Evansville’s Water and Light: A Century of Service
Researched and written by Ruth Ann Montgomery
With Special Thanks To: Wayne Ballard, Scott George, and John Rasmussen
In the final months of 1901, the Evansville Water Works and Electric Plant were under
construction. The project had taken more than 15 years of planning and persuasion.
Public water and electrical systems are taken for granted by today’s city property owner,
but at the beginning of the 20th century, not everyone was convinced that the cost was
worth the benefits.
As with any project that required payment of assessments and fees, there was a long
period of time between the proposal and the implementation. Why would taxpayers give up
the inexpensive kerosene lamp and tallow candles for a fee based electrical light system?
Why would a homeowner and those who owned businesses and rental property with private
wells and free water agree to the installation of a public water system and plumbing to their
property and then pay a fee for using water? Local newspaper editorials and public health
official’s reports give a glimpse at the public and private discussions that were held on
Evansville’s sidewalks, at the village board meetings, and in the homes of citizens. The
questions sometimes pitted family members and neighbors against each other.
The water works question posed many concerns for public safety, including fire protection
and prevention of contagious diseases. The 1885 report of Dr. William L. Quivey,
Evansville’s Health Officer, is one of the first notices that Evansville village trustees were
considering a public water system for health reasons. (Dr. Quivey’s father, also named
William, was an Evansville physician in the 1860s.)
Quivey’s report lists his concerns about contagious diseases and contamination of the local
water supply. The report notes that Evansville’s population was 1,666 in 1885 and all
homes and businesses had private wells and privies.
In the Ninth Report of the State Board of Health of Wisconsin 1885, Quivey wrote: “Water is
obtained from wells, ranging from eight to forty feet in depth. The question of water works
is now under discussion and in all probability we shall have them in the course of another
year. No hospital building, but hospital tents are available, which I consider far better than
any permanent structure for contagious diseases. No sanitary ordinances adopted, but
people needed no compulsion to clean their premises thoroughly. I have acted as
inspector and personally investigated every complaint; have had the help of board and
citizens. The school building has been cleaned from cellar to garret, the privy vaults
disinfected and the grounds put in excellent condition. There has been no diarrhea,
dysentery, etc., and none of contagious diseases.”
Quivey was overly optimistic about the timetable for installation of a public water system.
From 1885 to the building of Evansville’s first waterworks system in 1901, there were a
number of significant changes in the village landscape and governance. The population
continued to grow and houses, wells, and privies were built closer together, endangering
the private water supply. The public health officer and the public health board, made up of
village trustees, became more and more concerned about public safety.
Village trustees and the volunteer firemen also had concerns about the water supply for fire
fighting. Allen’s Creek offered a water supply for businesses and homes nearby, however it
offered little protection for the residential and commercial areas of the village. The trustees
ordered that cisterns be built and maintained as another source of water for fire
A series of disastrous fires in the late 1800s that destroyed the Baker Manufacturing plant,
Lehman’s Furniture Factory, livery stables, stores, apartments, and other valuable
commercial property demonstrated the lack of water pressure for fire fighting.
From 1884, the date of the fire that consumed the Baker and Lehman factories, to
September 29, 1896, when a fire destroyed 75% of the buildings on the south side of the
first block of West Main Street, there were various plans for a public water system for fire
protection. No matter how impressive the fire engines and steam engine powered water
pumps, there was a serious deficiency in getting enough water to fight large fires. The lack
of fire pressure from a standpipe and pumps to force water to fire hydrants seriously
hampered any fire fighting efforts by Evansville’s volunteers.
Shortly after the Baker and Lehman fire the village board purchased a new fire engine, and
some citizens began to agitate for a waterworks system. In addition to the new equipment,
the fire department urged the Village Board of Trustees to consider installing a waterworks
system for fire protection.
On Saturday night, September 5, 1885, the Village Board invited taxpayers to a meeting.
The village Trustees wanted to “test the sentiment” of the taxpayers about the installation of
a waterworks system. Many of the firemen were present, including James Powles who
recorded in his diary that there was great excitement about the possibility of a waterworks
A Beloit resident and waterworks expert, E. P. Wheeler, explained to the village Trustees
and residents that a waterworks system would not only provide fire protection, but would
improve Evansville’s chances of attracting industry and other businesses.
While the primary purpose of the waterworks was to provide fire protection, Wheeler told
the Village Trustees that residents and businesses would also benefit by the installation of
water pipes into their homes and commercial buildings. This would encourage “capitalists
to come here to invest, if the place afforded a good fire protection over the method now
being used—a steam fire engine.”
Wheeler said the system would cost about $19,000 and the village could raise the money
by issuing 20-year bonds at an interest rate of 5%. Annual costs for operation would be
about $1,000. Since Evansville was a major stopping point for the Chicago and
Northwestern Railroad and the railroad company’s depot had recently been destroyed by
fire, Wheeler said the railroad company would pay $700 a year towards Evansville’s
waterworks system. Residential and business water fees would cover the remaining $300,
with the excess going into a “handsome sinking fund” that would meet the bond payments in
Wheeler’s proposal included a deep well, pump, ornamental water tower, water mains, and
fire hydrants. The tower pressure and the pump would supply water to all the mains and
hydrants and provide needed fire protection to any area covered by the system.
Several prominent businessmen spoke in opposition to the plan, including architect-builder
Benjamin Hoxie, lumberyard owner C. H. Wilder, and retired farmer and village trustee
Daniel Johnson. Johnson proposed a resolution that the village trustees refuse to adopt
the waterworks proposal and the trustees unanimously approved Johnson’s negative
Isaac Hoxie, editor of the Evansville Review and brother to Benjamin Hoxie, opposed his
sibling on this issue. I. A. Hoxie chastised the village trustees for being shortsighted and
predicted that the “people will allow the matter to rest until another decade when our
population shall number 3,000 or a sweeping fire shall reduce us to a heap of ashes.”
In defense of the Village Board’s decision, Caleb Libby, editor of the Evansville newspaper
the Enterprise, praised the Trustees. Libby told his readers that the proposed
improvement “wholly impracticable at the present time.”
The Hub, a newspaper in the neighboring community of Stoughton, suggested: “Evansville
needs a few Stoughtonites to stir ‘em up. The other day that village had a meeting of
citizens to consult about putting in a system of water-works, but unanimously voted against
taking any steps in that direction; at another meeting they even decided not to build any
reservoirs to use in emergencies. Besides they have no telephone connections with any
The actions of the Trustees angered the firemen and James Powles, foreman of the fire
department resigned from his position and urged the remaining firemen to resign. It took
two months before the Village Trustees and the fire department had resolved their
differences. In lieu of a waterworks system, the Trustees purchased a heater for the fire
engine and authorized a new hook and ladder company.
After they flatly refused to put in a water system, the village board continued to pay for new
cisterns placed in strategic locations in the residential and business district. The cisterns
were filled with water. Businessmen protected their buildings by placing barrels of water at
the back doors of their stores
If they were not ready to provide a waterworks system, the elected officials of the village of
Evansville were more open to a public street lighting system. Two years after Wheeler’s
waterworks proposal failed to win approval, Allen S. Baker proposed to the Village Board
that Baker Manufacturing Company supply an electric power plant and apparatus to
replace the kerosene street lamps with electric lamps.
In August 1887, the Baker Manufacturing Company purchased and installed a new engine
and dynamo to provide power and electricity for their plant. The equipment was purchased
from the United States Electric Light Company of Chicago and the company also provided
personnel to install the machinery. The Chicago firm operated the dynamo and electric
power system for the first thirty days to insure it was in good working order.
Allen Baker proposed that the company sell its surplus electrical power for public and
private use. To gain support for his idea, Allen Baker called a meeting of 14 businessmen
and Village Trustees to hear about his electric light plant. A representative from the United
States Electric Light Company explained the operation of the power plant and those
present voted 12 to 2 in favor of recommending that the village adopt Baker’s proposal. A
Review reporter present at the meeting cautioned: “This expression, coming largely from
business men, could hardly be taken as a popular sense of the citizen.”
At their August 1887 meeting, Baker explained to the Evansville Board of Trustees that the
company would “furnish the village with 40 lights of 16-candle power, every night of the
year from early candlelight until 11 o’clock p.m. for $400.” Despite the businessmen’s
recommendation, the Board rejected the proposal by a 5 to 2 vote.
Not losing hope, Allen Baker continued to pursue his plan and went door-to-door soliciting
subscribers for the new service. He assured potential customers that the Baker
Manufacturing Company engine could provide enough power to run the street lights and
provide electric lights to businesses and residences.
The village Trustees, some of the wealthiest men in Evansville, rejected Baker’s proposal at
least twice. The kerosene street lamps were cheaper and worked just fine, the Trustees
insisted. However, they agreed to hold a special election and let the voters decide. Their
final word to the taxpayers appeared in the local newspapers: “We do not like to take any
responsibility in the matter and will ask for a public expression by vote.”
In an article “Lighting vs. kerosene”, Review editor Hoxie explained the ballot: “Our people
will be called on soon to say by vote whether they will have electricity to light our streets or
kerosene we are now using. We have 39 lamps in all and extend from one end of town to
the other, a distance of more than a mile, and are lit at an expense of $325 a year,
including the lighters salary. It is estimated that the same number of electric lights will cost
Voters approved the electric lights but the Village Board continued quibbling with Allen
Baker about whether the electric lamps would be needed on moonlit nights. In September
1887, the Board finally agreed to a contract with Baker Manufacturing Company for 56
lights. Each lamps cost the village ten dollars a year and Baker agreed to install the poles
and the wiring.
Baker quickly implemented the plan by starting up his “electro light mill” in late September.
The Review’s September 30, 1887 issue announced the new lighting system: “for the first
time, most of the stores and public places were lit with electricity.”
The village’s contract with Baker included only the street lights. Business and homeowners
contracted separately with for electrical service. Baker reported 150 subscribers in the
private sector, including the Methodist Church. The Review reported that the Methodists
had agreed to pay $50 a year for the lights. It was the income from the business and
residential subscribers that allowed Baker’s to make a profit on the operation.
The electric lamp business continued to expand and Bakers had trouble keeping up with
the demand for new service. Business was so good that in July 1888, the company hired
Wellington Smith to take orders for new customers and to make repairs. Smith worked out
of G. S. Plaisted’s shoe shop in Evansville’s business district and was available “any hour of
Getting the village to approve additional street lighting was a lengthy and cumbersome
process. Those who wanted street lamps had to get permission from a majority of the
residents on a particular street or block and then petition the Board of Trustees. At their
regular monthly meeting the Board would vote on the petition. If approved, Baker
Manufacturing was notified and the equipment was installed. From start to finish the
installation of new street lighting could take several months.
The equipment was also subject to damage by weather and angry citizens. Not everyone
appreciated the unsightly electric poles. In 1888, Caleb Libby, editor of the Enterprise
newspaper, tried to get Baker to remove a pole from in front of Libby’s home on South First
Street. When Allen Baker refused, Libby sawed into the pole, hoping it would fall, but the
wires held it in place. Libby was fined for violation of a village ordinance that protected the
poles from damage.
After an electrical storm in June 1891, the dynamo was damaged and although the
residential and business lights were working, the street lights were out for more than a
month. “People will have to go back to kerosene lamps and the old tallow dip for a week or
two,” the Evansville Review predicted.
To correct the problem, Baker’s ordered a new dynamo from the Thompson and Houston
company and paid over $1,500 for the new machine. The new dynamo would greatly
improve the electrical operation, according to a report in the July 7, 1891 Evansville
Allen Baker’s son, John, had succeeded his father as the supervisor of the electrical
operation and was responsible for rearranging the wiring to comply with the requirements of
the new dynamo. The old system required that lights be grouped in bunches of eight and if
one went out, all were out. The new system allowed each light to work independently, and if
only one was damaged, the others remained lit. The Thompson and Houston system also
required less maintenance as there was no longer a need for daily inspection of the wires
to insure that they were working correctly.
Despite the Baker electrical system, some businesses and homes did not have electricity
and continued to use kerosene lanterns and candles for light. As the community
approached the last decade of the 19th century, the antiquated system of private wells and
cisterns still served as Evansville’s water supply.
In 1891, the village once again considered building a waterworks system. Still there were
those who opposed the project. Caleb Libby, editor of the Evansville newspaper, the
Enterprise and the Tribune felt that there were less expensive methods of providing
protection. There was more need for a new village hall and Evansville could not afford
The Evansville Review supported the waterworks system. “Will an artesian well ever be
built in the village. A well can be put in for $2,000 with sufficient water to supply the whole
village. It would give good fire protection and supply homes and businesses,” the May 19,
1891 issue noted.
Several of Evansville’s leading businessmen supported a $25,000 waterworks system. Dr.
John M. Evans, Lloyd T. Pullen, Alonzo C. Gray, William Libby, Lewis Spencer, Jud W.
Calkins, Fred A. Baker, John P. Porter, C. E. Cummings, Almeron Eager, T. C. Richardson,
M. V. Pratt, George L. Pullen, Charles F. P. Pullen, Frank A. Baker, H. N. Simons and W. J.
Clark signed a petition to get the question on the April 1892 ballot.
The business leaders emphasized the need for better fire protection as well as health
concerns. The village’s water supply was in danger of contamination. As the village
became more populated, houses were built closer together and the space between
residences decreased. In most cases, each house had its own privy and well. Doctors and
other informed citizens knew the health dangers caused by the contamination of well water
by human and animal wastes.
The family well and the outhouse were sometimes dangerously close together. If wells were
shallow and cesspools deep, the chance of contamination was great. Garbage and animal
wastes were being dumped behind barns and in alleys. The hollow ground near bridges
along Allen’s Creek was another popular dumping place. Poor drainage, together with
decaying manue in the streets and barn yards near houses posed a problem of
contamination seeping into the wells.
The supporters of the waterworks agreed that it should provide a deep artesian well, water
piped into businesses and homes and a fire protection system to replace the cisterns build
in the 1870s and 188s.
However, most voters were concerned about increasing taxes and at the April 1892 election
they authorized bonds for the hall and voted down the bonds for the water system. The
waterworks was overwhelmingly rejected by a 195 to 48 vote.
By 1895, Evansville's population had reached 1,716 people, and many began to agitate for
a city form of government. Wisconsin law allowed villages of more than 1,500 in population
to reincorporate as a city. A petition was circulated in 1895 for Evansville to change its
legal status to a city form of government.
One of the reasons supporters wanted a change in the form of government was the need
for a water works system. In 1896, Evansville voters agreed to become a City, but it would
be another five years before they would endorse a waterworks and public electric utility.
Once again Baker Manufacturing Company came to the rescue and provided water for fire
protection for themselves and the business district. In August 1898, the company drilled a
60-foot well and provided a pump. A Sanborn map of the Baker Manufacturing Company
drawn a few months after the well was drilled indicates that the company had 200 feet of 2
inch fire hose, a force pump and another 150 feet of hose attached to draw water from this
It was this demand for water for fire protection that prompted the City officials to finally take
action and bring the waterworks question to the voters in 1901. Every voter had to weigh
the benefits of paying for something that was free against the dangers of fire and
The new water system was proposed as a privately owned system but three men from
Chicago, W. H. Wheeler, J. P. Miller and John H. Brown. Brown was the principal
spokesman and engineer for the company. They proposed a 100-foot standpipe, a deep
well, water mains and 50 hydrants with 2 ½ inch hose connections for fire protection.
Ray Gillman, the city’s fire chief was one of the strongest advocates for the waterworks.
Gillman noted the lack of water as one of the principal reasons the city’s fire fighting
equipment was inadequate. Three likely sources of water were the cisterns, some nearly
30 years old; Lake Leota, and Allen’s Creek. The lake property was privately owned and
since the dam had been allowed to deteriorate, there was no water in the lake. The old mill
race was dry and Gilman estimated that any water remaining in Allen’s creek would last
about 20 minutes, in the event of a major fire.
Allen Baker also made a proposal to build a waterworks system and offer both water and
electricity to the city for a fee.
The election was held on July 31, 1901 and the voters (all men because women could only
vote in school board elections) cast 265 votes for the utilities and 126 votes against. The
City Council met immediately following the counting of the votes and approved the building
of the new waterworks and electrical system as outlined in the franchise with Brown’s
The council authorized John H. Brown and his associates to “construction, maintain and
operate the waterworks and electric light and power plants.” A copy of the franchise was
published in the Evansville Review, the official paper of the City.
The City hired its own engineer to oversee the installation of the waterworks.
The system was tested on January 22, 1902 and the City completed the purchase of the
water and light system.
The mayor called a special meeting of the City Council on February 27, 1902 to create a
water and light commission. The Council passed the following resolution: “Whereas the
City of Evansville has recently purchased the waterworks plant and electric lighting system
recently installed in the City of Evansville and Whereas the City Council deem it advisable
to provide for a board of commissioners for the government, management, regulation and
operation of said waterworks and electric plant and Whereas the City Council deem it
necessary for the proper management of said water and light plants, that such a board of
commissioners be created at once.”
The commission was to have five members, with one member from the council and three
from outside the council. The fifth member was the mayor who served as an ex-officio
member of the commission. Each member, with the exception of the mayor, was elected by
the council. The terms of the first members of the commission were staggered with two hold
one year terms and two holding two year terms. After the first year, the commission
members who were leaving office were either re-elected or replaced by a vote of the council
at their organizational meeting each year.
The Evansville Prospectus, a newspaper sized promotional brochure for the city extolled
the virtues of the city owned utilities: “Evansville stands alone in the possession of a
municipally owned waterworks and light plant that is on a paying basis. The city is free from
debt. Her water is famed for its purity. For fire protection she has a seventy-five pound
In June 1910, the newspapers announced the implementation of daytime electrical service.
“Water and Light Commission of the city of Evansville will install a day power electric service
and also day lighting service as soon as the necessary material ordered shall have arrived.
(June 23, 1910)
Baker Manufacturing continued to provide a fire protection system within its own complex.
When a new 3-story building was built on the east side of Enterprise street, Baker’s
installed a 500-barrel water tank on the roof and a force pump with a 750-gallon per minute
In 1891, the village once again considered building a waterworks system and as in the past,
there were those who opposed the project. Caleb Libby, editor of the Evansville weekly
newspapers the Enterprise and the Tribune, criticized the plan and said there were less
expensive methods of providing fire protection. Libby favored building a new village hall
and he said Evansville could not afford a new hall and a waterworks system.
The Evansville Review supported the waterworks system. “Will an artesian well ever be
built in the village? A well can be put in for $2,000 with sufficient water to supply the whole
village. It would give good fire protection and supply homes and businesses,” the May 19,
1891 issue noted.
Several of Evansville’s leading businessmen supported a $25,000 waterworks system. Dr.
John M. Evans, Lloyd T. Pullen, Alonzo C. Gray, William Libby, Lewis Spencer, Jud W.
Calkins, Fred A. Baker, John P. Porter, C. E. Cummings, Almeron Eager, T. C. Richardson,
M. V. Pratt, George L. Pullen, Charles F. P. Pullen, Frank A. Baker, H. N. Simons and W. J.
Clark signed a petition to get the question on the April 1892 ballot.
In support of their proposal, the business leaders emphasized the need for better fire
protection as well as health concerns. They especially noted the danger of contamination
of the water supply. As the village became more populated, houses were built closer
together and the space between residences decreased. Each house had its own privy and
well and Dr. Evans and other informed citizens knew the health dangers caused by the
contamination of well water by human and animal wastes.
The family well and the outhouse were sometimes dangerously close together. If wells were
shallow and cesspools deep, the chance of contamination was great. Garbage and animal
wastes were dumped behind barns and in alleys. The hollow ground near bridges along
Allen’s Creek was another popular dumping place for wastes. Poor drainage, together with
decaying manure in the streets and barnyards near houses posed the possibility of
contamination seeping into the wells.
The supporters of the waterworks agreed that the village should provide a deep artesian
well, water piped into businesses and homes, and a fire protection system to replace the
cisterns built in the 1870s and 1880s.
However, most voters were concerned about increasing taxes and at the April 1892 election
they authorized bonds for the hall and voted down the bonds for the water system. The
waterworks was overwhelmingly rejected by a 195 to 48 vote.
By 1895, Evansville's population had reached 1,716 people, and some citizens began to
agitate for a city form of government. Wisconsin law allowed a village of more than 1,500 in
population to reincorporate as a city. A petition was circulated in 1895 for Evansville to
change its legal status to a city form of government.
One of the reasons given by those who wanted a change in the form of government was
the need for a waterworks system. In 1896, Evansville voters agreed to become a City and
just months afterwards, Evansville’s worst fire of the century occurred.
People had been predicting for many years that the long rows of wooden stores and other
commercial buildings were a great fire hazard. On September 26, 1896, their prediction
came true. A livery stable caught fire and the flames quickly spread to neighboring
buildings. Before the fire was out, 13 buildings were in ashes and fire damage was
estimated at more than $25,000.
However, it was another five years before the City Council and voters would endorse a
waterworks and public electric utility. Baker Manufacturing Company decided they could
not wait for a public waterworks system and built small waterworks system for fire protection
for their own use. In August 1898, the company drilled a 60-foot well and included a pump
and fire hose. The company also offered to help with any fires in the business district.
The Sanborn-Perris Map Co. map of Evansville completed in December 1899, a few months
after Baker’s fire protection system was built, indicates that Baker’s had a well, 200 feet of 2
inch fire hose, a force pump and another 150 feet of hose attached to draw water from this
well. The same map gave the following description of Evansville’s water supply for fire
fighting: “public and private wells & cisterns.”
Finally the water for fire protection prompted the City officials to finally take action and bring
the waterworks question to the voters in 1901. Every voter had to weigh the benefits of
paying for something that was free in their own private wells against the dangers of fire and
Ray Gillman, the city’s fire chief was one of the strongest advocates for the waterworks.
Gillman noted the lack of water as one of the principal reasons the city’s fire fighting
equipment was inadequate. Three likely sources of water were the cisterns, some nearly
30 years old, Lake Leota, and Allen’s Creek.
The lake property was privately owned and the dam had been allowed to deteriorate. In
1901 there was very little water in what had once been Lake Leota. The old mill race was
dry and Gilman estimated that any water remaining in Allen’s creek would last about 20
minutes, in the event of a major fire.
The new water system was proposed as a franchise and privately owned business by three
men from Chicago, W. H. Wheeler, J. P. Miller and John H. Brown. Brown was the principal
spokesman and engineer for the company.
The infrastructure proposed by Brown’s firm included a 100-foot high standpipe, twelve feet
in diameter; a deep well, not less than 8 feet in diameter; 18,131 feet of 4-inch, cast iron
water mains; and 50 hydrants with double 2 ½ inch hose connections for fire protection.
The pumping system included two compound, duplex pumping engines, a feed pump and
According to Brown’s proposal, the system could pump fifty thousand gallons of water every
twenty-four hours. Two return flue tubular boilers powered the pumps. Each boiler was
sixteen feet in length and sixty-six inches in diameter, and had the capacity of 120
Allen Baker also made a proposal to build a waterworks system and offer both water and
electricity to the city for a fee. Baker offered to sell the city its power lines and build a new
power plant, in a separate building from their own generator and dynamo. However, the
City Council favored Brown’s plan, as it covered more of the city’s residential area.
The election was held on July 31, 1901 and the voters (all men because women could only
vote in school board elections) cast 265 votes for the utilities and 126 votes against. The
City Council met immediately following the counting of the votes and approved the
construction of the new waterworks and electrical system as outlined in the franchise with
The council voted unanimously to give John H. Brown and his associates a franchise to
“construction, maintain and operate the waterworks and electric light and power plants.”
The City Council also reserved the right to purchase the system for $51,000 at anytime
during the franchise. A copy of the franchise was published in the Evansville Review, the
official paper of the City.
A fee schedule was established and the system was to be built and tested by the 1st of
January 1902. A penalty of $5 a day was imposed on the Brown Company, if the
construction was not completed by that date.
The City agreed to pay an annual fee of $44 per hydrant each year. Commercial rates
were based on the type of business or organization. The annual fee for a barbershop was
$5 a year for the first chair and $1 for each additional chair. Churches paid $5 per year.
Boarding houses paid $1 per room. Dentists and restaurants paid $10.
Fees for residential customers were based on the number of faucets in their home. Each
family paid $5 for the first faucet and $3 for each additional faucet. If the family had a
private sewer system with a water closet in the house, rather than the outdoor privy, there
was an additional charge of $3 for the first bowl and $2 for each additional bowl.
All customers, commercial and residential, also had the option of putting in water meters so
that they could pay by the amount of water used. The meters were purchased from the
company and rates varied from 10 to 30 cents per 1000 gallons of water. There were also
additional charges for those who wanted hoses for sprinkling lawns, or washing sidewalks
and the outsides of buildings.
The electrical plant proposed by the Brown Company consisted of one eighteen-kilowatt
alternator for the arc street lamps and two thirty-seven and one-half kilowatt alternators for
commercial lights. According to the franchise agreement, there were to be “two engines of
sufficient size to operate the said alternators.”
The system also included poles, wires, lamps, and lights. The lights were to be turned on
according to the Philadelphia moon schedule and kept on until midnight. On moonlit
nights, if clouds or heavy fog covered the moon, then the lights were still to be lit until
The Brown company promised to hire local laborers to help with the construction. The City
Council designated David M. Johnson as the city’s representative with the Brown company
during the construction. Johnson was to handle any communication between the contractor
and the city.
On August 23, 1901, James Powles recorded in his diary, “waterworks men came today to
commence work.” In the following weeks, Powles followed the progress of the project and
wrote these entries in his diary: “September 11, Commenced to dig for waterworks;
Monday; November 13, 65 men working on waterworks ditches.”
The local newspaper reporters also followed the project. From the Badger, November 30,
1901: “The water-works system is nearly completed. Those in charge hope to have it in
working order by December 10th. The weather has been very favorable for the work.”
Two wells were dug just north of the powerhouse. They were put in at a depth of 24 feet.
This would later be determined as too shallow because there was a great chance for runoff
contamination by stockyards and manufacturing firms in the same area.
Two engines and the boilers were placed inside the powerhouse. The steam-powered
boilers were fueled by coal.
The standpipe for the water system was located on North Main Street (today’s North Fourth
Street), on a high hill one-half mile from the city’s main business district. The standpipe
was still under construction in early December. On December 7, James Powles wrote that
the standpipe had been completed to 30 feet.
The system was described as a gravity system with a capacity of 70 to 75 pounds of
pressure. The standpipe, 80 feet was located ½ mile northwest of the City Hall. There
were 2 Smith Vaile pumps with a capacity of 30 gallons per minute from 2 open wells 7 ½
feet in diameter by 28 feet deep. There were 2 six-inch suctions and 2 five-inch suctions
into 8-inch mains. There were 4 miles of water pipe that was a varied from 4, 6, or 8-inches
in diameter. (Sanborn Map Company, 1907)
The street lights operating from the new power house on Exchange Street were lit for the
first time on January 1, 1902. According to the Enterprise, the lights were “very
handsome”. The new machinery had not been fully tested, so the lights were not operating
to full capacity during the first trial of the new dynamo.
The Brown company had met the January 1 deadline for completion of the water and light
operation. Brown told the city officials that he wanted the machinery to operate for a few
weeks before the final inspection.
To protect its interests in the largest investment every made by the municipality, the City
hired its own engineer to oversee the final test of the completed waterworks and electrical
system. A mechanical and electrical engineer, C. H. Williams; H. B. Hein, the
Superintendent of the Madison City Water Works; and R. R. Parkin, Superintendent of the
Elgin, Illinois Waterworks, were hired by the city to observe and comment on the waterworks
demonstration on January 22, 1902.
