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Along Chautauqua creeks — more history of Westfield waterworks and dams
September 2, 2017

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In January of this year, two BeeLines described the early history of Westfield's Waterworks in response to questions that led to more questions and a concerted search for printed documentation to answer those questions. Part II concluded with, "A future BeeLines will share more about Taylor's discoveries and other stories of note about our waterworks." Readers may recall that village of Mayville and town of Chautauqua Historian Devon A Taylor's book "Chautauqua Gorge - History, Legends & People" includes a detailed chapter on "Westfield Waterworks" including photos, drawings and maps of dams and other structures of interest.

Taylor, commenting on the two contractors who constructed the first 1890's waterworks on the creek, includes "'Vitrified pipe' was laid from Rogers Creek on the west side of the gorge about the first of August 1891." As usual, answers often contain more questions, and so it is, again, a question, "Where is Rogers Creek?" (Another little history mystery to be explored). Much of the book is written from the perspective of what one encounters (at least in 1995 when the book was published) as one walks the Chautauqua creeks from mouth at Lake Erie in Barcelona, to the headwaters near the southernmost tip of the town of Westfield, near Sherman.

Taylor intersperses his observations with fascinating, and often little-known historical tidbits, such as his next comment, "Westfield was struck by an outbreak of typhoid fever in August of 1915 a farmer living about five miles upstream on a branch of Chautauqua Creek had contracted it. The drainage from his outhouse ran down a steep slope and into a feeder stream." YUP! The water system carried the germs to Westfield, which forced a previously recommended, but not acted upon, modern filter system and chlorination to be installed. "An emergency chlorinating machine was shipped and was put into operation on September 18th [1915]."

The chapter on our water system includes information about Dr. Alexander McIntyre's 1814 move to Westfield to build an early "health spa" of log cabins at the sulphur springs about one and one-half miles upstream from Westfield on the west side of Big Chautauqua Creek. In the 1920s and 1930s one could still see the remains of the stone foundations of the cabins, but sometime later "a tremendous amount of rock was dumped onto the area, altering its appearance."

Taylor continues, after the McIntyre story: "The most recently constructed waterworks dam is located a short distance upstream of the [sulphur] springs on the west side." The complex includes a pump house, intakes, underground reservoir, and "the 100 stairs" leading up to the main waterworks buildings at the top of the bank. Actually, there are more than 200 steps I've counted them on my visits - something like 204! The Westfield Water Department's water treatment plant on Mount Baldy Road was completed in 1952, and is located opposite the Minton Dam and Reservoir which was completed in 1939. A new water treatment plant was constructed and put into operation in 1995, when Taylor's book was being written and published.

At the base of "the 100 steps" is a road along the creek leading upstream to an earlier dam from the intakes of which were glazed clay pipes to carry the water through the treatment facilities and on to Westfield residents. In 1972, the creek flooded during Hurricane Agnes, and washed out large sections of the road. This road was the second road along the west side of the creek, the first (from 1890) being located further downstream and had wooden pipe for carrying the water. In 1995, one could still see sections of the old wooden tiles.

According to Taylor, both access roads continue upstream for several miles, through the deepest and most spectacular part of the gorge, passing Hogs Back, Cobb's Woods, Bly Creek, to Camel's Back (Devil's Razor) where there are more access stairs for the water department. Upstream from Camel's Back one could still see, in 1995, remains of glazed clay tile from the 1890's dam, remains of which can still be found, but are quite hidden by trees when leaved out. The 1890 dam was originally 122 feet long, large chunks of which can be seen further downstream. It is believed that a major flood, which occurred in 1913, may have destroyed this dam. In about 100 years between the construction of the 1890s dam and the 1990s the erosion shows a difference of six feet from the base of the old dam to the level of the creek.

Just upstream from the oldest dam one could see the iron-bound wooden pipe, and concrete structures used to protect the pipe along the creek banks. These pipes originate at another dam, whose construction has not been documented, but the date is marked in the concrete as 1913. There are several other structures described by Taylor, and his hand-drawn maps showing where various items were located.

His book is worth the purchase price of $10 from the Mayville Library, although one can find copies to read at the Patterson Library history archives and files.

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