Early Years

The Early Years: 1886-1920

Originally incorporated as a town with the state of Oregon in 1876, McMinnville was incorporated as a city in 1882. During the early years large cisterns, filled with water pumped from the city‘s wells, were available for public use and for fighting unfortunate fires. Besides these cisterns, the citizens could also obtain water from personal wells.

Numerous cases of typhoid fever were reported in the West Side Telephone during the latter part of 1886. Poor drainage of standing water after the rainy season was said to have contaminated many public and private wells.

In November of 1887 the county seat of Yamhill was moved to McMinnville, soon to be known as “the Most Beautiful City in Oregon” and “The Metropolis of the best County in the State.” Two months later, in January of 1888, a group of local business men went on record as being in favor of a safe and dependable water system for the city.

There was no electric lighting to provide the city’s streets with light at night during the early years, so a lamplighter filled and lit kerosene lamps on posts located on street corners. Private homes were lit in much the same way during the early years, most people using either candles or kerosene lanterns.

In April of 1889, Mayor Manning and the city council selected Elsia Wright and Charles Grissen, both councilmen, “to appoint a competent engineer, investigate the water supply and cost of bringing it to the city,” and report back to the council. Thereafter, Wright and Grissen were known as the Water Committee. A month later, after hearing Mr. F. B. Converse’s proposition for lighting the city with electric lights, the council appointed George W. Jones and C.D. Johnson to investigate the subject of lighting the city. Thereafter, Jones and Johnson were known as the Electric Light Committee.

In June, after reporting back to the city council that they had employed Mr. Oliver as an engineer for the water works project, the Water Committee was instructed to “look after the title of the Sax Mill property (on Baker Creek) and… ascertain what the… property would cost.” Later, on 24 July, the Water Committee presented a detailed report to the council pertaining to the cost of placing a water system on the Sax Mill property versus putting a water system on the South Yamhill River. Questions about legal titles to the Sax Mill property caused the purchase of that property to be dropped and a decision was made to place the water system on the Yamhill River. Construction costs were not to exceed $20,000 and bids for completion of the McMinnville water works were to be submitted with the plans along with a bond of $5,000.

The city council met weekly during August to discuss progress on the water works. On August 7, the Water Committee reported that land near the Yamhill River could be purchased from Mrs. Chandler for $60 per acre. The city recorder was requested to draft an ordinance, in August, authorizing $20,000 worth of bonds to be issued; the money generated from these bonds was to be used in constructing the new water works system. Plans and specifications for the water works plant were opened and considered by the council on 20 August. Councilmen Barnekoff and Jones were “instructed to include electric lights in the plans” with the water works system on the following day. By a unanimous vote, the plans for a $19,000 water works and electric light system, submitted by W.T. Garratt and Company of San Francisco, were adopted by the council.

So it was, on August 22, 1889, the city council passed Ordinance number 87, authorizing the construction and completion of a system of water works and electric lights for the city and Ordinance number 88, authorizing a loan and providing for the issuance of water bonds. These historic ordinances, adopting a system of water works and electric lights, brought to life McMinnville’s municipally owned utility.

Reporting that Charles Groening had 100 cords of wood, at $2.50 per cord, on October 14, the Water Committee was authorized to purchase 50 cords, eventually to be used for the water works and electric lights plant. At a meeting a week later, the city council authorized the Ways and Means Committee to advertise for the bonds until November 15, 1889 and ads were placed in four issues of the Daily Oregonian and three issues of the New York World. On December 2, the Ways and Means Committee reported the sale of the water bonds, at six percent par value, to the Chicago firm of S.A. Kean and Company.

In October of 1889, the Light Committee set the base charge for a single 16 candle power (CP) lamp at $1.00 and the rate for 25 CP and larger lamps was set at $1.50 each. Furthermore, the Committee stated that it would allow a 25 percent reduction from the scheduled price of electric lamps when a person or firm took 5 to 10 lamps, and a 50 percent reduction for 10 or more lamps.

On 31 October, the Water Works Committee was instructed to “prepare an ordinance creating the office and defining the duties of… chief engineer of the water works and electric lights,” and to hire a “competent man to see that the water works and electric lights (were) put in according to contract.” After fixing a $60 per month salary for the city superintendent of the water works and electric lights (WW&EL) in early November, the council proceeded to unanimously elect P.D. Glenn for that position.

City Ordinance 91, setting regulations governing the water works and electric light system and establishing rates for that system, passed the city council on November 8. Among other things, the ordinance allowed water consumption for a ten person dwelling to include the sprinkling of two lots, running water to a stable, and water to wash a carriage; all for $1.50 per month.