The local fire department was asked to assist with the test and the event drew a large
crowd of people, including the mayor, councilmen, J. H. Brown, businessmen, and the usual
crowd of spectators that assembled for any major event.
At the corner of Main and Madison, the firemen attached two hoses to two hydrants. When
the hydrants were opened, the firemen were able to throw a steady stream of water from
each hose. The water was forced to a height of more than 80 feet. The firemen then
moved their equipment to the corner of Church and Madison streets and performed the
same test. At these hydrants, the streams of water went over the Methodist Church tower.
The same test was made at hydrants in several different parts of the city and according to
the Evansville Review reporter, “with no exception, worked to perfection.” Although some
in the crowd had been skeptical that the system would work and others had bitterly
opposed the project, everyone present seemed to find the waterworks a success.
Even Caleb Libby’s newspapers the Tribune and the Enterprise, once strongly in opposition
to waterworks, were complimentary. “Waterworks a Success” was the headline for Libby’s
January 24, 1902 Enterprise and repeated in the weekly Tribune. “We are pleased to
announce that it proved successful, far beyond the most sanguine expectations of all, and
especially those who had been the most skeptical declared themselves well pleased with
The skeptics were now in the minority according to Libby. “No doubt many will now see the
benefits to be derived from this system more than ever before, and make use of it both
publicly and privately throughout the city as soon as practical and the frost is out of the
ground. No better water for domestic purposes, as well as all others, could possibly be
procured to this section, and the conveniences of having no wells, pumps, etc., to keep in
repair, as well as exposure to the cold blasts of winter and hot rays of the sun in summer,
all speak for themselves of the many advantages to be derived therefrom.”
Following the successful test of the waterworks, the City Council was determined to
purchase the new water and electrical system. The mayor and councilmen called a special
election to ask voters if they would approve the issuing of bonds so that the City could
purchase the Brown Company franchise.
The voters agreed and the purchase of the water and light system was completed on
February 7, 1902 and the Council was authorized to sell $51,000 in bonds. It was a huge
debt for the City, the largest in the community’s history.
Several people applied for the job of superintendent of the water and light company.
Clarence S. Baker was hired as the first superintendent for the powerhouse of the new
electrical company. Harry J. Lee was hired as the engineer to assist in operating the
pumps and keep the coal fired boilers in operation.
Baker, a nephew of Allen Baker, had worked for the Baker Manufacturing Company and
was familiar with the operation of the coal-fired boilers, pumps, and dynamo of a water and
light company. He was paid $60 a month for his services. Lee earned about $20 less than
The mayor, Perry Wilder, called a special meeting of the City Council on February 27, 1902
to create a water and light commission. The Council passed the following resolution:
“Whereas the City of Evansville has recently purchased the waterworks plant and electric
lighting system recently installed in the City of Evansville and Whereas the City Council
deem it advisable to provide for a board of commissioners for the government,
management, regulation and operation of said waterworks and electric plant and Whereas
the City Council deem it necessary for the proper management of said water and light
plants, that such a board of commissioners be created at once.”
The commission was to have five members, with one member from the council and three
from outside the council. The fifth member was the mayor who served as an ex-officio
member of the commission. Each member, with the exception of the mayor, was elected by
the council. The terms of the first members of the commission were staggered with two
holding one-year terms and two holding two-year terms. After the first year, the commission
members who were leaving office were either re-elected or replaced by a vote of the council
at their organizational meeting each year.
The first Water and Light Commission was elected by the Council at the February 27, 1902
meeting. Fred A. Baker, Frank M. Crow and C. J. Pearsall were appointed as the
community representatives and John A. Evans, an Evansville wagon maker and City
Council member, was the Council representative. The mayor, Perry C. Wilder, served as
an ex-officio member of the commission.
The satisfaction with the waterworks system lasted only a few months. Some claimed that
the first test of the waterworks system had been an unrealistic demonstration of its worth.
“It was simply a water pill coated deeply with Brown sugar. We took it all in one gulp and
rolled up a debt of $51,000 on an overburdened taxed city for posterity,” one
correspondent for the Review complained.
The Water and Light Commission had no experience in regulating a public utility and took a
reactionary stance to the problems associated with the operation. When pranksters tried to
damage the street lights, the commission issued a warning and noted the Ordinance
prohibiting damage to the system.
“Any person who shall willfully or maliciously injure or destroy any portion of the works,
fixtures, or other property belonging or appertaining to said “Water and Light Plant”….shall
be punished by a fine not exceeding fifty dollars or imprisonment in county jail not
exceeding six months.” The commission promised prosecution of anyone caught violating
The Commission also did not see a need to have the City pay for hydrant rental or use of
the street lights. However, the system was not paying for itself and it was not long before
the water and light fund was showing a negative balance. At the City Council meeting on
November 7, 1902, the report of fund showed overdrafts of more than $1,800.
Once again, Allen Baker’s voice was heard. Baker claimed that the reason the department
was operating at a deficit was that the city was taking advantage of the taxpayers by not
paying the hydrant rent and the fee proposed under the Brown franchise. According to
Allen Baker’s calculations, there would be a surplus of funds if these fees were paid. This
surplus could quickly pay the money borrowed for the project and get the City out of debt.
The City eventually began to pay the Water and Light Fund for these fees.
There were other expenses and problems to solve in order to maintain and improve the
new waterworks and electric lighting system. In early 1903, the Council agreed to provide
funds for purchasing land south of the powerhouse for a coal shed. The shed also
provided storage for supplies.
There were also problems with the installation of water pipes connecting the city system
with residences and business places. Local plumbers, who were usually employees of local
hardware and department stores, insisted on using their own pipe and other materials.
Many new waterworks customers felt they were being overcharged for the materials and the
cost of installation was greatly inflated.
When some homeowners tried to save money by purchasing the pipe from Baker
Manufacturing at a reduced price, the plumbers refused to work with the Baker pipe.
Finally the City Council stepped into the fracas and took charge. The Council agreed to
furnish the installation materials, including the curb cock, meter, pipe, and other equipment
needed to connect customers with the city’s water mains.
The Council’s resolution also authorized the superintendent of the water and light
department to develop a standard for the pipe, meters, or other materials used. The
superintendent was also authorized to inspect and test the system once it was installed at a
residence or business. The customer was free to choose his own plumber for any other
The first real test of the waterworks system came more than a year after the waterworks
was in place. On April 23, 1903, a popular restaurant and bakery operated by Bonahoom
and Baccash caught fire when a gas stove exploded. The restaurant was in the first
building, just east of the opera house (today the law office of Kim Vele).
F. A. Baker who owned the hardware store across the street timed the arrival of the fire
department’s actions. According to Baker, it was minutes after the alarm that there were
several streams of water from the hydrants pouring into the building. Eight minutes from
the time Baker saw the first smoke, the fire was under control.
Superintendent Clarence S. Baker also gave a report of the actions taken at the pumping
station once the alarm was received. The alarm came in at 12:03 p.m. and the water
pressure was at 62 pounds. The first pump was started at 12:15 and the second pump at
12:20. At 1:10, the water pressure was increased to 70 pounds and the water used in the
fire had been replaced in the standpipe. Four streams of water, 4,597 gallons each, were
used to extinguish the blaze and Baker said he could have supplied nine streams of water,
if necessary. “There was no apparent effect upon the wells as they seemed to have an
unlimited supply of water,” Baker reported.
Once again, critic Caleb Libby praised the new water system in his report in his weekly
Tribune. “Had there been no other resort but the old fire engine, the loss could not be
estimated, at least four buildings with most of their contents would have been destroyed,
the building on fire, Miss Snowdon’s millinery store, John Lemmel’s harness shop and Mrs.
Sherger’s residence and millinary store, as all are wood buildings closely adjoining each
other. The fire was a good test of the efficiency of our waterworks system in such a case of
Robert M. Antes, editor of the Review echoed Libby’s praise: “There will be no further
complaints nor comments regarding the efficiency of the water service, for some six streams
(of water) were playing on the fire with only a stand pipe pressure and this, what might have
been a serious blaze, was quickly put out by the efficiency of the service and alertness of
the fire boys.”
Some city residences did not fare as well. Just a few months later, in September 1903, Al
Smith’s residence on North Madison street was destroyed by fire. News paper reports
noted that the “waterworks did not extend to that area of the city.”
The waterworks expanded into new areas only after citizens petitioned the council for
service. At the City Council meeting of March 10, 1904, the residents in the area of
Highland and South First Streets petitioned for the extension of water mains into their
The system required constant upkeep. Freezing temperatures and long cold winters
created difficult maintenance problems for the water and light department. Even under the
best conditions, pipes froze and broke. Then water and light superintendent, Clarence
Baker, was inundated with calls to thaw the service pipes and mains.
After a long period of cold weather in the early months of 1904, Baker seemed especially
frustrated with the endless process of keeping the water system working. Baker informed
the local newspapers in early March that he was “still having hard work to keep the dead
ends of the mains from freezing and it is useless to thaw out the service pipes until the
mains are clear.” If fire hydrants froze, the fire chief and his assistants were responsible
for keeping the hydrants open.
Occasionally the standpipe overflowed and in very cold weather “Colony Hill”, the hilltop
road near the pipe, was covered with ice. The area was considered so dangerous that
farmers were not willing to put their horses and wagons at risk and avoided that route when
the icy conditions existed.
In the early days, the Evansville water and light superintendent Clarence Baker and his
assistant Harry J. Lee had many duties. They kept the water and electrical systems in good
operating condition, maintained the power house, installed new services to homes and
businesses, recorded the electrical and water use, and furnished the city clerk with the
quarterly bills to be mailed to customers.
Water and light customers who received the bills were to pay them within 10 days or be
given a 5 percent penalty. Another 5 percent was added if the bills were not paid within 30
days. The Council authorized the superintendent to shut off service to those who did not
pay their bills within 30 days. If bills were still not paid after shutting off service, the
delinquencies were turned over to a bill collector.
Baker and other water and light employees also built public watering tanks and drinking
fountains for public use. The City Council authorized Baker to put a water tank in front of
city hall so that farmers could water their horses. Local businessmen also provided
hitching posts and a water tank on Maple Street. Farmers were advised to: “Drive your
teams in there when coming into this city and you will find them there all safe and sound
when you wish to return home.”
Baker was authorized to hire additional help when the workload was too great. Names of
the men hired as extra workers were listed in the City Council payments. Those employed
in 1904 and 1905 were Charles Meinke, Harry Loomis, and Arthur Powers. Charles Fuller
received payment for hauling materials for the department.
Baker also tried to solicit business from major manufacturers and industrial customers. The
railroad used their own wells and tanks for pumping water into the steam engines.
Clarence Baker made trips to the railroad headquarters to try to persuade them to use the
city water system, but for a number of years, they kept their own service. Baker
Manufacturing also had their own wells and pumping equipment and a dynamo that
supplied electricity. The Baker Company continued to upgrade them to increase
production capabilities and their fire protection
While supervising the water and light operation for the city, Clarence Baker also found time
to sell automobiles. Baker was successful as a car salesman and in late 1906 announced
that he was resigning as the water and light superintendent to pursue a career in sales.
Baker became the Rambler dealer for the Evansville area and received the latest model
new car to demonstrate. To his credit, Baker did complete his contract with the City of
Evansville and gave them several months to find a new superintendent.
In December 1906, the water and light commission announced its choice to replace Baker
and in the spring of 1907, the successful applicant, Edwin S. Cary, became superintendent
of the Evansville Water and Light Department. Like Baker, Cary had been an employee of
the Baker Manufacturing Company and was familiar with the operation of the dynamos that
operated the electrical system. He was described as one of Evansville’s most popular
Because Cary was new to the water and light position, the City Council decided they could
pay him less than the $80 a month salary they had paid Clarence Baker in 1906. Cary’s
salary was set at $75.
Under Cary’s direction the water and light department continued to grow as more
businesses and residences requested service. Cary’s department in May 1907 included
his assistant Harry Lee, and laborers, Palmer Slauson, Harold Lewis, Amos Weaver, T. F.
Shurrum and Charles Meinke. Lee was salaried and received $60 a month while the
laborers were paid by the hour, earning 80 cents for an hour’s work.
The electrical services were in such demand that Cary recommended that new equipment
be installed. In May 1908, the City brought in a consulting engineer to determine what
equipment needed to be upgraded. The following year, new arc lamps were installed in
the street lights and new service was installed on Longfield Street. By 1910, the water
mains were also extended to Longfield Street.
Despite the growth of the local utility, there were still many homes that did not have
electricity or water. A 1909 real estate ad lists homes on Fourth Street, Second Street, and
Church Street (west of the Seminary) that did not have city water and the property owners
still maintained their own wells and cisterns. Those homes with the modern conveniences
were considered more valuable and brought a better price on the real estate market.
Cary promoted the utilities by demonstrating electrical and plumbing equipment at
Evansville’s Rock County Fair. Those who knew the benefits of electric service demanded
more and in June 1910, the Water and Light Commission announced that they would be
installing equipment that would allow daytime electrical service.
The utilities were considered a boon to economic development and one of the best
incentives for new businesses and industries to locate in Evansville. At one local
businessmen’s meeting a speaker proclaimed: “We own water and light plants superior to
those found in any town this size in the state.”
The Evansville Review joined the chorus of promoters and called Evansville a unique city.
The Review cited a number of Evansville’s attributes, including: “Water Supply. From
springs of pure cold water, and pumped through 8 miles of mains to all parts of the city.
Owned by the Municipality. Lighting: Electric light, day and night, and day power electric
service. Owned by the municipality.” Because of the increased fire protection provided
the waterworks system and new fire fighting equipment, the City had an A1 fire rating that
gave homeowners and businessmen reduced fire insurance costs.
In 1910, the Evansville Prospectus, a newspaper sized promotional brochure for the city
extolled the virtues of the city owned utilities for any new businesses wanting to come to the
city: “Evansville stands alone in the possession of a municipally owned waterworks and
light plant that is on a paying basis. The city is free from debt. Her water is famed for its
purity. For fire protection she has a seventy-five pound standpipe pressure.”
For most businessmen and homeowners, the original benefits of the utilities, fire protection
and street lights were overshadowed in a few years by the new labor saving devices and
conveniences available. Home lighting, electrical outlets for new appliances, and power
available on demand, were now available to many homeowners in the city. In addition to
the new appliances, water was conveniently available with the turn of the tap for those who
chose to connect with the city water system.
To keep up with the demand for water and electrical service, the Water and Light company
gave steady employment to several men. In May 1911, E. S. Cary’s superintendent’s salary
was increased to $90 and a new engineer, Earl Gibbs, had been hired to replace Harry
Lee. Gibbs’ salary was set at $75. Laborers were P. G. Slauson, Arthur E. Tomlin, and O.
Property owners requested the extension of water service on Montgomery Court and the
department began working on the installation in the spring and summer of 1911.
Because of increased water use, a third well was dug and in 1912, the city added feeder
pipes in the wells to increase the flow of water. Cary also cleaned the two older wells by
removing sand and gravel that had partially filled the well and reduced the flow of water.
Near Memorial Day, there was a suggestion that the city water be extended to the
cemetery. “So that lot owners and those wishing to decorate the last resting places of their
dead, need not be obliged to carry water from the well, by a judicious distribution of
hydrants, this irksome labor could be saved, a great convenience conferred on the people
and added interest and beauty centered in Maple Hill.” The Water and Light Commission
thought this would be too costly and did not act on the request until the 1930s.
Street lighting, ca. 1912
Businessmen were able to install interior and display lighting. The Economy Store, a large
department store in the building that now houses the Ace Hardware store, was the first to
have display case with electric lighting and the first exterior electric sign promoting their
New businesses were started to provide entertainment and new electrical appliances.
Department and hardware stores began carrying new bath and kitchen fixtures. A new
occupation, the electrician was needed to provide businessmen and homeowners with the
wiring and outlets for the new uses for electricity.
An electric store opened for business in the Wood building on the northside of West Main
Street. Lewis & Standish advertised that they were young in years, but experienced in the
business of electric appliances.
The Tomlin Brothers also operated an electric appliance store. They advertised flat irons,
heating pads, toasters, stoves, coffee percolators, radiators, water heaters, chafing dishes
and washing machines. Even the Water and Light Department got into the electric
appliance business and began to sell electric stoves they purchased wholesale from the
Edison Appliance Company.
Electricity provided new venues for entertainment. The Crystal Photoplay theater had an
electrically powered film projector and films shown in the theater were entertaining and
educational. The films featured in May 1910 were Dr. Cook at the North Pole, The Fall of
Troy, The Binding Shot, A Wise Druggist, and an illustrated song, “It’s Your Pleasing
Films were also available from the University of Wisconsin-Extension service for showings in
schools. The Magee Opera House continued to provide live entertainment, but would in a
few years give way to the moving picture show.
The progressive homeowner in the second decade of the 20th century looked forward to
the new inventions that were being offered in electric stores. Newspapers described the
modern home as an “up-to-date domicile thoroughly equipped with every modern electrical
convenience for lighting, cooking, heating and cooling.”
A model home in Lindsay, California with electric heating and air conditioning was described
to local readers in the January 25, 1912 Evansville Review: “Electric radiators in the
mantels will warm the various rooms, and by this same source of energy the rooms will be
kept cool during the hot days of summer by a motor driven refrigerating machine located in
the basement which will circulate cool air through the house. In the kitchen the electric
range, supplemented by a fireless cooker, will be used to prepare the meals. Outlets will be
provided in all rooms for the use of auxiliary electric heating devices. The wiring will be
most convenient. Concealed switches will operate all or any of the lights from every
convenient place. The porch light can be turned on when entering the room and turned off
from the bedside. Master switches will illuminate the whole house and light is always
available whenever and wherever wanted.”
Although no one in Evansville reported having electric heating and air conditioning in their
homes, the modern house in the city was described as having electric lights, city water,
bath, and inside toilet. Those with electric service were anxious for every new appliance on
Many had predicted that the cost of building and operating the waterworks and electric
plant would drive people away from Evansville, 1912 promised to be one of the best
building years the city had ever seen.
The railroad company built a new depot that opened in early January 1913. This not only
improved transportation to and from Evansville, but also provided an incentive for 24-hour
The Evansville Review announced in the November 28, 1912 issue that the Evansville
Water and Light department would begin furnishing 24-hour electric light and power service
beginning Monday, December 9. The news report said, “The new depot and the platforms
beside the tracks will all be electrical lighted. This, together with increased demand makes
the all night service imperative.”
There were also other improvements to the infrastructure of Evansville’s utilities. A year
earlier, installation of a new city sewage system began and continued over the next several
years. Much of the installation coincided with the expansion of the water system.
Water and Light Superintendent Edwin Cary and his crew of workers were trying to keep up
with the new demands for water and electrical service. Water and Light employees in the
summer of 1912 included Palmer G. Slauson, Arthur E. Tomlin, Earl J. Gibbs, Tom Hill,
Theodore F. Shurrum, and Elmer Winters. It was a large crew, as they were installing new
feeder pipes in the wells at the powerhouse to increase the flow of water and extending
service to new areas of the city.
Although the reason for the change was not given in the Council minutes, the City Council
voted to stop using iron pipe for water service from the curb to the main. Lead pipe was
When the Sanborn Map Company representatives visited Evansville in 1914, they drew new
maps of the water mains and hydrants and the waterworks and electric light plant on
Exchange Street. The maps showed the expanded pumping capacity at the water and light
building on Exchange Street and the extension of water mains to new areas of the city. The
Sanborn maps showed 4 ½ miles of water mains and an increase in the daily consumption
of water from 15,000 gallons in 1907 to 48,000 gallons in 1914. While the Evansville
Review had bragged that the city had a “water supply of pure springs pumped through 8
miles of water mains to all parts of the city,” the Sanborn maps record just 4 and ½ miles of
cast iron water mains and 49 hydrants with 2 outlets for 2 ½ inch hoses on each hydrant.
The water system had been extended to include service to new residences on Grove
Street, the city park, Montgomery Court, the south end of First Street and Longfield Street
had also been added to the water service. Most residential areas were served with 4-inch
water mains, while an 8-inch water main provided service that extended from the standpipe
on North Fourth, then east on Main Street, through the main business district and across
the railroad tracks, then south of Exchange Street to the waterworks plant.
The Sanborn Maps were valuable tools for information about the city’s water supply for fire
protection. However, they were not generally available to the average citizen, so it was the
local newspaper, the Evansville Review, kept citizens informed about improvements to the
water and electrical system.
The municipal system could not provide enough water power and electrical service for
many of the commercial and industrial needs. For those businesses that needed more
electrical power there were two local companies that manufactured small gas engines for
electrical power systems. Engines made by the Baker Manufacturing Company and the
Frost Engine Company powered refrigeration units in meat markets, groceries and
drugstores. Engines were also used to run electric elevators, printing presses and lighted
display cases for some small businesses.
Larger gas and coal-powered engines provided private electric power sources for the
Baker Manufacturing Company, the D. E. Wood Butter Company, and the canning
company. Baker’s had the largest power supply and made substantial investments to
increase their power supply with a new power plant in 1911.
With the large investments in electric power generating machinery, it was obvious that the
Baker Company intended to rely on their own electrical power for a number of years. The
Baker operation was described in an April 6, 1911 Evansville Review: “The machinery in all
the various departments is either driven singly or in groups, by electric motors which
receive current from one large dynamo in the power plant.”
Farmers also wanted electric power for operating milking machines, separators and water
pumps. Like their city neighbors, rural residents wanted electrical lighting for their homes
and such modern electrical conveniences as electric irons and washing machines. Baker’s
and the Frost Engine Company built engines especially designed for farms, as Evansville’s
municipal electrical service did not extend beyond the city limits until the late 1920s.
All of the larger manufacturers also had their own wells and pumps for water consumption
and fire protection. A 1915 fire at the Paulson Lumber Company, located at the southeast
corner of Church and Maple Streets, demonstrated the value of Baker’s private system, not
only to themselves, but also to the other industrial and commercial businesses located near
the Baker Manufacturing buildings.
On September 17, 1915 at 7:15 p.m., the fire alarm sounded and Baker employees
responded, along with the Evansville Fire Department. The blaze had already spread
throughout the lumberyard. The amount of combustible material to feed the fire had many
fearing that the blaze, which could be seen all over town and into the countryside, was out
of control. The best that could be hoped for was that the fire would not spread to other
houses and the Baker Company buildings.
Baker employees manned their fire pumps and hoses and supplied two streams of water
while the city’s volunteer fire department, used the municipal water supply and provided six
streams of water. The two systems provided enough water to keep the blaze from
spreading beyond the lumberyard. Although a neighboring house had heat and smoke
damage to the exterior, the fire was contained and extinguished.
The owners of the lumberyard, M. L. Paulson, H. D. Thomas and their wives, praised the
efforts of the volunteers. They asked the Evansville Review to express their thanks, as
they were “especially grateful to the members of the fire companies and to the Baker Mfg.
Co., for their heroic work in fighting the fire.” The installation of the water supply system
for fire fighting had once again proven its worth.
While most people appreciated the value of the water and light services, they frequently
were conservative about initiating new services. Edwin Cary had an entrepreneurial
personality and was always on the lookout to find new ways to earn money for the budding
water and light department. Occasionally the Evansville Review would note that Cary had
attended conventions for electric service providers and these sessions provided Cary with
new ideas for service to Evansville residents.
In February 1919, Cary made a proposal to the Water and Light Commission that they
consider building and operating an ice plant. Cary had researched the project by
corresponding with ice plant owners and had determined that the city could use surplus
electricity generated at the power plant to operate ice-making machinery. “The extreme
hardness and purity of manufactured ice, wherever it is used, make it always preferable to
the river or lake ice.”
Lake ice was in short supply in Evansville, since Lake Leota had been reduced to just a
stream. There were also health concerns as people became more aware of dirt and
diseases that might be found in the ice cut from lakes and streams. Many feared that the
lake and river ice was especially dangerous when used to cool tea and other beverages.
Whether the project was too expensive, or was rejected for some other reason, the city-
owned ice plant never materialized. Within a few years a private company opened an ice
making business on North Madison Street, similar to what Cary had proposed. The
rejection did not keep Cary from wanting to expand the water and light operation.
The system had already grown to the point that he needed to hire a clerk to prepare
quarterly bills and other correspondence. Ruth Miles started working for the water and light
department as a bookkeeper and was paid a salary of $15 a month. The water and light
commission seemed satisfied with Cary’s services and increased his monthly salary on an
annual basis. In 1918, Cary was making $125 a month. Another employee, engineer Earl
Gibbs left the department in February 1918 and moved to Oregon to become the
superintendent of that village’s electric plant.
Gibb’s resignation allowed several men to be promoted. Palmer Slauson took Earl Gibb’s
position as engineer. Lemuel Courtier took Slauson’s position and George Young was
added as a new employee.
Water and light superintendent Edwin Cary juggled multiple projects and problems in the
early 1920s and did not seem to loose his enthusiasm for new ventures that came his way.
New power sources, new lighting systems, new rate changes, contamination of water
supplies and other challenges were given to Edwin Cary to resolve.
By 1920, the electrical plant was running at capacity and the water and light commission
began to make plans to expand service by purchasing power from a power plant on the
Wisconsin River near Prairie du Sac. A power line was already available to Madison,
Stoughton, Edgerton and Janesville. The plan was to bring the line from Stoughton,
through Oregon and Brooklyn, then to Evansville.
In addition to providing power for city people, the new lines would also allow rural residents
to have access to power that they did not have to generate themselves with gasoline
engines. A committee of rural electric providers estimated that less than 6% of Wisconsin
farms had electric lighting and there were many farmers who did not appreciate the
advantages of the new power lines.
Cary did see the great advantage that the new service lines would offer and became an
agent for the Wisconsin River Power Company. Cary placed advertisements in the local
newspaper and urged local residents to purchase shares in the Wisconsin River Power
Company at $100 each. Although it was several years before the plans were completed for
the new electric lines, Cary was willing to gamble that the new lines would increase the use
of the Evansville Water and Light Company facilities.
The water and light superintendent also had to answer citizen’s hostile questions about the
way electrical rates were determined. Customer’s rates could vary as much as two dollars a
quarter, depending on whether kilowatt hours or a front load rate system was used to
calculate the payment. When customers compared bills those with higher bills contacted
Cary demanding explanations.
The front load rate method was also costly to administer because someone from the water
and light department had to enter each home and determine the use based on the number
of outlets. Cary thought this method was unfair and advocated using a flat rate based only
on kilowatt hours used at each residence. The Wisconsin Railroad Commission, who
determined whether rate changes could be made, called for a June 1923 hearing on the
Meanwhile, residents and businessmen of the city continued to demand new services from
the utility. The original system of street lighting had always been troublesome and provided
inadequate lighting. The original lights hung over the middle of the streets on wires
extended from the light poles. Several types of light bulbs had been installed and none
provided the amount of light that was suitable.
In February 1923, local banker, Leonard P. Eager, approached the Commercial Club to
urge them to raise money for ornamental light poles that would be placed at regular
intervals from the library corner to the railroad crossing on East Main Street.
Eager arranged for a representative from an ornamental light company to talk to the
members of the Commercial Club about the project. The members viewed various styles of
lighting and were told about the cost of the lights, then enthusiastically endorsed Eager’s
The club members agreed to raise funds to purchase the poles, if the city would be
responsible for installation and ongoing maintenance of the lights. The fourteen-foot poles
were made of cast iron and as soon as enough contributions were made, the club
purchased 36 light poles. The plan was to place twelve of the decorative light poles in the
library block, eight in the first block of East Main, and sixteen from Maple Avenue to the
The biggest contributors to the project were Gertrude and Olivia Eager, the Grange Store,
Mrs. Ella Meggott (owner of the Commercial Hotel), A. Van Wormer (an insurance and real
estate agent), and the city council for the library lot. The city water and light crews
removed the old lights and some of the wooden poles. The new cast iron poles were put in
place and on August 23, 1924, the ornamental lights were turned on for the first time.
