History of the Batesville Water Works

Portions of this article are reprinted from an article printed in the Batesville Herald Tribune on February 13, 1980. The story of the Batesville Water Works was delivered as a speech by Daniel A. Hillenbrand at a banquet given in honor of Marce Thalheimer on the occasion of his retirement as superintendent. Editing and current information was provided by Steve Wintz.

The Water Works story is somewhat like a well-organized saga of difficulties overcome, tragic incidents, humorous happenings, and heroic efforts to constantly improve the facility. It hasn’t been easy maintaining and developing the Batesville Water Works during all these years to a place where it is considered one of the best utilities in the state. That high status and efficiency of operation would never have been achieved without the complete dedication of the present employees, and all those other men who preceded them.

We pretty much take it for granted now, that when we turn on a tap in our home, good water will immediately come gushing out. We in industry here don’t have the worry of years ago that we might have to shut down our  plants because of a water shortage and we don’t have to be in fear of our homes burning down because the fire department lacks water in sufficient quantities to fight the blaze.

It wasn’t always so. Even as late as 1944, our raw water supply was so low here that in a few days the Board was going to ask the industry to shut down. We really don’t realize how much we owe the men in the past who were so farsighted as to take every opportunity of increasing our water supply. But perhaps you will realize that importance with this story of the Batesville Water Works. This is a fairly lengthy account, but I think it will point up just how important a good water supply is to any town or city and how important it is to have leaders as we have who understand the importance.

This is the story of the Batesville Water Works. The original plant was built in 1897 and consisted of two small quarry ponds and a pumping station near what was then the Western Furniture Co. now the property of the Romweber Company, and was built by the Hillenbrand Co. Water pumped from the north quarry pond was siphoned from the South quarry pond, as needed, by steam operated pumps. In 1900, the Liberty Park racetrack pond, or Canal as it was called, was built and the water from springs at the Osier and Nick Volz farms south of the city was used to fill the reservoir. This water then flowed to the Western ponds from Liberty Park by gravity. By the year 1903, the Batesville Water Works Co., a corporation, was organized with John A. Hillenbrand as Vice President and A.W. Romweber, superintendent. A 50,000 gallon elevated tank was built near the Western pond pumping station which gave the system a 40 pound pressure in the mains to the fire hydrants, the factories and to part of the residential city. Water at that time was not treated, being used strictly for the fire protection, factory boilers and in a few homes for sanitary purposes. The main use of the water utility in the residential areas was for settling the dust on streets during the summer months. At this period in Batesville there were 725 private wells with the water being used for drinking and cooking.

In the month of December, 1908 fire broke out in the Kramer Department store, on West Pearl Street. Phil Heitzman, who sharpened and repaired saws for the Hillenbrand sawmill located between the present Hoegeman plant and the Western Furniture Co., started the pumps every morning to fill the elevated tank. When a fire broke out the elevated tank was shut off and water was pumped directly into the mains to increase the pressure from 40 pounds to 60 pounds or higher if necessary but it was never to exceed 80 pounds. Phil had the pressure up to 60 pounds when a call from the firemen asked for more pressure. Phil turned more steam into the pumps and raised the pressure to 80 pounds; thirty minutes later another call from the firemen asked for more water pressure and Phil raised it to 100 pounds. It wasn’t too long until another call came in telling how bad the fire was and asking for more water and more pressure. Phil turned on all the steam he had and raised the water pressure to 120 pounds. The old piston pump jumped, quivered and groaned never having been subjected to this type of treatment before. The high flow of water caused the pump to suck sand from the intake well into the mains and when one of the firemen lost control of the fire hose and the flow hit Fire Chief John Wonning in the face, a doctor had to remove sand from his eyes. About this time, superintendent A.W. Romweber was driving hell bent for election down South Street in his electric car headed for the pumping station and jumped out even before the car came to a halt. “Why have you got that water pressure up to 120 pounds,” he yelled at Phil. “Hell, water is running out of Doc Bingham’s home and some more in the neighborhood from busted pipes.” Phil explained about the calls from the fire department to
Romweber, but Phil was never able to get anyone from among the firemen to admit ever making even one call, let alone three.

