The North Bridgton Water Company

Prepared by Michael J. Davis

As the Center Village presently undergoes a monumental infrastructure redevelopment, and the streets of Bridgton are once again being torn up for the laying of pipe and the installation of fire hydrants, we are reminded of the many interesting events surrounding water and the supply of water in our town’s history; from the famous Walker Log Slips of the 1820’s, the notorious Flood of 1953, or the long history of fires and firefighting whose history continues to be written today.  But one of the most interesting, and indeed the least known episodes in Bridgton’s history concerns the laying of municipal water pipes which took place in North Bridgton at the dawn of the last century.

Nowadays, the utility of indoor running water has been made to take a rather inferior position in the public’s mind; we often forget just how much of a technical marvel the modern water company is.  To have a system in place whereby water can be extracted from the earth, stored, treated, and distributed at pressure to every nearly home within our town, ceaselessly, is a convenience whose magnitude is not often appreciated.  Indeed, the water system is so ubiquitous that it seems strange, perhaps, to think of it as something like a building or an institution; a thing that was founded by particular people, whose names we know, and whose records still survive.

This is the story of the North Bridgton Water Company, a group of entrepreneurs who sized upon a unique opportunity and, with the public’s eager support, brought a modern convenience to what was still very much a rural and undeveloped district of our town – North Bridgton.

It began in January, 1907 and, as so many interesting periods of our village’s history do, it took place at Bridgton Academy.  The year before, the Board of Trustees had received from the Legislature a gift of $3000, largely due to the efforts of our state Representative the Hon. John H. Procter, which had been set aside for the purposes of constructing a dormitory to replace Farnsworth Hall, that dorm having burned in 1896.  Plans had been drawn up over the winter prior, and in January the Trustees voted to begin construction, led up by a building committee headed up by Llewelyn Barton, whose members also included George H. Green and Charles H. Gould.  This committee had before it plans for a dormitory which the trustees proudly described as “modern in every respect;” it was to be three stories, heated by steam radiators, and furthermore, was designed to have “a bath and toilet room on every floor.”

This last planned feature created, in the words of Academy historian Ernest N. Stevens, “an urgent need.”  There was no running water in North Bridgton, and indeed we do not believe there was running water anywhere in Bridgton excepting those shops and houses along Main Street in the Center Village, where water pipes had been laid during the 1890’s.  Most houses had wells, and while some larger properties like the Bridgton House hotel had small pump-houses to supply running water to their guests, it was a highly uncommon thing in those days, and seen as a great luxury.  Indeed, this is why the Academy had planned their dorm to include running water; this feature would serve as a great draw for new students.  But again, as we have said, there was no running water in North Bridgton.

This problem was handed to a special committee on water and sewage, comprised of Charles B. Sylvester, Angus G. Hebb, and North Bridgton’s pride and joy, James Carroll Mead.  Immediately they began to assess the situation.  Could a pump-house be built down by the waterline of Long Lake?  Not easily, the pressure needed to pump the water up-hill would have to be tremendous, to say nothing of the problems it would cause with the Railroad’s station and track right of way.  Could a well, or perhaps a system of wells, be dug on the Academy lot?  This prospect was deemed both uncertain and unsuitable.  At last, sometime in early February, Mr. Mead found the solution.  A spring.

North Bridgton abounds in natural springs, as our water-table is very high, and even since the days of the Founding certain springs in our environs had served as local landmarks for settlers and natives alike.  One such spring, located on the Brigham estate, “fit the bill” perfectly.  Described as “never-failing,” that is to say a spring that ran strongly through all seasons, it was located far up the main hill whose banks carry the sloping expanse of North Bridgton gradually down to the water’s edge.  Being so high in elevation, it could easily furnish the needed water-pressure to the downhill lot of the Academy.  Guy Monk’s History of North Bridgton describes how “after carefully considering all possibilities, it was thought best to buy a large spring about a mile distant, near the ‘Cass’ Kimball place; then to lay a pipe and let gravity bring water to the Academy.”  The Trustees approached the Brigham family, and after very little negotiation the spring was carved off the estate in a special one-acre transferal to Bridgton Academy.  They paid $250 dollars for these water rights, afterwhich purchase the spring was “enlarged and covered over.”