New lighting ca. 1924s
The city appropriated $1,606 a year to operate the lights, but as soon as they were
operational, the local citizens lobbied to have all-night lighting. Those who favored the
proposal cited the danger to those who were out after the lights were turned off. “During
the last two weeks, while attempting to make the early morning train, during this dark
period, two different ladies had tripped on the uneven places in the sidewalks and in falling
had torn their dresses, besides bruising themselves severely.” Some argued that the
darkness bred crime and shielded robbers. Others said that strangers who came into town
by train had trouble finding their way in the dark.
The council listened to the protests, and then gave its own arguments as to why the lights
should not stay on all night. The Water and Light Commissioners had estimated that it
would increase the cost to $2,565 and the increased cost was reason enough to keep the
lights off for a few hours each night.
A death, well contamination, a possible buy-out and new facilities were the most newsworthy
stories of the Evansville Water and Light Department in the 1920s. By 1923, the utility had
been in operation for 21 years and Water and light Superintendent Cary had successfully
guided the department for sixteen years.
Earl Gibbs had returned to the Water and Light Department after working for the Village of
Oregon and on July 30, 1923 Gibbs was assisting another lineman, Roy Lee, as they
installed new power lines on Water Street. Lee was an experienced lineman and had
worked for the Janesville power company for several years before joining the Evansville
Water and Light Department.
When the fatal accident occurred, Gibbs was on the ground and Lee was on the pole about
fifteen feet above ground. Roy Lee had completed installing the line and was ready to
come down from the pole. Lee removed his work gloves, thinking he was away from any
charged lines. As he descended from the pole, Lee accidentally touched the high voltage
power line and was killed.
Gibbs responded immediately, cut the power line and Lee dropped to the ground. Gibbs
called for help and two doctors, Dr. J. P. Guilfoyle and Dr. Elias Helgesen, responded to the
scene and tried to revive Lee but had no success. Two small burn marks on Lee’s hand
were the only signs of the fatal accident.
The electrocution was a tragic warning of the danger for Water & Light employees working
on the power lines. Perhaps in response to this reminder of the hazardous occupation, the
City Council authorized an increase in linemen’s salaries. In February 1924, the
experienced lineman’s wages were increased to $160 per month. Lemuel Courtier, a new
employee was paid $140 per month.
The Superintendent’s salary had been overlooked and Edwin Cary’s salary, at $165 a
month, was just five dollars more than his employees. The Water and Light Commission
reconsidered this inequity and in March 1924, received Council approval to increase Cary’s
pay to $180 per month. This was more than three times the $50 per month paid Evansville’
s Chief of Police and $30 per month paid to the City Clerk.
The Water & Light Department was making money, and the March 6, 1924 Evansville
Review printed Cary’s annual report to the Railroad Commission of Wisconsin, the
regulating body for public utilities. The report listed the income and expenses for the
electric power and water separately. The electric department reported a surplus of
$28,146.92 and the water department a smaller surplus of $11,377.92.
Cary had successfully guided the department to a positive balance sheet and a growth in
assets that totaled $166,306.80, including the facilities, new construction during 1923,
supplies, and accounts receivable. The City’s original investment of $51,000 had
substantially increased and the Evansville Water & Light was one of the few small municipal
electric utilities in Wisconsin that showed a profit.
Cary’s responsibilities also included the safety of the city’s water supply and in the early
1920s, there was an unexpected danger to the entire water system as major improvements
were made to the storm sewers and sanitation sewers. Most of the sewers in the area near
the railroad tracks and along Exchange and Water streets were made from clay. Near the
railroad tracks there was also a large stockyard, as Evansville was one of the major
livestock shipping stations to Chicago. All of these factors contributed to the contamination
of the city’s water supply.
The runoff and seepage from the clay pipes reached the shallow wells that had served as
the city water supply since 1902. The wells were in gravel, just 24 feet from the surface
and located to the north of the Water & Light building on Exchange Street, on one of the
lowest elevations in Evansville.
Cary reported in 1925 that the city’s wells showed contamination, but could not verify if it
was the surface runoff from the stockyards, or seepage from the clay sewer pipes that was
causing the problem. The following year, the old clay sewer pipes in the area of Water
Street and Exchange Street were replaced with cast iron pipes. This proved to be only a
temporary fix for the problem.
The water and light department continue to build new additions to the water and electrical
supply system. Cary’s 1924 year-end report said that 2,100 feet of water mains had been
laid along Water, Enterprise and Exchange Street. In addition to the water mains, new
hydrants were also installed on Water and Enterprise Streets.
The configuration of the new water mains completed a loop that connected stub mains on
the three streets. This increased fire protection by creating alterative routes for water from
the pumping house to the stand pipe. If there was a break in one area, water could be
routed through another section, and reduce the risk of losing pressure during major fires.
This had been recommended by the Wisconsin Inspection Bureau and coincided with
expansions at the Baker Manufacturing, D. E. Wood Butter Company and the Garden
As demand for electric service increased, the city utility had begun relying more and more
on purchased power from the Wisconsin Power and Light Company’s major plant in Prairie
du Sac. In 1924, the City Council granted this company the right to place poles to extend
power lines from what was known as the Monroe Circuit into the Evansville power house.
The power lines were to enter Evansville on the South near Walker Street, then north on
Cherry Street to Water Street, East on Water Street, then North on Exchange Street and
end at the power house. The agreement included the rights for the Evansville Water and
Light company to use the same poles to extend service to new customers.
The extension of the Wisconsin Utilities Company line would reduce the interruptions of
power during storms and eventually supply new power lines for rural residents. The new
lines began at the Wisconsin Power and Light Company’s power house near Prairie du Sac
and extended through Dane and Green County to Galena, Illinois. The line to Evansville
divided at Albany, then extended eastward to Evansville.
This closed another loop for the Wisconsin Power and Light Company as their lines had
already been extended from Stoughton then south to Evansville. When the line was
finished from Albany to Evansville, this would allow the local company to receive additional
power either from the North or from the West. If power failed on one line, it could be
transferred to the other line. Because Evansville also produced its own power, the
electrical rates were some of the cheapest in the state.
The Wisconsin Power and Light Company had plans to expand and in the spring of 1925
and announced that it was trying to purchase the power plants from the smaller cities that
supplied their own electricity. Evansville’s electric utility became one of the targets for a
When it was announced in the April 23, 1925 Evansville Review that Wisconsin Power and
Light was interested in expanding, Cary immediately reassured Evansville citizens that it
was unlikely that the city electric plant would be sold. The report said: “The local plant
would not be disposed of, due to the fact that several times it has been necessary to use
showing a profit.”
Cary’s reassurances did not keep the City Council from considering the sale of the
electrical utility to the larger company. In early 1926, the Wisconsin Power & Light
Company made a formal proposal for the purchase to the Evansville City Council. Their
first proposal included only the electrical plant, but in informal conversation the company
also said they might be willing to take over the water utility.
The final proposal included both the water and light utilities and a price of $200,000 was
offered to the City Council. To explain and try to sell their plan, the Wisconsin Power and
Light Company sent a representative to discuss the proposed sale with the city’s leading
businessmen at the Commercial Club.
However, there were some political hurdles to jump before the sale could be finalized.
According to state laws governing municipal utilities, the Wisconsin Railroad Commission
had to appraise the local utility to determine its value. Then Evansville voters would have
to approve the sale.
Those in favor of the sale noted that it would pay off the city’s debt, and the Wisconsin
Power and Light Company agreed that they could either give the city the cash or make
arrangements to pay off the bonds and give the excess in cash. “The matter is worthy of
serious thought and consideration,” an Evansville Review reporter said in the February 28,
There was so much opposition to the proposed sale that the City Council decided that it
would continue to maintain the city-owned utility. The matter was dropped, but it was not
the last time that the City would consider the sale of this profitable department.
With the proposed sale of the utilities behind them, the Evansville Water & Light Company
began to expand beyond the city’s limits and into the rural areas.
Because of the availability of locally manufactured gas-powered electrical units, Evansville
area farmers were already familiar with the benefits of electricity and perhaps were ahead
of the national trend in accepting the cost of installing and maintaining the municipal power
In providing rural areas with electricity, the Evansville Water & Light Commission and
Superintendent Cary had great foresight and provided a service that many power
companies had not been able to offer at a reasonable price. Rather than seeing rural
electrification as a problem, Cary responded to the challenge and began to plan the
expansion of the Evansville’s electrical service into the surrounding farm community.
Nationally, there were a number of agencies working to bring electricity to farms, including
the National Electric Light Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, the
American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
Their goal as stated in a 1924 article published in Evansville Review was: “Electricity for all
the farms of the nation, by means of transmission lines to be extended from existing electric
power systems, supplied by the big generating stations of the approaching super-power
The article pointed out that a mile of rural electrical line might service only three customers,
while a mile of electrical line in a city could serve as many as one hundred customers. For
utility companies, the cost of installing the lines was expensive on a per-user-basis.
According to the experts, the only way electricity could be delivered at a reasonable cost
was for farmers to use electric power for every possible convenience. This meant more
than just electric lights in their homes and barns. Farmers were urged to use electricity for
lights, washing machines, irons, saws, silage cutting, threshing, milking, and feed grinding,
churning, cream separating, and any other farm work. The increased electrical use would
give power companies an incentive to build power lines into the rural areas, even if there
were fewer customers.
In 1927, 25 farmers were added to the Evansville Water and Light electric lines and water
was extended beyond the city limits to the Evansville Golf Course located at the corner of
County Hwy C and Brooklyn-Evansville Road. The farmers, who had been generating their
own electricity with gas-powered engines, now could enjoy the benefits of the municipal
Evansville’s experiment with providing rural electrification was successful and the Evansville
Water & Light Company continued to extend its power lines. In February 1928, the lines
were extended north along the Brooklyn -Evansville Road to the farms of H. A. Knapp and
L. J. Hubbard, then west on Emery Road to Floyd George's.
In 1929, the municipal utility lines were added west and south of the city. Power lines were
built to the Green County farm of Paul Elmer and Ferdinand Golz. Magnolia area farmers
Richard Deily and William Wadsworth also had power lines built by the Evansville utility.
The expansion provided a new and profitable customer base for Edwin Cary’s department.
Farmers were soon putting aside their gas-powered engines in favor of the new electric
power source. This might have created tension between the local power company and
Evansville’s largest employer, The Baker Manufacturing Company. However, Baker’s
management was also forward-looking and realized that the power lines had been built to
satisfy the demand by their own customers, the farmers.
The company quickly adapted to the reduced need for the gasoline equipment in those
areas with electric power lines. Bakers began to build electric jacks and pumps for water
wells and issued a statement that the “electrical service on the farm, especially in Wisconsin
and Iowa, has created a demand for motor driven pumps and jacks which would not only
pump water for stock, but will force it to some distance either to fill high tanks or to irrigate
gardens and lawns. It is thought that there will be a good demand for them.”
It seemed that everyone was benefiting from the new electric power lines and the demand
for electrical service on the farm.
Evansville’s municipal water supply was greatly improved in the late 1920s with the drilling
of a new well and installation of a new pumping house for the water works. Some citizens
complained about the cost of the new well, as they had when the water works was first
Water and light superintendent, Edwin S. Cary persisted in his efforts to improve the water
supply. Cary had discovered in 1925 that the city’s wells showed contamination either from
surface runoff at the railroad stockyards, or seepage from the clay sewer pipes. The state
department of health had run monthly tests on the city’s water supply and Cary reported
that the water analysis had come back showing the water was safe. However, there was
the danger of typhoid or some other germs entering the city’s wells and endangering the
health and safety of consumers.
In addition to the health concerns, there was also the danger of an inadequate water supply
for fire protection. The city’s water use had outgrown the capacity of the water system.
By 1928, the city had a daily consumption of 192,000 gallons of water, compared with a
daily consumption of 48,000 gallons in 1914.
In an October 18, 1928 article explaining the need for a new well, the Evansville Review
reporter said, “while it has not been generally known, the producing of enough water to
supply the city for the past six months has taxed the present well to its utmost capacity, as
the amount of water used by the city has been gradually increasing and the capacity of the
well slowly decreasing to what it once was, so that within many months it was obvious that in
case of a big fire that the city would not have enough water.”
In late 1928, on the recommendation of Cary and the Water and Light Commission, the City
Council issued a call for proposals for the drilling and casing of a deep-water well. At the
same time, they authorized the Water and Light Commission to arrange for a new pumping
station, new pumping equipment and a new reservoir. The successful bidder was the J. P.
Miller Artesian Well Co., of Chicago.
While the old wells had been less than 30 feet below ground, the engineer for the drilling
company assured the City Council that the new well would be more than 1,000 feet below
ground and the water supply would be safe from surface and sewer contamination.
According to the engineer, the goal was to reach the Lake Superior strata of water. This
strata began at the surface of Lake Superior and went deeper and deeper below the earth’
s surface, as it extended south through Wisconsin and into Illinois.
November 29, 1928, Evansville Review
In the Evansville area, it was necessary to drill to 1,000 feet, while in Illinois the company
had often had to drill more than 2,000 feet to reach the same water supply. J. Albert M.
Robinson, the company’s engineer, also told the City Council that “the Lake Superior Strata
furnishes fine water which is soft as rain water, which will be a big improvement on the water
now given the people of the city, which is noted for its hardness.” Within a few years, the
engineer’s assurance of soft water was proven wrong.
Robinson was the supervisor for the new well and construction began in November 1928.
The drilling rig was brought to the city on two large flat cars and when assembled looked
like the large oil drilling derricks. The 40-foot rig had a steam boiler with a coal-fired
engine to operate the drilling equipment.
By the middle of December, a hole had been drilled to 115 feet below the surface. In the
drilling process, three different sheets of water had been found. Because they were in soft
sand rock, the sides of the hole had to be cased and construction was delayed for a few
weeks until the casing equipment arrived.
The Lake Superior Strata of water was reached at a depth of 1,014 feet and the drilling for
the new well was finished early in 1929. The City Council then called for another contract
for the construction of the reservoir and pumping station.
T. S. Willis, a construction contractor from Janesville, was the successful bidder for this part
of the new water works equipment. Willis had bid against six contractors with prices ranging
from a high of $25,306 to Willis’ winning bid of $19,766. The building of the 400,000 gallon
reservoir and a brick pumping station began in September and Willis’ contract called for a
November 25, 1929 completion date.
The plans for the new building and equipment were described in the September 19, 1929
issue of the Evansville Review. J. Albert M. Robinson continued as the consulting engineer
on the project. The new reinforced concrete reservoir was 48 feet wide, 10.5 feet in depth,
and 112 feet long. The area was covered with a mantle of dirt to protect the reservoir and
to keep the water cool.
The new pumping station was a one-story brick building, 30 feet wide by 45 feet long. The
new pump was purchased from the American Well Works, Aurora, Illinois and could pump
up to 950 gallons of water per minute. The centrifugal pump was driven by a vertical
electric motor. There was also a 6-cylinder Waukesha gasoline engine for emergency
power in case of electrical outages.
September 19, 1929, Evansville Review
The excavation for the reservoir and pumping plant began in October. New eight-inch
water mains also were installed to accommodate the new pumping capacity of the
equipment. Guy Brown, another Janesville contractor was hired to install the new mains.
During the construction process, two of Brown’s workers were injured when they were laying
pipe in a trench on Exchange Street. The walls of the trench caved in trapping Helmer Lee
Seversen and Fred Addington. Seversen was buried up to his waist and Addington was
buried up to his neck in the ten-foot deep ditch. Both men survived the accident and were
transported by Roderick Funeral Home ambulance to Mercy Hospital in Janesville.
The accident delayed the laying of the connecting pipe and there were also delays in
getting some of the new control equipment. The construction of the new water works
building and installation of the new equipment was not finished until January 1930.
Because of the new pumping capacity of the water works system, the city was able to
purchase more fire fighting equipment. A new fire truck, a 500 gallon-per-minute pumper
on a GMC chassis, made by the Boyer Fire Apparatus, in Logansport, Indiana, was
purchased. With the new water power and the fire engine, the Fire Underwriters gave the
city a high fire protection rating which reduced fire insurance costs for Evansville residents.
According to Cary, the waterworks improvements had also had a positive affect on the fire
insurance rates. The increased fire protection “resulted in a saving to the policy holders of
approximately $1 per capita per year, or enough to pay 5 per cent interest on the entire
investment in the well, pumping station and reservoir.”
Superintendent Cary noted the cost benefits to the company and to the utility customers.
The December 31, 1931 report of the Water and Light Company, was printed in the Review
and showed that the waterworks system had a property value of $147,063 and revenues of
$11,072.88 for the year.
However, the new water works system had been installed for only a few months, when the
water and light employees began to notice that the water was not soft, as the engineer had
promised. Instead there was an unusually high iron content to the water, excess carbon
dioxide gas, and hydrogen sulphide, a gas that smells like rotting eggs.
The combination of these elements caused corrosion in pipes and water mains. Customers
were angry and complained bitterly that the water was red in color because of the iron. The
iron stained clothing in the home laundry as well as the commercial laundries that used city
water. One local laundry went so far as to drill their own drive-point well in order to get
good water that would not stain their customer’s clothing.
Water and light employees were concerned about the corrosive damage to water pipes and
water mains caused by the hydrogen sulphide. There were also potential health hazards
as the gas sometimes caused illness.
Cary tried various solutions to get the iron out of the water. An aerator was placed in the
reservoir, and this took out some of the hydrogen sulphide. However, the aerator did not
filter the iron from the water and discolored water was a nuisance.
By September 1932, Cary proposed another solution to the water problem. He suggested
to the Water and Light Commission that the City use federal funds to provide
unemployment relief during the Depression. Federal public works money could be used to
put men to work building an iron removal plant just south of the new reservoir and pumping
The Water & Light Commission members, W. J. Clark, W. E. Green, Don B. Ellis, W. G.
Patterson, C. J. Smith, and Mayor E. H. Libby approved the plan and then submitted it to
the City Council.
Cary’s idea was also immediately approved by the City Council. At their regular September
1932 meeting. The Council passed ordinance No. 103 which gave approval for the
building of the new iron removal plant. Evansville Review gave the following explanation for
the quick action by the Council: “The new well yields excellent water but as it is heavily
charged with carbon dioxide gas in solution, and has considerable iron in it. The iron
remains in suspension in the reservoir, it passes to the mains in the water and as
insufficient gas is liberated, the water at times is corrosive to metals in the presence of air.”
Because citizens were so intent on having the benefits of a city water softening plant, the
Water and Light Commission and the Council also approved water softening equipment and
additional construction to accommodate the equipment at the iron removal plant. The total
cost was estimated at $20,000, with the building costing $10,000, the water softening and
iron removal equipment $4,500 and the labor $5,500.
Chicago engineer J. Albert M. Robinson once again was the designer and construction
consultant for the project. The City Council’s decision to use local men relieved a growing
problem of unemployment in the community. During the construction, eighty Evansville men
were put to work on various parts of the construction.
When completed, the iron removal portion of the red brick plant was three stories high.
Water was pumped from the city well into a new 75,000 gallon water reservoir in the
basement of the three-story building.
From the new well, the water was pumped to the third story and through an aerator on the
roof of the building. The aerator removed the hydrogen sulphide and most of the carbon
dioxide in the water. After leaving the aerator, the water went to the first floor and into a
mixing chamber and was mixed with lime. Then the water passed into a settling basin.
From the settling basin, the water passed through sand filters and then into the large
reservoir built in 1929.
The complicated process resulted in iron free, soft water. Cary reported that the water
hardness in the well registered 330 parts per million and 1.6 parts per million iron. After the
process of aeration, mixing with lime, and filtering, the water was 66 parts per million of
hardness and no iron.
Diagram printed in the February 22, 1934, Evansville Reviews
The new iron removal and water softening plant was highly praised by businessmen.
Restaurant owners and laundrymen reported using less soap and detergent. The water
and light employees, who had been flushing the water hydrants on a weekly basis, now
“have almost forgotten how to do it,” Cary said.
Homeowners were encouraged to dispose of the water softeners. The City offered to
dispose of the machines at no expense to the owner.
The plants and machinery required constant monitoring and a water and light employee
was stationed at the pumping house and water softening plant 24 hours a day, 7 days a
Photograph from Century of Progress, published by the Evansville Review in 1939
The Water and Light Department’s electrical service was in a state of rapid growth
throughout the late 1920s and 1930s. The Depression seemed to have little affect on the
company’s expansion, especially into the rural areas.
Whenever farmers wanted electrical service from the Evansville utility, they made individual
contracts with the City Council. In 1928, the service had expanded to the east to the farms
of the Leo Campbell Estate, administered by Wade Woodworth on the main road between
Evansville and Janesville and the Charles Weary farm on Weary Road.
The following year, a group of farmers who already had electric lines wanted to join the
Evansville Water and Light Company lines. Farmers in Porter township organized their own
electrical service in the early 1920s, under the name The Farmers’ Power and Light
Company of the town of Porter.
In October 1929, there were brief discussions with the eleven owners of the line, John Wall,
Willis Griffith, Ole Olson, Thorpin Olson, Charles Van Wart, Martin Furseth, John Knudson,
Jr., Marvin Ellingson, Charles H. Taylor, Ben Griffith, and Charles L. Peterson. The men
requested that the line from Evansville Water and Light that currently ran to the farm of
Wade Woodworth, be extended eastward to Tolles Road, then north to the farm of Charles
Before the connection of the two companies’ lines could take place, the state Railroad
Commission had to approve the new service. The agreement was approved by the
Railroad Commission and delayed only briefly by the Porter farmers who questioned the
rates charged by the Evansville utility. All of the obstacles were overcome and the
agreement between the Porter Company and the Evansville Water and Light Company was
signed in April 1930.
Several other Porter township farmers agreed to join the Evansville Water and Light system
including Roy Fellows, Clarence Hagan, and Charles Gabler. With the addition of
customers, the Evansville Water and Light Company extended more than 3 miles east of
Evansville, west into Green County, and south into Magnolia Township.
In 1931, the Council authorized the Water and Light Company to extend service just north
of the city limits to the farm of George Brigham. Ernest Miller, a farmer on Finn Road,
southwest of Evansville, J. Benjamin Larson and J. A. Larson on Territorial Road were also
granted service in 1931.
With the expansion of the local services, the Wisconsin Power and Light Company also
decided to increase their power transmission capacity. The Wisconsin Power and Light
Company enlarged its network of substations and electrical lines throughout the area south
of its large power plant at Prairie du Sac.
The company built a large substation in Stoughton and increased the size of the
transmission lines from the dam and power station. Then a smaller substation was built in
Evansville during the summer of 1930. The construction started in May and was completed
The Stoughton substation transformed the power of 66,000 volts of electricity to 33,000
volts. A new 33,000-volt transmission line was installed from Stoughton to Evansville. At
the Evansville station, the 33,000 volts was transformed to 2,300 volts for use by the local
Water and Light power lines. From Evansville, the new Wisconsin Power and Light line
went through Monticello and then to Monroe.
The local plant superintendent expected the Wisconsin Power and Light Company to grow
and urged Evansville citizens to invest in the city’s power supplier. In the 1920s and early
1930s, Edwin Cary was an agent for the sale of stock and the Wisconsin Power and Light
Company placed large ads in the Evansville Review to promote their stock as a good
investment. During Cary’s administration of the local Water and Light department, no one
seemed to question that he might have a conflict of interest by selling stock for the
electrical company that supplied the city’s power and had tried to purchase the utility from
In the fall of 1930, the Wisconsin Power and Light Company also attempted to bring a
natural gas plant to the city. The company sent a representative to the city to ask the City
Council if they could survey the residents and determine if there was enough interest to
build a large butane gas storage facility and gas pipelines in the city. When the survey
was completed, the company failed to find the 400 customers it needed to build here and
dropped its plans to offer gas service in Evansville.
A major public works construction project in 1931 created a substantial amount of work for
the men employed by the Water and Light Department. The project included widening and
paving North and South Madison Street and building a large bridge above the Chicago &
Northwestern Railroad tracks on North Madison. This large bridge became known simply as
During the project, poles owned by the Water and Light and jointly used by telephone
company were relocated to accommodate the widening of the street. More than 500 feet of
sewer and water pipes were replaced on South Madison Street because when they were
first put in the sewer pipes were located just 18 inches below the surface. With the building
of the new street, they were located deeper into the ground to prevent freezing and other
City water and light employees were so busy in the late summer of 1931 that the City hired
local electrical contractor Lester L. Bullard to install the ornamental lights on the new
viaduct on North Madison Street. Bullard’s crew of six men strung 10,000 feet of wire and
installed 2,500 feet of two-inch pipe for the new lights that were identical to the ornamental
light poles installed on East and West Main Streets in 1924.
The monthly cost of running the street lights was high and Superintendent Edwin Cary
seemed constantly in search of ways to save the city money. He began a search for a new
street light bulb and glass globe. Cary wanted a light that could conserve power and, at the
same time, provide more light. He experimented with several different commercial light
bulbs before finding one that met his qualifications.
Evansville still turned off all streetlights by 1 a.m. and the lights were turned on at 4 a.m. in
the morning. The October 15, 1931, Evansville Review noted that “At present the street
lighting in Evansville is controlled by a time clock with an astronomical dial that automatically
takes care of the variations in the length of day and night as the seasons change.”
The time clock was set to account for cloudy days and on bright days. The streetlights
were often turned on before they were needed. Cary had heard about a new photocell to
regulate the streetlights so that they would turn on as soon as the natural light reached a
certain level, no matter the time of day.
The time clock would still be used to shut the lights off between the hours of 1 a.m and 4 a.
m. The photocell would regulate the lights at all other times.
Cary persuaded the Water and Light Commission and the City Council that the photocell
would be a money-saving device for Evansville. The governing bodies agreed and Cary
was given permission to purchase and install the equipment. The photocell was installed
on the viaduct, facing north, so that its operation would not be hindered by direct sunlight.
The photocell had been used in Wisconsin Dells, and Evansville was only the second
Wisconsin city to adopt this new energy saving device. It was Cary’s persistence and
constant vigilance that kept the Evansville Water and Light Department on the cutting edge
of new developments.
Cary was constantly promoting the benefits and possibilities of electric service to the
community, through news releases in the Evansville Review, advertisements, and
demonstrations. He did not hesitate to say that the purpose of the promotions was to
increase consumption of electricity.
Local merchants who sold electric appliances welcomed Cary’s promotional activities and
also placed their own ads extolling the wisdom of modernizing the home with electrical
items. In a 1931 ad for the Bullard Electric store, men in search of Christmas gifts were
reminded that women wanted electrical gifts for their homes.
“She’s no doubt, modern-minded about her home, which means electrical gifts will make the
most favorable impression. They contribute to her comfort and leisure and pride in her
home’s appointments.” Hair dryers, curling irons, electric mixers, electric waffle irons, and
other small appliances were every woman’s dream gift, according to the Bullard advertising.
Cary also knew that women could have an influence on the type of appliances that were
purchased. In August 1934, Cary developed a new promotional tool and made
preparations to have a cooking school for the women of the community.
The Water and Light Company had been selling Westinghouse electric stoves from the
power house on Exchange Street for many years. Cary intended to promote the use of
Westinghouse electric stoves and the advantages of cooking with electricity.
