Fremont CountyNow and Then

Now & Then: A Wood Stave Water Pipeline for Cañon City 1908-1924

By Loretta (Stevens) Bailey

Now:  A visit to the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center will give you an opportunity to see an actual piece of the wooden water pipeline.  This extraordinary remnant is on the second floor and resting on the floor.  

Across from the pipe are two retired control panels that were used by Cañon City Water Treatment Plant and donated to RGRM&HC. The first one was installed in 1957 and was considered to be “State of the Art” at the time. The other was installed in 1974 and used until 1992. Both panel controls used pneumatic over hydraulic control to open and close valves and set the flow of the water. Hydraulic controls were used to open, close, and set the rate of flow for valves for the filters.  Operators used the Slow Sand Filtration Facility by manually operating the various valves associated with the filters to clean the water.

Cañon City had long desired a system that ensured cool, clear, clean, and soft water delivered right to the residents’ homes. Cañon City’s Water Committee, E.C. Hiatt, William T. Wallace and Cyrus Weaber worked to bring the plans to fruition. This piece of the pipeline and controls are evidence of that hard work.

Men sitting on pipeline (L-R: Charlie, F.C. Patterson, Ike), ca. 1915, Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center
Men sitting on pipeline (L-R: Charlie, F.C. Patterson, Ike), ca. 1915, Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

Best Laid Plans Can Go Awry Quickly

Then: On May 20, 1908 an Adjournment Regular Meeting was conducted by Mayor Seely, in the council building on the corner of 3rd and Macon.  The purpose of this meeting was to advertise for bids from contractors for the construction of a Wooden Pipeline.

“Advertisement for Contractors: Furnishing material and construction of 8 miles of 26” or 30” conduit of either steel or continuous wood stave pipe, a settling basin, filter, two clear water reservoirs and accessories for Cañon City Water Works.”[1]

Cañon City Record

 Thursday, January 20, 1910


Messrs Lumsden & Gordon, the Contractors Released From Further Responsibility in the Matter by the Council on the Filing of an Identifying Bond in the Sum of Five Thousand Dollars – Twelve Thousand Dollars Withheld by the City From Contract Price to Finish the Work

“Ralph W. Smith of Denver, representing the National Surety Company, bondsman for the contractors was present at Thursday morning’s meeting of the council and stated that his principals would accede to the condition to be contained in the report of the finance and water committees and would furnish statements as to the amount of the indebtedness against Messrs. Lumsden & Gordon, so far, as their work has been concerned and would furnish bond for them in the matter.

The estimates of the engineers on the amount to be paid the contractors for the elite work and the reports to the committees follows:

Amount of main contract $263,750.00.”

After pages of figures from reports were submitted by the Water Committee and Finance Committee both with Cañon City Council and their attorney an agreement was reached.  

“WHEREAS: A final settlement has been made and agreed upon by and between the of City of Cañon City and contractors for the construction of new water works system for the city where by the said Lumsden & Gordon are to be released from further prosecution of said work and to be paid the final sum of $39,174.84 in full satisfaction on their claims of their part against the city, and their bond as contractors to be released.  Now and therefore.

The $39,174.84 will be put in the finance committee hands and delivered to Lumsden & Gordon when they deliver to the said committee and bond in the sum of $5,000 and signed by them with good surety and conditioned for the payment to them incurred as such contractors and to save the city harmless from any such debt or liability.”


My impression of a contract awarded to contractors for $263,750.00 and then paid $39,174.84 was shocking! What about your impressions of what may have happened for the break from a legal and binding contract?  My thoughts are that it had to something unappealingly nasty.

 After reading copious news articles from Cañon City Times, Canon City Record and Cañon City Daily Record on micro film, I selected the following articles from February 17, 1910 to May 13, 1924. I have pulled the relevant information from each article to share.

Map of Cañon City showing location of filtration system, 1953; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center
Map of Cañon City showing location of filtration system, 1953; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

Cañon City Times

February 17, 1910

What Should be Done with its Surplus Water?