The summer of 1912 was an extremely dry season and a drought hit Batesville. Water was hauled by railroad tank cars from Lawrenceburg and dumped in the Western pond. The springs at the Osier and Volz farms dried up and the only other source of water was a large well located at the Enterprise building located on the southwest corner of West Pearl and Walnut Streets. The building was owned by Fred Morgan who lived in the present Canfield residence on Mulberry Street. Morgan and John A. Hillenbrand were not on friendly terms at the time and Morgan refused to let the Water Co. use the well even though it wasn’t needed at the time for other uses. After a meeting of John A. Hillenbrand, Tony Romweber and Phil Heitzman, it was decided that rather than shut down the electric plant and the factories they would use the water without Morgan’s permission but if he found out they would pay him for the water. Morgan was unaware there was a suction line from the well into the basement of one of the Hillenbrand factories and that the water could be pumped out without him ever knowing it. Phil was ordered to start pumping and things went well for three weeks, keeping the factory boilers supplied and the electric light company supplied as well as an emergency supply in the Western ponds for fire fighting. Then all hell broke loose in the fourth week of pumping out of Morgan’s well.  Phil Heitzman came rushing into John A’s office highly agitated. “What’s the matter with you Phil,” John A. said, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” “My God,” Phil panted, “We’ve pumped the Morgan well dry along with about 20 neighbor’s wells and I guess they were fed by the same spring. They’re all raising hell and threatening to sue us along with Morgan.” John A. agreed it wasn’t the best of situations, “but the water kept us going for three weeks so the best thing we can do is settle with the people if possible.”

A meeting was held on Saturday at A.B. Wycoff’s law office and although the results of that meeting were never public, nevertheless the property owners, who were affected, came out smiling and were evidently well satisfied with the cash settlement. The springs started supplying their wells and everybody was happy with the exception of Fred Morgan who left Wycoff’s office with a very unhappy look on his face. The following week Batesville was blessed with a heavy rain and the drought was ended.

During the following years, in October of 1913, drought again threatened the Batesville Water Works. The flow from the springs at the Volz and Osier farms was low and Fred Morgan was again approached for the use of his well. He was promised payment for the water and given the promise the well would not be pumped dry again and it was pointed out to him that if the factories had to shut down it would hurt the workers more than it would the owners. The payroll totaled about $3,600 a week at that time. Morgan absolutely refused to cooperate and sealed off the well. He also threatened to prosecute if just one gallon of water was pumped from his well. The Batesville Water Co. then solved the problem by laying a new line to Bob’s Creek on the Gottleib Horstman farm. Gottleib even went so far as letting the Water Co. use all the water they wanted free. Then trouble reared its ugly head again in December of 1914. The severe cold froze the pump line solid from Bob’s Creek and the water supply was exhausted except for a small amount in the Western pond saved for fire emergencies. By Dec. 30, 1914 the Water Co. had to serve notice that all customers would be shut off and users would have to find another source of water. The Western Furniture Co. and the Batesville Casket Co. were shut down and two railroad tank cars of water from Indianapolis were hauled each day to keep the electric plant in operation. The tank cars were spotted on the siding at the American Furniture Co. where the steam generator was located and steam jets were used to thaw the tanks while in use. By Jan. 7, 1915 moderating weather and some rainfall allowed pumping to be resumed from Bob’s Creek and customers were again served by the Water Co.

After these three years of dire water shortage, the Water Co. took a step that really initiated the great progress the utility has seen through these many years. The Board hired Charles Brossman as an engineer to make a study and suggest improvements for the water supply. Brossman reported that the city was now pumping 60,000 gallons of water a day and that the total receipts for the year of 1914, including fire hydrant charges, amounted to $2,514.90. Brossman recommended the city immediately file for an increased rate to pay for an increased raw water supply. Taking Brossman’s recommendation, the Board filed for an increased rate with the Indiana Public Service Commission. The Water Co. asked for an increase, which would raise the fire hydrant charge from $1,747 a year to $2,347. The Commission took it under advisement and on May 6, 1915 the new rate was granted. But that didn’t settle the matter locally.