Construction on a new plant was close to completion. The water plant was to consist of two thirty-horse power bollers housed in a suitable building, about 150 feet from the river “on a knoll of high ground.” There was great difficulty in overcoming the construction of the plant because of the rise and fall of the water in the river. This was overcome by building a “system of inclined ways.” Two Hall’s compound duplex pumps, with the capacity of pumping 1,500,000 gallons of water per day, were placed on the “ways.” The pumps were “arranged by means of joints in the steam and water pipes” so they would slide up and down the ways when a man operated a wench. It was in this way that the pumps were raised and lowered with the rise and fall of the river, never alerting the suction of water or losing power. The plant was to have direct pressure and the pumps were to be capable of keeping 130 pounds of pressure to the square inch when water was taken from hydrants, guaranteeing “sufficient fire pressure.”

The second week in December was to be both memorable and historical. On December 9, after setting the chief engineer’s salary at $75 per month, and that of his eventual assistant at $60 per month, the city council elected G.H. Hemstock as chief engineer of the new plant and instructed him to “solicit parties to take water and proceed to make connections when needed.”

The first water flowed from the Yamhill River to McMinnville’s new water mains on 10 December and late the next day Engineer Hemstock threw the main switch to turn on the city’s electric lights, but no lights were seen. Voices could be heard saying it couldn’t be done, yet a half an hour later, after locating a blown fuse, Hemstock again threw the switch and “the winter dusk was broken by the glow of electric lights,” making McMinnville the first city in Oregon to operate a municipally owned water and electric light plant. The electric light plant, furnished by Westinghouse, had a dynamo consisting of a “500 16-CP machine, driven by a Westinghouse, Jr. 50-horse power engine.” The plant generated electricity through the production of steam and used wood as fuel. The city streets were lit with 25-CP lights and the 16-CP commercial lamps were highly praised by those who used them.

Previously the city council had instructed Councilman Grissen to find a competent engineer to inspect the water works ten days after it had been in operation, and on December 19 Grissen was authorized to engage Mr. R.A. Habersham to perform the above mentioned task. On December 23, 1889, the McMinnville city council formerly accepted the water works and electric lights (WW&EL) plant. The Water Committee reported that the WW&EL was complete except for “placing five lights,” and R.A. Habersham’s report stated the water works had been completed according to contract and “credit was due (to) the contractor for conscientious and scrupulous work.”

The rate for water pumped to a “dwelling house” in early 1890 remained at $1.50 per month and the water pumped to the city was “extremely clear and (gave) perfect satisfaction to the consumers.” It took a while for local citizens to take advantage of the electric lights in their private residences, but eventually they did. In fact on April 19, 1898 a new ordinance had to be passed by the city council, fixing electric rates for lights:

  • One 16-CP lamp with 10 o’clock service = $1.00 per month
  • One 16-CP lamp with 12 o’clock service = $1.25 per month
  • One 16-CP lamp with all night service = $2.00 per month
  • One 25-CP lamp = add 50% to 16-CP rate
  • One 40-CP lamp = add 2.5 times 16-CP rate
  • One 50-CP lamp = add 3.5 times 16-CP rate

In addition to the above monthly rates, customers received a 20% discount when using thirty or more 16-CP lights.

Eventually, the water system mentioned above proved unsatisfactory, so the city dug a pit about 150 feet from the river, the bottom of which approximated its level. A pipe, connecting pumps in the pit to the river, eliminated the necessity of the inclined restle and all of the problems of raising and lowering it. After about a year the pumping equipment “burned out… and a new 80-power Cortiss steam outfit was installed.”

By early 1900 there were so many people using electric lights that the quality of electrical power was becoming poor. Realizing this, the city council passed ordinance 209, allowing the mayor to enter into a contract with the General Electric Company to purchase a 90 KW dynamo for $2,895.75. In the meantime, customers were complaining about having to pay high rates for poor quality lighting, so, on February 6, 1900, the city council passed ordinance number 210, cutting electric rates in half until the new dynamo could be installed.

On 24 February the city council passed ordinance 211, allowing the purchase of new dynamo machinery and appliances. A short time later the new dynamo was installed which eased the demand for electricity and created better electrical service. Things ran smoothly until July of 1902 when a piston rod in the dynamo engine broke and was ordered repaired by the city council. Further repairs, this time on the water and light plant’s furnace, were ordered two years later.

