City of Seattle acquires its own water system on June 4, 1890.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 9/17/1999
  • Essay 1674
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On June 4, 1890, Seattle voters, by a nearly unanimous vote, approve the purchase of the Spring Hill Water Company and establish a public water system. The privately owned Spring Hill Water Company started supplying water to Seattleā€™s business district and nearby residential areas in 1881. The vote to purchase it is prompted by the recent experience of the Great Fire of 1889, during which the Seattle Fire Department ran out of water shortly after attempting to douse the flames.

Where Is It When You Need It?

Although the water-company constantly made improvements in the system, the growth of the city continued to overtax it. The Great Fire of June 6, 1889 made it apparent that a private water system would never be adequate to meet emergencies.

When the fire started on Front Street (later renamed 1st Avenue) and Madison Street, the Seattle Fire Department attempted to douse the flames and quickly ran out of water. Within hours the business district was in ashes.

On January 26, 1890, the Seattle City Council approved an ordinance to purchase the water-company. On June 4, 1890, Seattle voted 705 to 16 to sell bonds to purchase the Spring Hill Water Company, a 98 percent yes vote. The city purchased the water-company for $350,000 and immediately doubled the water storage capacity to 5,000,000 gallons, within a year doubling it again.


Mary McWilliams, Seattle Water Department History 1854 - 1954. Operational Data and Memoranda (Seattle: City of Seattle, 1955), 55; Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County Washington (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1929), 532.

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