service pipes were directed to be laid for every building supplied by the company.

The laying of iron mains in 1840, the erection of a new reservoir in 1848 and of a pumping station in 1849 indicate the growth of the business of the company. In addition to these improvements the Managers in 1851 laid a main across the Codorus creek and decided to build another reservoir. The era of improvement, extending from 1840 to 1853, has been mentioned. Another era of enlargement began in 1883 with the purchase of King’s Mill, the installation of additional pumps therein, the construction of infiltration galleries, the enlargement of reservoirs and the laying of additional force mains.

No serious engineering difficulties presented themselves in early days and most of the improvements and enlargements were made under the direction of the Superintendent, or a Committee of Managers. Beginning with 1882, expert advice was usually obtained in planning and making any considerable improvement. From 1817 to 1860 the active supervision of the plant was in charge of a Superintendent who at first not only attended to the duties as such, but also collected the water rents. From 1860 to 1869 there was no Superintendent, his duties being performed by a Water Committee consisting of from two to four Managers.

In 1869 a Superintendent was again appointed. Jacob L. Kuehn filled the office from 1882 until July 26, 1898, when Henry Birkinbine, who some time before had been appointed Resident Superintendent in charge of the construction of the new reservoir, was appointed General Manager, and the office of Superintendent became vacant. Mr. Birkinbine resigned in the spring of 1900. His office was not filled, and John F. Sprenkel was appointed Superintendent, which title he retained until April 30, 1901, when he was designated General Manager. This office he held until his death in 1915. The present General Manager, William H. C. Ramsey, assumed his duties on July 1, 1915.

In 1895 the Company took steps looking toward the installation of a new and modern water works plant, the construction of which was begun the following year. Since that time the history of the Company has been one of constant extension and improvement.


Immediately after the Company was organized it acquired “the lands of Peter Small in York Township,” from which it was directed, by its charter, to take its supply of water. It also purchased one-fourth of an acre of land on Spangler’s Lane, adjoining the borough line east of Queen Street, upon which to erect a reservoir. These tracts, enlarged in later years by additional purchases, are known to-day as the “Spring Tract”—now in Spring Garden Township, a short distance southeast of the city—and the “Old Reservoir Tract.”

From the springs on Peter Small’s land, the water was carried to the reservoir through a supply line about 5,500 feet in length—the single supply line of 1816 being augmented in 1837 by a second line joining the main line about 4,000 feet from the reservoir. The first reservoir—the so called reservoirs at the springs were probably nothing more than pools—was built in 1816. It was rectangular in form, about 71 feet long and 45 feet wide, and was covered by a wooden structure resembling a barn.

During heavy rains it was necessary to send someone to the springs that he might plug the mains and thus prevent the flow of muddy water to the reservoir. Other primitive devices were adopted in order that purity of the water might be preserved.

As the supply became more and more inadequate to the demands, various expedients were employed to relieve the situation. Sometimes the mains of the entire town were shut off in the afternoon to allow the water to accumulate, thus rendering the supply for next morning sufficient—or nearly sufficient, as circumstances would allow. On such occasions a crier was sent about the borough, who, stationing himself at one street corner after another, would ring a large bell and announce the hours during which the water would be shut off. In at least two instances private pumps along the streets were taken over by the Company so that its consumers might increase their supply by drawing from these pumps.

The original pipes—or “trunks”—were logs, ten to twelve feet in length, bored through from end to end, with iron hoops or rings forced over the ends. They were fastened together by “boxes,” which were cylindrical shells of iron, several feet in length, tapering toward the ends. These “boxes” were forced into the bored logs and the “trunks” were complete.

At the first meeting of the Managers, George Small and John Demuth “were appointed to contract for 16,000 feet of logs for pipes, or any less number, of different sizes, from 20 to 14 inches,” and proposals for boring the logs were invited. The first purchase consisted of 12,000 feet of logs, which were rafted down the Susquehanna River, landed at Wrightsville and hauled by wagon to York. Thereafter, logs in larger or smaller quantities, as the necessities of the Company required, were bought in like manner, the Managers in several instances being unable to grant desired extensions of the mains because of the scarcity of logs. The total length of the original system was 13,910 feet, made up as follows: 5,495 feet from the springs to the reservoir, 2,575 feet from the springs to the reservoir to High (Market) Street, and 5,840 feet “in town.”

