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Sunday, October 9, 2016

The "Swimming At The Water Works" Story

The Water House and pumping system at the Lancaster Water Works.
It was an ordinary day.  Passing under the railroad bridge heading west on SR23 near the Lancaster Water Works.  This extension of Rt. 23 was a needed addition for the flow of traffic years ago, but it ruined some really good swimming holes in the Conestoga River.  During my Jr. High and Sr. High school years I found my way many times to the Conestoga River to swim and swing on the long rope that hung from the railroad bridge above it.  
The railroad bridge added along the Conestoga River.
There was a small dam along the river that ran directly under the bridge and made it a great place for sliding down the running water and swinging on the rope, dropping into the water hole under the dam.  It was back in 1837 that Lancaster City created the Water Works on the Conestoga River.  It was back in the mid-1800s that many cities throughout the nation began to develop their infrastructure.  A new Water House, pumping system and reservoir were built at the east end of East King Street on the Conestoga River which had been the primary source of water for the city for many years.  
Bathers gather to swim at the Water Works.
A second reservoir was added in 1851 with a higher pressure steam pump added five years later.  About ten years later the city installed the latest in turbine and steam engine technology which led to quite a few stories and myths as far as water usage in the city.  Seems that Mr. Jacob Demuth installed a bathtub in his home which created arguments about the usage of the amount of water used.
Another view of swimmers dated 1938.
Eventually Jacob was accessed an annual tax $30 for having the tub.  Boy did that create a big stink.  Local Doctor, John Atlee claimed that bathing in the tub was a healthy practice, so the tax was lowered to $16.  When all systems and the reservoir were completed the city supplied water to 305 city dwellings.  Needless to say, this was only the beginning of many years of providing water to the city of Lancaster from the City Water Works that sat near my swimming hole near the railroad bridge.  
Train on the main line passes over the Conestoga River.
In the background you can see the pumping station.
The bridge, or Conestoga Creek Viaduct as I have found it called, was built in 1887-88 and is a five-span, two-track stone arch railroad bridge which originally was a 1,412 foot series of 11 wooden Town lattice trusses constructed in 1829 for the Columbia and Philadelphia Railroad.  This railroad was purchased in 1857 by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and incorporated into its main line.  
More recent view with SR23 on the right. In this photo
the water is running high, perhaps from a recent storm.
The PRR shortened the viaduct and replaced the wooden trusses with iron Whipple trusses in 1863.  The 1887-88 stone arch replace- ment was supposed to be four tracks wide, but only half were constructed which left an unfinished spandrel wall on the southern side of the bridge.  In 1930 tie rods were added to brace that wall.  It is the neatest bridge and has given me many beautiful photographs over the years as well as many pleasurable moments while swinging from the rope into the waters of the Conestoga.  The new SR23 has made it so much harder for youth today to enjoy the same pleasures that my generation did years ago in the waters of the Conestoga river. Funny how alleged positive changes can ruin things!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.   

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