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On April 30, 1804, the Baltimore Water Company, a private company, was formed. Their first task is to furnish water to a portion of Baltimore City. It now became necessary to secure a site for the erection of the works, and in 1806 a purchase was made of a lot now occupied by the office of the Northern Central railroad, on Calvert street. The works, which were erected under direction of Mr. John Davis, consisted of a wheel and pumps, which forced the water into a reservoir on the southwest corner of Cathedral and Franklin streets. The water was obtained through a common mill race from what was known as Keller’s Dam, which supplied Salisbury Mill, the site of which was near the site of the old Belvedere bridge. (Baltimore History by Clayton Hall).

Photo of drawing from MdHS. The City does not reimburse me for digital copies, these start at about $50 each, so MdHS let me photograph them.

From John Davis’ Autobiography; Maryland Historical Society Magazine Volume xxx, 1935: “I at once entered into an Engagement, with Mr. Latrobe, and the City, Corporate authorities, to Superintend and aid therein, as Clerk of the works [in Philadelphia]. In the situation aboved named, I continued connected with Mr. Latrobe about three years, until sundry other engagements, required both the service and talents of Mr. Latrobe in other portions of the United States, more Especially at the Cross Cut Canal between the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, and the water works in New Orleans. After this period, the entire direction and management and the Execution of the works, for watering the City, of Philadelphia, Devolved on me. In that capacity I continued until the Spring of 1805. In the autumn of 1804, I received an Invitation to proceed to the City of Baltimore, to give some advice and aid in an Examination that had been made in relation to the contemplated means as to the supplying that city with water. A company had been organized and a capital of 250,000 Dollars provided, A President and Managers, Chosen, water rights and water Power had been purchased, and various suggestions given as to the manner and plans to accomplish the object, and to appoint an Engineer, and Manager, to Execute the requisite works. I repaired to Baltimore, to impart such views, and advise such measures, as appeared to me proper, for the furtherance, of the object this company had in view. Under these circumstances and considerations I could not comply and entertain a New engagement. But these Baltimore Gentlemen made strong appeals and almost insisting that I should be Employed by them they likewise desired me to endeavor to propose or point out some way or means to relieve them of their difficulty and it was agreed to adjourn the meeting until the following evening and then to receive my views and see if I could suggest some manner or means to meet the Case. At the Meeting of the Board on the next evening, I submitted this proposition, That I would still attend to the business and continue to direct the Superintendence of the Philadelphia works, endeavor to select and appoint a competent person to take my situation and place and Impart to such person, every necessary Instruction, and information that would enable and render him capable to perform and attend to the duties that would be required in the water works at Phila until the managers of that concern were fully satisfied that my Successor was Qualified and efficient to the performance of the required duty and as soon as such assurance was by the watering Committee of Phila agreed to Then I was willing to accept of the proposition of the Gentlemen in Baltimore. These conditions was accordingly agreed to and strongly urging me to make all my arrangements as soon as the nature of the business would permit.” [Davis states that he has twenty year old Frederick Graff replace him in Phila. under B.H. Latrobe] “I received the cordial thanks and a kindly parting* dismissal from the managers of the water company, and Mr. Graff commenced his services on May 1st 1805 and he continued in the same situation of Superintendent of the Phila water works until his Death in 1848, a period of 43 years.” [A statue was erected to Graff at Fairmount Water works]. Davis goes on to talk about how two years later he went back to Phila to write a report with Graff for the recommendation of a new water works at Fair Mount.

*Interesting to note here, from the book Benjamin Henry Latrobe by Talbot Hamlin: September 24, 1805 Nicholas Roosevelt (friend and partner of Latrobe) had turned the water off for three hours, at about the time that a serious fire was burning in Philadelphia. Latrobe wrote Roosevelt in panic, “I hear the spread of the fire was owing to the withholding of the water. I hope this representation is not true.” The city was enraged; a mob led by the sheriff charged the water works, threw out Roosevelt and the men working under him, turned the whole works over to municipal operation replacing Davis with Graff. [Perception of events]

A photo I took a couple years ago of the Philadelphia water works.

“I entered into a new arrangement with the Baltimore water company, Their works being then in successful operation and not requiring all my time and attention, I was appointed President, of the Company, at a reduced compensation and devoting only such portion of my time as their services demanded. In this capacity, I resided and continued during the whole period that I lived in Baltimore and until I removed to the Country in Washington County, Md. I will now proceed to give a little diversified statement of some of the objects, engagements and employments in which I may say I was almost incessantly occupied; Say at the Susquehanna Canal, from Tide water unto peach Bottom; a distance of about 10 miles, pulling down and rebuilding the Locks, Both widening and Deepening the Canal and other improvements there occupying a period of about 2 years; Surveyed and Leveled and attended the Improvements of Gwynns Falls by a mill Race of about 3 miles, in length terminated, by the building in succession, 4 large Merchant Mills, each carrying 4 Pair of Millstones; aided, and assisted in the erecting, Large Cotton manufactory; and a large Merchant Mill on Jones Falls, 6 miles north of Baltimore, Superintended the erection, and other Improvements, a little South of Havre de Grasse, Leveled the water & aided in building a Large Mill on Elkridge about 15 Miles west of Balt., Leveled and surveyed several streams and Located many Cotton Manufactories and other improvements that was either designed or Executed by my Direction.” 

Gwynn’s Falls improvements.

“There is one Improvement kept in fine order and is still a favorite spot and frequented by many persons, called the City Spring, situate on North Calvert Street city of Baltimore about 2 squares south [North] of the Battle Monument near Barnums Hotel.” [Also known as the Northern Fountain]

Print from DPW museum archives.

[Davis states that his crowning achievement was the sinking of a well at Fort McHenry in 1814]. “I must say that the success of this undertaking gave me some gratification, especially as it was stated by some Engineer’s impossible to be done But Major Bentelow still insisted on it that John Davis should pursue his own views, and the Exulting Major said to the Secretary of War. Did not I tell you, Genl. Armstrong that Mr. Davis would succeed and we would have good water at the Fort, uttered in his broken French language.” In 1813 the Board of City Commissioners, in conjunction with Mr. John Davis, examined the spring at the head of the Basin (known as Clopper’s Spring) and decided that it could be reclaimed and made to afford a copious supply of pure and wholesome water. August 19, 1934 Sun Paper Article in Scrapbook: Donation of drawings from first superintendent of Baltimore Water Works to Maryland Historical Society. Sketches were made by John Davis (1770-1864). 160 drawings depicting first water works. I did not see the drawing below from the article, but a similar one.

Sunpaper article.

Drawing from MdHS

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