On July 9, 1904, city attorney Burns was instructed by the city council to prepare a resolution calling for a special election, to be held the first Monday in October 1904, to enable voters to approve a proposition for a new hydro-electric plant on Baker Creek. In September, the Fire and Water Committee (previously known as the Water Committee) was “instructed to secure the services of the best engineer available to measure the flow of water in Baker Creek as soon as possible,” and George C. Mason, a Portland civil engineer, was hired to do the job.

The superintendent of the WW&EL plant was authorized by the council, in October, “to extend the water pipes wherever the same may be needed for future connection,“ thus laying the way for unlimited expansion of the municipal water supply to newly acquired additions to the city. With the special election held on November 7, Emanuel Northup, a professor at McMinnville College (now Linfield), was elected as McMinnville’s new mayor. A short time later, the city council named H.J. Pearson as chief engineer for the WW&EL plant and Claude Walker as assistant engineer.

During the 1905 session of the State Legislature, Senate Bill 241, was passed, creating the McMinnville Water & Light Commission. On February 4, 1905, a public meeting was held at which Mayor Northup was “unanimously named to be one of the water commission” that was to install a new water and light plant for the city. Senate Bill 241 authorized the mayor of McMinnville to appoint the other four members of the commission with the consent of the city council. Each member was to serve a four-year, overlapping term on the commission; the mayor was to be ex-officio chairman, and in his absence, the president of the commission would preside as chairman. Mayor Northup named John Wortman, W.C. Apperson, Dr. Leroy Lewis and George H. Hauser as the other members of the newly formed commission. McMinnville’s city charter had to be amended to accommodate the bill and although Senate Bill 241 created McMinnville’s Water and Light Commission, the water and light committee was not officially transferred to the Water and Light Commission until late 1907. It did, however, begin to meet as a body, separate from the city council, on 13 March 1905.

During the city council meeting of 7 March, a resolution was adopted which called for a special election to be held April 10, 1905. This election was to determine “whether the Water Committee (should) have the power and authority to issue McMinnville city bonds, not to exceed $80,000, for the erection and construction of a water and electric lights plant to furnish a sufficient supply of pure water and electric lights for the use of the inhabitants of the city.” It appears that this resolution was the same one adopted several months previously and never carried out.

During their first official meeting, held separately from the city council, Water Committee members Mayor Emanuel Northup, John Wortman, George H. Hauser and E.C. Apperson elected Dr. Leroy Lewis to the position of chairman. On a motion made by Committeeman Apperson, a special committee was selected, consisting of Mayor Northup and Dr. Lewis, to “prepare a resolution declaring committee policy to be submitted for adoption by the committee at (the) next meeting called by the chairman.” (see appendix A)

On April 10, 1905, the special election was held for the issuance of $80,000 worth of city bonds to be used for financing the construction of the new utility plant. McMinnville voters approved the bond issue, by a majority of 97 votes, setting the way for a future of dependable electric and water service to the community. A week later, the Water Committee authorized their clerk, H.S. Maloney, “to make preliminary surveys under the direction of the committee, provided such work (did) not interfere with his (other) duties as city recorder.” (see appendix B) Soon after, Mr. James McCain and Mr. H.W. Fenton, were retained “to inquire what the laws were in regard to filing water rights and Chairman Lewis was authorized to “take steps as he may deem necessary to secure options on the various springs under consideration by the committee including reservoir site and rights of way for the pipe lines.”

At a special meeting held June 8, a proposition for the sale of 5 acres by Mr. C.A. Wallace, for the site of a reservoir, on the hill north of the Masonic Cemetery, was accepted at a cost of $150. During the same meeting, Mr. H.W. Fenton was employed “to procure deeds for lands, rights of way for pipe lines, springs and water rights and such other rights as may be necessary to secure the installation of the new water system.” In late June the Committee requested written propositions from engineers, in “connection with the installation of the proposed new water system for the city of McMinnville,” and quotes from various pipe companies regarding the cost of different sized pipes required for the new system. On July 26, Engineer W.M. Bostaph’s $2,400 proposition for the water system was submitted and on accepted. (see appendix c)

During the next year numerous negotiations, pertaining to the purchase of land, water rights and rights of way for pipe lines, were successful. Early in August 1905, the Water Committee directed its chairman to employ a suitable person to measure “several springs and creeks in the Cowls creek basin during the lowest stages of dry season as recommended by Engineer Bostaph.” On August 14 the committee made a unanimous adoption of lands and water rights in the Cowls creek basin, located about seven miles northwest of the city, “as the future water supply for the city of McMinnville.” A week later, H.S. Maloney was authorized to make surveys of the reserves at the Berry and Savage springs and “deliver proper field notes and plans to the attorneys enabl(ing) them to draw up deeds for the same.”

