History of The York Water Company

The York Water Company was founded in 1816 and is the oldest investor-owned utility in the nation.

In the late 1700s and early 1800’s the greatest fear in many colonial towns was: fire. During this period before electricity and central heating, homes and businesses were heated and lit with flames: oil lamps, candles, and fire places were part of everyday life. On numerous occasions fire had almost destroyed York. Bucket brigades from the nearest well were often inadequate protection for the risks presented by fires. A public water supply could provide the necessary volume of water and even enough pressure to help feed the hand pumps that the local fire companies operated.

1816. Incorporation. On February 23, 1816, the York Water Company was incorporated. A group of local businessmen met at the Indian King Tavern, issued stock, and formed the company. During the first year of operation the Company contracted for 16,000 feet of logs for pipes with a diameter of 14-20 inches and a length of 12-13 feet. The logs were bored out with a hole 3-4 inches in diameter. The logs were floated down the Susquehanna River and transported over land from Wrightsville.

The first source was a spring on Rathton Road in an area called Baumgartner’s Woods (site of the present Penn State York campus). Water was conveyed from the springs to a reservoir that was constructed on Queen Street . The water was then piped into the area of the town square. By the end of 1816 35 homes had water on the premises.

1840. Cast Iron Pipe. A new piping material was introduced to York: cast iron. The old wooden water mains had served their purpose, but they leaked and they couldn’t maintain very much water pressure.

1849. Steam Pumping Station. The growing community outgrew the springs in Baumgartner’s Woods and decided to augment the supply by pumping water from the Codorus Creek.The land was purchased from George King (at the intersection of Kings Mill Road and Penn Street). A new pumping station was constructed and used steam power to pump the water. According to York Water legend, the fire in the first boiler was started from the pipe of a workman and burned continuously for 107 years until 1956 when the Company converted to electric pumps.

1851. Expand west of the Codorus. On July 4, 1851 the first water main was constructed under the Codorus Creek. According to Philip Smyser: “The great, the perplexing difficulty – the doubtful operation – the tremendous undertaking with all its fearful threatenings is overcome, the bold enterprise is accomplished.”

1896. New Threats, New Supply. York was a booming industrial community. The increasing industrial discharge of waste into the West Branch of the Codorus was polluting the water to such an extent that it was becoming unfit to drink. The only solution at the time was to find a purer source and in 1896 the Company constructed a larger pumping station at Brillhart Station. This ideal location was upstream of the confluence of the West and South Branches and was located along a railroad track that was capable of providing coal for the steam operated pumps.

1897. Typhoid! Many industrial towns were discovering that their unprotected water supplies were spreading typhoid fever. The recently discovered use of filters was found to greatly reduce the outbreak of typhoid. York constructed its first Filtration Plant on Grantley Hill in 1899. This was the first successfully operated water treatment plant in Pennsylvania. Shortly after the new treatment plant was completed, chlorine was added to the purified water to further kill any harmful bacteria. This original filtration facility was operated until the 1930’s when it was replaced by the new filtration plant. This building burned down in 1973.

1903. A Park is Born. Reservoir Park, bounded by Grantley Road and Country Club Road was completed and made available to the public as ” a public breathing spot” to relieve the stress and strain of modern life.

1910. Drought! The natural flow of the South and East Branches of the Codorus Creek proved inadequate to supply a growing industrial community. The Company purchased land in York and Springfield Townships for the purpose of building a dam to impound the water supply for periods of drought.

1913. First Dam Constructed. On January 7, 1913 the dam was completed. By February 4, 1913 the new dam was full and overflowing. The lake was later named Lake Williams in honor of the Company’s General Manager.

1925. Completion of the “Best Reforesting in the World.” In 1925, The Engineering Society of York decided to make conservation conscious President Coolidge aware of York’s exemplary reforestation efforts. The message was sent via 13 carrier pigeons! President Coolidge’s reply congratulated York and noted that “the planting of evergreens throughout the York Water Shed area was conceded to be the best reforesting of evergreens in the world.”