To advertise the new cooking program, Cary asked local merchants to display the stoves in
their stores and offered to make them dealers if they would agree to the promotion. He was
successful and local hardware and electric storeowners, Blunt Plumbing, Bullard Electric,
The Grange Store, Lehnherr Furniture Store and the Pierce Hardware Store displayed the
stoves in their shops.
Westinghouse supplied the home economics specialist to conduct the cooking schools and
Cary provided the stoves, the location, and local promotion of the event. Westinghouse’s
nationally known home economist, Mabel Hildebrandt conducted the classes that were held
in the auditorium of the City Hall.
Cary purchased the ingredients used in the sample dishes from local grocery stores. The
Review published the recipes for strawberry Bavarian cream, date muffins, rhubarb sauce,
Swiss steak and other dishes that were prepared by Miss Hildebrandt.
It was inexpensive advertising for the merchants, and they offered a few prizes to be given
those attending the cooking programs. When the program was held in 1935, the Review
reported that Mrs. Fred Fellows won an electric iron and Miss Evelyn Rodd won an electric
The first cooking class was so popular that the Evansville Water and Light continued to
sponsor the programs through the remaining years of the 1930s. The success of the
program was evident by the large crowds of women who attended the programs and the
number of merchants who participated in the promoting the event. By the late 1930s the
programs were moved from the city hall to the high school gymnasium to accommodate all
of those who wanted to attend.
Cary’s good management allowed the Evansville Water and Light utility to make a profit and
provide good service even during the Great Depression. All of the improvements made to
the facilities, including the new pumping station, the iron removal plant and the extension of
power lines had increased the value of the water and electric company.
According to the 1935 annual report, the property, buildings, and other facilities was valued
at $289,430.57. The company had also operated at a profit for many years. In 1935, the
utility had made a profit of $6,720.12 and increased the surplus to $174,716.69.
In another news release to the Evansville Review, Cary reported that the city’s electrical
rates were the lowest of any in the United States. He based his statements on a study
conducted by the Federal Power Commission. Cary compared Evansville’s rates with the
average monthly costs for 25-kilowatt hours in other areas of the United States. California,
the lowest state had a rate of $1.73, while the average for all areas reported was $2.15.
Low rates and making a profit were a magical combination for any public utility in the
Depression years. At $1.38 for 25-kilowatt hours Cary estimated that Evansville’s cost was
lowest of any reported in the national survey.
However, Cary was still not satisfied that they were as low as they could be and he made
the bold decision to ask for a decrease in the rates customers paid for electrical service.
With the permission of the Evansville Water and Light Commission, in 1936, Cary petitioned
the Wisconsin Railroad Commission for a rate change to the commercial and residential
electric rates. He emphasized the deepening Depression with no end in sight.
In October 1936, the utility was notified that the decrease was granted. Cary estimated that
the new rates would save the local electric customers a total of $1,440 annually. The city
and the public school were expected to benefit most.
The City Council used the new rates to grant an old request of Evansville citizens that had
been requested of council members over the years, that the streetlights be lit from dusk to
dawn. At their April 1937 meeting, on a motion by William Bewick, seconded by Robert
Antes, the City Council voted for all night lighting. The announcement was printed in the
April 15, 1937 Review, “Evansville residents coming home in the early morning hours will no
longer find their streets devoid of light.”
Evansville people were not the only ones who appreciated Cary. His administrative abilities
were recognized by a statewide organization of utility managers in 1938 when Edwin Cary
was elected president of the Wisconsin Municipal Utilities Association. He was a charter
member of the statewide group and had served on the board of directors before being
By 1937, the Water and Light Department had served the community for 35 years and
Edwin Cary, the Superintendent of the Department, could boast of thirty years as the
department’s leader. Cary could boast of a well managed electrical and water utility, the
state’s first water softening plant, an attractive rate schedule for electric customers, and a
small retail business in electric appliances.
The local Lions Club and the Evansville Water and Light funded a Christmas lighting
program in 1936. The first year’s decorations made the streets so festive that each year
more decorations were added. In late November, Lions club members and the utility’s
linemen strung rows of lights in the business section and the new lighting encouraged
storeowners to add more exterior decorations during the holiday season. Water and Light
department and the Lions decided to encourage outdoor decorating in the residential areas
and in December 1939, sponsored the first house decoration contest.
Cary began promoting the use of electric water heaters in the home and received
authorization from the local Water and Light Commission to offer special rates to those who
purchased the heaters. In May 1937, Cary reported to the Evansville Review that he had
sold nine of the heaters. Cary offered a monthly payment plan for those who did not have
the funds to pay the full price of the water heaters.
The promotion of low rates and an easy payment plan was successful and by June of the
following year, Cary reported 75 electric water heaters had been sold. He made a map of
Evansville and placed a marker, locating each household that had a water heater or electric
The map was placed in the window of a local drug store to advertise the electrical products
and the opening of the annual cooking school. The cooking school had become so popular
that Cary had to find larger quarters for the 3-day event. In 1938 the program was moved
from the City Hall auditorium to the high school gymnasium. More than 60 local businesses
also sponsored the popular event.
The following January, the local utility joined with two other companies to promote electrical
service to rural areas. Evansville Water and Light, Porter Electric Line, and The Rock
County Electric Cooperative sponsored an electric exposition in the Winn Garage on East
Main Street (today’s roller rink).
The sponsors invited companies that produced machinery and electric appliances to
display their merchandise at the show. Local businesses, including Baker Manufacturing,
the Grange Store, Brunsell Company, Harte Sales Company, Evansville Hatchery, Union
Implement and Hamilton Hardware displayed water systems, brooders, electric motors, and
appliances for rural users.
To encourage a large attendance there were speakers from the University of Wisconsin-
Extension and the electrical cooperatives in the county. General Electric and
Electromaster companies brought exhibits that had recently appeared in larger cities.
While Cary spent much of his time promoting the electrical service, he did not neglect the
expansion of the City’s water facilities. In the summer of 1938, the water and light
employees, assisted by workers from the WPA, installed 150 feet of mains for new water
service to Garfield Avenue. This opened up several new building lots on Garfield between
North Second Street and North Fourth Streets, previously considered undesirable because
there were no city utilities.
The Evansville Review reported in their January 12, 1939 issue that the new improvements
had been a success: “The lack of sewage and water has always discouraged the building
residences on West Garfield Avenue. Since the project was started, last spring, Lester
Patterson erected an attractive bungalow in that locality which has been connected with the
new installation and according to unofficial reports several other homes are to be erected
With the assistance of the WPA workers, water mains were also installed in the cemetery in
1938. Robert J. Antes, the local WPA administrator had been trying to get this funded for
several years. This new system replaced an antiquated windmill and water tank that had
been in the cemetery since the turn of the century. The water pipes and faucets were
located throughout Maple Hill cemetery, for the convenience of the caretakers and visitors
who wanted to water plants, trees, and shrubbery.
Although accidents were rare, the utility’s linemen were always in harms way as they worked
near the high power lines installing new service or repairing older lines. In September
1941, two of Evansville’s Water & Light employees, Arthur E. Johnson and Alfred Brooks
were installing electric service to the Forest Academy School, four miles northeast of
Evansville in Porter township.
The two men had been cutting brush and trimming trees to make way for the new lines.
When they finished cutting away the brush, they started to string new wire onto the poles.
One of the lines got caught in the branches of a tree and the men struggled to pull it loose.
The line came away from the branch, but struck a Wisconsin Power and Light wire and then
dropped to the ground, carrying with it 33,000 volts of electricity. As the volts of electricity
passed through the bodies of the two men, they were burned on their feet, legs, arms and
hands. For a short time, Brooks and Johnson were knocked unconscious.
Theodore Hatlin had been working just a few feet away and came to their rescue but
escaped being hit by the electricity. Hatlin gave the men first aid and then called a doctor
to the scene. Johnson and Brooks were later taken to Madison General Hospital to
recover from their narrow escape with death.
Naturally occurring electrical storms were not only dangerous, but often caused damage to
the city’s electrical equipment. In March 1944, a bolt of lightening struck a transformer near
the Bert Baker home on South First Street. The electrical charge followed the wires from
the pole into the Baker’s basement and blew out fuses to the lighting system and the
To Mrs. Baker, who was living alone at the time, the exploding fuses in the basement
sounded like a bomb. From the basement, the electricity followed the wiring to the first floor
of the house and blew out light bulbs and fuses in the telephone.
The southern area of the city was without electricity for several hours until the Evansville
linemen could repair the damage. It took Mrs. Baker a bit longer to get over the shock and
fright of the storm.
In the early 1940s, the utility was faced with wartime shortages and new regulations from
the federal government. During World War II, the federal government asked local
governments to form their own civil defense units and Evansville’s Mayor, A. M. Winn was
named the commander of the Evansville Council of Defense.
William C. Schneider, a member of the Evansville Water and Light Commission served as
the chairman. Edwin Cary was appointed as chief of emergency utility service and helped
conduct several blackout drills during the course of the war. The blackouts wee intended to
prevent the enemy from easily seeing the location of possible bombing targets.
Cary also was responsible for saving fuel and preventing the use of non-essential electrical
use. During the war years, the federal government prohibited the use of Christmas lights,
both as a fuel saving measure and a safety concern.
Despite shortages of fuel and supplies, Cary managed to keep the city’s water and light
utilities functioning. Because of the efforts of Cary and his crew, the local utility was given
an award by the Charles A. Coffin Foundation for its wartime service. The foundation had
been established to honor achievement in the electrical field. The local award was
presented to Evansville Water and Light utility for “distinguished wartime achievement in the
Electric Light and Power industry, which, faced with unprecedented demands, has met
every war production requirement without delay and without impairment of its peacetime
services to the public.”
The following people were listed as employees of the Water & Light Department in
February 1945; Edwin S. Cary, L. B. Courtier, Christen Ebenhardt, Walter Hallett, Herbert J.
Coyne, John Montgomery, Thomas Johnson, and Shirley M. Boode. Mrs. Boode served as
the utilities bookkeeper, sending out monthly bills and performing other office duties.
By the late 1940s, Superintendent Edwin S. Cary and Lemuel Courtier, the assistant
superintendent, had served the Evansville Water and Light Department for many years.
Cary had been superintendent since 1907 and Courtier was hired in February 1924. The
total years of service for the two men was more than 60 years and they remained the stable
force of the department through the late 1940s.
One of the members of the Water and Light Commission had also been a stable force in
the operation of the City utility. W. G. Patterson served on the commission for 44 years,
retiring in November 1948. According to Patterson, the business had increased
tremendously and he had witnessed the addition of rural electrical service and a 60 percent
increase in the city’s residential electrical service during this time.
The November 18, 1948 Evansville Review noted that other members of the Commission
and the employees of the Water and Light department would miss Patterson. “To say that
he will be missed would be putting it mildly because his knowledge of the inside workings of
the commission is valuable. He has been alert during prosperous and lean years to make
“Evansville water and light service second to none.”
The $50,000 investment of the City for water and lights service in 1902 had grown to more
than $400,000 by the mid-1940s. There were operating revenues of more than $130,000 a
Other employees stayed for shorter periods of time. The Water and Light Commission
named employee Christen Ebenhardt to the position of Assistant Superintendent and line
foreman in April 1945. Mrs. Shirley Boode, who had been the water and light bookkeeper
for nearly 20 years, resigned in March 1947. William Wood was hired to replace her and
remained with the department as the bookkeeper for many years.
Mrs. Jack Lowery was hired as a clerk in the department to replace Mrs. Boode. When Mrs.
Lowery resigned, Janice Post was hired as a clerk in the department.
Water & Light Department employees in August 1948 were Edwin S. Cary, at a salary of
$301.96; George Peckham, $384.05; Leland Merrill, $346.25; Robert Fellows, $115.20; L.
B. Courtier, $217.54; Victor Fuchs, $88; Thomas Johnson, $126.50; Janice Post, $95.96;
and Wm. H. Wood, $183.86.
By November 1948, Fellows was no longer working for the Department. Leland Merrill’ s
salary was raised to $260 per month (with overtime) and Victor Fuchs was raised to
$225.00 per month.
The utility had a number of contracts with large state and national companies that were
renewed at regular intervals by the Water and Light Commission, with approval from the
Evansville City Council. The Wisconsin Power and Light Company’s contract with the local
utility was based on use of their power. In 1945, the monthly payment to the WP & L was
$3,874 and by 1948, the monthly cost had increased to $6,778. The average Evansville
consumer was using 1,238 kilowatt hours of power a month in the early 1940s, according to
The Water and Light Department also had a contract with the Wisconsin Telephone
Company for joint use of the poles for stringing service wires. The Chicago and
Northwestern Railroad, contracted with the local utility for a supply of water for the steam
There were a number of new projects for Water and Light employees. In 1946, the City
improved the baseball and football fields at the park and the water and light employees
worked to install new lighting. Because of the cost of the electricity and maintenance, the
City imposed a small fee for use of the lights.
In 1949, the water mains were extended west on Garfield Street to Sherman Avenue,
Sherman Court and North Third Street to allow development in those areas. The local
utility workers also installed new street lights to replace the decorative lighting in the
Evansville business district that had been in place since in 1924.
Cary began to warn the Water and Light Commission that the use of the water utility was
beginning to exceed its capacity. Water use had nearly tripled the 130,000 daily use when
the new pumping station was built in 1929 and the water softening plant in 1933.
There were also requests from local doctors and dentists that the city begin adding fluorine
to the water. Dr. J. G. Frisch, of the Wisconsin Dental Association Fluorine Board spoke to
the City Council about the advantages of adding the chemical to the city water. “Fluorine is
a protection for teeth and without it in a person’s system, teeth decay easily regardless of
other care given to them. To put fluorine in the water in Evansville now would not benefit
adults of today, it is too late for that, but it would be of utmost help to local tiny tots and to
those born in Evansville in the future.” Frisch told the council.
The Council was advised that adding equipment to put fluorine into the existing water
system would cost about $1,000. The Evansville dentists and physicians, who attended the
meeting, also presented the Council with a petition from citizens asking that the fluorine be
added to the city’s water. They noted that Madison, Janesville, Fort Atkinson, Oregon,
Stoughton, Edgerton and other area cities had already agreed to put in the equipment.
Cary also told the Commission that he was planning to retire on January 1, 1950 and that
they should begin looking for a new Water and Light Superintendent. For several months
the Commission took applications and they set aside a contingent fund of more than $2,000
for Cary’s retirement.
At their October 1949 meeting, the Water and Light Commission offered the Superintendent’
s job to Huey Lee. Lee was one of 14 applicants for the position. According to the October
20, 1949 Evansville Review, the Commission considered Lee the best candidate,
“according to his ability, age and other necessary qualifications.”
Lee and his family moved from Phillips, Wisconsin where he had been employed for six
years. The family purchased a lot on Sherman Avenue and made arrangements to begin
building a new house so that the family could move to Evansville.
The following employees were working at the time of Cary’s retirement, George Peckham,
Leland Merrill, Albert Fuchs, Louis Hanson, Thomas Johnson, Janice Post, William H.
Wood, Victor Fuchs, and Arthur E. Tomlin. Tomlin had worked for the department earlier in
its history, then quit to operate a soda shop and variety store. After quitting his own
business, he returned to work for the Water and Light Department.
Without much fanfare, the superintendent’s job was vacated by Cary and taken over by
Huey Lee. As Cary had predicted, the water supply for the city was not adequate to meet
all the needs of residential and industry use.
In the early months of 1950, the City Water and Light Department were put on notice that
the city water supply was lacking and the Pet Milk Company was forced to drill a private well
at their plant near the railroad tracks. The well was expected to yield about 350 gallons per
minute and be an emergency supply for their expanding business. The local Pet Milk plant
capacity for refrigerated storage had also been expanded as more farmers were sending
their milk to the Evansville site due to the closing of the company’s Footville plant.
The City was also faced with expanding requests for water and electrical service in new
residential areas, as new homes were built on Garfield, Sherman Avenue, Third Street and
Sherman Court. Due to increased growth and demands for new service, several new
employees were listed on the May 1950 payroll for the Water and Light Department
including, Wayne Ballard, Albert Fuchs, and A. J. Geisler.
Huey Lee’s administration of the Evansville Water and Light Department was short in
duration compared to his predecessor Edwin Cary. Superintendent Lee stayed at the post
less than six years. Water & Light Commission members who served at various times
during the early 1950s included Leonard Finn, Lloyd W. Heffel, William Bewick, Dan S.
Williams, Albert A. Jensen (replaced Bewick in 1952), Robert F. Brunsell, and Palmer
Slauson. During Lee’s administration, there were many controversies related to growth and
control of the utility.
The new superintendent directed the work to improve the utility in the 1950s but did very
little in the way of promotional activities. The sale of electric stoves and the cooking
schools, so important during Edwin Cary’s administration, had stopped in the 1940s.
The maintenance and expansion of the water and light facilities had become routine and
Lee’s men went about their work of maintaining electrical lines, replacing transformers,
replacing valves in the water system, and repairing hydrants with little notice by local
The dental health concerns about the city’s water supply in the late 1940s had been
resolved. As recommended by the city’s dentists and physicians, the local utility installed
equipment to add fluorine to the city water in 1950. City residents expected these services
and there was no need for the department to promote the value of city water and electricity,
as Cary had done in the earlier part of the 20th century.
However, Evansville businessmen and civic leaders pushed for industrial development in
the early 1950s and residential development also continued with expansion in the western
section of the city. Those seeking new services anticipated the cooperation of the utility for
extension of power lines and water mains.
In 1950, there were only two local firms that maintained their own utility services. Baker
Manufacturing Company still had their own dynamo for creating electrical power for their
shops and Pet Milk had installed a well for additional water for their milk hauling station.
Baker Manufacturing shut down their dynamo in the warm summer months and purchased
electrical power from the local utility. Pet Milk used the city water except in emergencies
when they used their own well. All other businesses were dependent on the city’s utilities
for water and electrical service.
The utility owned and maintained three buildings, the original water works and electrical
power station, the two story brick building on the west side of Exchange Street, the water
pumping station and the water softening plant on the east side of Exchange Street. The
utility hired an outside auditing service, to check the utility’s books and prepare annual
financial statements for the State’s auditor, Public Service Commission.
The auditor, George K. Hood determined the value of these facilities at $492,850.98 in the
financial statement dated December 31, 1949. The value of the buildings continued to
increase in value and three years later, at the end of 1952, Hood assessed the value at
$529,310.87. Revenues from the operation of the utility were nearing $200,000 a year.
There were citizen complaints that Evansville water and light fees were too high. Huey Lee
decided that one of his first responsibilities would be to study the electric and water rates
for Evansville and cities of similar size in Wisconsin.
In March 1950, Lee published the results of his research in the Evansville Review.
According to Lee, the city’s water rates were slightly higher than Wisconsin cities of similar
size because of the water softening facilities. However, the electrical rates were very
One of the first major problems that Lee tried to solve was the need for more power in
the rural areas west of the city. In the early 1950s the rural electrical lines were not
producing sufficient power to supply the growing needs of the farmers. Milking machines,
electric heat lamps for brooding operations, electric water pumping units, and barn and
household use put great pressure on the capacity of the lines and equipment of the local
At the December 1951 meeting of the Water and Light Commission, Superintendent Lee
recommended that new voltage regulating equipment be purchased and installed on the
rural electrical lines west of the city. Lee expected that the installation of the new
equipment would improve voltage and result in energy savings and reduce the amount of
power purchased from the Wisconsin Power and Light Company
Lee told the Commission that installation of the equipment would require at least 8 hours
and during the winter months many of the farmers had electric heat lamps for their pig
brooding units that were in constant use. For the convenience of the farmers, Lee
recommended the utility delay installation of the new equipment until after the brooding
season was over and this would not interrupt service to their customers. The commission
agreed and the work was delayed.
Street and road projects also kept the water and light employees occupied. A street
widening project on East Main required the city’s linemen to move electric poles in the
summer of 1952. The crew also replaced several transformers in the city and rural electric
system and worked on valves and hydrants in the water system.
During the summer of 1952, the state hired contractors for major repairs and improvements
on Highway 14, east of Evansville. As the work progressed, the local utility’s employees
relocated the electric poles and wires from the Brown School (the current Piggly Wiggly
corner) to the Heacox tourist court (now a housing development near the intersection of
Fellows Road and Highway 14). George Peckham was the line foreman and Herb Niebuhr
and Ollie Draper were the line crewmen on the project.
Lee listed other employees in a report issued in 1952. Wayne Ballard was in charge of the
water pumping station and the softening plant. This operation required 24-hour
supervision and so the city also had a night watchman, Anthony Geisler. Harold Tait was
the meter reader. Janice Post continued to serve as clerk and William Wood was the utility’
Tom Ashbaugh and Elwin Bendickson were listed as new employees in 1953. Jerdis R.
Wolff was hired to assist in the water and light office.
The city no longer produced all the electric power in its own plant and there was no longer
a need for a large smoke stack on the old building. The topmost section of the smokestack
on the oldest water and light building on the west side of Exchange Street had become
unstable and the Water and Light Commission hired the Building Maintenance Corporation
to remove the upper section of the smokestack at a cost of $750.
On the recommendation of the Water and Light Commission and the utility’s auditor,
George Hood, the City Council approved a ten-year contract with the Wisconsin Power and
Light Company at their May 1953 meeting. Over the ten-year period, the city utility was
expected to purchase 1.25 million dollars worth of power from the larger utility company.
The monthly charge from Wisconsin Power and Light was slightly over $9,500 when the
contract was signed.
Many cities experienced new residential growth in the 1950s and Evansville was part of this
national trend. Two new residential developments were in the planning stages in the early
1950s. In April 1952, Jacob Spinhirne asked for permission to submit plans for residential
development on West Main Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets. A year later Ralph
Brzezinski submitted plans for a housing development bordering on Liberty and Prentice
Street. Each of these plans required additions of water mains and electrical service.
Already established residential areas also were given new services. In late 1952, the
residents on West Main Street and on Sherman Court requested that streetlights be
installed and the Water and Light Commission agreed that they were needed. However,
since the City paid the Water and Light Commission for the electricity used by the
streetlights, the installation of new streetlights had to be approved by the City Council.
Council members gave their nod of approval at their November 1952 meeting.
There were several new requests for extension of water service for development in 1953.
Al Gill and George Walk asked the city to provide water service to the new homes they
planned to build outside the city limits, just past Fifth Street on County Trunk C. The City
Council bulked at installing connections and suggested that they homeowners should pay
the Water and Light Department a fee.
According to the April 16, 1953 Evansville Review, Council members told Gill and Walk,
“Property owners building outside the city limits currently install pipe and connect with the
main at their own expense, and are responsible for their own upkeep on them.” Gill, who
was the City Attorney and Walk, a city police officer, did not let the matter drop at one
In June 1953, Ralph Brzezinski told the City Council he was ready to begin development of
a residential area bordered by Prentice and Liberty Streets. Brzezinski asked the City
Council to have water mains installed from South Fourth Street, west on Liberty Street to
the intersection of Prentice Street, then north on a proposed street that could join with
The request put in motion a new set of proposals for utility work in new developments.
Superintendent Huey Lee proposed a fee of $7,800 to install the mains in the new
Brzezinski subdivision. However, no other property owners had ever paid a fee for the
installation of mains.
Some felt the Water and Light Department should continue to absorb the cost for the
installation of the mains as it had in the past and others felt the property owner should pay
the cost. With several new developments in the planning stages, the Water and Light
Commission expected that there would be a demand for new services and consulted with
the Public Service Commission to determine a fair a rate that the utility could charge for
installing the mains in new areas.
It was the beginning of the power struggle between the Water and Light Commission and
the City Council. At the June meeting, the Council put off any decision until they could
consult the Public Service Commission. A joint meeting of the Council and the Water and
Light Commission was held in July and a recent Public Service Commission rule requiring
payment of fees for new installations was explained.
Since the water service provided both fire protection and water service to residences, the
utility would pay the entire cost of the first 50 feet of the mains and then could charge the
developer half of the total cost of installing four-inch mains and hydrants. The remaining
half would be paid by the Water and Light Department.
After the mains were installed, the City would pay a hydrant rental fee to the utility, as it did
with other city fire hydrants. Any customers added to the line would also pay a connection
To further complicate the problem for the City, in October 1953, the school district
announced that it was contemplating using land in the Brzezinski subdivision, between
Fourth and Fifth Street, as a site for a new school. The School Board was given the same
information as Brzezinski. They would have to pay for installing water mains to the new
school site and this charge was estimated at $2,000. Although Brzezinski had promised to
donate the land, the cost of installation of the utilities proved too expensive and the School
Board withdrew its consideration of the site.
Talks between Brzezinski, his attorney Richard Eager, the Water and Light Department,
and the City Council went on for several months and the new housing development was
delayed until the problem was resolved. After nearly a year of discussion, in April 1954, the
Council made the fee schedule official and passed an ordinance requiring the developer to
pay half the cost of installation of water mains. Brzezinski accepted the Council’s decision,
paid the fee, and began the development.
Brzezinski’s addition, Evansville Review ad, April 26, 1956
Two very serious problems were tackled by the local utility in 1954, water pollution and
control of the Water and Light employees and funds. A serious charge of water pollution
was the first issue facing Huey Lee and the Water and Light Commission.
Water and Light employees were dumping the lime used in the water softener plant into
Allen’s Creek. In June 1954, the State Board of Health ordered the Water and Light
Department to find another site to handle the spent lime by December 31, 1956, or face a
In the summer of 1954, a battle for control of the Water and Light Department began. The
fight began with a disagreement about the makeup of the Water and Light Commission and
the wording of an old ordinance. City Attorney, Don Gallagher and City Councilmen
decided that the old ordinance establishing the Water and Light Commission had not been
adhered to for a number of years because there was no Councilman on the Commission.
The Council wanted control of the Water and Light personnel and decided they had the
choice of hiring and establishing the salary scale of the Water and Light Superintendent.
The Water and Light Commission had for been in control of the staff for many years and
were reluctant to relinquish this role.
As Gallagher read the old ordinances, he believed that the Water and Light funds were to
be handled as part of the city’s money. Up to this point, the Water and Light Commission
had control of the funds and paid the bills of the utility.
Another joint meeting of the City Council and the Water and Light Commission was
scheduled for October 19, 1954. Huey Lee was also asked to attend. Prior to this meeting,
the Water and Light Commission approved funding for wire and other equipment to rebuild
the rural electric lines.
Gallagher urged the City Council to stop the purchase and construction of the lines until he
could get an opinion from the Public Service Commission as to whether the Water and Light
Commission had authority to purchase equipment and begin construction without Council
approval. One of the biggest issues between the Council and the Commission was that the
purchase of wire and equipment had not been put out for bids and City ordinances required
sealed bids on construction materials and labor.
The Water and Light Commission countered that they were dealing with several competent
firms and had not obtained bids for line building materials and equipment in the past. A
committee of two Councilmen, Art Rasmussen and Ralph Bennett and two Water and Light
Commission members, Al Jenson and Robert Brunsell were appointed to try to resolve the
However, in December 1954, the City Council voted 5 to 1 to abolish the Water and Light
Commission by May 1955 and appoint an entirely new Commission at that time. The
Council also demanded that the Water and Light office staff combine with the City Hall office
staff. The staff of the Water and Light would be moved from the old brick building on
Exchange Street to the City Hall and the City Hall would be remodeled to accommodate the
Water and Light employees.
The rural lines that Water and Light Superintendent Edwin Cary had so diligently increased
and improved from the 1920s onward were in desperate need of upgrading. Cary’s
replacement as superintendent, Huey Lee, had first proposed the upgrade in 1951, but the
work had been delayed because the Water and Light Commission and the Evansville City
Council could not agree as to the scope of the work, or whether the work was to be done by
the Water and Light Employees or a private company.