On May 15, 1915 a citizens committee, with H.F.E. Schrader as chairman, presented a resolution to the city council demanding the city disregard the rate increase granted by the Public Service Commission and abide by the contract then in force which would keep the fire hydrant charge at $1,747 instead of the new price of $2,347 until July 1, 1917 when the contract expired. On May 27, the City Council settled the matter. The city would pay the new fire hydrant charge and in turn the Water Co. would make a list of improvements. It proposed using the additional money for new raw water supply, new mains and new hydrants and the Water Co. had until May 25, 1918 to make such improvements. If completed by that date the City would pay an additional 7 percent on the annual fire hydrant charge. The Water Co. didn’t hesitate. On July 8, 1915 a contract was awarded to build a new reservoir at the Osier farm and a pumping station near the reservoir dam, which would force water through a ten inch main to the Park Reservoir. Then on Sept. 27 of that same year, the stockholders of the Water Co. authorized an indebtness of $35,000 for the enlargement and repairing of the water plant. Seventy $500 gold bonds were issued at an interest rate of 6 percent and both interest and principal of the bonds were to be paid in gold coin of the United State of America of the standard of weight and fineness. A mortgage was executed by the Water Works Co. with the Union Trust Co. of Indianapolis in the amount of $35,000. The mortgage was paid off on Aug. 22, 1928.

On October 14, 1915 the Osier dam was completed with an estimated 15,000,000 gallon capacity. The story in the Batesville paper at the time stated that with this new water supply Batesville should never ever be short of water again. This wasn’t a very good prophecy as our use of water has increased considerably since that time and our raw water storage now stands at 814 million gallons. Quite a difference between the 15 million gallons we had in 1915.

In January of 1925, the insurance company requested the Water Co. to install larger water mains and also a larger pump. The mains at that time were six inches and had a maximum capacity of 500 gallons per minute. With this new problem facing the company, the Batesville City Council discussed the possibility of buying the Water Works from the Hillenbrand Co. at the present value, less 25 percent for depreciation. In July of that year the Council rejected a proposal that the city erect a new water tower and lay a 12 inch main west from Eastern Avenue to Vine Street, and also to install a new 1500 gallon per minute pump to improve the city’s fire protection system. On August 26, 1926 the City Council approved the engineer’s plan to lay a 12-inch main from Eastern Avenue to Vine
Street with new valves, fittings and hydrants at an estimated cost of $8,500. The following month Herman Steinkamp was awarded the contract of installing the new 12-inch main, which was to be completed by Feb. 1, 1927. The Hillenbrand Co. also awarded a contract for the erection of a 150,000 gallon water tower to the Pittsburgh Demoins Steel Co.

In March of 1927, the old water tower at the Western pond was dismantled and the beams used to build a bridge from the racetrack road at Liberty Park to the island in the center of the reservoir. In April of that year, a new survey by the Charles Brossman engineers reported that the present pumping rate of the Water Works had increased to between 100,000 gallons to 150,000 gallons a day. To indicate how far sighted the Water Works Utility Board has been over these past many years in steadily increasing our raw water supply, we now pump daily 1,200,000 gallons, which would have drained the Osier reservoir in less than 15 days.

On April 28, 1927 John A. Hillenbrand appeared before the city council and said plans of the Water Co. were underway for the enlargement of the raw water supply by damming Bob’s Creek and the building of a large well next to the Osier pumping station. A 10 inch main would run from the dam to the new well operated by gravity and then pumped to the Park reservoir. A filtration and treatment plant were in the plans, which would make the water safe for drinking and domestic use but that the rates would have to be increased to make up for the proposed expenditures. Also included in the new plans was a pumping station with a 1,500 gallon per minute capacity. All the proposed improvements were approved by the city council.

Then on May 10, 1928 the State Public Service Commission appraised the Water Works at $106,661 and the new filtration plant was approved by the State Board of Health and water samples analyzed were considered safe for domestic use. Following this on May 31, 1928 the City of Batesville purchased the Water Works for $106,899.34 and in the final agreements the Water Co. was to install a new six inch main from Park Ave. to the Park reservoir and also a ten inch main from the Western pond to the power plant which was connected to the city pumps there.

