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Mark Simonson

December 22, 2012

Oneonta's water supply expanded in 1887

It wasn’t specified if there were any kind of ceremonies for the first water being pumped from Oneonta’s new, larger reservoir in the early part of November 1887. By looking at newspaper coverage, the event quietly passed, but it didn’t stop this historian from using his imagination in a humorous way, if there had been festivities.

The new reservoir is today’s Wilber Lake, part of the city’s water supply found on Wilber Lake Road. Apparently some fish just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, according to The Oneonta Herald of Nov. 10, 1887, when some water was being released.

“So much annoyance was experienced at the new water reservoir in pumping water, by fish getting into the pipe, that the accumulated water was recently run off. Bushels of fish were captured.”

Imagine if there had been a ceremony. A band is playing, the village president throws the lever, and the crowd hears a rumbling sound, anticipating water to rush from the big release pipe beneath the dam. Then, nothing, except for a few drops of water. A water crew worker approaches the pipe, looks up and sees a bunch of fish, stuck, wiggling and staring back at him. At least some people ate well for the next few days.

Enough of the imagination. The reality was that it was a time of big growth for Oneonta in 1887, with plenty more to come in the next several years. The village needed additional water to meet the demands of more residents and new industry, as well as a new Normal School, which ground had been broken for that year.

A smaller reservoir had been completed in 1882 on upper East Street, but due to the growth of the village and a severe drought in 1886, the Oneonta Water Works, a privately owned organization, decided to expand the water supply.

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Mark Simonson

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