But before any pipe could be laid, state law must be observed.  While the running of water-lines may have been comparatively new to our region, it was not new in Maine.  The coastal cities of the 1870’s and 80’s had gone well-before us, and in their early attempts to bring water from one place to another they had quickly come up against a whole host of legal and logistical problems which any one man was simply incapable of handling.  And so it had been determined that, if a group of citizens wanted to install a system of running water anywhere, they first needed to establish themselves as a corporation.  Furthermore, with water-lines falling under the same consideration as sewer systems, it had to be a public corporation.  This concern, paired with the unique position of Bridgton Academy as a chartered school, meant that there was only one way forward for the school; a petition must be sent to the State Legislature at Augusta.

On February 15th, Representative Procter brought before the Senate “An Act to Incorporate the Bridgton Academy Water Company,” a body politic which would be comprised of his father, Horace F. Procter, together with James Carroll Mead, Chessman C. Spratt, and Edwin V. Spooner, academy Trustees.  This bill being debated in the house, a question concerning the legal right of an academy to form a utility company was raised, whereafter the matter was sent to the Committee of the Judiciary for review on March 1st.  This review, accompanied by a public hearing at Augusta, took place on Thursday, March 7th, at 2 P.M.  A public notice announcing this hearing was posted by Secretary J.H. Montgomery, but unfortunately the records of this hearing could not be found at the time of writing.  It must have been successful, however, for we did succeed in obtaining a copy of the bill which this hearing produced.  This was Legislative Act No. 227, a carbon copy of which is preserved in the archives of the Bridgton Historical Society.  In part, it reads;

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in Legislature assembled, as follows:

Section 1.  Horace F. Procter, Chesman C. Spratt, Edwin V. Spooner, and James Carroll Mead, of Bridgton, their associates, successors and assigns, are hereby made a corporation by the name of the Bridgton Academy Water Company, for the purpose of supplying Bridgton Academy, in the village of North Bridgton, in the County of Cumberland, and the inhabitants of that part of said town residing within one mile of said Bridgton Academy, with pure water, for domestic, sanitary, and municipal purposes, including the extinguishment of fires, with all the rights and privileges, and subject to all the liabilities and obligations, of similar corporations under the laws of this state.

Section 2.  Said company for said purposes, may retain, collect, take, store, use and distribute water from any springs or wells, that it may acquire by purchase from the owner thereof, ponds, streams, or other water sources in said Bridgton, and may locate, construct and maintain cribs, reservoirs, dams, stand-pipes, gates, hydrants, pipes, and all other necessary structures to conduct and distribute the same through said part of said town of Bridgton in the usual manner.”

This corporation was likewise given the right to lay pipe “under, though, along and across the highways, ways, streets, railroads, and bridges” in North Bridgton, as well as being charged with the installation and maintenance of “all such sluices, aqueducts, pipes, hydrants and structures as may be necessary for the propose of its incorporation.”  It was vested with the power to own property, to issue bonds and elect trustees, with a set capital stock of twenty-five thousand dollars, to be divided into shares of ten dollars each.  Something must have delayed the enactment of this act, and we suspect it had to do with the projected scope of the company.  We see in the original bill that it is given the right not only to provide water to BA, but also to “the inhabitants of that part of said town residing within one mile of said Bridgton Academy,” and we suspect the Trustees faced encouragement, if not outright direction, to expand their service to the village as a whole.  It is rather telling that, when the charter was finally obtained in June, the company was officially named not the “Bridgton Academy Water Company,” but rather “The North Bridgton Water Company.”  More importantly, while its members were all trustees of Bridgton Academy, and their charter directed that BA had first rights to any water piped, the text of their incorporation did not in any place specify that the company was belonged to the Academy.  It was, on paper at least, an independent entity.  On the other hand the spring, from which they drew their water, belonged wholly to the Academy, as a result of their having bought it before the company was incorporated.  While the Legislature was undoubtedly attempting to ensure the company spread its service as widely as possibly by making it independent, this distinction would, in time, come to be of supreme importance.

But at that moment, with construction on the dorm already well underway by June, the North Bridgton Water Company could not stop to argue this point.  They were to be independent, the Legislature desired it, but they were still working in the academy’s bets interest and little concern seems to have been voiced at the time.  Instead, the company immediately set to work connecting the Brigham spring with the campus.  As Stevens describes in his Brief History of Bridgton Academy; “Rights to lay pipe on intervening property were secured, a surveyor and an engineer were set to work, pipe for the water and tile for the sewer were ordered, Finnish laborers were brought in and boarded in the village, and the whole job finished by March, 1909, for a total cost of $5,358.59.  This covered both the water and the sewage systems; labor was used on the two projects interchangeably and no attempt was made to distinguish between the costs of the two.”  In this way, running water was brought to Bridgton Academy.