By the mid1950s there were more than 80 miles of rural lines owned and serviced by the
Evansville Water and Light Department. Lee had recommended a new east-west feeder
line to replace an existing line that was too small. There was a 15% power loss between the
power source at the city light plant and the edge of town. A farmer at the end of the line
could not operate a milking machine and the kitchen stove at the same time.
The project was expected to cost about $17,000 and from November 1954 until the April
1956, the rural electric lines remained the focus a battle between the Water and Light
Commission and the City Council. The Water and Light Commission wanted to complete
the work of upgrading the defective lines. The Commission planned to advertise for bids
from a private company, rather the use the water and light employees to rebuild the east-
west feeder lines to the rural areas served by the utility.
At the November 11, 1954 meeting of the City Council, made the dramatic move of
declaring that the Water and Light Commission was not organized according to the adopted
ordinances of the city. The original commission had five members, with one member from
the council and three from outside the council. The fifth member was the mayor who
served as an ex-officio member of the commission.
The Council threatened to halt the bidding process until the City Attorney Don Gallagher
could confer with the Public Service Commission to determine if the Water and Light
Commission was legally appointed.
During the discussion, the Council questioned whether the Commission could ask for
sealed bids for the work on the rural lines if they were not legally appointed. Mayor William
E. Brown also objected to the way the bid documents were written. Later in the meeting,
the Council and Mayor agreed to allow the request for bid to be advertised.
After several bids were received and opened, the Council refused to accept them.
Councilmen told the Water and Light Commission members that the new bid specifications
would have to be written to request pricing on a “unit” rather than the “man-hour” basis.
Water and Light Commission members were furious and believed they had been misled by
the original instructions from the Mayor and the Council. According to the March 10, 1955,
Evansville Review report of the meeting, “Commission members protested this bidding,
pointing out that they had carefully figured costs per unit of construction, and that should
the daily and weekly record of the construction start to exceed these costs, they were free
immediately to cancel any contract. There was also somewhat heated discussion of the
possibility of city crews doing the work themselves, a method the commission says is
impractical due to their restricted manpower.”
Despite the protests of the Commission members, the City Council members felt no urgency
in resolving the issue and adamantly refused to accept the bids. All agreed that there were
too few men on existing crew of Water and Light employees to handle the scope of the
Some Council members suggested that the city water and light employees could do the
work by hiring additional linemen. The Water and Light Commission members countered
that the city’s linemen were paid less than current wage levels for linemen and it would be
difficult to find additional qualified employees.
Following the heated arguments, the Mayor and Council allowed the Commission to
advertise for bids to upgrade the 7,200-volt power line and set April 4, 1955 as the
deadline for the receipt of the bid documents at Superintendent Huey Lee’s office, at 147
Exchange Street. The Council also told the Water and Light Department to get new bids for
the copper wire to complete the project.
The bids were received in time for the April 1955 City Council meeting, but the Council
refused to open them. The bidders were notified that there would be a month’s delay
before the Council would consider the bids.
Mayor William Brown also delayed the appointment of a new Water and Light Commission
and decided to create a new study of the department’s efficiency and value to the
community. The Council voted five to one to hire the firm of Paul DeLeon and Associates
of Grand Rapids, Michigan to conduct the study. The DeLeon company sent a letter to the
Council claiming that their report would save the city between $10,000 and $20,000 a year
and promised to have it ready for the Council’s June meeting.
As the DeLeon study was in progress, the Council reached the six-month period for
dissolving the old Commission and installing a new one. At their May 1955 meeting, the
City Council dissolved the existing Water and Light Commission, but instead of appointing a
new one, the Councilmen declared themselves responsible for operation of the Water and
Light department. Huey Lee and his men now were under the direct authority of the
Council, rather than the now defunct Water and Light Commission.
The Council also halted any decisions for work on rural lines until the DeLeon study was
completed. Once again, bidders for the work and materials on the feeder line were notified
that none of the bids would be opened.
The mayor and the clerk-treasurer took control of the Water and Light Departments funds
and deposited them into the city bank accounts. The Council began paying Water and
Light bills directly.
Although the DeLeon study had been promised by June, it was October before the report
was given to the City Council. The researchers had found the utility generally well run and
Paul DeLeon told the Council that the department was “a little gold mine”.
DeLeon recommended some changes in the operation of the department, including
removing the department head and creating a “working foreman” position to direct the work
of the employees. He also suggested that current employees make a map of the water
mains and sewers so that the knowledge of the location of the facilities was not lost when
employees retired or quit the department.
The report acknowledged that the rural electrical lines were in desperate need of
improvement and DeLeon gave cost estimates much higher than the $17,000 Lee had
predicted would be need to improve the lines. DeLeon estimated it would take $95,000 to
upgrade and repair the lines. He recommended spending $20,000 in 1956 and $75,000 in
the years following to provide more capacity for electrical service to the rural customers.
DeLeon also suggested that the city consider drilling a second deep well. With the current
system, if water could not be pumped from the well, there would be only a two-day supply in
the reservoir and the standpipe. The city was using an average of 7 million gallons of water
each month. As the residential and industrial areas of the city were growing, DeLeon
estimated that by 1960 the city would need 8 million gallons of water each month. The
Council listened to the recommendations of the DeLeon firm, but took no immediate action.
No mention was made of a potential sale in the report or at the October 1955 council
meeting. However, it became clear that some Councilmen and the Mayor were weighing
their options and considering the advantages of selling the rural lines to the Wisconsin
Power and Light Company.
As though to underscore the advantages of the larger company, in the same newspaper
that announced the DeLeon report, the Wisconsin Power and Light Company started to
release a series of newspaper articles announcing new emergency services. The company
established toll-free emergency phone lines to report problems with the power lines.
The Wisconsin Power and Light Company had also purchased a new 500-kilowatt portable
generator. The equipment was loaded on a semi-trailer so that it could be moved quickly to
locations to provide emergency power when there was storm damage or broken lines.
According to the report, the generator could temporarily supply enough power for a small
village or rural utility lines until lines could be repaired.
Although the rural lines were the focus of most of the discussion by Council members, the
Evansville Water and Light also gained a new source of income and additional upkeep to its
City lines in November 1955. At a special meeting of the Council in late October, the Baker
Manufacturing Company asked for year-round electrical service. The company had been
purchasing power from the local electrical service during five months of the year from May
to October and Baker’s large dynamo had provided service during the remaining seven
However, as their dynamo aged, Baker’s decided not to replace it and asked Evansville
Water and Light to supply all of its electrical power. The Council agreed to begin the
service on November 1 and to charge the company the “Large Power Rate” that was also
being charged to Pet Milk, Union Cooperative and the Evansville Feed and Fuel Company.
Baker’s dynamo was sold for scrap metal the following January.
The Council now had to wrestle with two major issues recommended in the DeLeon report.
The first was to redesign the administration of the Water and Light facility. The second was
to determine the value of repairing and maintaining the rural electrical lines. First, they
tackled the administration of the department.
In November 1955, five months after the Council had taken control of the Department, a
new ordinance was created establishing a three-man Water and Light Commission. The
new Water and Light Commission had one council member and two resident “freeholders”
of the City of Evansville.
The first members of this newly established commission were Councilman Perry Burnett;
Phil T. Smith, a “freeholder” appointed for a three-year term on the commission and
George Mattakat, another “freeholder”, appointed for two-year term. The new Commission
was given the charge to establish rules and by-laws for the Department.
The Council also considered the move of the Water and Light offices to the City Hall. The
men unanimously agreed that the water and light office was to be abolished and would be
combined with the City Clerk’s office.
Huey Lee’s position was in jeopardy and the Water and Light Commission informed Lee
that they would like his resignation. In late December 1955, Lee complied with their request
and turned in his resignation. The Water and Light Departments and the Council named
Harold Tait the acting manager. The designation of superintendent was dropped and Tait
was referred to as the manager of working manager. Tait’s salary was set at $4,600 a year.
With the administration decision made, the Council and Mayor now turned their attention
toward the fate of the ownership of the rural lines. Although it was not yet open to public
discussion, Mayor William Brown announced a potential sale of the Water and Light rural
lines was being considered by members of the Evansville City Council.
Some Water and Light Commission members felt the announcement was premature. The
news took the farm community by surprise and it took months of meetings and protests from
the local farm community before the issues were resolved.
The Water and Light employees continued to maintain the rural lines until a decision could
be made. In December 1955, one of the water and light employees, Tom Ashbaugh, was
working on a line located near the Owen Fraser farm, three miles southeast of the city.
Ashbaugh had been called out to repair storm damage on the lines and was 20 feet above
ground on one of the poles when he fell. He broke both ankles and was unable to work for
several months. Manager Harold Tait, and fellow worker, George Peckham, and a number
of friends held a “sawing bee” and sawed wood so that Ashbaugh had fuel for his home.
In the early months of 1956, Councilmen asked the Wisconsin Power and Light Company
appraise the rural lines. The Madison Capital Times and the Janesville Gazette reported
that the City was planning to sell the rural lines. The release of this news to the general
public angered the Council and the Water and Light officials.
The Water & Light Commission members met with the Council and Wisconsin Power and
Light Officials in early January 1956 and the private company agreed to have an appraisal
completed by February 20. With newspaper reporters from the Review, the Gazette, and
the Capital Times present, local officials denied that they were considering a sale, but said
that over the last ten years, the question of selling the rural lines had been raised several
At one point in the meeting Water and Light Commission member George Mattakat got into
a heated argument with Harold Entwhistle, a reporter for the Madison Capital Times, over
the newspaper’s coverage of the contacts between the Water and Light Commission and
the Wisconsin Power and Light Company. “City officials insist that no decision of any kind
has been made in regard to a possible sale, that they are trying to assemble information
now on which the new commission can act,” the Review reported.
When the Wisconsin Power and Light Company appraisal was received, their estimate of
the amount needed to repair the rural lines was raised to $125,000. The Water and Light
Commissioners estimated that the rural rates would be raised to cover this cost and the
increase would be passed on to City residents, as well as the rural users.
The Commissioners also believed that since there was a growing need for more electrical
service in the city’s residential and industrial area, the power used for rural lines could be
directed to better service for city residents. Money from the sale of the utility could also be
used to improve these city electrical service lines.
In the March 8, 1956 Evansville Review, Water and Light Commission members, Phil T.
Smith, George Mattakatt and Perry Burnett, emphasized that they were only studying the
possibility of a sale. “AT NO TIME HAS THIS COMMISSION MADE ANY OFFER TO SELL
THE RURAL LINES. The Wisconsin Power and Light Company has made no offer to
purchase, but has only agreed to study and investigate this matter. Their study is being
conducted not only to determine the value of the rural lines, but also to determine whether
or not they are interested in purchasing these lines.”
Local farmers took a different view and decided their relationship with the Evansville Water
and Light Department was in jeopardy. The Waucoma Grange, a local farmers’
organization submitted a petition to the Evansville City Council asking them to “refrain and
desist from further efforts to dispose of the rural electric lines”.
In another protest, farmers, led by Laurence Janes submitted a letter to the Council that
was made front-page headlines in the Review. “We are convinced that the Wisconsin
Power and Light Company has been invited to make a purchase offer for the rural lines,”
Janes stated in his letter.
Janes also insisted that an audit of the Evansville Water and Light books had shown that
the farmers were paying a sufficient fees to maintain the rural lines and still leave of profit
for the local utility and that it should not cost City residents more because the rural lines
Although Janes alone signed the letter, he said he represented many farmers who had
already paid a good portion of the cost of rebuilding the lines. “We have already paid
$60,000 to assure that rebuilding would be done when required. Why not rebuild from this
reserve, rather than from funds supplied by City consumers and taxpayers? The rural
residents feel that they shared in building this cash reserve. For these reasons we feel that
any action that might disturb or end the present pleasant and profitable relationship which
has prevailed in the past should be avoided.”
Another rural user, K. A. Ellis, prepared a chart showing the savings to farmers, if the
Evansville Water and Light maintained control of the rural lines. Ellis explained that the
local utility served 310 farms, schools, churches and rural homes and he estimated that the
total annual charges for electric use would be $14,000 more if the lines were sold to
Wisconsin Power and Light.
The protest of the rural users was a wake-up call to city residents and they rallied to
support their farm neighbors. At the April 1956 elections, voters rousted the mayor and two
aldermen who had supported the sale of the utility.
At their organizational meeting on April 17, 1956, the new mayor, Mayor R. Bruce
Townsend and Council immediately took steps to send a letter to the Wisconsin Power and
Light Company thanking them for their offer of $62,949 for the rural lines. At the same time
the letter informed the larger company that Evansville’s rural utility lines were not for sale.
Water and Light manager, Harold Tait was granted permission to begin rebuilding the rural
electrical lines. The political climate improved for both city departments and commercial and
residential developers with the election of a new mayor and council members in 1956.
Local government leaders began working to bring forward projects that had been delayed
for years, including relocating the Water and Light offices to City Hall, Brzezinski’s housing
development, restoration of rural electrical lines, and environmental improvements to the
In early March 1956, the Water and Light offices were moved from the 1901 building on
Exchange Street into the remodeled City Hall. Two years earlier, the Wisconsin Industrial
Commission had examined a sagging beam and the Commission had instructed the City
Council to either fix the problems with the existing City Hall or abandon it. After much
discussion and examining the cost of a new building the Council made a decision to
remodel the City Hall and at the same time move the Water and Light employees out of the
March 22, 1956, Evansville Review
A floor-to-ceiling partition with a counter and large glass windows separated the offices from
the Council Chambers. Bookkeeper, William Wood and his assistant, Jerdis Wolff moved
into a room adjacent to the Council Chambers on the second floor of the City Hall. To
enhance productivity in their new office, the Water and Light staff received Council
approval to purchase a new Burrough’s billing machine at a cost of $4,000.
Koralyn May, the City Clerk, had an office in the southeast corner of the second floor, with
a door to the Water and Light offices, so that the entire city office staff could assist in
serving the public. The customers of the Water and Light department were instructed to
pay their bills at the City Hall, not at the building on Exchange Street, as they had in the
past. The other Water and Light employees and the “working manager” Harold Tait
continued to use the building on Exchange Street as their headquarters.
Progress was made in expanding the infrastructure for housing development in 1956.
Ralph Brzezinski’s housing development on West Liberty and Prentice streets had been
delayed since 1953. During this time, Brzezinski tried repeatedly to get the Council to move
on his request for sewer, water and electrical utilities so that he could begin development of
As he had done many times before, at the March 1956 meeting of the Council, Brzezinski
and his attorney once again repeated the request for utilities to the land he wanted to
develop. By the end of the month, the two parties had reach agreement on the water and
According to the plans, Brzezinski was to dedicate land for a street to be built between
Prentice and Fourth Street. This street was later named Crawford Street. Church Street
was to be extended to the west to intersect with Prentice Street. Prentice was to be
widened and improved with sewer, electric lines and water.
The first new homes in Brzezinski’s addition were to border on Liberty Street and were
described as “quality ranch type homes on 75 to 90 foot lots.” Brzezinski planned to build
30 new homes in the development.
Even before water lines were installed, in April 1956, Brzezinski moved ahead with the
excavation of basements on Liberty Street. That same month, drawings of the new homes
began to appear in Brzezinski’s advertisements in the Evansville Review.
Don Cadman, the City engineer, drew the plans for the water pipe extensions on Liberty,
Fourth, Prentice, Church and Crawford Streets. The plans were approved by the City
Council at their June 1956 meeting and as a final step in getting Brzezinski’s housing
development finalized, Cadman submitted the drawings to the State Board of Health for
The Council gave the Water and Light Commission permission to ask for bids on water
pipe. However, the bidding processes proved to be so complicated that it was not until April
1957 that the water pipes were actually ordered. James B. Clow and Sons, Chicago won
the bid for the pipes and M. H. Valve & Fittings Co won the bid for the hydrants and
valves. Francis Cook, a local contractor, was given the work of digging the ditches for the
A new interest in allowing business and residential development encouraged others to bring
new proposals to the new Council and Mayor. In May 1956, Harry Inman requested city
water and sewer for a new 10-unit motel he planned to build at the south edge of the city
and the Council gave their unanimous approval. These new developments contributed to
the growth and increased the use of the Water and Light department’s facilities.
Another long-delayed project, the repair of the rural lines was authorized by the City
Council at their April 10, 1956 meeting. When the Wisconsin Power and Light Company
made their appraisal of the lines, they estimated a cost of more than $200,000 to repair the
Once it had been decided that Evansville would maintain ownership of the lines, Harold Tait
and the Water and Light Commission were firm that the local utility could repair and
maintain the lines at a much lower cost. Part of the expected savings was based on the
lower hourly rate paid to Evansville workers as compared to those hired by the Wisconsin
Power and Light Company.
To facilitate the needed repair, the Evansville City Council passed Ordinance No. 159. “Be
it ordained by the common council of the city of Evansville that the labor required for the
construction, repair and rebuilding of the lines of the electric utility of the city be done,
directly by the city without submitting the same to public bids.”
The first power lines to be repaired were those running West from the city limits. While
there were no bids for the labor, the Water and Light Company did ask for bids on the
materials that were to be used.
The Westinghouse Company received the contract for $3,053.25 for poles and $2,154.75
for cable. The Culver Electric Company of Madison submitted the winning bid of $6,988.08
for the wire and other equipment needed for the work and the Crescent Electric Company
had the accepted bid of $7,999.20 for the transformers.
In 1957, the water and light also decided to improve the capacity and relocate the power
lines in the city. Historically, the department had always placed the wires and poles in front
of buildings. Tait recommended placing the poles in the back yards of homes to make the
residential areas of the City more attractive.
The Council agreed and accepted the Laufenberg Lumber Company’s winning bid of
$2,338 for 73 pine utility poles. Linemen reset set the poles and wires behind homes and
businesses in the area west of Madison Street and South of Main Street.
The Water and Light department also had other repair and maintenance problems with the
water facilities owned by the department. After more than 50 years of use, the old metal
standpipe was pitted with holes and was in desperate need of repair. The poor condition of
the tank came to light during an annual inspection by the John Greenlee Company, Cherry
Valley, Illinois. The inspectors reported there were as many as 2,000 pitted holes in the
metal and they were able to see sunlight through some of the larger openings.
The same company that inspected the standpipe was hired to weld and clean the standpipe
and the cost was estimated at $1,200. The Greenlee Company was also given a 12-year
contract for annual inspection and maintenance at a cost of $150 a year.
When the work was completed, local welder Aaron Cornwell was asked to inspect the work.
Cornwell told the Council the Greenlee workers had done an excellent job of repairing the
old standpipe. It would serve the city’s water system for many more years.
There were also problems with the water softening plant. Harold Tait and George Mattakat,
a Water and Light Commission member, questioned the efficiency of the plant and asked
the Council to consider funding improvements to the 1930’s facility. Tait and Mattakat
estimated that the work to improve the facility would cost less than $10,000.
Although the DeLeon study was less than two year’s old, the Council hired a Madison
engineering firm, Fay and Bidwell, to make a study of the water softening and pumping
operation. They reported that the plant had nearly reached its capacity of 504,000 gallons
of water per day in 1955, when there was 430,000 gallons of water pumped on the hottest
day in 90 years. Although this was an unusual occurrence, it was still cause for concern.
The engineer from Fay and Bidwell also addressed the environmental issue of the disposal
of the lime used in the water softening operation. Several years earlier, the State Board of
Health had found the Water & Light department out of compliance with environmental policy
because the lime from the water softening plant was dumped into areas where lime residue
could flow into Allen’s Creek. The City department was ordered to find another location for
Fay and Bidwell suggested that the Water and Light department build a field of lagoons in
the marshy area south of the water plant and dump the lime into the lagoons, or settling
beds. The residue from the lime would work its way through the settling beds by gravity
and this would solve the pollution problem. They estimated the cost to be between $5,000
At the August 1957 Council meeting, the aldermen voted to purchase 8.5 acres of land
from George Mattakat at a cost of $4,500. They also approved a request from Harold Tait
to purchase cement tiles to build drains for the settling beds.
Most of the problems regarding control of the Water and Light department by the City
Council had been resolved. However, control of the Water and Light funds and
establishing wages for the workers were still issues causing friction between the Water and
Light Commission and the City Council.
The City Council continued to insist that they had the right to establish the wages of the
department’s employees. In December 1956, the Council set the monthly wages for Harold
Tait at $416; William Wood, $350; and Jerdis Wolff at $225. Linemen were to be paid an
hourly wage of $1.75, the meter reader, $1.65; and the water plant operator, $1.65. The
line crew foreman received $1.90 per hour.
The Water and Light department was indeed a gold mine for the City, as one study had
suggested. By the end of 1957, the value of the utility water and light plants had increased
to $643,931.23 on an initial investment in 1902 of $51,000.
March 27, 1958, Evansville Review
In April 1958, the Mayor, Bruce Townsend, recommended that the City Council hire John A.
Strand of the Strand Engineering Company, Madison to draw plans for drilling a new well.
This was based on the reports of two engineering firms, the 1954 DeLeon report and the
1956 Fay and Bidwell report. Both firms felt that the 1929 well and pumping equipment
were near capacity and that the City would soon need a second well.
By June 1958, the bid documents were ready and advertisements were placed for bids for
drilling Well No. 2 for the City. At the July 8 Council meeting, Alderman Walter Spratler, Jr.
made the motion to accept the low bid of $15,345 by the Milaeger Well and Pump Co. of
Milwaukee. Alderman Ralph Bennett seconded Spratler’s motion and the Council members
approved the bid. To help pay for the new well, Townsend requested that the City petition
the Public Service Commission to allow the Water and Light Department to charge a higher
rate for water service.
The Strand engineering firm did not finish bid documents for the 750 gallons-per-minute
pump, engine, and gear drive for the new well until January 1959. The bids were opened in
February and the decision was held over until March. The Milaeger Company was the
accepted bidder for the pump, engine and gear drive and the Wisconsin Electric
Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee received the bid for the switch gear and controls.
Like many projects before this new well, there was no speed involved in getting the
project underway. Bids documents for building the pumping station were not written until
several months after the bids for the well drilling and pumping equipment had been
Just as the engineering reports had predicted, the increased growth of the community was
placing more demands on the waterworks system than the old equipment could handle.
There were new homeowners and businessmen on the outskirts of the City that wanted to
receive the city water service. At the same time that the City was planning for a new well, in
June 1959, the Council also developed an ordinance to allow water service to those living
within a reasonable distance of the City limits.
The ordinance defined the areas that could be served, including Fair Street, South Second
Street, Walker Street, East Main, North Madison, South Madison, Old Hwy. 92, and Hwy.
C. The primary reason the City gave for extending these services was for fire protection,
the original purpose of the waterworks system when it was initiated at the turn of the
The Evansville Water and Light Department projects from 1959 to 1965 included the
completion of a new well and a new substation. The City Council also considered operating
a gas utility for the City.
Harold Tait and the utility’s workers had the additional challenges of building new
infrastructure for the utilities due to the expansion of the Pruden industrial complex, new
subdivisions, and a new high school on the old fairgrounds site. The employees were also
called on to restore electrical service after a destructive tornado on Palm Sunday 1965.
At the July 1959 meeting of the Evansville City Council, Mayor R. Bruce Townsend
appointed three Aldermen to the Water and Light Committee. Walter Spratler, Jr. served as
chairman of the committee. Richard Eager and Norman Bone were the other Councilmen on
This action was a symbolic demise of the old Water and Light Commission that had always
included citizens as well as council members. This old Commission structure had allowed
autonomy for operation of the department by controlling the utility’s funds and employment
In December 1961, the creation of a revised ordinance made the Water and Light
Committee a committee of the council as a whole. The old form of governance was gone,
and so was the name Water and Light Company. From this period on the utility operated
under the control of the council and was referred to as a department of the City
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission had regulatory control over many of the
practices of the utility as to establishing rates for customers and other charges made for
service. The purchases made on behalf of the Water and Light Department, bidding
documents, wages, employment practices, and all other maintenance and new projects
were approved by the City Council.
A major project for the Water and Light Department was the development of the Southwest
section of the city. A new school and new subdivisions in this area brought great demands
on the water and light facilities.
In July 1959, the City Council passed a resolution to sell the old fairgrounds to the
Evansville School District for $25,000. The sale included the stipulation that the city would
extend Fourth Street and install water, sewer, curb, gutter, sidewalks and all road surfaces.
This was the largest joint project the City Council and School Board had ever conducted.
When the school was completed, the water pressure did not meet the expectations of either
the city or the school and there were fears that the water system did not provide enough
fire protection. The city’s professional engineer, John Strand, presented several options.
Larger water mains could be installed from the utility’s water plant to the school, or another
well could be dug on school property and the pumping capacity would be increased.
As the school made plans for expansion other citizens began to call for new residential
development. However, the Brzezinski subdivision continued to cause problems for the city
public works and water and light departments. During heavy rain storms, runoff from the
new streets and houses caused drainage problems in the Liberty Street area. More
development in that area would only decrease the existing storm sewer capacity. The
Council began making plans for the installation of a storm sewer system.
The problem was first brought to the Council’s attention in 1959. What followed was more
than two years of discussion by the various committees and the Council as a whole before
any action was taken to resolve the drainage problem. In February 1961, the Council
authorized $800 for an engineering study by John Strand.
After Strand’s study was completed, the City Council asked for bids to complete the work.
Strand’s estimate of the costs was far below the sealed bids presented to the Council in
September 1961. Strand and the Council delayed the storm sewer project for further
One of the reasons for the high bids was the cost of labor to install the storm sewer
system. Alderman Ralph Bennett suggested that the city act as its own contractor and use
local labor to construct the storm sewers. This method of construction was approved at the
October 1961 meeting and the Council also approved the Water and Light employees work
with the Public Works employees to install the storm sewers.
However, the City did not own protective equipment used by well-operated construction
companies. The construction companies concerned for the safety of their workers invested
in large steel boxes that sheltered the workers from cave-ins of the ditches.
Most of the work was completed without the need for safety devices. However, the lack of
protective equipment could have caused the death of one of the Water and Light
Department’s workers. In November 1963, Wayne Ballard was helping to dig a ditch for
water and sewer lines at the corner of Lincoln and Third Streets when the sides of the ditch
fell in on top of him. Ballard was partially buried in the ditch and it took 15 minutes to
rescue him from the 6-foot ditch. He was taken to Stoughton hospital and recovered from
several cracked ribs and bruises.
The accident prompted the City Council to consider better safety equipment for its workers.
The council approved a study of the purchase of a steel box and a fresh air blower that
could be used at construction sites.
Evansville was experiencing some difficult economic times in the early 1960s. While the
Pruden Company was expanding its work force and increasing sales, the downtown area
was losing business and there were empty storefronts. Walter Spratler, Jr., an active
Evansville City Councilman called for industrial growth and an increase in population.
Spratler said “It is time that the city government in Evansville take tangible action regarding
industrial development.” “We need people,” Spratler told his fellow Council members.
“New drug stores and hardware stores to fill in the empty store fronts will not relieve the
basic problem. There will be some movement of people from Janesville and Madison who
want to live in a smaller community and commute to work, but local industry is what is
needed to bring in the people.” Spratler suggested that the City Council should offer
“financial and spiritual” incentives to support industrial growth.
Some councilmen looked at expansion of the local utility to help support this growth. The
early 1960s was a time of expansion of the gas utilities in Wisconsin and in 1962, the Water
and Light Committee explored the idea of operating the gas utility.
