Vintage photo of men working at power supply

Jefferson’s Electric Light Plant came into being after George Grimm was allowed to construct an electric plant in 1893.  The Jefferson Electric Company was then bought by the City of Jefferson in 1900 for $25,000 obtained through the selling of city bonds.  Water and sewer were not a part of the utilities operation at this time. There was no water department until the city took control of the water works system in 1902.

At first, the laying of pipes for a water system in Jefferson was a private, not a civic, operation.  The first citizen to endorse the idea on a large scale was Edward Mueller, the owner of the Jefferson House.  He approached the City Council in March of 1893 and was granted permission via Ordinance #28 to build a water pipe line from his corner on Main Street and Milwaukee Street, which would run north on Main Street to Mechanic Street, turn east and end at Heger’s Brewery.  The well at Hegers Brewery was described as “inexhaustible,” and the public could tap into it for $300.  Later, Puerner and Son tapped into the pipe line in 1895 providing a water system for their buildings.

Rudolph Heger was granted permission in 1898 to construct water and sewer pipes along Center Avenue running across Racine Sreet to Milwaukee Street which then turned west to connect to Ed Mueller’s pipe line on Main Street.  Also, Emil Stoppenbach and J. Hyer put in water and sewer pipes in front of their houses on Racine Street and ran west two blocks to the river.

A City Council investigative committee composed of George Kispert, Emil Stoppenbach and OF Roessler went to Chicago in 1897 to investigate the JL White Waterworks System.  They returned and recommended that the city purchase the White System along with a high pressure pump.  Mr. White was invited to Jefferson to discuss his water works system specifically for the County Asylum.  It was believed by those on the board that his pneumatic system would be better than a stand pipe system.  He proposed that his system would cost $1,800 for the asylum/poor house.  By 1899 the County Asylum was connected to a water works system.

The first step in forming the Water and Light Department was when the Board of Water and Light  commissioners met to set the water rates in 1901.  In June of 1901, John H. Brown was granted permission from the City Council to create and operate a water works system for Jefferson.  In November of 1902, the city council passed another ordinance accepting the Brown Water Works as satisfactory, and they bought the system for $40,000, paid for by the selling of city bonds.  The name of the company then became, “The Jefferson Water Company.”  In October of that year, 75 men were hired to finish putting two miles of pipeline into the ground in the downtown area before freezing weather set in.

Original Jefferson Water PipeThe city’s standpipe was built on John Roessler’s property west of the high school in 1901 and deemed a financial success.  It was said to be 109 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter. In 1911, the standpipe was cleaned to ensure that no contaminated water was passed through the pipes into homes. In July of that year, ground was broken for sewer pipe on 2nd Street to be connected to the corner of Main Street and Milwaukee Street.   

By 1929, the old stand pipe was in bad condition, and there was worry it would not last through the winter.  The next large water project for the City was the erecting of a new water tower on “Gravel” or “MacMahon Hill” northeast of the City.  Previously, a well had been dug at Greenwood Cemetery, which, with the help of a windmill, carried water through the water lines.  A reservoir was built opposite the Jefferson Electric Station and a well was dug east of the reservoir.  It was filled and ready for use in November.  This new reservoir stood higher than the west side standpipe and held 150,000 gallons compared to the stand pipe’s 60,000 gallons. The water tower was estimated to cost over $9,000 and was erected by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works.  The new water tower was put into use in May of 1930. 

After Judge Grimm stepped down from The Jefferson Light Department in 1905, a superintendent was hired to manage the new Water and Light Department.  First, Roy B. Carter was in charge until he resigned in 1910.  John G. Angel was appointed superintendent in 1915 and worked for the department for 25 years.  

The City began paving the main streets in 1906 and constructing sewers throughout town in 1908.  By 1915, the Water and Light Commission had extended the water mains and electric lines eastward to St. Coletta’s school. There existed 10 miles of pipeline overseen by the Water and Light Department.

The outdoor substation was built in 1921 for $15,000. Water was pumped from a 960 foot artesian well by two electrically driven pumps.  Two emergency steam pumps were available in case of fire.  In 1923, six people were employed at the Water and Light plant.  There were 810 light customers, 118 power customers and 649 water customers. Rates were competitive with that of surrounding communities and heating costs were actually lower.

The City decided to fluorinate its water in 1962 followed by the chlorinating of the water in 1969.  In 1970, a new elevated water tank was erected on 4.1 acres of land just to the east of Hwy 26 south of the city.  The new tank held 750,000 gallons of water.  Arthur Jark, who was appointed in 1946 was superintendent during this time, remaining in this post until retiring in 1979.