But, as is always the way with such improvements, this project quickly attracted notice.  And, with the company’s efforts having been largely public during the laying of pipe, it was not long before the people of North Bridgton began to enquire about the possibility of tapping into the Academy’s mains.  Luckily for the village, shortly after connecting the pipes to the spring the academy had found itself facing a rather unique problem.  Where before they had no water, they quickly realized that now they had too much; Monk’s history tells us that there soon “seemed to be an abundance of water, more than the Academy could ever use.”  Finding it within their charter to allow such off-shoots, the history of Bridgton Academy tells us that “before 1909 had passed a North Bridgton resident, Captain Simpson, had asked and been granted the privilege of receiving water from the Academy’s supply.”

The connection of Captain Simpson marks the beginning of a new era.  Shortly thereafter, several villagers along Main Street took an active interest in the North Bridgton Water Company, buying up its stock and becoming shareholders.  Within a year, by September of 1910, the company was ready to fully expand its operations in North Bridgton, having elected as officers Henry W. Evans as president, Charles H. Gould as treasurer and James E. Bird, Joseph W. Witham, and S.D. Meserve, as directors.  Intending on a complete expansion, a set of “Regulations and Water Rates” were drawn up, the text of which is still extant.  This pamphlet, held by the Bridgton Historical Society, establishes a set of annual rates and by-laws to regulate any villager looking to connect to the proposed lines.

For a one family dwelling house, with only one set of faucets, and including water for one horse and one cow, the rate per year was set at $10.00.  To add a bathtub or toilet cost you an additional $4.00, and $3.00 for any further taps.  Boarding houses and stores were given a special rate of $4.00 a year, except restaurants which were charged $10.00 per tap!  Special exemptions were made for “limited use” operations like barbershops and drinking fountains, and if you wanted a fire hydrant on your property it would cost you $30.00 a year, and $50.00 if you wanted a public drinking trough for horses.

This water was metered at the point in entered your home, with a charge of only thirty cents per every 1000 gallons, with special discounts for those using over 100,000 gallons.  The regulations were extensive, and it is clear that the Water Co. anticipated that their system might need tweaking as the use picked up.  “Every person taking water thereby assents to the following regulations and agrees to be bound by them and such other regulations as the Water Company may hereafter establish.”  We present some of these regulations as follows;

“Every person desiring a supply of water must make application therefor to the superintendent in such form as may be prescribed to them.  The application must state fully and truly all the uses to which the water may be applied; and should any other use thereafter be desire, notice of the same must be given to the Company and permission therefor be obtained…

Service pipes will be provided and maintained by the Company from the main to the ditch of the travelled road nearest to the party taking the water, of such size and in such location as may be determined by the Company…

The water must not be left running to prevent freezing or kept running at any time longer than necessary in its proper use…

In case of shortage of water the Company shall have the right to discontinue the use of hose for all sprinkling or washing purposes…”

With a series of regulations and rates established, the company began the task of laying the requisite water pipe; an arduous effort which the Bridgton News described in its September 30th edition of that year;

Active operations will begin at once toward furnishing the village of North Bridgton with a public water system.  The pipes are in position along the side of the road and the work of digging will begin immediately under the direction of E.J. Stiles of this village.  Tony Gallinari, the fruit man, left the first of the week for Portland and possibly Boston, for the purpose of procuring a gang of Italians to do the digging, and they were expected to put in an appearance by the middle of the week.

The water is to come from the surplus of the Bridgton Academy supply.  It will be remembered that when the new dormitory was built at the Academy, a spring some over a mile back in the woods was tapped and this has proved more than adequate for the Academy’s needs.  The overflow from this will be used and it is expected that it will be ample to supply the needs of North Bridgton.

It is not understood that a hydrant system is to be installed at once, although provision will be made for this when the pipes are laid and places will be left at intervals for the putting in of these hydrants when occasion demands.”