On July 1, 1928 the new city utility, the Batesville Water Works, was organized with Arthur Rudolf as superintendent, Willard Huneke as secretary of the board and the trustees consisted of Mayor Al Roell, chairman, John Wintz representing the city council and John A. Hillenbrand, Quirin Walsman and William Schott.

The rates at this time established by the Indiana Public Service were as follows; a minimum rate of $1.50; 50 cents a thousand for the first 3,000 gallon; 35 cents for the next 7,000 gallons; 25 cents for the next 10,000 gallons and 20 cents for all over 10,000 gallons. The fire hydrant charge was set at $5.83 per month. At the time the City Water Works was organized, there were 215 metered customers and today there are 2,500 metered customers. Water pumped daily then totaled 100,000 gallons and now it is 1,000,000.

Staying with these early days when the City Water Works was first organized, the utility consisted of a filtration plant, a raw water pumping station at the Oser reservoir, a pumping station at the filtration plant with a gasoline powered 1,500 gallon per minute pump, 85 fire hydrants and five miles of water mains. The present plant consists of a filtration plant with five filtration beds, two raw water pumping stations, and two pump houses at the filtration plant with five high service pumps ranging from 250gpm to 1200gpm. The water company currently has 547 fire hydrants and 73 miles of water pipe.

When the city established the Water Co. in 1928, the raw water supply totaled 26 million gallons; 10 million in the Park reservoir, 15 million in the Osier reservoir and one million at the Bob’s Creek dam. Additions to the raw water supply got underway in 1930 with the building of the Mollenkramer reservoir adding 40 million gallons. Then in 1944 the Park Reservoir Island was removed and the water level was raised, which increased its capacity from 10 million to 55 million gallons. In 1950, the levee of the Osier dam was raised six feet, which doubled the capacity from 15 million to 30 million gallons of water. In 1953 the Feller reservoir was constructed adding its capacity of 15 million gallons followed by the Hahn reservoir in 1957 with 30 million gallons and in 1960 the biggest of them all, the Bischoff Reservoir with a capacity of 710 million gallons. Due to the buildup of sediment in the various reservoirs the current capacity is lower than those amounts in the oldest of the reservoirs. Our total raw storage now totals 852 million gallons with 475 million gallons of usable water which is certainly a far cry from the days when we had to haul in water by tank car from Indianapolis, or steal it from Fred Morgan.

The raw water, prior to 1980, was treated with copper sulphate to control water vegetation in the reservoirs before it reached the filter plant. Water can be pumped from any one of the five reservoirs to the park reservoir, which then
flows to the clarifier and then to the filter plant, by gravity at the rate of 1,600 gallons per minute. This rate of flow can be increased by a booster pump for high consumption periods or during a fire if necessary. The water plant today is basically the same as it was back in 1928. The only addition to the treatment plant were 2 filter beds in 1957. No other changes to the basin sizes have been made in all those years until 2003 when a new Clarifier was built. The plant was originally sized to treat 800,000 gallon per day. The water plant has been able to consistently flow 1,800,000 gallon per day as its peak and meet much stricter regulations than could have possibly been envisioned in 1928. The first pump house at the water plant was built in 1930 since the original pumping for the plant was done by the steam engines at the Romweber Company. A second pump house was added in 1969 when the present offices were built. A new operations office area, conference room and storage area was built by the utility employees in 2013.

The Batesville Water Works entered another field early in water treatment. In March of 1954, fluoridation of water was initiated and was the fourth city in the state and the first small city in Indiana to start such treatment. Batesville was chosen by the State Board of Health because it was considered a modern treatment plant and was in need of no necessary improvements before fluoride could be added. Batesville water has a natural fluoride content of 0.2 parts per million, an addition of 0.8 part per million gives an amount that reduces tooth decay by 75 percent when combined with all sources of Fluoride.