1929. A Remarkable Office Building. The headquarters of York Water is located at 130 East Market Street. It is the former site of the home of Samuel Small and was purchased in 1928. Because the building is dedicated to the distribution of water, the architect, William B. Billmeyer, thought it fitting to incorporate into the scheme of the decoration many elements relating to the “gift of water” to mankind. Artist Gustav Ketterer was commissioned to paint and decorate the ceiling in an appropriate manner.

1932. New Filter Building. As the community continued to grow, the need for an expanded water filtration facility was also required. The new facility was initially built with a capacity of 15 million gallons per day and then expanded to 30 million gallons per day. After many upgrades, this facility is still in service today.

1954. Expansion of Dam. Due to the need to store more water for the post-war industrial community of York, an expanded supply was needed. Four foot tall bascule gates were ordered from the York factory of S. Morgan Smith (now Voith Siemens). These gates increased the capacity of Lake Williams from 600 million gallons to 800 million gallons.

1956. Electrical Pumping Begins. Steam Era Ends. Steam powered pumps have been providing water to York since 1849. In 1956 electrical pumps were installed and the steam engines were maintained for backup until 1982 when they were replaced by diesel driven pumps.  Want to read more? The York Water Company History of Steam Engine Water Pumps.

1967. Completion of the Second Dam. In the midst of the “drought of record” York Water was building a second dam, now known as Lake Redman, named after The York Water Company’s General Manager at the time, John Redman, just upstream of Lake Williams. When it was completed, the total capacity of both lakes increased to 2.3 billion gallons!

1993. The water basins at Reservoir Park were covered in 1993 to meet regulations and best practices regarding protection of treated potable water.

1996. 180th Anniversary and Restoration of the Magnificent Ceiling. The great ceiling was restored by James Vallano, a conservator who had extensive experience including ceilings in the Capitol Building in Harrisburg.

2004. Completion of the Susquehanna River Pumping Station. Due to continued growth of the community, an additional supply was developed that took advantage of the greatest source of water in the eastern United States: The Susquehanna River. The pump station and 15 mile pipeline can deliver up to 12 million gallons of water per day.

2006. 190th Anniversary. In celebration of the Company’s 190th anniversary and the 5th anniversary of its stock being traded on NASDAQ, the Company was invited to “ring the closing bell” at NASDAQ’s Marketplace in Times Square, New York City.

2012. First wastewater system. After nearly 200 years of “drinking” water, York Water acquires a wastewater system (Asbury Pointe Wastewater and then East Prospect Wastewater). As President Hines commented at the time: “We’ve been infrastructure experts for nearly 200 years. As we head towards the future, it has become even more clear that all water is interrelated. Drinking water, wastewater, and storm water are all part of the hydrologic cycle. York Water does a superb job managing water systems. Wastewater is the natural next step and not a whole lot different: It’s a pipe with a customer at one end, and a treatment facility at the other end. We look forward to providing superior service to our community far into the future.”

2016. 200th Anniversary. 200 years ago, the York Water Company was founded with the purpose of fire protection. 200 years later, we provide water over 20 million gallons of water to approximately 200,000 people every day in nearly 50 municipalities in York and Adams Counties.

2018. Lake Williams drained. For the first time since its construction in 1912, Lake Williams was completely drained in order to install a valve on the upstream face of the dam, as well as a pipe liner.

2020. First municipality in Franklin County. On September 14, 2020, York Water acquired Letterkenny Township Municipal Authority wastewater treatment plant. This marks the 50th municipality York Water serves, and is the first municipality served in Franklin County.

The Future. As you can see, The York Water Company has been committed to the community it serves for over 200 years. This same commitment will continue well into the future. There is a simple reason that York Water is the oldest investor owned utility in the nation: A commitment to its customers and its community. If customers are provided a high quality, plentiful supply of water at a reasonable price, then shareholders, employees, and regulators will also benefit from this exceptional relationship.

If you have any suggestions on items to add to our “History” page, please shoot us an email!