On October 2 the Water Committee received an inquiry from the city council regarding the “prospect of increasing the lighting capacity of the city,” and the clerk was instructed to inform the council that a plan to increase the city’s lighting capacity was being considered. After listening to Engineer Bostaph’s report on the development of Savage Springs, on 16 October, the Water Committee instructed Bostaph and Water Superintendent Rector to prepare and submit a statement on the “probable amount of power that will be required by the city for all purposes.” During the same meeting, Committeeman Wortman was instructed to write a letter to Messrs. Morris and Brothers Christensen of Portland asking for information on bonds and requesting them “to send a representative to confer with the committee.” November 6 was set as the day on which the Water Committee would meet with the above mentioned representative and by November 9 the water Committee had accepted the proposal of Morris and Brothers Christensen for the issue and sale of McMinnville Water Bonds. (see appendix D)

In December of 1905, the Water Committee placed an ad in the two local newspapers requesting bids for the construction of the water works and setting January 15, 1906 as the date to open the bids. In the latter part of December the Committee adopted a resolution authorizing the issue and sale of $80,000 worth of water bonds. In late December, Engineer Bostaph estimated it would cost approximately $38,000 to construct the new water system, and when the aforementioned figure was added to the estimated $17,000 spent purchasing springs, riparian rights, rights of way, reserve springs, and paying attorney’s fees, it raised the total cost of the new water system to approximately $55,000. The committee decided to use wood pipe instead of steel in the water system, and in late January of 1906 several wood pipe companies were written to for bids on the cost of redwood and fir pipes. In early February the bid from the National Wood Pipe Company, of Olympia, Washington, was accepted. Included in the pip company’s bid was the “construction of a reservoir and headworks at the springs, Cowls Creek and the crossing at Baker Creek…” Later, in the month of February, the Committee approved a resolution regarding the adoption of the gravity feed water system. (see appendix E)

Engineer Bostaph submitted a report, “embracing the estimate of cost of an auxiliary reservoir,” in late April 1906, and after considerable discussion it was decided that “an auxiliary reservoir would not be constructed at the present time,” but Engineer Bostaph was instructed to put in extra “T’s,” enabling connection at a time when the auxiliary reservoir would be constructed.

The time was approaching for which cement, sand, and crushed rock would be needed in the construction of the reservoir, and on May 7, R.M. Wad’s bid, for 375 barrels of cement at $3.75 per barrel with guaranteed delivery, was accepted. On the same day, the clerk of the committee was instructed to notify Morris Brothers and Christensen “the committee (would) deliver $20,000 worth of bonds on June 1, 1906,” making a total issue (up to that time) of $30,000.

In late August of 1906, the Water Committee approved the recommendation of Engineer Bostaph, to place a curb on the reservoir and cover the entire bridge for the 14 inch pipe line across the gulch west of the city. By early September $47,000 worth of water bonds had been issued and the water system was not yet complete. In early December Committeeman Hendrick was authorized “to have constructed good substantial fences around the water reserve,” and by 10 December Engineer Bostaph reported that all work on the pipelines had been completed according to contract, except for a few sections of the Baker Creek Bridge, which “the contractor was going to make good.” Bostaph also reported that a “Davis Pressure Regulator” from the Crane Company of Portland was satisfactory for the new water works system. By 17 December the Water Committee had received “a statement of final estimates for settlement with National Wood Pipe,” and Engineer Bostaph had “reported that, in his opinion, the new water system would be ready within a few days for the Committee to finally accept…”

On December 22, 1906 the city council received an inventory of the water and electric light plant’s property, less the materials that had been used since December 10, and for days later Chairman Lewis reported that the council “had voted to turn the property over to the Water Committee.” After learning this, the committee appointed H.D. McDonald and George F. Hauser “to start a system of book-keeping for the water and light business.”

By late December of 1906 the water works system was virtually complete. A maintenance contract for the new system with the National Wood Pipe Company was approved by the Water Committee and its attorneys on December 31 and $1,000 of the $7,186.13 was placed in trust at the First National Bank of McMinnville in case of damage claims resulting from constructing the system.