City attorney William H. Bewick and Mayor Wilson Brown met with the Public Service
Commission to determine the procedure for organizing a city-owned gas utility. A meeting
was held in January 1962 between the City Council and the Milwaukee Gas and Light
Company. Although the new utility had the support of the Mayor, the City Council decided
that it was not feasible for the city to operate the utility. After the Council failed to act on the
gas operation, the Wisconsin Gas Company opened an office in Evansville and began
bringing in gas lines.
However, the City Council did authorize the expansion of the city’s electrical operation.
With the expanded industrial operations of the Pruden plant and the new residential and
school facilities, the old substation had reached its capacity and did not allow for more
increases in power without substantial chance for power outages.
A new substation was built in 1963 in cooperation with the Wisconsin Power and Light
Company. A new contract was developed with between the City and the larger power
company that was expected to result in a substantial savings to the City.
New substation pictured in November 1963 from an Evansville Review photo
The new station was put in operation on October 23, 1963 and replaced an older
substation operated by the Wisconsin Power and Light Company. The new facility was
described as “a high voltage aluminum bus structure with 7,500 kilo-volt-ampere power
transformers, a high speed, electronically controlled oil circuit recloser, regulators and
miscellaneous other equipment.”
Although the Wisconsin Power and Light Company continued to maintain a substation in
Evansville, the new city-owned station reduced the need for its use. Power was taken from
the Wisconsin Power and Light 34,500-volt line and “stepped down by the new city
substation to 12,400 volts and 2,300 volts” into the city lines.
Water and Light Committee Chairman, Walter Spratler, Jr. told reporters that the new
substation would not only reduce the cost of the electricity for local users, but would also
supply power for industrial and residential growth.
There was no doubt that Evansville residents depended on the excellent electrical service
they had received over the years from the local utility. Water and Light Superintendent
Harold Tait was credited with maintaining the utility’s facilities.
However, the equipment was no match for a tornado that hit Evansville on Palm Sunday
1965. The storm went in a northeasterly direction from Monroe through Rock County. The
Evansville area including the southern and eastern edges and then the storm worked its
way into Jefferson County. Homes, barns, outbuildings, trailer homes, telephone lines and
electric power lines were down.
Evansville and the surrounding service area experienced a blackout from 2:57 in the
afternoon of April 11 to the following morning at 4:15. The three different power lines
coming into the City from the Wisconsin Power and Light Company were cut. It was the first
time in memory that all three sources had been destroyed and the entire city was in
Harold Tait had his own crew and the public works crew working to restore the electrical
service. The crews worked day and night cutting tree limbs, rebuilding the power lines and
restoring electric service as quickly as possible. Crews of volunteers also helped the utility
workers to clear away debris.
In the April 15, 1965 issue of the Review, the publishers issued a “Note of Appreciation.
Next time we turn on an electric light in our home, or pick up the telephone to make a call,
we will be reminded of the many unselfish hours of labor that were given to the Evansville
area this week.” Workers who had put in 24-hour shifts to get the utility back in operation
were highly praised.
The Water and Light Department’s bookkeeper, William Wood resigned from his job to
become the school district’s business manager in the spring of 1965. Rollin Zilliox was
hired as the new bookkeeper in April of that year.
The department employees listed in January 1966 were the linemen, Harry Jorgensen and
Tom Cromhecke; meter reader, Ollie Draper; water plant operator, Wayne Ballard; night
watchman and groundman, Joseph Tait; office manager and bookkeeper, Rollin Zilliox; and
billing clerk, Jerdis Wolff. In April 1966, Peter Marenes was listed as having been promoted
from groundman to apprentice lineman.
Harold Tait was beginning his last year as the superintendent of the department. Tait had
come up through the ranks, starting as a meter reader and advancing to the
Personnel costs, vacation pay, sick leave and other costs related to the labor force were on
the agenda of many of the Council meetings each year. At their January 1966 meeting, the
City Council considered the wages to be paid to the Water and Light employees.
Two councilmen wanted to keep the wages of the linemen at $2.85 an hour, but the
remaining Councilmen voted to increase the wages by ten cents to $2.95 an hour. The
Council also agreed to increase the wages of Superintendent Tait to $670 a month.
However, after raising the wages, the councilmen looked at ways to eliminate jobs or use
technology to save money on personnel costs. The governing body first tried to do away
with the night watchman position by using an alarm system at the utility plant. When that
seemed impractical, they suggested combining the position with the night police officer’s
Tampering with wages, benefits, and posing the possibility of the elimination of jobs was a
source of uncertainty for the employees and the superintendent. In just a few years, this
uncertainty would bring about the organization of a union.
After serving as the Water and Light department head for 11 years, Harold Tait gave the
Council several months notice that he was planning to retire at the end of August 1966.
When Tait gave his notice of retirement to the City Council, some of the alderman began to
look at ways they could save money by combining the departments of public works and
water and light departments under one superintendent.
The wages of the two positions were $670 per month and combining the two jobs seemed
an excellent cost saving measure to some of the Council members. However, after
consideration, the aldermen agreed to hire the water plant operator, Wayne Ballard to
Ballard was given a five-month probationary period beginning September 1, 1966 at a
salary of $575 per month, nearly $100 a month less than Tait was earning at his
retirement. Ballard was experienced in both the electrical and water works areas and had
been the water plant operator since the early 1950s.
Harry Cole was hired to replace Wayne Ballard as the water plant operator. It was the
responsibility of the water plant operator to test the water from the municipal well each day
to determine the hardness and alkalinity.
According to Ballard, the facility known as the water softening plant was never effective in
softening the water. In reality, the equipment served only as an iron removal facility. The
hardness of the water could not be reduced sufficiently to provide the water softening that
most customers desired. The customer who wanted truly soft water, still had to maintain a
water softener in their home or business.
Routine work was planned each year for the water and light employees. In spring, the fire
hydrants were flushed to eliminate mineral buildup in the mains. Whenever possible, this
procedure was done several times a year to maintain good water flow. If the flushing
operation was done correctly, the water customer noticed only a slight discoloration in the
water from the tap.
Spring was also the time for electrical line maintenance and installing new services for
newly constructed homes. Superintendent Ballard estimated that there were 14 to 15 new
services each year from the 1960s to 1980s.
In the summer, the department personnel worked on the extension of new services, adding
heavier wire in areas that had low voltage problems, and providing ongoing maintenance of
existing lines. Employees also replaced the utility poles. New poles were purchased each
year for new service or to replace those that were damaged or deteriorating. In order to
get the best price, the poles were purchased in bulk and stored on the grounds of the water
and light plant until needed.
Storms and other emergencies were part of the unexpected workload of the department.
Summer storms could wipe out lines, down poles, and eliminate service to customers for
short periods of time. It was difficult to budget for the hours of overtime and expenses for
new poles and power lines to repair the storm damage, as each year the storm patterns
Fall and winter, brush and tree limbs were trimmed away from the electrical lines. Old
electric and water meters were brought in to the shop to be repaired and tested for
accuracy. It was traditional that the water and light department put up the holiday lights
after Thanksgiving. This job was made easier by the purchase of a bucket truck in the
When Wayne Ballard took over as the new superintendent, he faced the problems
associated with providing utility service to a growing Evansville. In the late 1960s, the
Pruden Products industrial complex was constructing new manufacturing facilities nearly
every year to keep up with their increased sales of metal buildings.
This growth meant extra work for the water and light department and increased expense for
installation of new services. The new facilities required larger water mains and electrical
lines and these additions also benefited the residents living in the area of the improved
In 1966, new ten-inch mains were put in from the water plant on Exchange Street, south to
Water Street, west to Cherry Street, south to Walker Street, and then west to South
Madison to connect with the existing lines. The Council estimated the installation to cost
$15,700 and when the bids came in, the cast iron pipe and fittings alone were $12,442.43,
with James B. Clow and Sons, Chicago as the low bidder.
Bringing the water pipes west on Water Street to Cherry Street required tunneling under
the railroad tracks and the cost of drilling was expected to run as high as $3,500, a price
considered too high to bear. Council members contacted the Chicago & Northwestern
Railroad Company and they agreed to remove the rails so that a ditch could be created in
the usual manner, at much less expense.
In 1967, the City Council began working with community leaders to plan for another new
facility. A nursing home was being proposed and the site that seemed most likely to be
chosen was on vacant land just south of the standpipe.
As this area was undeveloped, it required the extension of Garfield Avenue from Fourth to
Fifth Street and the extension of electrical and water service to this area. The existing
service did not have capacity to accommodate a large residential and medical facility.
Although the nursing home was not built until 1971, planning to improve the utilities began
and the City engineer and Water and Light superintendent determined that water mains
should be run from the standpipe south on Fifth Street to connect with the water mains at
the southwest corner of the city. From 1968 to the completion of the nursing home, the
improvement work continued to be a priority for the department.
A new ordinance to allow the nursing home in a residential area of the city was approved in
the spring of 1969. Then work on the water mains and sewer extensions began so that the
utility work would be completed before the start of construction of the new facility.
In June 1969, the Council approved the purchase of 1,450 feet of 8-inch water pipe and
fittings for the 5th street project. To assist with the digging of trenches and other
installation work, a John Deere backhoe was purchased in the summer of 1969. The cost
of the machine was divided between the water and light department and the public works
department who used the backhoe for extension of the sewer system.
While the Council seemed willing to accommodate commercial growth, requests for service
in other areas were delayed or denied. When a Mr. Joseph appeared at the January 14,
1969 meeting and asked the Council to approve the extension of water service to the trailer
park on Fair Street, the request was denied based on the Ordinance that water service to
township residents was at the option of the Council.
Six months later, in June 1969, the Fire Chief, Larry Skoien, appeared at the Council
meeting and requested that more fire hydrants be placed around the high school. With the
trailer park extension still in mind, the Council told Chief Skoien that they were considering
plans to extend water mains on Fair Street to the high school area. No immediately action
was taken on Skoien’s request and it was referred to the water and light committee for
Despite some denials of service, there was every indication that the water and light
department would continue to expand services to new residential, rural, and commercial
customers. The Council began to discuss the purchase of a piece of property owned by
George Case. The land was 99 by 330 foot, directly east of the water reservoir and the city
garage and would be used for expansion of the water and electrical facilities.
The purchase of the Case property was first proposed at the December 1968 meeting, but
a decision was delayed for several months. At the June 1969 Council meeting, the
purchase price of $1,200 was approved.
Rural customers continued to require higher levels of electrical service to accommodate
their farm equipment. An upgrade to the service on Cemetery Road was completed in the
spring of 1969. The voltage on the lines was changed from 2400 volts to 7200 volts.
Other work in the summer of 1969 included the installation of underground wiring at the
park and several outdated fire hydrants were replaced. The two largest commercial
customers, Baker Manufacturing and the newly merged Varco-Pruden Company, had new
cut-outs added to their existing electrical lines so that the companies could continue to
operate in case of power outages.
In June 1969, the Council approved the consolidation of two city offices, with Rollie Zilliox
serving as both City Clerk-Treasurer and the Water and Light office Manager and
bookkeeper. Zilliox replaced Koralyn May who retired after holding the City Clerk-Treasurer
position for sixteen years. Zilliox’s office staff included Jerdis Wolff as the Water and Light
clerk and Doris Ringhand as the Deputy City Clerk.
For several years the vacation schedule, sick leave and wage scale of City employees had
fluctuated at the whim of the Councilmen. In the early years of the Water and Light
Department, a citizen’s Water and Light Commission had protected employees from low
wages or layoffs.
Members of the Commission also served for long periods of time and developed a strong
knowledge of the workings of the Department and understood the job requirements for the
employees. The Commission included only one councilman and the Mayor as an ex-officio
member. The Commission members understood the Water and Light Department was a
profitable business for the City to maintain.
However, when the City Council’s Water and Light Committee, composed only of Council
members, took charge, there was no longer the stability of long-term Committee
membership. Longevity on the Council was rare. Long-term service on a committee was
less likely, as the Mayor appointed the committee members at the reorganization meeting of
the Council held at the end of April.
Under the council committee system, department Superintendents reported that the Council’
s attempts to keep wage and benefit packages low made it difficult to keep good
employees. Some left shortly after being trained in order to get better pay and a more
stable work environment.
By the autumn of 1969, the City Council was notified that the employees of the police,
public works department and the water and light department were working with the
Teamsters Union, Local 579, and their representative Leonard Schoonover, to form a
union. Schoonover notified the City that there would be an election to determine if the
Teamsters would be the official bargaining unit for the employees.
Seventeen employees of the city, representing the three departments, signed cards to join
the Union. At the receipt of the official notice by the Teamsters, the Council turned the
letter over to the City Attorney and refused to take any further action. The bargaining was
Mayor Ida Conroy and the six Councilmen signed a letter and sent it to the Evansville
Review’s “Voice of the People” stating their position on the unionization of the City workers.
In what appeared to be a slightly veiled threat, the letter stated, “We wonder if the city
employees are cognizant of the fact that if they voted to accept the union, all fringe benefits
now being paid by the city, would cease and the only pay they would receive, would be their
base pay. Any fringe benefits gained thereafter, would have to be bargained for, if a union
were to be accepted.”
The letter pleaded with the employees to accept the benefit package that had been placed
before them by the Council, including fully paid family health insurance, a premium for night
shift pay, vacation and sick leave, and a cost of living increase. The Mayor and
Councilmen also assured the employees that “no reprimand or animosity would be shown to
any employee who has taken an active part in trying to procure Union services.”
The pleading went unheeded and the employees moved ahead with their plans to form a
Union. December 9, 1969 was the date set for the Union membership vote.
The first attempt to unionize city employees, including Water and Light Department staff,
was defeated at the election held in early December 1969. The City Council then
presented the wage and benefit plan they had proposed in October for the following year.
The employees of the Water and Light Department received a 2-½ % raise in wages.
The employee demands for organization of a union continued to be a problem for the City
Council. The Council had hired the law firm of Rapella & Soukup to work on the legal action
taken by the Teamsters officials, but the law firm was soon replaced.
In November 1970, the Council voted to hire the law firm of Melli, Smith & Shiels, a team
known for their work in fighting unionization in the workplace. The new firm represented the
City in the legal action, a “Prohibited Practice Complaint and Election Petition,” that the
union had presented to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.
Tensions between the workers and the Council remained at a heightened state and
occasionally erupted into open disputes. In March 1972, 18 city employees were accused
of abusing their “coffee break” privileges. Council members ordered the workers to change
their habits; “this behavior will cease immediately with employees alternating coffee breaks
of no more than ten minutes.”
As the unionization dispute was in process, the daily work activities of the Water and Light
employees continued. The men performed routine maintenance work on existing power
lines and water mains. Poles on Emery, Porter, Cemetery and Smith Roads were replaced
and new lines were installed to increase the voltage to these rural areas.
Employees reworked the filter beds at the water plant, adding new filter sand. The Adams
Roofing Company installed new roofs on the plant facilities. A Burmeister testing table for
evaluating electric meters was approved for purchase at the February 1970 meeting of the
City Council and Superintendent Wayne Ballard reported that 571 meters had been tested.
In March 1970, Wisconsin Power and Light announced they would be putting in a new high
voltage line from their plant in Beloit to the Evansville substation. The new line followed the
Chicago & Northwestern Railroad tracks and it took several months to get all of the right-of-
way issues resolved.
The line was completed to Footville in 1970. Then the power and light employees began
clearing the path for the 69,000-volt line between Footville and Evansville in the winter of
1970-71. The line was completed to Evansville in 1971.
The Water and Light department also experimented with a new type of street lighting in the
early 1970s. In the spring of 1970, Westinghouse Corporation donated a mercury vapor
light so that the department could determine if it gave sufficient light to the bridge, known as
The experimental light was approved and in October new lights were ordered to replace the
old globe lights with the new vapor lights. The installation of the lights was completed in
Since the viaduct lights had proven so successful the Water and Light Department decided
to install the same type of lights at the athletic field in the park. New lights were installed at
the athletic field in the park by July 1971.
Other news from the Water and Light Department in 1970 included the hiring of James
Moschkau as the new groundman. The Public Works Department and the Water and Light
Department purchased a chipper in late 1970. Fire hydrants were painted and the flow of
each hydrant was determined and the rate of flow, in gallons per minute, was painted on
The summer of 1970 was an exceptionally dry and the Water and Light Superintendent
requested that a water ban be put in place in the late summer. By preventing overuse of
the public water supply for watering lawns and other excessive use, there would be
sufficient water for fighting fires. The mayor, Ida Conroy, lifted the ban in early September.
Population of the City in 1970 was 2,992 and there was every reason to believe that there
would be continued growth. There were several new subdivisions planned in the early
1970s, including the Ward addition and the May addition in the western part of the city.
There were requests for annexation of properties along 5th street after the new nursing
home was completed in 1971.
The unsightly overhead wires and the constant maintenance of the exposed lines were
good reasons for the utility to begin plans for underground wiring in the business district.
This was discussed at the March 1971 Council meeting and planning began for
underground wiring in the alley behind the stores on the South side of East and West Main
When they heard the plan, representatives from the Wisconsin Telephone Company
requested permission to bury cable at the same time. The telephone company agreed to
pay half of the repaving costs for restoration of the blacktop alley. The downtown project
began in the summer of 1972 and was extended in 1973 to include the Ward addition on
West Liberty Street and Liberty Lane and in the Midway Village Trailer Park on County M.
With all of the new activities, training of personnel was high on the agenda for
Superintendent Ballard. Permission to attend classes had to be approved by the City
Council. In early 1971 he sent Russell Thompson to a meter testing class at Sevens Point
in early 1971 and Thomas Cromheecke attended an underground wiring institute in Eau
Claire to prepare for the installation.
Wisconsin Power and Light Company replaced some of the older lines connected to
Evansville with new power lines from their plant in Beloit. The larger company sent
representatives to the City Council to announce that there were plans to sell lines from
Albany to Evansville.
In May 1971, the Evansville Water and Light Committee began negotiations to purchase the
lines. The purchase was approved at the Council meeting in August 1971. The line was
approximately 7 miles in length and included one mile of heavy transmission line located in
The purchase price was not to exceed $17,597. The negotiators were told to work for a
lower cost, if the WP & L would agree. However, WP & L held fast to their price and the
Council agreed to the purchase and pay an additional $2,500 for the cross-city
The local utility was also improving the service for rural electric customers. In the summer
of 1971, 1.7 miles of line was installed on Territorial Road.
The water service requested for Fair Street was also started in 1971. Alderman Maxwell,
Chairman of the Water and Light Department, reported that the Water Department has
completed 450 feet of 10-inch water main on Fair Street at the August meeting of the City
The Water and Light staff did planning for most projects. More complicated projects
required outside consultants. Services to the larger manufacturing firms in the city were
often outside the scope of the engineering expertise of the employees. Then outside
consultants were hired. This was the case in January 1972, when Wayne Ballard was given
permission to hire an electrical engineering consultant to survey the electrical needs of the
Baker Manufacturing Company.
Baker Manufacturing planned to install a new electric foundry. The project required some
new equipment and Ballard purchased an automatic reclosure device at a cost of $3,800 in
April 1972. The project also required getting permission from the Chicago & Northwestern
Railroad to bring the new power lines across the railroad tracks from the utilities’ substation
on Exchange Street, located on the east side of the tracks to the Baker complex on the
west side of the tracks.
Terry Miller was a new employee in January 1972. Improvements to the water plant
facilities in 1972 included the purchase of a used Permutit Gravimetric lime feeder from the
City of Columbus for $900. A turbine pump was installed in the water softening facility and
the boiler at the water and light plant was converted from coal to oil.
The Water and Light crews continued to provide improved electrical service to the rural
areas. In the spring of 1972, new lines were upgraded from 2400 to 7200 volts on Marsh
and Coon Island Road. The men also installed a new series of transformers in the spring of
In the spring of 1973, the crews worked to improve electrical lines on County Trunk “T” and
“C” by converting them from 2400 to 7200 volt lines. The lines from Tullar School south on
Finn Road to Milbrandt Road; west on Milbrandt to County T, south on County T one mile;
north on County T to Townline Road, then west on Townline to Elmer Road and south on
Elmer one-half mile were improved from 2400 to 7200 volts.
Water and Light Committee made an agreement with Al Ward to extend power to his
addition in 1973. In July 1973, Thompson Sand and Gravel had the winning bid for the
water main installation, 900 feet at $1.15 per foot. Pipe was purchased from the Wisconsin
Supply Company for $2,577.84. New service to 14 homes in 1973.
It was the unexpected storm that put the Water and Light crews in high gear and brought
much appreciation and accolades from the local citizens. On June 16, 1973, a severe
windstorm hit Evansville and caused damage to utility lines and poles. Although the storm
was wide spread, Evansville was considered the worst disaster area.
The cleanup and restoration of power was more than the local crews could handle. Utility
employees from other cities, including Brodhead, Mt. Horeb, Columbus, Black Earth and
Cross Plains came to the aid of the local workers in the first few days.
Local crews worked more than two months to repair all of the damage and by August 1973,
the water and light department expenses for storm repair were $11,714. The total cleanup
costs for the city exceeded $40,000. Superintendent Wayne Ballard reported that 108
service wires to homes had to be replaced as a result of the storm.
The storm had shown the need for better communications between working crews and the
Council approved the purchase of two portable radios for the water and light trucks.
A crisis of a different nature was experienced by Evansville as local citizens dealt with the
national energy crisis in November 1973. Mayor Wilson Brown recommended that the city’s
Christmas lights not be turned on until the week before Christmas and then turned out each
night at 9 p.m. due to the energy crisis. The City Water and Light Department put up the
Christmas decorations as they had done for many years, but the lights were not turned on.
“The absence of lights shows the city’s desire to cooperate in the energy crisis,” the
Evansville Review noted.
There was another potential crisis in the making for the local utility. It was reported at the
December 1973 meeting of the council that lime used in the iron removal process at the
water softening plant was getting difficult to obtain. Superintendent Ballard explained to the
Water and Light Committee that the softening plant had been in operation since 1933 and it
there were only two of these plants operating in the state of Wisconsin. The facility was
becoming obsolete and needed replacement.
Several proposals were made to improve the operation of the aging water facilities. The
Water and Light Committee suggested a trickling water filter that would cost $50-75,000.
Another suggestion was to dig new wells or build a new softening plant.
The various proposals were discussed at each council meeting for the next two years but
no action was taken to resolve the problems. The city engineer, William Schaumberg was
given a deadline of October 1, 1975 to complete his recommendations for either
abandoning or improving the water works plant.
In the meantime, more new additions were planned that would place a heavier burden on
the aging facility. The May addition in the southwest corner of the City was in the planning
stage and new water and electrical extension were planned for that area in early 1974.
As there was more residential development along Fifth Street, properties that had
previously been in Union Township were annexed into the city so that they could receive
city water and sewer connections.
Business customers were also demanding new service. Another new Varco Pruden
building completed in 1974 required new service. This increased the demand for power
from the city’s supplier and in early 1974, the Wisconsin Power and Light agreed to change
the contract with the city to increase the voltage on their lines coming into the city.
The night watchman’s job was eliminated in the summer of 1974. The police officers on
duty checked the alarm system and the officers were taught to operate the shut-off system
on the reservoir intake until an automatic shutoff system could be installed in the early
months of 1975. The replacement of the night watchman was expected to save nearly
$12,000 a year in personnel costs.
Other new extensions of service in 1975 were to the Chapin Supermarket built on South
Madison Street near the Southern edge of the city. A new transformer pad was placed in
the northwest corner of the vacant lot, known as the Magee Theater lot, on East Main
A new hydraulic lift vehicle, known as a cherry picker, was purchased in November 1975.
The machine was purchased from the Northland Equipment Company of Janesville at a cost
of $18,000. The truck chassis for the lift was purchased from Trucks, Inc. of Monroe and
Janesville for $6,465.30.
William Schaumberg, the engineer from the city’s engineering firm, Jensen and Johnson,
studying the water works plant, suggested that a new facility be built. The Water and Light
Committee asked him to draw plans for a new water softening and iron removal plant and
asked that the plans be ready for the January 1976 meeting of the Committee.
Schaumberg presented three different plans to the Council at their February 1976
meeting. No action was taken on the plans.
There were several changes in personnel in the early months of 1976. Terry Elmer was
hired as a groundman in January 1976. At the February 1976 City Council meeting, the
Water and Light Committee reported that Marie Gallman was hired as a replacement for
Jerdis Wolff, who retired. However, Marie submitted her resignation the next month. Tom
Cromheecke, an employee of the department for 20 years, died in April 1976 after a long
An unpredictable event took a toll on the personnel and funds of the department. One of
the worst ice storms of the century hit the Evansville area in March 1976. The storm began
on Thursday March 4 and water and light crews worked diligently for the next week to
restore power to all city and rural customers. Tree limbs broken under the weight of the ice
hit power lines and caused shorting circuits throughout the system. Some lines were
coated so heavily with ice that they sank to the ground and were embedded in the ice.
Electrical fires broke out in several places and downed power lines were lying in the
Some residents were without power or heat for 48 hours, other were without electrical
power for longer periods of time. Volunteer fire fighters and public works crews aided the
Water and Light employees by contacting people without heat in their homes to offer
shelter at churches, the high school and other emergency shelters.
Power crews from Bloomer, Wisconsin, Minneapolis, and Footville came to assist the Water
and Light crews who worked around the clock for the duration of the emergency.
Baker Manufacturing Company had no electricity and there was 12 tons of molten iron in
their electric foundry. There were fears that the City water supply would be reduced and
that there would not be enough water to fight fires. Baker’s furnace used large amount of
city water to cool the furnace and it was decided to dump the iron in order to preserve the
Merchants closed their stores because there was no electricity to operate their cash
registers and light the buildings.
It was months before the ice storm damage of March 1976 was completely repaired. Large
trees were down and lines throughout the system had to be repaired and poles replaced.
In April, the Water and Light Committee reported that the cost of repairing the storm
damage had reached $32,000.
A contract between the City and Teamsters Local 579 was completed in the spring of 1976
and covered the Water and Light, Public Works and Police Dispatchers. The contract gave
wage increases to all employees and was retroactive to January 1, 1976.
Superintendent Wayne Ballard had presented the Council with the need to upgrade the city’
s water well. According to Ballard, the city’s well was producing high iron content and the
iron removal/softening plant was nearing the end of its fifty-year life span. Engineering
studies had recommended capping portions of the wells, to eliminate the iron content.
Ballard rejected the idea of building another softening plant, with an expected cost of
William Schaumberg, the engineer from the city’s engineering firm, Jensen and Johnson
had presented three options to the council in early 1976. After studying the water works
plant, Schaumberg first proposed installing an aeration system for removal of the iron and
manganese. This option required new pumping equipment, modification of the existing
building to accommodate the equipment. This process did not include softening and was
estimated to cost $344,460 for construction and $10,900 per year to operate.
Schaumberg’s second alternative was to use the same equipment as suggested in option
#1 and add water softening equipment. This was expected to cost $582,180 and have a
yearly operating budget of $19,420.
The third alternative was the to completely rebuild the softening plant, abandon the existing
plant do restoration work on the two existing wells. This was the most expensive option,
with an expected construction cost of $671,000 and annual operation expenses of
The Water and Light Committee rejected all three proposals of Schaumberg and hired the
Milaeger Well Company to test the wells. Ballard suggested to the Water and Light
Committee that the city jacket portions of the well’s shaft in order to solve the problem of
the iron removal and to save money.
In its present configuration, the well shaft passed through four different geological
formations and drew water from two. The concrete jacket would seal the glacial drift area, a
dry area at the first 110 feet and the water-bearing portion of the well shaft that went
through the 185 feet of St. Peter Sandstone. It was the St. Peter Sandstone that contained
the problematic iron that had to be removed by the softening plant equipment.
