On August 20, 1881, the Spring Hill Water Company is incorporated in Seattle, with a capital of $25,000. This privately owned water system is Seattle's first integrated distribution system, and later plays an integral role in the creation of the municipal water system.
The company's first spring was located on First Hill, with smaller springs added and combined for enlargement. More than a dozen square wooden tanks were placed between Madison Street and Beacon Hill. From these tanks ran six-inch mains along Commercial and Front streets.
Not Enough to Fight Fire
A year after its incorporation, the company passed into the hands of John Leary and his associates Jacob Furth (1840-1914) and Bailey Gatzert (1829-1893). By 1886, they had doubled the capacity of the tanks and pipes to an aggregate of 200,000 gallons. A pumping station was built on the shore of Lake Washington, at the end of Holgate Street (in 2000 the site of Colman Park).
Although the pump adequately served the community for basic water needs, its limitations showed in 1889 with devastating effect. In June of that year, a conflagration annihilated most of downtown Seattle: The little pump was no match for the blazing inferno. As flames licked around the buildings, the woefully inadequate water system could not douse the fire. Seattle lay in ruins.
Public Vs. Private Ownership
Realizing that the community could not completely rely on private sector water utilities, the City began development of its own water system. In 1890, the Spring Hill Water Company was sold to the City. A brick building replaced the wooden pump house, and larger pumps were installed.
In later years, when the site was converted to Colman Park, the Parks Department used this building for storage and bathing beach facilities.