We had another close disaster concerning raw water supply in what might be considered modern times just as we had in the early days of the Water Co. Most people of Batesville were probably unaware of the water situation in 1944. A dry fall with a record low of 0.45 inches of rainfall in September and a total annual rainfall of 32.94 inches for the year, which is 10 inches under normal, left the Water Works with an estimated two weeks supply on hand at the end of December. Following a special meeting, it was decided if no relief came by Jan. 3, 1945 industry would be asked to shut down. Then came Black Sunday. On Jan. 1, with the ground frozen and covered with several inches of snow, the skies opened and poured fourth four inches of rain. The completely empty Mollenkramer reservoir not only filled but flood water went over the top of the levee washing out part of the dam but the good news was the ending of the drought. In 1999 the City once again experienced a drought which took the reservoirs down to an estimated 5 months supply left in the Bischoff Reservoir. Once again a rain in January 2000 relieved the then, 10-month old drought.

The original board of directors consisted of Mayor A.M. Roell as chairman, John Wintz, councilman, and John A. Hillenbrand, Quirin Walsman, and William Schott, as trustees. Two of the trustees were appointed by the mayor and one by the City Council. A five-man board governed the water utility until July of 1956 when all the water bonds were retired and the utility was completely out of debt. At that time, a three-man board of trustees was appointed which was in accord with the state utility law. This three-man board was then replaced by a three-man utility board in January of 1961 when the voters authorized such a board. The new board at the time consisted of Russell Green, as chairman, Robert Bere and Jim Lightner.

The Board Chairmen, who were mayors during the period between 1928 and 1961, were A.M. Roell, Wilbur Kile, Andy Benz, Frank Kellerman, George Schumacher, Harry Johnson, and Dr. Paul Siefert. John A. Hillenbrand served on the board for 25 years, longest of any member, and resigned in 1956. In 1980 the board was increased to five members. The utility board, governs both the gas and water utility and are appointed, three by the mayor and two by the city council. Those serving on the present board are Sue Siefert as chairman, Clifford Nordmeyer, Hank Pictor, Arnie Kirschner and Tim Dietz.

The past employees of the Water Works reads like an honor roll. In 1928, Arthur Rudolf was superintendent and Willard Huneke secretary; in 1929, George Ollier was superintendent and Willard Huneke still secretary at, I suppose, his salary of 80 cents a week; in 1931, Harry Schwier was office manager and secretary, then in 1932, Dick Lightner was named superintendent and Schwier secretary; in 1935 Marce Thalheimer was named superintendent and Schwier manager; in 1945, Alvin Bauer was named assistant superintendent and in the same year Thalheimer was named general manager and secretary. In November of 1979 Alvin “Max” Bauer was appointed manager with Jerry Brinkman, assistant manager. In 1989 Elmer Vonderheide was appointed Utilities Manager upon Max’s retirement. Jerry Brinkman was not replaced as assistant manager upon his retirement in 1990. Steve Wintz was appointed to the Assistant Manager position in 2004. In 2009 Steve Wintz was appointed Water Utility Manager and Scott Bauer was appointed Gas Utility Manager.

The Gas Utility was organized in 1959 and merged with the Water Works for operation, but these utilities are operated separately financially. The first gas service was turned on Nov. 1, 1959. The gas was supplied by the Texas Eastern Transmission. The supply of gas had been curtailed in 1972 with a penalty imposed for over-run by the pipeline. Consequentially all space-heating applications were denied after April 1, 1972 and at that time the Gas
Utility had 1187 customers. The number of customers did not grow much until the late 1980’s. The gas utility currently has 2,962 customers. Part of this growth has been allowed due to changes in the pipeline regulations. The biggest change is that the pipeline no longer sells the gas, private companies do. This change in service was mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 1995. The cost of these changes have had to be shouldered by the customers in the form of higher gas costs.

During 1980 the success of the gas utility allowed it to make an interest free loan to the city of Batesville of $314,000 to help finance the new sewage treatment plant. This loan reduced the city’s sanitation charge from 200 percent to 100 percent of the water billing charge when that plant was built in 1983. Again in 1995 the wastewater utility needed to get their latest sewer replacement and plant improvements started with a loan of $500,000. The water utility has borrowed over 2.7 million dollars to fund most of the improvements that have been done since 1990. These interest free loans have saved the citizens of Batesville hundreds of thousands of dollars in lower utility rates. The latest loans have allowed the water utility to do needed work to meet the new drinking water regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.