November 15, 2014 / by admin / American History / No Comments

City Water, City Life: Water and the Infrastructure of Ideas in Urbanizing Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago

City Water, City Life: Water and the Infrastructure of Ideas in Urbanizing Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago

Language: English

Pages: 344

ISBN: 022615159X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A city is more than a massing of citizens, a layout of buildings and streets, or an arrangement of political, economic, and social institutions. It is also an infrastructure of ideas that are a support for the beliefs, values, and aspirations of the people who created the city. In City Water, City Life, celebrated historian Carl Smith explores this concept through an insightful examination of the development of the first successful waterworks systems in Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago between the 1790s and the 1860s. By examining the place of water in the nineteenth-century consciousness, Smith illuminates how city dwellers perceived themselves during the great age of American urbanization. But City Water, City Life is more than a history of urbanization. It is also a refreshing meditation on water as a necessity, as a resource for commerce and industry, and as an essential—and central—part of how we define our civilization.

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who had met there in the fall of 1844 to “take the general charge and direction of such measures as might be expedient to ‘foster and promote the Water Project’ ”—issued a pamphlet that reminded voters of their past support for a comprehensive system and appealed to them to stand up and be counted one more time. “The fact is,” the committee warned in gendercharged language, “the time has arrived when the people must act. They must gird on their armor, and fight manfully against all attempts to

“Expence [sic] is not to be regarded; if a Company can supply your City, they will expect to profit by it, and this profit might as well be saved by your Corporation.” Lewis added that it would be wrong to expect a private company to lose money in providing water, since “individuals should not suffer by forwarding of a great public object.” And if a water company did run at a deficit, the city would suffer, since “the citizens will feel it by a pinched and partial supply.” Quincy agreed. “There are

of property holders on a block or similarly defined area petitions the city for a particular desired improvement, consenting to divide the costs according to some formula. The public good is involved to the extent that the city is expected to keep the welfare of the population as a whole in mind when deciding whether or not to approve the petition, and if the designated officials or body approves it, the city makes sure that the improvement meets its specifications either by doing the work itself or

Friend Society of Boston, which cared for destitute and dependent youth, requested that it receive water at no cost. The City Council referred the matter to the city solicitor, who held that while the society was a very worthy organization, Boston’s charter forbade giving a particular group public resources without compensation. “If in a general view of the subject, the water is to be regarded as valuable property,” he explained, “the City Council have no more right to give it away, than they

Centre Square, with its engine house, landscaping, and water nymph. “The entire affair being unique,” he wrote, “[it] was considered a great novelty, and one of 146 Chapter Four the sights of the city which thousands flocked to see.” The Fairmount works became an even more popular “natural” attraction. Boston-based Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion reported in 1851, “A ride to Fairmount, and a walk across the wire bridge [Charles Ellet’s suspension bridge, completed in 1841], is the

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