When the new water system is completed the city will have for the next few years enough water to sell for irrigation or other purposes to bring a large revenue and it is now up to the council to decided what it will do with this water.

It seems to be the opinions of some that if the city uses it for generating power for an electric plant or similar purpose that the water must be turned back into the river.  Why anyone should be of that opinion we are unable to understand.  The water belongs to the city and it can do anything with it, it may desire.

The city could use it for generating power for a lightning plant and then run the water into an irrigating ditch and sell it for irrigation land and thereby get a double revenue from the water.

By doing this Cañon City could be the best lighted city in the state at comparatively little cost.  From the point where the pipe line comes through the hogback a fall of 50 to 75 feet can be had, which with the great volume of water, a power could be generated to run a dynamo that would light up the city and furnish lots of surplus power to be sold.

After this was accomplished, they would still have just as much water to turn into irrigating ditches to be sold to irrigate lands around Cañon and it would not be trouble to sell the water for this purpose.

The council should take this up and investigate and see what can be done along this line and we understand some members of the council are favorable to this kind of a proposition.”


 Cañon City Times

April 7, 1910


“Alderman Wallace reported that he had made a purchase of a large amount, of wooden staves for the use of the city [from] the former contractors.  The staves are to be stored away for use in case of a break in the pipe line.

Under direction of the council application will be made to have the point of division of all the water owned by the city in the city ditch, except four feet, changed from the present intake to the intake of the present new pipe line.”


Cañon City Times

July 8, 1910


There is a great deal of concern among our citizens in regard to our water supply, and also as to the number of typhoid cases in town.  The number of cases has been greatly exaggerated.  We have not had to exceed twenty cases, so far this summer in Cañon and vicinity.  This is less than we have had most other years.

Four samples of water were sent to Denver to the state board of health chemist and bacteriologist for examination.  One was distilled water from the ice plant.  One from the Flowing Wells and one from the spring near South Canon High School Building and the other from the City Mains. The distilled water, as was expected made the best showing as to purity.  Other tests will be made.

While no typhoid germs were found, the State Board of Health advises that we boil our drinking water, to make assurance.

Dr. C. Herman Graves & Dr. F.N. Carrier

Health Officers, pro-tem.


Colorado State Penitentiary’s Warden Tynan Joins the Dispute Over Water & Typhoid Fever

Thomas J. Tynan was the warden from 1909 to 1927 was known for his ability to put ideals with practical methods and a keen foresight with enterprise.  He had received high praises for the making of honorable men from convicts.

Tynan sent his Warden’s Report for 1909 to 1910 to the State of Colorado. He focused on how much he saved the state and city money, by providing free convict labor. One area he addressed in his report was the on-going intense debates over water rights and typhoid fever.

“They [convicts] have screened all the doors and the windows of the prison with fly screen at a cost $340.17 for materials.  The labor was worth $700.  This improvement has not only added to the comfort of the inmates, who were besieged in the warm weather by a pest of flies, but guarded the prisoners from disease.

Since putting up the screens we have not had a case of typhoid in the prison, (one case was brought in from a road camp.) They have driven a tunnel in the Royal Gorge for the Cañon City Water Works, under an agreement made by a former administration.

By this work the prisoners have earned $2,584.05 in water for the institution, to be either used by the prison or sold, as the administration chooses.  We have also obtained from the city authorities water rights for twenty acres of prison land in payment for the use of a tunnel built by the prisoners under a former administration.

The land without water is practically valueless.  Irrigation land adjoining it is valued at $2000.00 an acre.  At an expense of $1,500 for ditching, walling creek, etc., the prisoners can now add $30,000 in land to the prison endowment.”

In previous research on Warden Tynan, I discovered that he had two distinct ways for management of the prison and convicts.  On one side he was quite colorful, intriguing, and unlawful.  However, that is a story for another time.

Cañon City Record

September 26, 1912

Inspecting Work in Royal Gorge

“C.W. Patten, superintendent of the Cañon City Waterworks System went up to the Intake of the waterworks pipe line in the Royal Gorge this morning to inspect the work being done there under the directions of Charles l. Mitton. To prevent slush ice from interfering with the passage of water through the pipe line during the winter months.  The excavation for the undertaking is practically finished and it is expected that the concrete work will begin in a few days.”