The Water Committee turned the Water and Light Plants back over to the city council, on February 4, 1907, because the committee was soon to disband. On 27 February the Water Committee met for the last time and all water bonds not issued or sold (specifically bonds 115-160) were burned. After issuing a warrant in the sum of $427.29, transferring all remaining funds of the Water Committee to the City Council, “the resignations of John Wortman, George F. Hauser, E. Northup, and M.B. Hendrick as members of the Water committee of the City of McMinnville, Oregon, were presented to and accepted by Chairman Leroy Lewis.”

For the next eight months business concerning the water and electric plants of McMinnville was conducted by the city council. On 4 November, 1907, an election was held in which voters adopted an amendment in section 71 of McMinnville’s charter, allowing for the creation of a Water Commission. This new commission was to follow the legislative action of Senate Bill 241 as mentioned above. W.T. Macy, then serving as mayor, appointed as commissioners Alonzo Hull, Elsia Wright, O.C. Murton and D.E. Whealer. During its first meeting on December 3, 1907, the Commission decided to “procure the use of a meter for measuring electrical current at the light plant.” In late December, Civil Engineer Chase was employed to “pass upon such power sites as the commission may deem advisable.” Also employed by the Commission in late 1907 was Clarence Edwards, of Newberg. He was to lay out and superintend the rewriting of McMinnville’s electric system and the Commission requested him to “continue its service as Superintendent of the lighting system on a salary of $75 per month…”

In early 1908, W.J. Brown was elected as superintendent of the water system at a salary of $50 per month. The Commission decided to install meters for the purpose of measuring water and light usage in late January. They also began to investigate the possibilities of procuring options on pipe line rights of way from additional springs for extending the water works system. In early February, Superintendent Brown was asked to hire an assistant and locate a pipe line route from Murray and other springs to the catch basin, enabling a survey of the route to be performed later. Commissioner Hull directed the clerk to correspond with the National Wood Pipe Company, requesting prices for 3, 4, 5 and 6 inch pipe at 50 and 100 foot lengths.

It was time again to advertise for bids on the sale of water bonds. And advertisement was placed in the Telephone Register in mid-February, but by early March only one proposal had been received by the Commission; it was from Morris and Brothers Christensen. (see appendix F) The proposal was unanimously approved by the Commission and a decision was made that any bonds not sold, out of the $23,000 worth issued, and would be placed for sale on the open market until October 1, 1908.

To oversee additions to the city’s water system, the Commission hired Engineer Frank Kelsey and soon after “the Water Superintendent was directed to lay pipe, not to exceed 200 feet, for installation (with) permanent consumers, and to make taps for parties desiring water for lawn sprinkling only when (the) consumer furnishes, at his own expense, pipe and connections.” The Commission hired Fannie Hemstock as “collector of Water and Light rents, at a salary of $10 per month,” on April 1, and the News Reporter was “designated as the official paper of the Water and Light Commission.” Warrants paid on the above mentioned date indicate that there were seven people employed by the Water and Light Commission at that time.

Approval regarding the issuance of 1908 series Water and Light Bonds was given in early April of 1908 and the Mayor was authorized to execute and countersign them. In late April, approval was given for a resolution allowing the Water and Light Commission to enter into a formal contract, for water and power usage, with the Willamette Valley Condensed Milk Company of Portland.

Wishing to locate a new power plant on Baker Creek, the Commission purchased 160 acres from W.S. Houck for $1,800 in early May. The National Wood Pipe Company’s bid for wood pipes and construction of the water works addition was accepted, also during May, and E.W. Fuller was employed by the Commission to go to Olympia, Washington, and inspect the material as the wood pipes were constructed.

In late August, Mr. Brownjohn and Mr. Edwards traveled to Springfield, Oregon to inspect the generator and engine that had been offered for sale to the Commission. Also in August, Mr. Henry Herring was employed to survey the grounds for the Baker Creek power plant.

The water works system that had been built in 1906 was proving to be inadequate by the latter part of 1908, largely because the springs it depended upon for a steady water source were drying up. The Commission, trying to make due with what they had, knew they had to locate another water source soon. Water rights and rights of way for laying the city’s water pipe line had to be obtained from property owners, and usually obtaining these rights was not too difficult. Yet, in September of 1908, the Commission had to adopt a resolution to obtain “good, pure and wholesome water” for the needs of the city, because a an name Frederick G. Hownnstin did not agree with the city about the compensation he was due for use of the water that passed through his property. (see appendix G)

In early September, a Mr. McNuley was hired to run the water system while Superintendent Brown was constructing the new power plant on Baker Creek, and orders were issued for repair of a crack in the cement wall of the city’s water reservoir. Engineer Kelsey presented plans and specifications for a Baker Creek pipe line and the Commission mailed these plans to various pipe companies for material and construction bids, eventually awarding a contract to the National Wood Pipe Company.

