Roots of a Municipal Water System: 1860-70s

The first municipal water pump opened in 1867 primarily for the fire department’s use. This pump was located along a canal that fed mills on the west bank of the Mississippi River just north of the city limits. As Minneapolis’ population quadrupled throughout the 1870s, city officials expanded the water system beyond the original pump. In 1871, the city bought an old stone building above St. Anthony Falls and transformed it to a pump house which catered to businesses and residents rather than fire departments. Both pumps took water directly from the Mississippi River.

With access to piped-in water, as opposed to well water, the average personal consumption grew to 50 to 100 gallons per day. This exponential increase in water-use overwhelmed the previous system of cesspools and outhouses for handling wastewater. Even before this marked rise, the cesspools and privies were already in a poor state. Unless lined perfectly with cement, bricks or other sealants, waste from the cesspools would seep into the groundwater supply. The issues with the original waste management system were exacerbated by the increase in wastewater. To ease the pressure on this system, Minneapolis developed sewer systems. The original sewage pipes were located in a old stream bed which sits under present day Washington Avenue. These pipes delivered waste directly to the Mississippi River.

This system of using the same source for both water supply and waste repository, known as the two-pipe system, was common throughout budding American metropolises. While low population density allowed this system to flourish in its early stages, as populations rose its imperfections became exposed.


The East Side Pumping Station was built on Hennepin Island in c.1885

The East Side Pumping Station was built on Hennepin Island in c.1885

This is the second pumping station built by the city of Minneapolis. It increased the municipal systems capacity to 43 million gallons per day. | Source: Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Crew laying water or sewer pipes, Worthington

Crew laying water or sewer pipes, Worthington

This picture shows a crew laying pipes along an urban street. It is unclear whether they are laying water or sewer pipes. The picture shows the labor intensive processes that was involved in creating water infrastructure. While this picture is taken in Worthington, MN, far southeast of Minneapolis, it shows the same process of constructing pipe infrastructure that was used in Minneapolis proper. | Source: Minnesota Historical Society | Creator: Edward Buchan View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Justin Berchiolli, Isaac Shapiro, and the Minnesota Environments Team, “Roots of a Municipal Water System: 1860-70s
,” Minnesota Environments, accessed July 18, 2019,
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