Cañon City Daily Record

January 17, 1918

For Four Months Sun Don’t Shine on This House

“Cleo Combs caretaker of the city water works system at the Intake lives in a pleasant little home in the upper end of the Royal Gorge.  The home is on the south side of the river and is in a beautiful location, a little way above the hanging bridge, but in a broader section of the can[y]on.

To look at the home as you pass thru the can[y]on on the train it does not seem to be especially shut in.  It sets out on a little slope commanding a beautiful view in several directions.

But, for four months in the winter the sun never shines on Mr. Combs’ home.  On Oct. 17th the sun shines in for a few moments and is gone [f]rom Oct. 18th to Feb. 12th the sun does not shine directly on this home.  The sun shines on the hillside opposite and on the hill tops all about, but the rays never reach into this little home for these four months.

The hanging bridge is in a narrower part of the can[y]on.  For five months in the year the sun does not shine in or near the hanging bridge.  From Oct. 1st to March 1st the sun does not shine here.

So, any time this winter if you want find a cool shady place for a picnic walk up to the hanging bridge.  You may be sure you will find it shady there and perhaps cool enough.”


Winters were harsh and then there were the gratingly rough dog fights over who owned the surplus water. Where did the typhoid fever start? Shady contractors possibly trying to pull-off a slick deal.

Where the wooden water pipeline was built is one of the most dangerous and chancy places around where water in all forms commands the gorge all year and sunshine is meager.

Despite this, the determined Cañon City Government still had the water pipeline up and running. They must have had hopes that the water pipeline project would go forth without any further agitation. It seemed that things quieted down for a while. 

Cañon City Daily Record

May 31, 1924


75 Feet is Taken Out When Rock in Royal Gorge Falls into the River

“A huge boulder rolled down into the Royal Gorge near mile post No. 167 Thursday night and tore out 75 feet of the waterworks pipeline shutting off the flow of water into the city reservoir.  The trouble was discovered by Fred Volk, caretaker at the intake and he turned off the water at the headgate, thus preventing damage from the flow of water thru the broken pipeline. The rain earlier in the night had put the telephone out of commission and Mr. Volk was unable to get the word to Superintendent Chetelat until early Thursday morning, when steps were taken to repair the line.

The boulder was estimated to weigh at least five tons. It cut the pipeline as easily as if it had been made of cheese and shattered it for a considerable distance on each side of its place of passage.  Mr. Chetelat was unable to get the necessary men and materials to the break in the line on a special west bound Rio Grande freight train Thursday afternoon and at once began making repairs.  It is expected that the work will be completed this afternoon and the water again turned into the reservoir.”


These next two articles were in too poor of condition to read and type out.  However, the headlines give a good description of what tremendous force that packed ice and slush has in an over thousand foot narrow gorge, with sheer granite cliffs on both sides.

 Cañon City Daily Record

December 23, 1924

Fight is on at Ice Shrouded Water Intake


Cañon City Daily Record

December 27, 1924

Ice Mass Breaks in Gorge and in it’s Downward Rush Cuts a New Channel for River Doing the Work Cañon City has Long Wanted but Done Without Cost


The information in this article was compiled from research done at the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

For further reading, research, or photographs, visit the Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center.

Subject files:

F-Cañon City Water (1908-1949)

Oral Histories:

Marvin Willyard, Supt. Water Department

J. Henry Storm, Resident Care Taker (Digital)

Bruce and Lynn Kock Resident Care Takers (Digital)

LeRoy Hamilton (Digital)

George Millican, Water Treatment Plant

Fred Brackney


Osterwald, Doris B. Rails Thru the Gorge: A Mile by Mile Guide for the Royal Gorge Route. Lakewood, CO: Western Guideways, 2003.



[1] Minutes book for Cañon City Council April 1, 1908 to March 19, 1910; pgs. 48-62.

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