During 1908, the old electric plant, located near the North Yamhill River, was still generating electricity through steam power and using wood as fuel. In mid-September the Commission authorized the purchase of 300 cords of wood, to be used for the plant, while they hunted for a new electric generator to be placed in a new plant on Baker Creek. On September 12 the Commission “ordered negotiations be undertaken with the General Electric Company for the purchase of (a) new electric generator and equipment as per specifications of Engineer Kelsey…, (the ) same to be obtained at best or lowest price possible and not to exceed in any even the price quoted by said company…” In October the Commission authorized a warrant to be issued to a Mrs. Carlson in the sum of $1800 for 160 acres “embracing Morgan Creek and its head waters,” and the Commission’s clerk was ordered to prepare a “deed for right of way for power pipe line, plus (a) deed for (the) power site (of the) electric light plant…” When these deeds were “properly executed by A.D. Wanlass, owner of the land, and deposited,” the clerk was to “draw up a warrant in the sum of $200 (in) favor of Mr. Wanlass as consideration for said purchases.”

In mid-December the Commission accepted the proposal of Morris and Brothers Christensen to purchase $10,000 worth of water and light bonds, as approved by voters during an election held August 31. Authorizing the purchase of 20 arc lights, to be used by the city, on 28 December 1909, the Commission also moved to accept the bid received from the General Electric Company for a step down transformer and a switchboard. Commissioner Wright reported on the same day that he had “contracted, for the Commission, with Dixon Brothers to dig the holes, set all poles, and place all fixtures on same, for light line (from the) city to (the) Baker Creek power plant,” at a cost of $1.50 per pole. An estimate of probable expenses in the sum of $35,389.51, and probable income in the same amount were recorded during the Commission’s last meeting of 1908. Expenses included salaries, interest on bonded debt, wood consumption, proposed steam plant, completion of hydro-electric plant on Baker Creek, and maintenance. Income was estimated by adding the Commission’s 1908 income to the probable increase in light consumption.

On 16 January 1909, the contract for the purchase of electrical equipment from the General Electric Company was approved, “the provided the General Electric Company will change the terms of payment…” The contract included three 2500 volt transformers, one switchboard made of blue Vermont marble, measuring 90x60 inches, three H.E.A.C. ammeters, one automatic oil switch, one 50-light series luminous arc rectifier system, and four ampere D.C. cooled rectifier sets with oil cooled tubes. The cost to the Commission for the above mentioned equipment was $3,157.40. A warrant was issued to the Pelton Water Wheel Company towards the purchase of a water wheel with a 220 foot head, for the new hydro-electric plant on March 1, 1909. A little over two weeks later the Commission gave its final approval in regard to General Electric’s contract for electrical equipment.

The new electrical system was beginning to make an appearance. On April 19, 1909, the Commission authorized the application of two coats of “good lead and boiled linseed oil” paint to the new plant building. Two months later, on June 8, the Commission issued authorization for an insurance policy to cover the new plant.

In mid-June an advertisement, calling for bids on $30,000 worth of 1909 series Water and Lights Bonds, was ordered to be placed in the local papers. The Commission directed its clerk to purchase 100 Trident meters for installation in residential neighborhoods and approved at the same time an increase in monthly residential water rates: “… The minimum price to be $1.00 per 400 cubic feet or 3,000 gallons of water and all additional water to be sold at 25 cents per 100 cubic feet.” On July 13, the electrical rate increase was finalized as follows: 100 or less KWH, 7 cents; 100-200 KWH, 6.5 cents; 200-300 KWH, 6 cents; 300-400, 5.5 cents; etc.

Because no bids were received for purchase of Water and Light Bonds, the Commission placed them for sale on the open market in July. Opening bids on 21 July, the Commission accepted the one received from A.B. Leach and Company as “being the most favorable… to the city,” however, the above mentioned company rejected the contracted offer and the Commission proceeded to offer it to Morris Brothers of Portland. There is nothing on record to indicate acceptance or rejection of the contract by Morris Brothers, yet on October 30, 1909, an offer to purchase the bonds was made by the Pacific Jurisdiction Woodmen of the World. Apparently the above mentioned offer was accepted by the Commission on 7 February 1910.