At the depth of about 1,000 feet, the well took water from the geological formation known as
the Mt. Simon Sandstone layer. Water taken from the Mt. Simon Sandstone was described
by Ballard as: “a much more tasty blend of water and minerals. It still contains minerals, but
not the kinds and quantities that made it unpleasant to drink.”
Ballard proposed sinking a steel shaft jacket into the well, then pouring concrete between
the well’s wall and the jacket to seal the section that went through the iron bearing St. Peter
Sandstone layer. The Milaeger Well Company of Milwaukee was hired to seal the well.
Milaeger’s workers placed ten-foot sections of pipe into the well, until the jacket was
approximately 200 feet below the surface. Special collars, or barriers were placed at each
end of the 200-foot section of pipe. Then concrete was poured into the space between the
pipe and the well wall, sealing the well wall and stabilizing the steel jacket.
Only the purer water from the Mt. Simon Sandstone at the 1,000-foot level would get into
the pumping system. The iron removal equipment was no longer needed at the pumping
However, now homeowners who wanted soft water had to install their own equipment.
Water and Light Committee chairman Richard Krake told the Evansville Review that while
this was a more expensive option for the customer, in the long run it would save them
money. Krake noted that the customer’s cost would be even higher if they had to pay a
portion of the $600,000 the new water softening equipment would have cost the city
During the summer and late fall 1976, the City Council went through a planning process to
study potential growth patterns for Evansville. The study showed that Evansville had a
smaller rate of population growth than the county and the state and the professional
planners warned that this situation would continue, if the City did not take action to change
conditions for growth.
The planning commission explored ideas for increasing the population. Working with
census figures and growth patterns, the planners, including the Rock County Planning
Director, Phil Blazkowski, projected plans for a population growth of 5,000, 10,000 or
15,000. The question put before the planning commission was “how large does Evansville
want to be?”
The plans for an increase in the population included expansion of the east side for an
industrial park. Water Street would be extended from Varco Pruden’s plant near the
intersection of Exchange Street to connect with East Main Street and Highway 14. This was
an entirely new section that would also include a new wastewater treatment plant.
At nearly the same time, the Evansville Housing Authority was planning a 24-unit housing
project at the corner of Old 92 and First Street. Several new developments in the area
west of 5th street were also in various stages of planning.
All new development plans included expansion of water mains and power lines. In the
September 9, 1976 Evansville Review, the Water and Light Committee stated that they had
“directed Water and Light Superintendent Wayne Ballard to estimate the cost of supplying
the outskirts of the city with utility services.” If a manufacturer wanted to build in the
proposed industrial park, the local utility would be prepared.
By December, the new plans were submitted to the Council. The city utility proposed the
extension of city water service to the eastside along the proposed new section of Water
Street, as soon as the property owners gave right-of-ways to the utility. This new system
provided several benefits, water service for the new industries and wastewater treatment
plant, and improved water pressure for fighting fires in that area.
Ballard noted in his report to the Water and Light Committee that the existing water system
on the eastside was inadequate and water pressure was too low to fight large fires in that
area. If the city grew in that direction, the fire protection would be inadequate and this
would be a deterrent to potential businesses that wanted to locate in that area.
The City Council was already talking with several developers about new subdivisions for the
east and west sides of town. Robert Schaefges was planning to develop a 36 acres section
known as “Stoneridge Manor”. While this housing development was outside the city limits,
Mayor Robert Olsen told the City Council that there was a 20-acre section that could be
annexed into the city for a future subdivision. According to Olsen, this development would
“increase the tax base and encourage development of the east side.”
The added growth meant more work for the Water and Light Department. Both
subdivisions would require new electrical service and if the City annexed the 20-acre site
for development, new water mains and fire hydrants would also be required. This addition
was approved at the June 1977 Council meeting.
The Water and Light Department did not wait until the City had made final plans for the
residential development or a new wastewater treatment plant that was in the early planning
stage. In the spring of 1977, the crews began working on the installation of a 10-inch water
main on the east side.
By the following spring, at their April 1978 meeting, the City Planning Committee was
discussing annexation of land for new commercial and industrial development on Highway
213 and 59 on the south side of the City. New utilities, including a looped water line, for
water pressure and fire protection were needed before development could take place.
Chapin’s Food Market and the Farm Service Cooperative were mentioned as potential
builders at the south edge of the City along Highway 213 and 59. John Willoughby and
Ronald Pierce also hoped to develop residential sites in the same area.
In July 1978, the City Council gave preliminary approval to the additions, as well as
development of Berg Estates south of the city limits on Old 92 and Robert Judd’s addition at
the west end of Lincoln Street.
Easements for the water mains along the new Water Street corridor were obtained by
November 1978 and bids were opened on January 2, 1979. The low bid for 3,300 feet of
water mains and 10 hydrants was submitted by Water Products Company of Butler,
Wisconsin. Their bid of $31,371.50 was accepted by the City Council.
Some of the land along the Water Street extension was under cultivation and so the
extension of the water mains was delayed until the fall, after the crops had been harvested.
By waiting until September, Superintendent Wayne Ballard also hoped that the area would
dry out as the water table in that area was very high and a wet summer and fall would
interfere with construction.
The water main extension was completed prior to the building of the street. The main went
east from Exchange Street to the area that is now the sewage disposal plant, then north to
East Main Street, connecting with an older water main that had been a dead end.
This required boring beneath Highway 14 in order to make the connections and contractor
Roger Fox of Edgerton was hired to do the work. The completion of this new loop in the
water works system greatly improved the water pressure on the east side of Evansville.
The work was finished by February 1980.
In the late 1970s, Janet L. Sperry joined the office staff of the Evansville Water and Light
Company as bookkeeper and data processing manager. The office assistant was Joyce
Huntoon. When Huntoon resigned in September 1979, Sandra Lindemann was hired as
In a short period of time, Janet Sperry became the department’s expert on rate pricing and
planning for rates that would maintain and expand the utility’s service. In 1978, Sperry
found that the electrical rates had been based on an old formula that did not account for
the current operating expenses and inflation.
The utility needed to earn enough to keep pace with the rapidly expanding facilities. Since
there was every reason to believe that new additions to the city and new rural construction
would continue, funding was needed for expansion of the electrical lines and perhaps an
addition to the substation. The rates charged to customers needed to keep pace with
operating expenses and also take into account the need for expansion.
In order to meet expenses and create a fund balance for growth, Janet Sperry worked with
the Public Service Commission to increase the electrical rates charged by the utility. In
1978, the utility was expected to have an operating loss of $13,755.
The Public Service Commission granted a temporary four-month rate increase in late
November, but it was too late to make up the entire loss. “The utility will just have to put
down 1978 as a bad year,” Sperry told the Review reporter.
The rate increases were suppose to cover all types of users, the following March, the Public
Service Commission reversed its decision and decreased some rates and increased
others. Rural residential rates decreased, while the city residential users’ rates increased.
Commercial rates in all areas increased, with rural businesses increasing the most at 5.17
percent. The new rates were effective in allowing the utility to build up a surplus for
improvements to its facilities, including new lines, substations, and other additions to the
electrical plant. It was a timely decision as the City fathers were considering development
of a new wastewater treatment plant and new residential development.
Verne Gallman, Water and Light Employee, untangles lines on East Main Street in order to
replace a power pole hit by an automobile July 1978.
Early in 1979, the City Council approved more than 40 new lots for residential development
on the west side of Evansville in the Donald Larson “West View Hill” and Metzger additions.
Each of the developers had asked that more lots be approved. However, the city’s existing
sewage disposal plant could not handle the increase and the city had been ordered to build
a new plant by July 1, 1982. The building of a new disposal plant had many hurdles to
overcome, including funding, land purchases and approval from a variety of state and
While the City Council wrestled with the problems of residential development, in the summer
of 1979 the Water and Light crews, under the direction of Superintendent Wayne Ballard,
were kept busy rebuilding lines on Highway M from Highway 14, south to 213. The linemen
also worked on lines along Highway 14 north from the city limits to Butts Corners Road.
Underground lines were placed in the Larson subdivision on the west side and the Hagen
Addition in the rural area east of Evansville.
In the winter of 1979, the employees’ regular work was interrupted several times in order to
repair power outages caused by accidents and weather. On November 26, 1979, a heavy
and wet snowstorm hit the area causing wide spread power failures and caused other
problems for the electric utility.
The heavy wet snow caused shorts in fuses and tree branches hit power lines causing
more power outages. Then car accidents, due to the heavy snow, caused more damage.
A vehicle skidded off the road and hit a power pole. While crews checked to find the
source of the lines to determine the sources of the power losses, some residents were
without power for nearly 12 hours.
The November snowstorm was the first of many during the winter of 1979-80. Water and
Light employees frequently responded to automobile and truck accidents with police, fire
fighters, and ambulance crews to remove the immediate danger of power lines and downed
poles from roadways, and then restore power.
With the winter weather behind them, the spring of 1980 was another busy time for the
Water and Light Department. In April 1980, the Evansville City Council passed a resolution
commending Wayne Ballard for thirty years of service to the Water and Light Department.
Although he was nearing the end of his career, Ballard maintained a keen interest in
expanding the utility to meet the needs of the community.
In the spring of 1980, the Baker Manufacturing Company announced that a new set of
furnaces would be installed at their foundry on Enterprise Street. Varco Pruden also
announced plans for expansion and asked for a new power line to their facility. The
combined electrical use of the two manufacturing companies represented 40% of the utility’
s power load and a substantial source of income for the Evansville Water and Light
Ballard immediately sought price quotes for additions to the substation transformers to
handle the increased load requested by Baker and Pruden. The new construction was
expected to double the capacity of the local substation.
WESCO of Waukesha submitted the low bid of $49,965 for the structure portion of the
substation expansion. Other equipment included $7,460 for a circuit breaker and $7024
each for three regulators. The construction began in the fall and continued through the
In September 1980, Ballard led local officials and news reporters on a tour of the utility and
predicted that the remodeled substation would add ten more years to the life of that facility.
He also explained to the visitors that the Water and Light crews maintained 103 miles of
lines in the rural areas, in addition to the city power lines.
Ballard had also learned that the original fluoride treatment equipment was not functioning
properly and the State required that the utility install a new fluoridation system. The
equipment was purchased and installed in the winter of 1980.
After 32 years of service to the Water and Light Department, Wayne Ballard announced
that he would be retiring in June 1982. The City Council’s Water and Light Committee
requested applications from current employees to fill the superintendent’s position. The job
announcement appeared in the Committee’s report in the February 17, 1982 Evansville
Review. “People in the department interested in the superintendent’s job should notify the
committee and submit a resume.”
In May 1982, the Committee reported that they had found Ballard’s replacement. Bill Ensor,
a Water and Light lineman was hired to be the new Superintendent, beginning June 10,
1982. Ballard agreed to delay his retirement until October in order to make the transition
The City threw a party for retiring Superintendent Wayne Ballard on September 16, 1982.
More than 125 people attended the event at the Evansville County Club. Ballard counted
as his accomplishments, the mapping of the water system, the drilling of well number 2, and
the extensions and improvements to both the electrical and water systems.
Bill Ensor and the Evansville Water and Light office staff brought the department into the
computer age with the purchase an NCR 8251 used computer. The computer processor, a
large and cumbersome piece of equipment, was housed in the old jail cell in City Hall. Janet
Sperry and Sandy Lindemann were the computer system operators.
November 17, 1982, Evansville Review
The computer programs were designed to integrate many of the city’s accounting
procedures. Using the computer system, the office staff could print the water, electric, and
sewer bills, process the city’s payroll, establish an inventory of city equipment, and pay the
city’s bills. The system could also handle the special assessments for infrastructure
improvements and special maps of the city’s utilities.
Ensor served only a short period of time as Superintendent, but was able to complete a well
liner project that had begun during Ballard’s administration. In 1976, well number 2, had
been lined in order to seal the St. Peter sandstone layer and the same project was
approved for well number 1. Milaeger Well & Pump Company, the same firm hired to do
the first project, submitted the winning bid of $27,000 for the work.
September 7, 1983, Evansville Review, Page 1
In August 1983, the Milaeger drilling rigs were put in place. The September 7, 1983
Review described the operation. “Milaeger Well Pump Co., Inc. rolled into town Thursday,
August 18, with a Bucyrus Erie 24-L drilling rig, trucks hauling a 500 gallon propane tank,
electric welder and a set-up crew of men to being reworking the well.” Dale H. Wakely was
the Milaeger’s driller.
September 7, 1983, Evansville Review, p. 1
Since the first capping project had been successful, the same operation was performed on
well #1, drilled in 1929. The original casing was perforated at a depth of 160 to 178 feet so
that water could be taken from the St. Peter sandstone, a layer that produced large
amounts of iron. This was the area that was capped with a new steel liner.
For a number of years, well #1 had been causing problems in the city’s water supply. The
pumping rate had dropped from its original capacity of 940 gallons of water per minute to
110 gallons per minute. While well number 2 was operating at capacity, there was fear that
if this well was not working, there would not be sufficient pumping capacity at well #1 to
provide fire protection for the City.
Ensor predicted that the city would have even greater water supply needs in the future.
Ensor told the Review reporter in 1983, “In about the year 2000, Evansville will see the first
elevated water tower in its boundaries. This will be necessary because of the projected
population growth and the aging standpipe system”
Shortly after completing the water well project, Ensor submitted his resignation. The date
was set for March 20, 1984. Verne Gallman, a lineman for the Water and Light Department
was named Superintendent.
When Verne Gallman replaced Bill Ensor as Water and Light Superintendent in 1984, the
problems with Well Number 1’s pumping capacity were still unsolved. By late June 1984,
Gallman, the Water and Light Committee and Mayor John Jones had consulted with two
water well drilling companies and received conflicting opinions as to how the well could be
brought back to a pumping rate of at least 260 gallons of water per minute.
The well’s pumping rate of 110 gallons per minute was considered inadequate, especially
during the summer months. Some felt that the Mileager Company should have removed
the sand when they sealed a portion of the well wall to eliminate surface water inflow and
iron rich water from the St. Peter limestone layer.
Representatives from Mileager and a second company that Superintendent Gallman had
consulted, Layne Northwest Co, agreed that there was 81 feet of sand in the well that
needed to be removed to restore the water flow.
The sand was very fine and had accumulated over time at the bottom of the well. Both
firms recommended dynamiting in the well to remove the sand. However, they disagreed
as to the amount of dynamite to use. Mileager first recommended using up to 100 pounds
of dynamite, then dropped their recommendation to 50 pounds. Layne Northwest
suggested using a string blast of three to five pound charges of dynamite.
The Mayor and the Councilmen heard both recommendations, but could not agree on
which one to follow. Some were afraid the dynamite would destroy the well. Others had
their own solutions, including one alderman who suggested hydraulically removing the
After much discussion, the Council agreed to seek a third opinion from Donohue &
Associates, the city engineers. Since no one at the meeting was certain that Donohue had
an engineer who could make plans for the project, the Councilmen made the provision for
Superintendent Gallman to hire a consultant from Strand Engineers, Inc. of Madison.
Nearly a year later, in March 1985, the Council decided to accept the Layne Northwest
proposal to clear sand from Well #1. The bid of $20,000 was accepted and the Layne
employees dropped several lines with 2-pound dynamite charges and restored the pumping
capacity. The success of the operation enhanced Layne Northwest company’s reputation
with the City and Water and Light employees.
Although the land surrounding the Water Street extension had been purchased by the City
and set aside for industrial development, the City Council and Mayor were reluctant to
provide the necessary infrastructure to support new industry. At the July 10, 1984, City
Council meeting, Roger Berg offered to purchase Lots 10 and 3 in the Industrial Park from
It was the first land purchase proposal in the newly developed industrial area along the
Water Street corridor on the east side of the city. A month later, Roger Berg and Greg
Helgesen received approval to purchase the land for building a small office and 10 mini-
warehouses. At the time of purchase there was no road, water or sewer service to the land
and the City Council recommended that the new owners install a septic system and well, if
they could get a permit from the Department of Natural Resources.
A few months later, in December 1984, Anderson Trucking Company of St. Cloud,
Minnesota, announced they were interested in building a terminal on land in the industrial
park. The trucking firm hauled steel products for the Varco Pruden Company and having
an office on the Water Street extension would allow the trucks to enter and exit the city,
without using the narrow downtown streets.
With the out-of-town company interested, City officials showed greater concern for building
the Water Street extension and researched the creation of a TIF district to aid in the cost of
the new street. TIF 1 to extend Water Street and increase property available for industrial
development was approved at the April 1985 Council meeting. Anderson’s agreed to pay
for any utility improvements on the frontage of their 3.8 acres of land.
The Water Street extension was the cause of much arguing in Council meetings over the
next few months. The engineering firm of Donohue and Associates and their engineer,
Robert Gundlach, presented what they felt was the best option. The plans called for water
mains and sewer and a paved street.
Gundlach met opposition when some of the Council recommended that a gravel road be
built, instead of the more costly paved street. The engineer explained that this would not
be feasible, since the gravel road would not hold up to the 60 or more trucks a day that
would be using the road. Gundlach also explained that in the spring, when the gravel road
would be subject to weight limits, the trucks would need to be rerouted to the city streets.
Before the paved street argument was solved, the water main portion of the project moved
forward when Anderson Trucking started construction in the late summer of 1985. After the
company made a special appeal to the Council at a special meeting in August, the
aldermen approved unanimously the extension of 8-inch water mains from the existing main
on Water Street to the Anderson building site.
Although the Water Street extension project was not completed, Anderson trucking opened
in October 1985. More than a year later, Water Street was officially opened as a gravel
road in November 1986. The City promised that it would be paved in the Spring of 1987.
As the businesses showed more interest in the industrial area and residential areas
expanded the Water and Light Committee and employees began to be concerned about
deficiencies in the existing waterworks system. In April 1985, at the same meeting that the
Water Street water main extension was approved, Donohue and Associates also asked that
$7,000 be allocated for a study of the city’s water system.
Former Water and Light Superintendent Bill Ensor had predicted that the city’s water supply
system would need to be upgraded with a new water tower. Donohue’s engineer, Robert
Gundlach proposed that the Council approve the water study to see if a new tower was
needed and where it should be placed. The study was also designed to expose
weaknesses in the existing system. The Council made no move to fund the study, but
agreed to discuss the proposal at future meetings.
Several other major disagreements involving the Water and Light Department erupted in
early 1985. The first involved the sale of the utility. Mayor John Jones announced that he
would seek to eliminate the sewer tax by paying down the debt for the new wastewater
treatment plant. The sewer tax had increased significantly with the building of the new
wastewater treatment plant on Water Street. Jones intended the sell the Evansville Water
and Light and use the funds to pay for the wastewater treatment plant loan.
At the May 1985 meeting of the Council Mayor Jones presented a letter he had written to
officials of the Wisconsin Power and Light Company, asking them to consider purchasing
the City’s utility. Rumors of the attempt to sell the utility were rampant by the time the letter
was officially presented to the Council.
Many felt that the mayor had overstepped his authority by contacting the larger company
and presenting the local utility for sale. Water and Light employee Janet Sperry prepared a
cost comparison and presented it to the Council. Her report said that if the customers of
the local utility had been served directly by the Wisconsin Power and Light Company, the
costs would have exceeded what they were already paying.
Jones countered that the local utility was in “bad shape”. He claimed that by selling the
utility, the sewer tax could be reduced. Jones chastised the water and light employees for
lobbying against the sale of the utility.
In his State of the City message issued in the May 22, 1985 edition of the Review, Jones
said: “A plan to eliminate the sewer tax has been put forth to every Alderman for
consideration and further investigation by the Council. It will take citizen pressure for this to
happen and it appears the Water and Light employees have been quick to respond and
lobby against any such consideration. Any action to sell our Light Utility would have to go
The immediate sale of utility was stopped, as it had been many years earlier, by the Council
taking no action on the proposal. However, the following year, in May 1986, when Mayor
Jones again presented his State of the City message, the proposals for change included
“reduction of sewer tax and discuss with Wisconsin Power and Light the sale of our utility
after investigation, job guarantees and a referendum.”
Another argument between citizens, the City Council members and the mayor concerned
extension of water mains on East Main Street. The street was dug up for widening and
resurfacing in the summer of 1985. This construction period offered a perfect opportunity
to add larger water mains and improve the capacity of the water system in the area,
according to some. Others felt that the engineering study should be completed, but no
When brought before the Council, Fire Chief, Charles Nordeng supported the water main
improvement project on East Main Street. Chief Nordeng told the Council that the 4-inch
water main did not provide sufficient water pressure for a major fire. Due to the small
diameter of the main, the fire hydrants on the east end of the city could not function
Former Water and Light Superintendent Wayne Ballard and the Water and Light
Committee, headed by Alderman Richard Krake, also wanted to improve the water system
in that area. However, they recommended that the water mains be placed behind the
buildings on the South side of East Main, rather than in the street. Since there was no
agreement about where the water mains should be located, the recommendation was to get
an engineering study of the alternatives.
While the discussions of the many contested projects continued, one project was approved
and completed in the late spring and early summer of 1985. South Madison Street was
also under construction in the summer of 1985, and the Council did approve the installation
of new water mains at the end of South Madison Street to coincide with this construction.
The Water and Light employees installed the mains at Walker Street and South Madison
completing the loop of the water system in that area. .
Other work in 1985 included the painting and cleaning of the 1901 water tank. The
contract was given to Lane Tank Company at a cost of $9,850.
After two years as the Water and Light Superintendent, Vern Gallman resigned in 1986 and
Steven Glissendorf was hired as his replacement. During Glissendorf’s short administration
of the Water and Light department he was allowed to purchase several pieces of new
The department bought a new trencher for underground cabling work at a cost of $23,000.
Glissendorf explained that 90% of the work done by the department was underground and
the trencher that the department owned was about 30 years old.
A thumper was also purchased to help Water and Light employees locate problems with
underground wires and cables. Another machine, a metal locator was also purchased to
find underground valve boxes.
Early in 1987, the City Council approved a contract with the engineering firm of Mead and
Hunt, Inc. of Madison to evaluate the city’s electrical infrastructure. The evaluation cost
was set at $6,000.
Mead and Hunt also were paid to study the municipal water supply and the report
determined that the city would soon need to add a new water tower. However, no action
was taken as a result of the Mead and Hunt study.
Concern for the ability of the city’s utility to handle growth was very real. East and west of
the city’s existing limits, new development was underway.
The city’s industrial park along Water Street was expected to grow, as land sales were
made. Abey’s addition to the west, a 7-acre plot in the Stone Ridge addition on the east, a
housing project at the west end of Lincoln Street and new construction on South Fifth
Street were expected to increase demand on the city’s water and electric utility.
Roger Berg, Robert Schaefges and Gary Gorman were the principals in planning a new
housing development for the eastern most part of the City, in the area north of East Main
Street across from the industrial park. The area was developed as apartments and single-
family housing, known as Countryside Estates.
Steve Glissendorf, who had been the Superintendent of the Evansville Water and Light
Department, since 1986, resigned in 1988. Mayor Chris Eager urged the council to hire a
“qualified engineer” to replace Glissendorf. Eager felt that a professional engineer would
save the city money by having someone who could function as both the supervisor and an
advisor in planning for future growth and expansion of the city’s utilities.
At the April 1988 reorganization meeting of the Council, the aldermen voted unanimously to
follow Eager’s recommendation to advertise for a qualified engineer. The superintendent’s
position remained open for several months and no qualified engineer accepted the position.
In August 1988, the council returned to their former practice of hiring a current employee as
superintendent. The department’s line foreman, Randall A. Rasmussen was hired to
John Rasmussen, who had been a Water & Light lineman since 1979 was named new Line
Foreman. Both men had completed a four-year lineman apprenticeship program that
required four weeks of training at Eau Claire and on-the-job training.
The following month, at the September 13, 1988 meeting of the Council, Alderman Richard
Krake’s report of Water and Light activities noted the hiring of Dean Hermanson as a
groundman and Todd Sperry as meter reader. Mark Sendelbach received approval to start
the four-year lineman apprenticeship program.
The office staff of the Water and Light Department was increased with the addition of
Michele Rowley. Sandra Lindemann, utility clerk, and Janet Sperry, financial director,
continued to serve as office staff for the utility.
Some of the work of replacing lines, installing water mains and fire hydrants was contracted
to private firms in the late 1980s, as regular maintenance and supervision of the work was
handled by regular department employees. Hooper Construction was given a contract for
electrical work to rebuild electrical lines in the summer of 1988.
The Hooper Construction quote of $51,047 was to rebuild a 2400 line and $10,600 for
replacing poles on Walker Street. This was accepted by the City Council in August 1988.
The city supplied transformers at a cost of $4,678.
Hooper replaced an electrical power line in the business district. The line followed a zigzag
path starting at Pete’s Inn, then west to the Laundromat, north to the telephone office on
Montgomery Court, south to the Evansville Pharmacy and across West Main Street to the
alley between the library and the Grange Store. At the end of the alley, the line went west,
running past the library and the post office, across First Street through an easement
behind houses in the 100 block of West Main, terminating at Second Street.
In the rural areas, there had been much publicity about the problems of stray voltage from
power lines. In October 1988, the Council approved the payment of $5 per stall and up to
$200 per milking parlor to encourage farmers to install “equipotential planes” as a way to
solve the stray voltage problem.
During the summer of 1988, the underground water storage tank was cleaned and
inspected by the DNR. The utility also contracted for waterworks construction and some
repair work. Schlitler Construction was hired to install new water mains and hydrants.
Plans called for 8-inch water mains to be installed in the Countryside Estates area north of
East Main Street, but the City Council voted to upgrade those to 10-inch mains and pay the
difference in cost of the larger mains. The company also repaired water leaks in other
areas of the city.
In the fall of 1988, the Middle School on South First Street was scheduled to be remodeled
and have an elevator installed in order to comply with the American’s with Disabilities act.
According to Public Service Commission rules, the Evansville Water and Light Department
was required to charge for upgrading the electrical lines needed to support the power for
the new elevator.
School Superintendent Thomas Benzinger requested that the city share in the cost of
upgrading the lines to the school. Benzinger noted that the new elevator would be of
mutual benefit to the citizens and the students and also noted that the utility had shared
costs in the TIF districts established in the city. After hearing Benzinger’s presentation, the
City Council agreed to share in the $7,000 cost of upgrading the line. The new 12,470-volt
line was installed from the end of South First Street to the school.
In 1989, a publication to promote business opportunities in Evansville described the
Evansville Water and Light facilities. According to the brochure, Evansville had two active
wells with a total supply capacity of 1,560,000 gallons per day and storage capacity of
468,000 gallons. The average daily demand was 317,000 gallons of water a day.
The facilities described in the 1989 brochure were a far cry from the original capacity of the
system. In 1902, the system could pump fifty thousand gallons of water in 1902 and more
recently, in 1955, had the capacity to pump 504,000 gallons of water per day. Growth and
demand had moved the Evansville Water and Light from a small system to a much larger
one. However, the purpose described by those promoting further growth remained the
same as in 1902, fire protection and economic development.
The brochure described the electrical facilities as “service at nominal secondary voltages
and primary voltage of 7,200/12,470 volts.” The rates per kilowatt hour were the lowest in
the Midwest, according to as quote from the Energy Users News, September 1988. In
contrast, the power lines of the early 1930s had a capacity of less than 2,300 volts of
Evansville was on the move. The City Council had approved the formation of an Economic
Development Committee and there was incentive to continue to improve the utility’s
infrastructure in order to attract new business and industry.
In January 1989, the City Council requested another water system study by the City’s
engineering firm, Donohue & Associates. The Council was advised by the engineers to
move ahead with the construction of an elevated water tower and make other improvements
to the waterworks system.
