Friday, June 16, 2017

Cisterns & horse troughs on the courthouse lawn

Two of the original courthouse horse troughs recycled as planters.

I've been leading brief  --- and hopefully painless --- walking tours of the square just before Thursday summer band concerts this month (next Thursday's will be the last), focusing each week on a different aspect.

This week, we talked among other things about the layout of the courthouse park, which brought to mind this map (a segment of an 1893 Sanborn fire insurance map) that gives a general idea of how the park was laid out during the year our current courthouse was "being built," as the notation on the map states.

The first big difference is that the courthouse park was the length of a car wider all around back then --- that amount of green space was trimmed during the 1960s when the square's current traffic and parking setup was installed. Second --- look at all of those water sources scattered around the park.

The angled cuts at the four corners of the park were the locations of cast iron horse troughs that had been installed for the convenience of visitors to the square who arrived on horseback or in horse-drawn vehicles --- and other than foot power and the occasional bicycle, horsepower was the only means of transportation back then.

Each trough had its own well equipped with a hand pump and, in addition, a fifth well just to the west of the courthouse supplied that building with water.

Two of those troughs made their way back to the square several years ago and now are filled with flowers during the summer months. A third trough is located on the museum grounds and a fourth still is in private hands.

Cisterns, each with a capacity of 1,000 barrels, were located at the northeast and southwest corners of the square. Chariton did not have a municipal water system until 1907, when the current City Hall water tower was filled for the first time, so these cisterns --- plus a smaller one at the fire station, located then as now a half block south of the southwest corner --- were the only sources of water when a fire broke out on the square.

The cisterns were connected by underground "drains" to downpipes from the courthouse roof, but needed to be topped off frequently with water hauled by tanker wagon from elsewhere --- a few small ponds were scattered around town, including the electric light plant pond, aka Lake Como, constructed during 1889.

There also were public cisterns at each public school location in town and nearly every home had its own, generally much smaller. These constituted the major line of defense --- often woefully inadequate --- when fire broke out in town.

Even then, Chariton's volunteer fire department was recognized as one of the best in the state. But many homes in more remote corners of town burned to the ground anyway because there was not a sufficient supply of water to fight the blazes. That situation was not resolved until 1907.

Here's a report from Engine Co. No. 1 (there was no Engine Co. No. 2) published in The Democrat of Feb. 7, 1896, that gives some idea of the situation during that year:

To the Honorable City Council of the City of Chariton, Iowa:

Gents --- I report to you the following: That Engine Co. No. 1 has a membership of 46 members; its officers are: N. Leinen, foreman; Henry Heck, assistant foreman; Will Lewis, secretary; C.P. Connell, treasurer; F. Larimer, engineer; J.C. Seward, hose forman.

Engineer's report to foreman: Cleaned engine (Old Betsy) in and outside, removed mud plugs in engine and removed a large quantity of mud and scales, made repairs and stopped leaks.

The water supply of the city at present is good. Two cisterns on the public square, 1,000 barrels each, are full; cistern in engine house, capacity 200 barrels, three-fourths full; Columbus school building two cisterns nearly full; Franklin school building one cistern nearly full; Garfield school building one cistern very little water; Bancroft school building one cistern nearly full. There is plenty of water in the well at the electric light pond. There is water in the Bartholomew pond that can be used if necessary in portions of the south and southeast part of town. The creamery or laundry pond is full and will do good service in the south and southwest part of town. From the above named places we can protect the principal portions of the city. Arrangements should be make with the railroad company to fill cistern at the Franklin school house.

At a call for indoor practice, the following named persons responded: N. Leinen, foreman; C. Seward, foreman of hose; F. Larimer, engineer; John Bentley, John Johnson, W. Coles, D on Lewis and A.I. Curtz. 

(signed) N. Leinen, foreman.

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