The new plant was close to becoming a reality. On 24 July 1909, the Commission authorized the submittal of “the proposal made by Mr. Mr. R. Colby… for piping, pipe, boiler covering and filter…” and the acceptance of Mr. Colby’s offer to sell a friction clutch coupling, and adjustable clutch shifter with stand, a seven foot, six inch shafting and two-six inch pillow boxes for $321.50. A bid for a belt, probably to drive the new plant’s water wheel, was accepted in late July from Amwade and Company at a cost to the Commission of $430, and authorization to order a boxcar load of electric poles and 100 Trident Meters was given by the Commission in early August; the order for the meters being reduced to 25 on 11 August. In mid-August the Commission placed a price tag of $2,000 on the old engine and generator from the first plant.

On September 1, 1909. L.J. Peters was elected to the position of engineer for the new plant. In October the Commission rented a store building, located near the Baker Creek Power Plant, for the use of the engineer and his family. The hydro-electric plant was very close to the time when operation would being. In late October the boilers had arrived, were paid for and installed and in December, Elsia Wright was appointed to oversee the completion of the plant, which was operating in early 1910. In late 1909, because of water shortages, commercial water users had been advised to be prepared to supply their own water after May 1 of the following year, and in early 1910 water and light rates were adjusted. (see appendix H) In May, after the new plant had been operating for a while, the Commission authorized additional insurance, besides that taken in June of 1909, to cover the machinery, dynamo, engines, and the plant’s building. In August, additional fire insurance was purchased.

Now that the new electric system was functioning properly, the Commission turned their full attention once again to the city’s water supply. At their April 25 meeting, the Commission read a letter from Engineer J.H. Cunningham “regarding the sinking of a well at the point where Baker Creek and the water pipe line cross.” One month later authorization was given to “proceed without delay to sink a well or wells to supply the city with good wholesome water.” Previously the Commission had asked Engineer Cunningham to “estimate the cost of well pump, pump house and pipe line,” and on 24 May they read his estimate. W.J. Brower was elected superintendent of the Water Works and was immediately authorized “to superintend and direct the digging of the well.”

When Brower joined the water division of McMinnville Water & Light, most of the water pipes were made of wood. After becoming superintendent, he “supervised the laying of (a) major portion of the pipe lines” that now connect city water mains with the Haskins Creek impounding dam, which was built in the mid-1920s. Meters used to measure water usage had just been ordered when he became superintendent; no meters had been placed on homes or places of business and consumers paid a flat rate for water usage until 1911. After hiring Brower, the Commission employed M.S. Miller to assist in digging the new well, authorizing him to “drill a hole six inches in diameter commencing at the bottom of the new well and drill down a sufficient depth to determine the water supply.”

On July 11, 1910, an advertisement was placed asking for bids on cords of wood-this time 1,100 cords to be delivered at the power plant between 15 October 1910 and 1 August 1911. By early January of 1911, the Commission had accepted a contract with F.M. Switzer for 500 cords, only to advertise for 1000 more cords on November 6 of the same year.

In the latter part of December 1910, the Commission approached the city council to ask them “to create a bond issue of $30,000 to pay the floating debt and provide for additional supply of water and necessary extension of either water or light systems.” By March of the following year, the Commission had placed a statement in the local papers “as to condition of Water and Light plants and the proposed $30,000 bond issue.” A formal resolution for the bonds wasn’t received with approval from the city council until 28 December 1911, the Commission passing their resolution two days later.

In January of 1911 the Commission consisted of Commissioners Wortman, Hodson, Converse and Perry with Leroy Lewis presiding as chairman. Superintendent of lights was George Hemann, Joe Brower remained as water superintendent, Claude Walker was chief engineer and L.F. Peters was assistant engineer. The Commission’s main plans for obtaining additional water for the city were Baker Creek or a filtering plant located on the Yamhill River. The Commission, seeking to explore every avenue, agreed in late January 1911 to go to Oregon City and investigate the filtering plant there. By April the Commission had accepted a contract with the California Jewell Filter Company for a $6,200 filtering system and pain an additional $1,840 for metaling of the machinery. Superintendent Brower reported that the Yamhill River filtering plants was almost finished in early July and Mr. L. Porter was employed to superintend the nearly complete plant. As the new $14,775.23 plant neared completion, the Commission authorized a $2,000 insurance policy for it.

In July of 1911, the Commission accepted the resignation of Miss Fannie Hemstock as collector of water and light bills, hiring Arla Keen as her replacement. In August Superintendent Brower was instructed to “fix up the dam and water wheel” at the Baker Creek Hydro-Electric Plant. Also during August and early November, the light superintendent was authorized to purchase 100 meters for residential use, plus one power meter for use in monitoring electric power usage.

