During the last week in June a familiar landmark just behind the Tastee-Freez came down. A red brick pump house that dated from 1896 and was one of the key components of Turner’s first water works system bit the dust. The pump house had not been used since the City’s new water treatment facility on Hawthorne Lane opened in 2005, and was in disrepair.
Beginning in the 1880s local newspapers called for the building of a public water works to provide fire protection. A series of fires, some ignited by sparks from trains, threatened the downtown. Bucket brigades from local water pumps often failed to get fires out quickly, if at all. Most homes and business buildings were made of wood, so the fire risk was high.
There was stiff resistance to building a water works, and in the first vote in July of 1890 it was soundly defeated. Four years later it was voted down again, despite the fact that fire insurance rates had increased by as much as 25%. The Wheaton Illinoian stated that, “It does not pay to vote against public improvements.”
Finally in October of 1895-success! A water works was voted in. By the end of November a site was selected.
Chicago-based steamfitters S.I. Pope & Company began construction in 1896. Besides the building that housed the pumps, a 126 foot high iron standpipe with a 178,000 gallon capacity and a 40,000 gallon reservoir were built.
All components were completed in August and a test of the pressure at one of the forty-four hydrants shot streams of water that cleared the First Congregational Church steeple.
Five months later a fire at the Wilson home on Conde Street was the “maiden business trip” for the Fire Department. Manpower and waterpower came together to quench the blaze. The water works had proved their value.