This work went quickly, doubtless due to the large working force imported by Mr. Gallinari.  It is a point worthy of remark that in both cases where lines were dug, first at the Academy and then later in the village, teams of immigrant workers were brought in from Massachusetts; this is the same practice we find decades earlier, when groups of Italians were used to lay the track for the Bridgton and Saco River railroad in the 1880’s.  Whatever some of the residents of Bridgton may have said concerning their arrival, none could argue the swiftness of their work; just two months later, the News updates us of the Water Company’s progress on November 11th.  “The village of North Bridgton has seen considerable activity this summer and fall.  The North Bridgton Water Company has practically finished the laying of pipes in the streets of the village for a public supply.”

The pipe-laying was completed by the close of 1910, and the first wave of connections came early in 1911.  “All rates except for meters will be due and payable semi-annually, in advance, on the first days of February and August in each year.  Meter rates will be due and payable quarterly, on the first days of February, May, August and November in each year.  All bills shall be payable at the office of the Water Company.”  That summer, “a committee of the [Academy] trustees, consisting of William H. Chapman, Winburn M. Staples, and Edward C. Walker, negotiated… a contract by which surplus water from the Academy Main was sold for village use.”  This surplus, “to be taken from the main opposite the campus,” was soon feeding every house along Main Street.

We hear no more of the company until August 7th, 1914, when the News brings word that the company, evidently successful, “held its annual meeting Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 4th.  The following officers were re-elected.  Pres. H.W. Evans, Sec. J.E. Bird, Treas. C.H. Gould.”  From what we have been able to determine, the records documenting the later years of this company are largely beyond the reach of the inquiring public; through the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s the News features periodic mentions of their annual meetings, usually held in early August, and lists the names of those officers elected or, more typically, re-elected.  What is more, these short bylines rarely comment on the subject of these meetings beyond the maddeningly vague phrase “questions of interest to the company were discussed.”  What we do know, from outside sources, is that the usage of the company through this period increased, and at some point demand began to outstrip “the abundance of water.”  Sometime during the 1940’s, Monk tells us that “as the years passed, new customers were added and the water supply began to diminish, until, in the midst of a dry summer, (likely 1947) the supply was insufficient for village needs.  In effort to remedy this situation, the spring was blasted in the hope to expand the water vein.  It had the opposite effect.”  Desperate to keep the supply flowing, the North Bridgton Water Company purchased another spring some miles away, and laid pipe to join it with the first pipe line.  This solved the problem temporarily, but within a year “more customers were added and again the supply ran short.”  This all took place about 1949, when the company was under the management of President Tom Pike.  Miss. E.W. Gould was then serving as secretary-treasurer, with a board of directors composed of “James Chadbourne, Morton Snyder, Herschel Ryerson, John Wentworth and, incredibly, Edwin V. Spooner, the last remaining of the original incorporators of the company.  At the annual board meeting, it was voted to hire a crew of men to drill an artesian well on the site of the failed first spring, in the hopes that a manmade tap could be substituted for the destroyed natural one.  In January of 1950, the chancy attempt was made, and the joyous report at last came to the Bridgton News; “The North Bridgton Water Company had drilled a well to augment the previous supply and reported a flow of 1,000 gallons a minute from the new source.”  This is the source which Mr. Monk, penning his history in 1958, makes reference to when he writes “A few years ago an artesian well was drilled near the old spring and this seems to have partly solved the water problem for the present, but not for the future.  Although the Academy and the Water Co. have had a variety of agreements and contacts, intended to be of mutual benefit, relations have not been conducted on a sound business basis.  The stockholders have received little financial benefit and the customers only a limited and uncertain service.  A movement is on foot to improve the service.

A description of this citizen’s movement, which came to a head in December of that same year, is offered in the News of December 4th.  From this account, we learn just how dire the situation had become, and nest of thorny problems and bad temporary negotiations which Monk alluded to in his history.  The headline; “Future of North Bridgton Water Company Topic for Discussion at Meeting Tonight.”

“North Bridgton Residents will hold a meeting tonight to consider the future of the North Bridgton Water Company.  The meeting is open to the public at the North Bridgton Congregational Church at 7:30.  Over 100 families of the community are confronted with the problem of finding a new water source within the next three years.  They are customers of the North Bridgton Water Co, which for many years has secured its water supply from Bridgton Academy.  Two years ago the Academy notified the Water Co. that this arrangement must terminate in five years.  At the public meeting tonight a discussion will be held as to what the community can do in order to obtain a new water source.