Early in 1912, the Commission accepted the $13,220.10 bid of Dennis and Christensen for completion of the new water main from the Yamhill River according to plans and specifications. By June of the same year the water division of the Water and Light Department was showing a net income of $283 per month and the light division was showing a net income of $1,001 per month. The Commission agreed, in September, to install and furnish current for three light arches on Third Street, conditional to the city council furnishing all material used. Soon after, the light superintendent was authorized to purchase an additional 75 meters for measuring electrical usage. In October the water wheel was still in bad need of repair and the water superintendent was instructed to have it fixed immediately.

In January of 1913, the Commission voted to install a fish ladder at the power plant’s dam on Baker Creek “as soon as practicable after receipt of order and blue print from the game warden.” In late January, Perry E. Thorton was employed as “City Electrician” with a salary of $90 per month, and in May he was instructed to replace the old carbon street lamps with new tungsten street lights. Frank Wood was employed as assistant engineer at the power plant in August, and the meter rate for lighting was reduced from 15 cents for the first 9 KW to 12 cents for the first 10 KW, effective with the October readings.

By January of 1914, more electrical service was needed for additions to the city and the Commission received several requests for extending service outward from the current service area. An offer was made to “construct a line on the Dayton road east of the city about 3 miles for parties wishing lights or power.” Residents wanting power signed an agreement with the Water and Light Commission stating that they would pay the cost of constructing the line, if the Commission would keep the rates for such electrical power the same as they were in the city.

As McMinnville’s municipal utility became stronger it faced the threat of stat regulation through the Railroad Commission. During the legislative session of 1915 the Commission “presented a resolution to the delegation in the state legislature urging (it) to resist the move to bring the operations under the jurisdiction of the Railroad Commission.” Apparently the Water and Light Commission’s effort paid off because it never came under the Railroad Commission’s jurisdiction.

In 1915 the Commission, still searching for a better water source, became convinced that Haskins Creek could provide McMinnville with a clean and dependable water supply. Also during this period of the Water and Light’s history, the electrical power supply was again becoming over taxed; especially during the summer months when water levels, used for electrical generation, became low. Negotiations with several private utilities to supply McMinnville with needed additional energy were unfruitful. For example, in 1915 the Yamhill Electric Company, located in Newberg, “proposed to provide McMinnville with summer service at a charge of $761 for 70,000 kilowatt hours.” Instead of accepting their proposal, the Commission had the old 80-power Corliss steam engine, installed approximately ten years previously, removed from the old plant located on the Yamhill River and installed at the Baker Creek hydro-electric plant to supplement electrical power generation.

In early June of 1917 a survey was conducted for building a new pipe line and diversion dam on Haskins Creek. Mr. R.W. Jones, an engineer, did all the preliminary surveys, prepared plans, specifications, and maps for the new water system. Two routes; one on Panther Creek and one in Moores Valley, were considered for the pipe line, and eventually it was determined that the Panther Creek route was the best. With a proposal of $69,000, V.R. Dennis Construction Company was awarded the contract for building the new water system and Jacobsen and Jensen, of Portland, was awarded the contract to build a 1,090 foot tunnel along the pipe line route.

Previously, in late 1916, McMinnville voters had passed a $90,000 bond issue for the construction of the Haskins Creek water system, however, because of a technical error in its wording, the voters were asked again to approve the bond issue in early 1917, which they did. The contact for the 1917 series Water and Light Bonds was awarded to Security Savings and Trust Company, of Portland, at an interest rate of five percent per annum, payable semi-annually.

In April of 1918 a proposal, from V.R. Dennis Construction Company for building a reservoir near Haskins Creek, was accepted. This reservoir, when completed, held two million gallon of water, adding to the one million gallon reservoir previously built, thus assuring the McMinnville community of having good, wholesome drinking water for several years to come.

In 1919 the Portland General Electric Company (PGE), “proposed summer service at 1.77 cents per kilowatt hour and winter service at 1.57 cents per kilowatt hour.” This proposal was rejected by the Water and Light Commission because it “did not constitute any significant saving over its own generating facilities.” After rejecting the proposal from PGE, the Commission purchased and installed a new 300-hourse power Corliss steam engine at the Baker Creek plant.

The above mentioned additions proved to be ample for the time, but during the next era of the Water and Light Department’s history there would be a much greater demand for electricity and water than the city had ever known.

McMinnville Water and Light’s First Hundred Years

A History Compiled by Katherine L. Huit

September 06, 1988