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May 26, 1911: Water main bursts, floods North Side

  • Blog Post by: Ben Welter
  • January 8, 2013 - 5:51 PM
 
Minneapolis was plagued by water main breaks in the early 1900s as the city struggled to meet the needs of its growing population. The water department supervisor, Edmund Sykes, was forced to resign a month after a particularly nasty break that washed out streets on the North Side and lowered water pressure citywide.

From the Minneapolis Tribune:
 
The Camden Place Pumping Station, also known as Pumping Station No. 3, in about 1898. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)

 

Water Main Bursts;
Floods Neighborhood

Break in New 36-Inch Feed Tube causes Damage in Camden Place.

City Engineer Believes It Was a Mistake to Lay Pipe in Winter.

Supervisor Sykes Says There Will Be No More Danger.

Property several blocks in extent in the vicinity of Forty-first avenue north and Lyndale avenue was flooded or excavated by a torrent of water which burst from the new 36-inch water main at daylight yesterday.

 
Homes and store buildings were flooded, sections of fences swept away, street car and railroad tracks either undermined or submerged and streets in the vicinity left with great holes in them.
 
But people whose property lay in the path of the raging flood were not the only persons to recognize the seriousness of the break. Immediately following the break pressure fell all over the city, and it was almost impossible to get water from the pipes in some of the higher residential sections. On account of the diminished pressure Supervisor Sykes issued a request that all persons be sparing in their use of the water.
 
Break Occurs Early.
 
It was between 4 and 5 a.m. when the break came. It was accompanied by a cannon-like noise and the torrent of water divided immediately upon leaving the main, judging by the trails of destruction which it left in its wake.
 
One big stream rushed northward in Lyndale avenue, tearing out curbs, ripping big holes, some four feet, in the street. It passed over the torn-out curbing and went on into the cellars of the stores and homes.    
 
Half way to Forty-second avenue a big portion of this immense stream tore through and past the buildings which stand in the triangle formed by Washington, Lyndale and Forty-first avenues north. It crossed Washington avenue, leaving great holes behind it, speedily swept down Soo avenue, which is a short thoroughfare leading to the pumping station park.
 
The two small lagoons in the park were filled with sand and bits of wreckage picked up along the route and then the water spread out over the park.
 
Store Basements Flooded.
 
But a big body of water had continued its course on Lyndale avenue, not cutting across lots as the first. It swept down upon the store buildings at Camden place.
 
The Lyndale hotel, from which the guests were hurrying to the street, was flooded, butter and eggs stored in the basement floating to the ceiling. The hotel garden was torn out and the blooming flowers washed away in the flood.
 
The basements of the Camden Steam laundry, 4200 Lyndale Avenue; the Camden Hardware company and the grocery of R.A. Findorrf, 4170 Washington avenue north, were filled with water and debris.
 
Down Forty-second avenue and across Camden Place the torrent swept, tearing through a fence and bursting out on the Soo Line tracks where rails were torn up by its force. Everywhere sidewalks and curbing had been swept away, the concrete curbing being taken up, twisted and torn to little pieces.
 
The wye track, where the Camden Place cars make their turn for the trip back to the city, were flooded and heaped with sand. So was the main line track on Washington avenue. Gangs of men were soon at work clearing and repairing street and steam railroad tracks.
 
Firemen Respond.
 
Firemen of engine company No. 20, Forty-first and Lyndale avenues, were right on the scene of the big break and they scampered from their beds and down the poles faster than when speeding to a fire. The basement of their own engine house soon was flooded, as were the homes of N. Henderson, 4046 Lyndale avenue; Mrs. Harry Rydburg, 4054 Lyndale avenue; John Halmberg, 4039 Sixth street north, and many others.
 
The force of the break was better understood by the residents of the vicinity when they discovered, after the water had been turned off at the pumping station, a ditch 12 feet deep and 20 feet wide at the point of the break. Other holes six feet deep along the route were common. The water pressure at the city hall gauge dropped from 60 pounds, which is norm, to 20 in a few minutes.
 
Dissension Is Started.
 