According to reports, it could drill one or more wells or develop springs, or it could take water from nearby Long Lake.  The letter solution would require a chlorination plant to purify the water.  This would call for a pumping station, pipe lines, storage tank and other necessary equipment.  Bridgton Academy has secured its water by gravity feed from two springs and a well situated about a mile from the Academy.

In order to form a new company, the users would have to draw up legislation for approval of the State Legislature.  Formation of a new company would mean that the town could have fire hydrants and that fire insurance rates would decrease, in addition to providing a more adequate water facility.  Customers have for years used the Academy surplus supply which in the beginning provided service for a few families in the vicinity but as the community has grown, its mans have been extended and more customers added until there are slightly over 100 customers at present, including on hotel.  Also, the Academy’s needs have increased.

Two years ago the Academy gave the company the 5-year notice.  Additional community demands in summer, with the return of summer residents, have raised the demand to a disquieting level, even though use of water is restricted to necessary home needs.”

The dreaded day had come – North Bridgton had grown too large for the Academy’s spring to supply it, and what was once hailed as a great “advance” and “evidence of vitality” in the town had become, for all involved, a harsh lesson in economics.  There was simply not enough to go around; and the Academy, in the interest of self-preservation, was no longer willing to supply the demand.

There is no word of a solution the next year, and a simple stock-holders meeting takes place the year following, which makes us think that perhaps a solution was not found, and the company was simply riding out the remaining three years.  However, developments must have taken place in 1961, as we find the water still running and the company again engaging in maintains upgrades; “replacing 125 feet of the old 1½ inch galvanized pipe with 4 inch cast iron pipe between the Maple Inn and the Holden road turn where a bad leak had developed.”  The Bridgton News of July 5th, 1962 furnishes us with part of a solution in an urgent notice from the company to all its users.  “The North Bridgton Water Company is asking its customers to refrain from using sprinklers on grounds and to conserve water usage whenever possible.  Water Company officials report that the reservoir was over-flowing six weeks ago and this Monday it was dry.”  Evidently they were still facing water shortage problems, but a stop-gap measure appears to have been taken in the form of a manmade reservoir, likely fed by drilled wells.  We are unable to place this reservoir today, but owing to the comparatively recent timeline involved it is possible that some still living will remember it.  But alas, this stop-gap was precisely that; temporary and ineffective.

The following year we find the notice that “All consumers of town water are urged to be present,” at the August, 1963 annual meeting of the company, “whether or not they are stockholders.  Matters of prime import for the future of the water company will be discussed, matters about which the whole community should be vitally interested.”  Two weeks later we learn what these urgent matters were; “Herschel Ryerson was chosen President of the North Bridgton Water Company at the annual meeting of the re-elected Board of Directors a week ago last Tuesday evening in the vestry…  Richard Berry, State Representative from cape Elizabeth, a consulting engineer and owner of the Harrison Water Company, was present at the public meeting and made an offer to purchase the N.B. Water Company.  The acceptance of this offer hinges upon Mr. Berry’s purchase of a majority of the outstanding stock of the company.”

Representative Berry, who in a year would become Senator Berry, bought the company in 1964, dissolving it and absorbing its assets into the Harrison Water Company.  He immediately pledged to renovate the system, run new lines, and drill more wells – a process he and his company began that summer.  It took roughly two years, but when it was completed the citizens of our village had hardly any cause for celebration.  From the Bridgton News, August 10th, 1967:  Sen. Berry Explains Reason for 350% Increase in Water Rates at Harrison and North Bridgton.

The buyout was complete, and with the new infrastructure came all the costs which went with it.  There was simply no way around the issue any longer; this was a climax towards which the village had been slowly building ever since the Legislature founded the corporation as a separate entity two generations earlier.  And it is here, also, that the history of the North Bridgton Water Company ends.  To his credit, Senator Berry tried to explain the reasons for the increase in rates, and with town aid from Harrison and Bridgton Center they were able to decrease the costs measurably in coming years, but fifty years later things remain just about as they were.  The Bridgton Water District, incorporated in the 1950’s to consolidate water service in Bridgton, does not serve North Bridgton; our village is still supplied by the old Harrison Water Company.  And though the water rates are fairly comparable across the board for towns in western Maine, it remains a curious fact that, even today, North Bridgton must pay a higher rate for their water than their neighbors in the Center Village.  While today this simply seems a fact of life, having now looked at the history of water in the village, we can see at least some indication as to why.

© 2020 by the North Bridgton Historical Society