In 1820 a scarcity of water was relieved by the purchase of rights in additional springs, and by enforcement of the rules against waste by consumers. Short extensions were made from time to time, and in 1828 the main from the reservoir to Market Street was relaid with logs having a bore of five inches. By 1839 the log pipes as a whole were much decayed, although small sections of such pipe, uncovered as late as 1880, were found to be in an excellent state of preservation.

In 1840 it was determined to replace the entire distribution system with iron maines. The new system required 2,713 feet of 7-inch pipe, 1,190 feet of 6-inch pipe, 600 feet of 5-inch pipe, 3,000 feet of 4-inch pipe, 2,693 feet of 3-inch pipe, and 1,240 feet of 2-inch pipe, all laid a minimum depth of three and one-half feet. Such log pipe as was in good condition was used in and about the springs and in the renewal of the supply line to the reservoir, but in 1841 that line, too, was relaid with iron pipe, except as to the branch line laid in 1837.

In 1845 all the springs were connected, by “good leaden pipe,” to the supply line. About 1868 a dam was built at the springs to impound the flow from the springs and the waters of the marshes on the tract. It was found that this increased the muddiness of the water in rainy seasons and the Company found it exceedingly difficult to overcome this condition.

For the purpose of increasing the storage supply of water, to aid in dray seasons or in case of large fires, the Board decided, in 1847, to erect a new reservoir, circular in form, 70 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep. It was also decided to cover it with a roof and enclose it with a fence eight feet high. It is not known whether or not this roof and fence were actually built. At any rate, the basin in later years had no covering.

The reservoir of 1816 had been built on a rectangular tract having a frontage on Spangler’s Lane. To provide a site for the new reservoir the Company bought the land west of the original tract. The old reservoir had by this time become somewhat dilapidated and the Managers considered whether to repair it or to build another new reservoir. The latter plan was decided upon in 1851, the intention being to build the new basin on the site of the old. There not being enough land to allow that plan to be carried out, additional land was bought north of the land then owned, upon which the construction of the new reservoir was begun, July 28, 1852. The reservoir tract was later enlarged by purchases of land east and south of the two basins. The new reservoir, when completed, was rectangular in shape and considerably larger than the reservoir of 1848, which was at its southeastern corner. Upon the completion of this large reservoir in 1853 the smaller reservoir of 1848 was repaired and the reservoir of 1816 was abandoned.

In 1850 it was decided to extend the mains across and west of the Codorus Creek, and it was later determined to lay the mains on the bottom of the Creek at Market Street. This work was completed July 4, 1851. After much consideration, the Company decided, in 1848, to augment the water supply by building a pumping station along the Codorus Creek at the foot of Boundary Avenue and forcing water from that stream to the reservoirs by steam power. This station—the “waterhouse”—was built in 1849 and continued in use until 1897. At first, pumping from the creek was resorted to only when the shortage of the spring supply rendered it necessary, but by 1881 the Company was required to operate the pumps night and day.

The demands upon the system, coupled with the increasing pollution of the Codorus above the point from which the supply was taken, gave the Managers much concern. Mr. Robert K. Martin, a hydraulic engineer of Baltimore, was consulted and made reports upon the situation in 1882 and again in 1883. He made various suggestions looking toward an improvement of the system, and prophesied that the Company would ultimately have to abandon taking its supply from the Codorus at King’s Dam, because of the increasing waste emptied into the west branch of that stream, and that the final source of supply would have to be the east branch of the creek, with a reservoir on the hill upon which the present reservoirs are built.

At this time the capacity of the two reservoirs, at a depth of ten feet, was 4,712,411 gallons. This capacity was substantially increased in 1883 in the course of improvements to the entire plant, when the walls of the two reservoirs were built ten feet higher. During 1883 King’s Mill, almost opposite the old pumping station, was bought, and a Deane pump, capable of operation by steam or water power, was installed therein, for use in conjunction with the older pumps. Later the paper mill, opposite King’s Mill, was bought. Water from the creek, from springs on the premises, and from Tyler’s Run was utilized, in connection with the supply from the “Spring Tract.” A separate force main was laid from the mill pumping station to the reservoir. These improvements greatly increased the quantity of water. To improve its quality, an infiltration well or gallery was built on the island at King’s Mill, providing for the time being a sufficient system of purification.

The extraordinary growth of the city in the years after 1890 rendered the water supply again insufficient. This led to what was practically a reconstruction, beginning in 1896, of the entire system of supply, storage, purification and distribution into the present modern and efficient plant.

THE PLANT OF TO-DAY—(That is in 1916)—This section of the article will be continued in my next post.

Links to related posts include:

Reading the Headlines: A Quick Index to All YorksPast Posts