Nearly a year later, in December 1989, the Council approved a contract with Donohue and
Associates engineering firm to design the tower, a booster pumping station, water treatment
chemical feed equipment and new monitoring and control equipment.
The project, including construction, was estimated to be between $400,000 and $500,000
with the engineering fees to cost $38,000 to $44,000. The new construction was expected
to cost the average residential customer an additional $5 per month.
Environmental and Foundation Drilling, Inc. finished soil borings in the early months of 1990
on a piece of land southeast of Maple Hill Cemetery and north of East Main Street. A
contract for a 300,000 gallon elevated water storage tower was given to CBI of Naperville,
Ill. and approved at the March 13, 1990 meeting of the City Council.
The CBI company was the former Chicago Bridge and Iron Company. The CBI bid was
$441,500 and the company gave a construction completion time of 240 days.
Mayor Chris Eager used the water tower as a campaign issue in the April 1990 election. In
a statement to the Evansville Review on March 21, 1990, Eager said: “Economic
development involves an adequately maintained infrastructure to accommodate growth.
The new water tower is a good example. We need it to provide adequate water pressure
and fire protection. Our existing businesses are asking for it, and all of our new industrial
contracts are concerned about it also. If we don’t build one, we will have trouble keeping
the businesses we already have, let alone attracting new ones.”
With his bid for reelection a success, Eager and the City Council pushed forward with the
water tower and booster pumping station construction. The Water and Light Department
needed more land to install the new booster pumping station and the City Council offered to
purchase a lot from Wisconsin Power and Light for $1,500.
Construction of the new water tower started in early September 1990. Local contractors,
Helgesen Excavating put in the new road to the tower on an easement granted by Ron
Thornton, owner of Ron’s Standard station on East Main Street. R. T. Fox Contractors of
Edgerton put in the water main to the new tower. Water and Light employee John
Rasmussen, captured the entire building project on film.
The skeleton of the water town was pictured in the Evansville Review on October 17, 1990.
Located in the middle of a hay field, the unfinished tower resembled a space ship. Over
the next few weeks, as the work progressed, the sidewalk superintendents and passersby
watched as the sphere-shaped reservoir at the top of the water tower took shape.
The tower was completed in November and ready for painting. It was too cold in November
1990 to complete the work, so the painting was delayed until the summer of 1991. The
sphere of the tower was painted light blue, with “Evansville” painted on both sides of the
tower with darker blue lettering.
In a short time following the construction, the new tower soon became known among
Evansville citizens as the “too tall tower.” There were engineering problems with design of
the new water system. The tower was 15.6 feet taller than the old tower on the western
edge of the city.
The Water and Light Department had planned to continue to use the 1901 standpipe for at
least 15 more years. Because the new tower was “too tall”, it could not be completely filled
because the resulting pressure in the old tower would make it overflow.
The new tower was partially filled in June and tested for water purity. The city continued to
work with Donohue engineers to design alternatives to the “too tall” problem and new to
design electrical controls for the new water tower.
In the fall of 1991, Donohue and Associates agreed to give the City a cash settlement of
$40,881. According to a quote in the October 16, 1991 Evansville Review, Ken Anderson,
the engineer assigned to the project said, “The tower was built too tall and Donohue
agreed that the city shouldn’t pay for a product they did not order.” The firm also agreed
to provide additional engineering services to resolve the problem.
Some of the money was used to discontinue the use of the old standpipe. A new water loop
was completed to bypass the old tower. The new tower was completely filled and the
solution seemed satisfactory to all parties. Ken Kuelz, chairman of the Water and Light
Committee, commented on the settlement at the October 8, 1991 Council meeting, “We’re
happy with the agreement made between Evansville and Donohue and that our customers
have not had to pay more than necessary for the new tower.”
In the fall, the Water and Light Committee asked the City Council to increase the hydrant
rental that the city paid. The City’s budget for 1992 called for an annual increase in
hydrant fees from $40,000 in 1991 to $80,000. Superintendent Randy Rasmussen
explained the large increase, “The Public Service Commission raised hydrant rental fees by
52 percent for 1992. Part of the cost of the new tower is being picked up by the hydrant
rental fees.” Other costs were passed on to the utility’s water customers.
As the haggling over the engineering of the new water tower and the resulting costs
proceeded, Water and Light Committee members and employees began planning for a new
building to house machinery and vehicles. At their February 1991 meeting, the City Council
considered the purchase of the old B & M Trucking property on Old 92.
The land and building was for sale at a cost of $145,000 and was considered an excellent
choice for a garage and office space for the utility’s equipment and staff. “Right now a lot
of our machinery sits out,” Superintendent Randy Rasmussen told the City Council.
Alderman Richard Krake also supported the purchase of the property. “The 48,000 square
foot gravel base, the fact that the B & M building has water and heat and three acres of
land were all pluses when looking at the building. I consider it as a one time opportunity at
this price,” Krake told the Council.
However, only two aldermen voted to purchase the property, Krake and Ken Kuelz. The
motion was defeated at the February 1991 meeting. A few months later, at the May
meeting of the City Council, the aldermen reversed the previous decision and the purchase
of the B & M building was approved.
The former B & M Transit Company building was purchased from Craig Burnham late in
1991 and Hagen Construction submitted the low bid of $6,000 for building a water and
electric meter testing room and a new bathroom at the new building. As soon as the work
was completed, the water and light employees moved from the Exchange Street facilities to
their new quarters in the old B & M building.
Equipment was moved from the 1901 building on Exchange Street to the new facilities on
Old Hwy. 92. The Public Works department used a portion of the old building for storing
By the spring of 1992, the Water and Light Department was once again preparing for a
summer of repairs and expansion. The Council approved the $7,684 purchase of wire from
Crescent Electric to meet the needs of the department for 1992.
There were several new projects planned for the year. New residential building was
expected along Croft Road and a new subdivision on Territorial Road owned by Woodworth
Farms, Inc. Roger Berg’s subdivision west of 5th Street, named “The Grove,” was in the
planning stages. The linemen for the city extended underground service to the new
The school district voters had also passed a referendum for expansion of the middle
school, elementary and high school buildings in May 1992. The project was well underway
by the summer.
In addition to the new electrical services required, the school project also included
replacement and relocation of the electrical transformers at the high school. The project
was expected to cost $30,000-$40,000. The cost for replacement was considered too
great, so the transformers were tested for PCBs and when none were found, the
transformers at the high school were not changed.
The transformers at both the Middle School and the Elementary School were relocated to
accommodate the remodeling and new building designs. New electrical service was also
brought to the south edge of the property. Underground service was installed on the
school grounds as a safety precaution so that there were no overhead wires on the
playground area or over the school building.
A new mayor was elected in the Spring election of 1992. In July, Mayor Harlan Miller issued
his “State of the City” message. Mayor Miller urged the Water and Light Department to
work to keep utility rates affordable.
He also wanted the Department to continue to work to upgrade the water facilities. “We
need to bring our water pumps at the water station above ground level,” Mayor Miller told
the council in his State of the City Address.
Mayor Miller also mentioned another new project, the installation of historic lighting in the
business district on East and West Main Streets. Most of the new lights would be replicas
of the single globe lights installed in 1923 and the project would be sponsored in part by
donations from local businesses.
In September 1992, the Water and Light department painted and installed the first “new”
historic light at the northeast corner of Main and First near the home known as the “Tower
Former Mayor Chris Eager, chairman of the joint project of the Evansville Historic
Preservation Commission and the Grove Society, headed the fund drive for the historic
lighting. In December 1992, Eager announced that 44 citizens and organizations had
donated funds for the new lighting, in hopes that it would improve the appearance of
Varco-Pruden and Baker Manufacturing each donated $2,300 for the double-globe lights at
the corner of Main and Madison. Chris Eager noted that the Baker donation was quite
appropriate, as Baker Manufacturing had been the city’s first electrical provider in the
There were sufficient donations to cover the cost of expanding the lighting beyond Main
Street. Two lights were installed on North Madison Street, from Main to Mill and two on
South Madison Street from Main Street to First Street. The project was completed in the
late spring and early summer of 1993.
Water and Light employees painted the bases and poles of the new lights and assembled
the various parts. The existing electrical wiring was used to complete the installation of the
The light poles were designed with metal supports, just below the globe, to hang two
rectangular flags. Local artist, Richard Krake designed a flag of forest green canvas, with a
tree and “The Grove”, Evansville’s original name, in the oval logo. A second flag, also
designed by Krake, featured scenes from Evansville’s past screen printed on a brown
Russell Hall designed new Christmas wreaths with artificial greens and strings of small
lights. John Rasmussen, the line foreman of the Water and Light Department, made the
wreaths to fit the configuration of the new poles. The City, local business and residents
made donations for the purchase of the flags and the Christmas wreaths.
Another major construction project that required a fourth TIF district was announced in the
spring of 1993. This involved a further expansion of the industrial park to the East.
Stoughton Trailer, Inc. was planning to build a large facility at the corner of East Main and
County Hwy. M.
With the increased work load the department decided to add another employee. Mike
Doubleday was hired in July 1993 as a meter reader for the Water and Light Department.
Stoughton Trailer used Vierbicher & Associates, Inc. to provide environmental assessment
and engineering services for the TIF project. The City’s own engineer, Tony Fernandez, of
Rust Engineering, also reviewed the project.
The Water and Light Department needed several upgrades in order to accommodate the
new Stoughton Trailer facility that included 240,000 square feet of floor space. Increased
electrical use by the company required the installation of new transformers at the
substation on Exchange Street and new power lines.
In November 1993, the City Council approved the purchase of a 2000 KVA pad-mounted
transformer from the Resco Company at a cost of $16,079. It was the first of two new
transformers that were required for the Stoughton Trailer Project. Other equipment for the
new transformer was purchased from Resco at a cost of $19,566.79.
Hopper, E-CON, and Wisconsin Power and Light Company bid on the Stoughton Trailer
power line extension. WP & L submitted the low bid of $23,508.54 to install the new
distribution line for the project. The underground wiring extended from the end of the
existing electrical line at the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant on Water Street to County
Other equipment needed for the Stoughton Trailer upgrade was an oil circuit reclosure
manufactured by Cooper Power Systems. This was purchased at a cost of $15,219.
For the water service extensions, ten-inch mains were installed to the new manufacturing
site. Since it was in close proximity to the new water tower all water mains in the new
residential and industrial areas on the east side were 10 inch, to allow for greater fire
protection and so that loops in the system could be formed as needed.
It was common practice in the early 1990s for the developer to pay the price of installation
of 8-inch mains, as required by ordinance. The City Council approved payment by the city
for the additional costs of the 10-inch mains.
Construction continued through the winter months and the Stoughton Trailer facility opened
in the spring of 1994. By August of that same year, 400 people were employed at the
As the city continued to expand, professional engineers and city officials argued about
whether the growth would continue. Some predicted that the City would stop growing and
development would go no further than County M. Others believed there was more growth
in Evansville’s future.
Those favoring growth made the correct predictions. In the fall of 1993, a project known as
the “West View Hill Addition,” in the northwest section of the city was approved by the City
A new booster pumping station for the waterworks system was also in the planning stages
in 1993. When the engineering was completed for this project, the city explored the
possibility of a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Development and hired Karen
Stone from the Mid-America Planning Service (MAPS) to prepare the grant at a cost of
MAPS would receive an additional $3,000 if the grant application was successful. In case
the grant was not approved or the cost of the booster station exceeded the grant, Janet
Sperry, the Water and Light Financial Director was given permission by the City Council to
apply for a loan from the State Trust Fund.
New equipment for the electrical services unit of the utility was also needed. Power line wire
was purchased on reels and manufacturers had increased the size of the reels to make
them more convenient for the workers to use. In January 1994, the Water and Light
Department received permission from the City Council to purchase a new self-loading reel
trailer from the Sauber Manufacturing Company for $9,610. The new trailer could
accommodate the larger reels of wire.
Developers were planning for the expansion of the Countryside Estates in 1994. Water
Street would be extended from East Main Street, north through the Countryside Estates
and the developers expected to build apartment buildings and single family homes in the
newly opened areas along East Main Street and North Water Street.
A groundbreaking ceremony for 16 town homes at the corner of Countryside Drive and
East Main Street was held in May 1994. All of the developments required the Water and
Light Superintendent to approve the plans relating to the water and electrical extensions.
Randy Rasmussen resigned from his position as Water and Light Superintendent in early
1994 to pursue a degree at Edgewood College. At the February 8, 1994 meeting of the
City Council, Line Foreman John Rasmussen was appointed as the acting Superintendent,
during the search for a new department head.
At the April 19, 1994 meeting of the City Council, Merle Smith was appointed the new Water
and Light Superintendent, at a salary of $47,000. Smith faced the challenges of building a
new water plant booster station and new electrical services in a rapidly growing community.
Smith had worked for the Wisconsin Electrical Power/Wisconsin Natural Gas Company for
31 years before taking the job in Evansville. He had started as an electrical distribution
engineer and later served as the manager of safety, training and quality control for the
At the same meeting, the Mayor announced his appointments for the 1994 Water and Light
Committee. Mayor Harlan Miller appointed Don Holec as the chair and alderpersons
Lawton Short and Janice Turner as the other two members.
The new Water and Light Superintendent Merle Smith kept readers of the Evansville
Review informed about the activities of the department by providing monthly and annual
reports. Smith’s Water and Light report for 1995 recorded a very busy year for the
department employees. The short summary accounted for a year of planning for the future
and months of hard work for the staff.
The major projects for 1995 included building a new water system booster station and new
electrical and water facilities in coordination with the widening and surfacing of Fifth Street.
There were also 49 primary work orders and 76 secondary work orders for electrical
service. The primary orders included extension of 7,200-volt power lines and the
secondary orders were service from the main power lines to a residence or business.
The Fifth Street project gave Water and Light employees an opportunity to upgrade the
water and electrical distribution facilities in this area. A new 12.7 KV distribution line, 1.2
miles in length, was built along Fifth Street.
The line provided increased capacity in one of the fastest growing residential areas in the
city. Bids for the work were advertised beginning in March 1995. When the bids were
opened, Border States Electrical Supply submitted the low bid of $40,052.39 for materials
and E-Con, Inc. submitted the low bid of $52,728 for construction of the new power line.
One of the largest projects was the building of the new booster station. Smith reported in
his 1995 year-end summary the following accomplishments: “the Booster Station was
completed with a new inlet/outlet cut in reservoir, old inlet/outlet abandoned, new feeder
from well #1 installed, new control wires dug in and hooked up, reservoir cleaned, old pump
The short summary represented weeks of work by Water Plant Operator, Scott George and
the contractors hired for this special project. Planning for restoring pumping capacity at
Well #2 and building a new water booster station began in 1993. The city’s engineers and
water and light employees decided to delay the project until the large overhead storage
tank on the east side was completed.
Prior to the building of the new 300,000-gallon standpipe, the city’s two wells, Well # 1 and
Well #2 supplied water for the 400,000 gallon underground reservoir and the 1901 water
tower with a capacity of 68,000 gallons. Prior to the building of the new water town on
Evansville’s east side the utility had a storage capacity of 468,000 gallons of water. When
the old water tower was abandoned, the combined capacity of the new water tower and the
reservoir was 700,000 gallons of water.
The ideal pumping capacity of the wells was 1,000 gallons per minute and well # 2 had
dropped to 500 gallons per minute. The underground reservoir on the Water and Light
property east of Exchange Street, also needed to be cleaned and checked for any defects.
The water booster station project completed in 1995 restored well #2 and replaced the
booster station built in 1929, under the administration of E. S. Cary. During the
rehabilitation project, the 400,000 gallon underground reservoir constructed in 1929 was
emptied and determined to be in good condition and only needed to be cleaned.
The project was expected to cost $500,000. In April, Superintendent Smith issued a news
release that the utility had received the Department of Development grant applied for by
the MAPS organization, in the amount of $230,000. The remaining funds were taken from
the department’s revenues and the State trust fund loan.
The Water and Light Department’s news release also gave these details about the project.
“Completion of the project is planned for mid-July. Shortly after the station is in service
current problems with yellow, brown, or black water will be resolved.” Merle Smith, Janet
Sperry, and Scott George were listed as contacts for those who had questions about the
Layne Northwest’s proposal of $32,000 for restoration of well #2 was approved at the May
9, 1995 meeting of the City Council. Mendota Contractors received approval to act as
general contractor for building the new pumping station and G. Fox & Son of Edgerton
submitted the winning bid for doing the in-ground piping.
The well restoration was a major construction project that required safety precautions for
both the workers and the water supply. It was also an opportunity to inspect and
photograph the inner workings of the waterworks facilities.
The work did not begin until the winter of 1995. Although the men started the work in
shirtsleeves, the temperature dropped rapidly and was often below zero creating difficult
and uncomfortable working conditions for the construction crews.
Using a large backhoe and drilling equipment, the Fox workers tunneled under the 60 x 110
foot underground reservoir to install pipe for the new pumping station. Then a large
opening was excavated for the installation of the water pumps.
Three large capacity pumps were built into the new pumping station. Large diameter pipes
containing the pumps were installed in a gravel and concrete base. The pipes extended
above ground level.
Mendota Contractors were the general contractors for the pumping station. The pumping
station included one large room for the pumps, computer controls, and electrical power
switches, a smaller room for the generator and a third room, the chemical feed room, for
storage and dispensing of the chemicals added to the water supply.
The computer-operated pumps were set to alternate use between the two pumps. Normally
only one pump operates and shuts down when the storage units are filled. The computer
determines which pump was in use last, and switches to the second pump. A third pump
provides extra capacity if needed during fires.
A large generator was also installed in the pumping station to keep the system operating
during a power outage. During storms and other emergencies, the old pumping station had
relied on gas-powered engines to keep the pumps running until power could be restored.
Many safety capabilities were built into the new pumping system to insure the waterworks
would operate continuously. The computer operating the pumps is off-site, but in constant
contact with the pumps. An emergency warning system alerts Water and Light employees
to any problems with the computer-operated pumps.
While the excavations were proceeding, the underground reservoir, constructed in 1929,
was drained and cleaned. With very little water in the reservoir, workers could check the
large underground concrete structure for any defects.
Photographs taken of the interior of the reservoir in 1995 show a substantial concrete
structure. Large concrete columns support the concrete roof of the reservoir.
Interior of Underground Reservoir
Over the years the shaft of the well had narrowed due to the buildup of silt and sand. To
restore the well capacity, Layne Northwest employees dropped dry ice into the well. The
dry ice froze and shattered the silt and sand that had blocked the well shaft. With the
clearing of the debris, the amount of water that was pumped from the well, increased.
When the pumping station project was completed, the capacity of the pumps on well #2 was
restored to 750 gallons per minute. However, it is seldom that this capacity is reached.
The computers record a normal rate of 600 gallons per minute and ½ million gallons
pumped on a peak 24-hour period. In case of a a major fire, the pump used in this
emergency has an additional capacity of 1,500 gallons per minute.
The protection of the water supply from discoloration and bacteria is insured by the addition
of three chemicals, Aqua Mag (polyphosphate), floride and chlorine. The Aqua Mag
prevents discoloration of the water that occurs because of the mineral deposits in the city’s
water supply. The floride is added to protect teeth and chlorine prevents bacteria.
With the building of the new pumping station, the 1929 building was abandoned and torn
down. E. S. Cary’s planning and building for Evansville’s water supply had served the
citizens for nearly 70 years. However, like the abandoned water tower on the city’s west
side, the old pumping station no longer met the needs of the residents and industry of a
While the pumping station project and the new electrical lines on Fifth Street were major
projects of 1995, Merle Smith’s 1995 annual report of the Water and Light Department’s
activities also included smaller projects. Merle wrote, “The department also installed 4 new
water services; replaced hydrants along West Main, First Street, Longfield and Lincoln.”
The following year, in 1996, Water and Light Department Superintendent Merle Smith
continued to work with developers to ensure smooth installations of electrical and water
hookups. Evansville continued to be one of the fastest growing areas in Rock County and
four developers had submitted plans for building projects.
Phil Woodworth submitted plans for residential development in Union township, east of
Evansville. Robert Schaefges submitted a plan for development of 28 lots on 10.98 acres
in the Countryside Estates subdivision on Evansville’s east side. Harold Abey, Jr. and
Robin Kauth submitted plans for an eighty-lot subdivision west of Fifth Street and Robert J.
Petterson submitted plans for development of 31 residential lots on the northwestern edge
of the city.
Throughout 1996, water and light employees installed new water and electrical service and
new street lights in new areas of the City. Outside the city limits the linemen installed new
electrical service the residential construction sites. The growth of the city was reflected in
the new streets mentioned in the reports Superintendent Smith released on a monthly basis
to the Evansville Review. The new streets included Abey Ct., Sixth Street, Joshua Drive,
Hancock Lane, Harvest Moon Circle, Morning Meadow Drive, Ridgeview, Orchard View,
Brown School Road and Northfield Crossing Road.
John Morning, a developer in Union Township and on Evansville’s east side was also
planning new commercial development at the corner of County M and Highway 14. The 7.5
acre development was approved for annexation to the city in the spring of 1996.
In July, the Council worked with Rock County Planners to update the City’s master plan and
change 12 acres of land on the southeast corner of the same highways from agricultural to
commercial zoning. Commercial frontage was also added on the northern edge of the city,
including the Gildner property on the west side of Highway 14 and a 4-acre area on the
east side of the Highway for a new auto parts store.
It was clear that the city was poised for more growth, despite the protests of some who
feared that the new commercial development could foster the demise of Evansville’s
downtown area. City leaders recognized that upgrading the water and electrical facilities
was an essential part of the expansion of the city’s buildings and boundaries.
The Water and Light Department’s five year plan for improvements to the infrastructure of
the electrical system required a large capitol investment. In March 1996, the City Council
voted to borrow $355,000 for several major projects in 1996.
The Water and Light Department plans included an extensive water main project on Union
Street to extend service to the Harvard Corporation on Highway 14 on the north edge of the
City. The installation of the 8-inch water main was expected to cost $133,000 and bids
were requested from contractors. R. T. Fox Construction of Edgerton won the bid for the
construction of the water main at $169,990.
Council members also approved the upgrading lines and expansion of the substation on
Exchange Street. The budget plan included construction materials for the new substation
and new voltage regulators.
The borrowed funds would also be used to complete the conversion of the old 2400 volt-
electrical system. The switch gears for this system had been installed in 1944 to upgrade
the lines from 1200 volts to 2400 volt lines. This was accomplished during Cary’s
administration and the equipment was located in the old pumping house. The new voltage
regulators would allow conversion of the old 2400-volt system to 7200/12000 volt system.
The upgrade was expected to cost $114,000.
Total Electric Sales, Inc. won the bid for the voltage regulators at $30,750 to complete the
upgrading of the electrical lines. E-Con, Inc. was hired as the contractors for construction
of the line.
By March 1997, E-Con, Inc. had completed the rebuilding of the old 2400-volt lines.
Superintendent Merle Smith placed a notice in the Review to warn customers that the
completion of the work would require a short power outage.
A 10/14 MVA substation transformer was purchased from Waukesha Electric Systems for
$142,742. Other contractors and suppliers submitting winning bids included Tatman
Association’s bid of $49,174 for construction materials and Pieper Electric’s low bid of
$79,993 construction for the new substation. Although the bids were received and
approved in 1996, the installation of the addition to the substation did not begin until 1997.
Line foreman, John Rasmussen, served as the liaison between the utility and the
contractors for the substation construction.
The new substation, rebuilding of the 2400 lines and water main construction projects put
pressure on the Water and Light Departments efforts to maintain a fund for future
improvements. In March 1997, the Public Service Commission granted a request for water
rate increases and plans were made for a rate increase for electrical use.
Smith also commented that this work was part of “a five-year capital improvement to the City’
s electric system.” The utility’s improvements were of benefit to the local customers,
according to Superintendent Smith. “Funding this work comes from electric rates, not city
taxes. A recent comparison of power rates shows that our electric rates are among the
lowest for the surrounding area. The capital improvements will help us to maintain reliable
service to go with low energy rates,” Smith said.
Several changes in office and professional personnel occurred in 1997. At the January 9,
1997 meeting of the City Council, Smith was given approval to hire Helene Williams as a
part-time office staff.
The City Council also hired a new engineering firm in April 1997. Foth & Van Dyke
replaced Rust Engineering. Foth & Van Dyke named Dave Sauer as the City’s principal
As in the past, the water and light crews maintained a seasonal work pattern. In the colder
months of the year, trees were trimmed to keep branches away from power lines.
In the spring and fall, the water mains and hydrants were flushed and the schedules for the
work were published in the City’s official newspaper, the Evansville Review. Meter testing,
pole replacement, and street light repair were ongoing and year-round activities.
Spring was also the time for disconnecting utility service to those who had not paid their
bills. Wisconsin law prevented utilities from disconnecting customers during the winter
months. However, with the arrival of the warmer weather, utilities could issue disconnect
notices. In his April 1997 report of activities, Superintendent Smith noted that 51 customers
of the Water and Light Department were given disconnect notices.
In the spring and summer residential and commercial construction to increased. In April
1997, the Water and Light Department installed 18 new services to homes and
businesses. Only one of these installations was to an existing building.
Water and Light employees were trained for the unexpected. They were on call 24 hours a
day to responded to broken water mains, frozen water pipes, and power outages due to
transformer failures, storms and accidents.
In the summer of 1997, several major power plants were down for maintenance. Evansville’
s supplier, Wisconsin Power and Light received electrical service from all of the nuclear
plants that were down for maintenance and repair.
Wisconsin nuclear power plants at Point Beach, owned by Wisconsin Electric and the
Kewaunee Nuclear Plant, owned by Madison Gas & Electric, Wisconsin Power & Light and
Wisconsin Public Service and five power plants in Illinois, owned by Commonwealth Edison
were under repair. These plants supplied power to Evansville’s provider, Wisconsin Power
As summer use of electricity was especially high, due to air conditioning and other power
use, Evansville area residents were warned that there was a possibility of power shortages.
The local utility made contingency plans for notifying customers of power outages. Of
special concern were those people with critical medical conditions.
Residents with life-threatening illnesses, those with oxygen supplies, and other medical
appliances that required electricity were asked to contact the utility. “Evansville Water &
Light is identifying all customers with critical medical needs and will do everything possible
to prevent loss of electricity to these customers,” Smith warned in a front page article in the
May 7, 1997 Evansville Review.
Plans were made for the possibilities of rolling blackouts and major businesses were
warned that there could be service interruptions. The utility planned to reduce the power
use and determined which circuits would be shut down. The major industrial users were
warned that during an emergency, they would be asked to reduce their use of power. The
utility also identified the location of emergency generators that could be put into service to
temporarily restore interrupted power.
Stoughton Trailers, Varco Pruden and Baker Manufacturing Company would all be affected
by the outages and representatives were asked to participate in discussions about the
power outages. “We’re all victims,” Brad Alfery of Stoughton Trailer told a Review
Reporter. “When power is off we have 200 employees we have to send home, we can’t
have them sitting around.” Varco Pruden indicated the power outages would hinder their
overtime work and reduction of electrical service would also hurt their business.
The preparations for the power interruption were a reminder of the complexity of the
electrical power network. What had once been small power plants powered by water or
coal-fired systems had become a network of nuclear power plants in two states, and large
transmission lines that included systems in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota.
“The owners of these plants are working around the clock to try to get them back in service
by the end of June. We don’t know if they will succeed. The bulk electric system is highly
complex and dynamic,” Merle Smith told customers in the Evansville Review article. “If there
is not enough power guaranteed to meet customer demands, loads must be cut quickly to
prevent major outages. There is no way to know today if conditions will force utilities to cut
off power in some areas in order to prevent catastrophic outages that would take days to