Dissension between the officials of the city engineering and water department which has been lying dormant for several months came to a head as a result of the breaking of the big main. It was the third break in two weeks and officials in the city engineering department blamed Supervisor Sykes for the accidents. Mr. Sykes came back with the reply that the accident was caused by the carelessness of the employes of the sewer department who in laying a sewer parallel to the water pipe loosened the earth which served as a support to a valve leading from the main causing it to blow out under the water pressure.
 
Sewer Engineer Hilstrup indignantly denied this and declared that there was about as much truth to it as there was to Mr. Sykes’ first theory that the pipe was cracked by the blasting of rock by the sewer department the day before the accident occurred.
 
Specifications Neglect Claimed.
 
Water Engineer Jensen of the city engineer’s department says that the breaks have been caused by the supervisor’s failure to follow the specifications under which the main was to be constructed. He points out that when the main blew up at the corner of Plymouth and Aldrich avenues north it was because the supervisor had neglected to connect a cross pipe between the big main and closed with a valve. The result was that the force of the water pressure blew out the valve and caused the flooding of that entire district. He charges that the break of yesterday was caused by the same neglect on the part of the water department.
 
City Engineer Rinker, although somewhat reticent, simply denied that the laying of the sewer had anything to do with the blowing up of the main.
 
“I advised strongly against laying the main in the winter owing to the frost in the ground,” said Mr. Rinker. “At points where the pipe is not laid on a bed of stone it is pretty likely to sink, putting a great strain on the pipe.”    
 
Spite Work, Says Supervisor.
 
Supervisor Sykes declares that the city engineering department is knocking the water department in every work that it undertakes. He favors divorcing the two departments, making them absolutely separate and independent of each other.
 
“There are too many heads to the water department,” said Mr. Sykes. “If I am to be held responsible I want to have absolute control. What we want is centralization of responsibility. This policy is being adopted all over the country. The people ought to know where to put the blame for inefficiency and where to give praise. With our department, every time there is room for praise the city engineer wants it all but when an accident occurs they place the blame on us.”
 
Supervisor Sykes charges that the city engineer is trying to dominate his department and has antagonized him wherever possible. He points out that when he recommended a new 36-inch main to relieve the water drought in the city last summer City Engineer Rinker opposed it as unnecessary and that it was with some difficulty that he persuaded the council committee to build the main. He also points out that when he favored the purchase of additional pumps for the Camden station, Mr. Rinker opposed it.
 
“They have hampered us,” continued Mr. Sykes. “They have hurt the department by criticizing it.”
 
Work Hurried.
 
Mr. Sykes explains the breaks which have occurred by the fact that the work on the main was hurried too much to satisfy the clamor of the people. He says that they wanted the main and they have it.
 
“There may be a few accidents, but we must give the people service,” he continued. “It is true that the main was laid in winter when there was frost in the ground. Supposing we had delayed until spring. Then there would have been another drought in the city even more serious than last year. The statements of Water Engineer Jenson that the breaks would not have occurred if we had followed specifications and connected with cross pipes with the intersecting mains may be true. But we hadn’t time to do it. The people need the service.”
 
Mr. Sykes holds to his opinion, however, that the break in the main on Fortieth avenue north was caused by the building of a sewer nearby. He says that he can see no other reason for the accident.
 
Breach Is Widening.
 
The breach between the two departments has been widening for several months. It was irritated when the supervision of the construction of the new filtration plant was placed in the hands of City Engineer Rinker. Supervisor Sykes feels he ought to have been the man in charge of that work as the head of the water department.
 
“I suppose if anything happens to the filtration plant after it has been completed we will get the blame for it,” said Mr. Sykes, “although we had nothing to do with its construction. We ought to know what kind of a plant is being built and every detail. It would be of value to us in operating the plant in the future.”
 
Alderman Gould, chairman of the waterworks committee, does not believe that either department can be blamed for the accidents. He declares that it is an accident which would have occurred under any circumstance and that he has no complaint to make.
 
Water was turned into the 36-inch main at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon following a shutoff of 12 hours because of the accident. Water pressure rose at the city hall gauge shortly after and by evening was at its normal stage.
 
This postcard shows Camden Place Park, Minneapolis, in about 1909. (Image courtesy of hclib.org)

 

 
The Camden Place State Bank at Soo and Washington Avenues N. in about 1910. (Image courtesy of hclib.org)

 

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