The importance and value attached to the supplies of water are illustrated in many beautiful passages of Scripture, showing that water springs, rains and dew, were among the most esteemed of earthly gifts.
Thus it will be admitted that pure water is one of the prime necessaries of life, and one of the most important conditions of health. We may puzzle ourselves until doomsday on the question of what is the original source of supply of river, spring, or well water, or what is the origin of its impurities, or how is hard water to be distinguished from salt, and after all we could come to no other conclusion but that water used for culinary, domestic and industrial purposes if exclusively derived from the rain which falls upon the earth; that wells may be compared with cisterns, but the channels which discharge rain-water into them are not formed of masonry, brick or metal, but of the rocks which exist immediately beneath them. Hence the water obtained from wells is not rain water properly so-called; that every river convoys to the sea the waters of some principal source, and in its descent it gathers into its bosom the waters of numerous minor sources or tributaries.
With such facts, ancient and modern, and with a knowledge that water possesses different qualities according to the source whence it is obtained; that rain, dew, spring-water, well-water, lake-water, marsh-water, sea water, mineral water, are all affected in quality by the substances with which they come in contact, that the color, taste, odor, and medicinal qualities are more or less likely to be influenced thereby, that river-water, well-water, have each afforded full scope for chemical analysis, that a single drop of water may afford amusement and excite astonishment for hours to the investigator, by the aid of a microscope, that for all sanitary purposes water is invaluable, though into its uses in the present day it would be superfluous to enter, the motive for creating Public reservoirs must be apparent to every intelligent community.
And when the supply of water to the City of Reading by the ordinary processes was found insufficient to meet the increasing requirements of its citizens, the desire existed that the springs by which the city was surrounded should be made subservient to all purposes to which they could be adapted. Such led to the formation and incorporation of the Reading Water Company in 1819.
The first public supply of water delivered in Reading was introduced in 1821 by the Reading Water Company. The water works then consisted of the Hampden Springs, a 2 1/2 inch earthenware pipe leading to a small covered basin near Eleventh and Court Streets, and wooden pipes in the streets for distributing the water. As the population of the town increased and additional sources of water supply were introduced, all of these earlier pipes were replaced with larger pipes.
In 1865, the City of Reading purchased the entire works of the water company for $300,000. It consisted of the Hampden Springs, Bernhart, Egelman and Mineral Spring gravity supplies; 2 basins at Eleventh and Penn Streets; 12 miles of cast iron pipes; 39 fire hydrants, 110 street valves with wooden boxes; and 147 acres of land with improvements.
Hampden Spring was for many years the only supply furnished to the city; the water is procured from several springs, issuing at the foot of Mount Penn. These springs were found by measurement in 1864, to discharge 100,000 gallons water per day. The water was of the most desirable character.
Egleman Springs are supplied from the same source as the Hampden Springs, but they issue from the opposite or eastern side of Mount Penn, and at a greater elevation. The amount of water supplied by these springs when measured in 1864 was found to be 100,000 gallons per day. The water was not quite so good as that supplied from the springs emanating from the western side of the mountain, but this fault was principally owing to carelessness in collecting it.
This source of supply for Mineral Spring is derived from a creek formed by the conflux of a number of springs, principally from the same source as the Hampden and Egleman Springs. The character of the water is the same as that furnished by the springs before spoken of, with the exception of a small proportion of it being impregnated with iron. The flow of this creek was measured in 1864 at 150,000 gallons per day.
Bernhart's dam existed on an extensive Spring Valley acreage since 1796. In June, 1865, the city of Reading had commandeered the dam to draw water from the springs feeding Bernhart's dam and to dispense with the use of the water from the dam. On October 10, 1868 City Council awarded a contract to Owen O'Reilly & Co. for constructing a new dam. The completed Bernhart's Dam held between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000 gallons of water. This source of supply is a creek formed principally from springs issuing from the mountain within three miles of the dam. The flow of the creek measured in 1864 just as it enters the dam, was 1,500,000 gallons per day. The character of the water procured from this source, is inferior to that obtained from any of the others mentioned.
On April 11, 1882 a contract for constructing the Hampden Reservoir was awarded to Nolan & Bros. for the sum of $87,650. Work began on the 15th of April, 1882 and during that time there were, numerous workmen employed. One hundred and fifty were advertised for by the Nolan Bros., but the average number at work was 120. The highest number at work at one time was 100, and the lowest 70.
Work on the Hampden Reservoir was completed on Oct. 6, 1883 and was formerly accepted by the Water Board. The occasion was celebrated by a visit of inspection by the Board of Water Commissioners, accompanied by the Mayor of the City, the Judges of the Courts, the City Engineer, Water Superintendent and other City officials, representatives of the press, and other invited guests. The party, consisting of about thirty persons, left the office of F. S. Jacobs, Esq., President of the Water Board, 25 North Sixth street, at 1 p.m., and proceeded in carriages to the reservoir at Hampden and drew up on the embankment, when the works were formerly inspected by those present. Immediately upon their arrival the water from the Olinger supply reservoir was turned on by Superintendent Harper, and poured into the new reservoir through the large supply pipe by a rapid flow. The rush of the water into the new reservoir was witnessed with delight by all present, for all saw in it the consummation of a work that was long needed and must be of vast benefit to the growth and prosperity of the city in future years.
The Olinger supply reservoir was built around November 1880 on the site of the Olinger mill property, in Alsace Township. When the city acquired this properly from Samual Olinger, the name of Olinger creek and Olinger valley came into common use. The creek had been known for a number of years as Antietam creek, and in naming the lake created by the construction of the large dam across the narrow Antietam valley, the Water Commissioners changed the name to "Antietam Lake." Antietam Lake holds 100,000,000 gallons of water. It is comprised of sixteen acres, and the breast is 50 ft. high. The dam has a width of 200 ft. at the top and 125 feet at the base.
After the completion of the Hampden Reservoir, the Hampden Springs and drift located on the grounds, collected their waters from the western slope of Mount Penn and emptied into the reservoir. The Hampden reservoir had a capacity for 30,000,000 million gallons of water at a depth of 27 feet. The reservoir at the top is 570 feet long by 342.5 feet wide, and at the base 450 feet long by 237.5 feet wide. The slanting walls are covered with a rock lining 18 inches thick. The overflow pipe for the water in the Hampden Reservoir stood 102 feet above the water in the reservoirs at Eleventh end Penn streets, and 274 feet above the river at the foot of Penn street. The valve house, from where the water was drawn for the supply of the city, was an admirable piece of work. Though the contract called only for rubble masonry in its construction, the Nolan Bros., at their own expense, in order to turn out a creditable job, constructed it of dressed stone laid down in regular layers, of the most substantial character. The outlet, which was in the middle of the western side fronting the city, was at the intersection of Robeson and Fourteenth streets. The water was conducted from the reservoir by openings 24x27 inches, through a wall 8 feet thick into an open chamber 7x9 feet, in which were placed the screens and the ends of effluent pipes, and from which the water is conducted to the city. The pipes ran through a wall 13 feet in thickness into an open valve culvert in which were placed the valves for the service and drain pipes. This culvert was 9 feet wide and 10 feet 6 inches high to the arch.