BEL TV "Somewhere in Waldo County" Belfast Water October 2016 Interview with Ned Lightner

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

A Brief History of the Belfast Water District
1887 to Present
Compiled by Nancy L. Smith (2003)

The need for a water supply for fire protection following the devastating fires, which swept through downtown Belfast in 1865 and again in 1873, prompted the City to purchase Kirby Lake, which we know today as the Muck. After a period of 10 years, determining the water supply was no longer adequate for fire protection for Belfast businesses, Belfast voters, in a special election, decided overwhelmingly to accept a proposal of Parks & Wheeler, civil engineers from Boston, Massachusetts, to create a water company, and in 1887, the Belfast Water Company was formed.

Construction began at Little River, with the creation of a 175-foot long dam near the mouth of the Little River, on a 55-acre reservoir, with an average depth of 20 feet. A handsome brick pump house at Little River, constructed along the north side of the dam, having two turbine pumps, and an auxiliary steam pump, quickly became a landmark. The water company generated its own power at the dam, utilizing the steam pump when the flow of water diminished, usually a period of two months during the summer. The pump house was modified during World War II with the addition of a lookout cupola used by Civilian Defense for a clear view of the bay in search of enemy submarines. Construction of the distribution system began with a main, which ran from Little River to a standpipe, having a capacity of 263,000 gallons, constructed on Wilson’s Hill, the highest point in the city, three miles from Little River. A neighbor living on Wilson’s Hill was given his water free for informing the Water Company when the Standpipe was full to overflowing. Cast iron mains were laid from the standpipe to the intersection of Main and High Streets. The trenches for these mains were all dug by hand, with great difficulty, using shovels and pick axes through the layers of ledge.

There were 40 hydrants located in the primary streets of the downtown for fire protection, and in 1888, 4 water fountains were erected on the corners of Church, Main and High Streets for man and beast, to the delight of the townspeople. Operating costs of the water plant and distribution system, as it remains today, were met by the collection of revenue from its customers.

By 1891 there were 50 operating fire hydrants, for which the city of Belfast paid $1,800.00 per year, and 317 private and manufacturing water services ranging from $6.00 to $500.00 per year.

In 1918 City officials approached Parks & Wheeler about purchasing the water company, to which they agreed. In 1919, by legislative charter, the state created and incorporated, the Belfast Water District, a quasi-municipal, non-profit entity, separate from the City, supported by consumer revenue, whose board of Trustees would be appointed by the Belfast City Council. At their first meeting on October 25, 1919, the new three person Board of Trustees voted to purchase from the Belfast Water Company the entire water plant, all properties, franchises, equipment, rights and privileges.

By 1927, the Belfast Water District supplied a population of about 5,000, with 12 ¾ miles of water mains. With the acquisition of water shed properties around the upper and lower reservoirs, thus reducing the runoff from animal pastures and cultivated lands, and the addition of the purification plant, the quality of the water greatly improved.

Following two days of steady rain, on Sunday October 17, 1943, both upper and lower reservoirs already at flood stage, another cloud burst with an additional 4 ½ inches of rain fell (the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in 65 years). The water rose to 5 ½ feet over the spillway forcing ten-foot granite blocks to fall off the south face of the dam. The weakened dam finally breeched and the combination of the enormous force of water propelling granite blocks in the direction of the bridge on Route 1, and a wall of water rushing in from the bay on a wild incoming tide, took out the already weakened bridge. All of Waldo County was experiencing flooding of streets and residences from the torrential rainfall. The pump house was also flooded and windows and doors blown out. Photo

Help from the Augusta Water District and the Camden Fire Department by setting up temporary pumping capacity at Kirby Lake, resulted in uninterrupted water service to the people of Belfast. The dam was replaced in 1944 at a cost of $50,000.00. An erosion protection project was completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1988 at a cost of $150,000.00.

In the 1950s two wells were drilled into a sand and gravel aquifer on the east side of Belfast for additional water supply and in 1980, when the Water District discontinued using the Little River reservoirs, these wells became the sole supply of pure, high quality water for the district’s 1,800+ customers.

Today, in addition to the two eastside wells, there are four above ground storage tanks with a 3-day water supply, and 39 miles of water mains supplying a population of 6,750. There are back up generators at each well site and security measures in place at all districts wells, pump stations and water district facilities. Since amending the Charter in 1973, the number of Trustees has increased from three to five, one of whom is appointed each year.

Throughout its 116 year history the Belfast Water District has benefited from the dedication to service and the uncompromising work ethic of its trustees and superintendents. Under their leadership and management the water utility is today regarded as an efficiently operated, quality water service, recognized by the State of Maine for its superior quality of pure water, its value and protection of its water resources and its service to the community.

Listed below are the names of the past and current superintendents to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.


1887-1919 W. A. Parks
1919-1925 D. N. Bird
1925 J. B. Longley
1926-1950 Aubrey L. Ramsdell
1950-1956 Horace E. Blanchard
1956 - 1979 Roy C. Talbot
1979 - 1985 Milford E. Rhodes
1985 - 2005 Harry T. Smith
2005 - Present Keith H. Pooler

The “modernization” of the Belfast Water District has been interesting and challenging over the years. The handsome brick pump house, welcomes travelers and visitors, as a sentinel of the southernmost point of the City and is a mecca for photographers. The common link between the old and the new is the value placed on the water resources and the dedication to service of those who worked for the District in the past to the crew who serves today. The Belfast Water District is a unique and special blend of history and modern utility services and its crew has earned the pride they feel in the job they do and the appreciation of those they serve.


Click the link below to view a list of all our pages for more site information.