It turns out that odd piece of wire-wrapped wooden pipe found on Main Street in July is indeed old.
Perhaps you remember it. On July 28, we published a story and photo about a 6-foot-long, 6- to 10-inch-diameter piece of wire-wrapped wooden pipe that road workers dug up while removing old asphalt and dirt underneath Tooele City’s Main Street as part of the state’s SR-36 Renewed project.
The pipe was seen lying in the dirt in front of the Transcript Bulletin Main Street office. A few days later, it was safely delivered to the Tooele City Pioneer Museum Complex. It is now on display in the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum.
As reported in the story by staff writer Jessica Henrie, water lines made of redwood were commonly used throughout the western U.S. between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Redwood had several advantages over metal pipe: it transported more easily, and was more resistant to freezing temperatures and decay from pests and fungus. Also, redwood pipes stayed smooth and clean inside while iron pipe would scale and corrode.
On Aug. 27, I couldn’t resist from writing about the pipe in “Out and About.” Although my late father was a master plumber and I had worked often with him, I had never seen — nor heard about — wooden pipe before. To me, it was like a mastodon tusk unearthed from the last Ice Age. And I wanted to know if the pipe was a relic from Tooele City’s first culinary water system.
After doing more research, I learned about accounts from other cities across America where construction crews unearthed buried pipelines made of wooden staves or bored-out logs. One of the biggest recorded finds occurred in New York City in 2006. City records indicated the wooden pipes may have been placed in the late 1700s to early 1800s, when the city began to build a water distribution system.
But those aren’t the oldest to have been discovered. In 2004, archeologists in the United Kingdom reportedly found wooden pipes underneath the ruins of a Roman fort estimated to have been built 2,000 years ago.
The secret to wood’s startling longevity underground is simple. According to information on Portland, Oregon’s long history of using timber for water pipes (1856 to 1953), both oxygen and water are needed for wood to rot. Buried wooden pipe is deprived of oxygen and can last apparently for centuries.
Here in Utah, wooden water pipes were also used. Salt Lake City used wood stave pipe during the late 1800s. The city’s first possible attempt to convey water from City Creek via wood stave pipe occurred in 1873. A historical brief quotes an F. E. Morris who described the pipe “of wooden stave variety bound spirally with ‘hoop’ iron.”
Could it be the wooden pipe from underneath Tooele City Main Street dates back to the late 1800s? Thanks to Brent and Julie Hunt of Stansbury Park, that question may now be answered.
While doing some geneaology research, the Hunts found an interesting story in the Sunday, July 27, 1890 edition of The Salt Lake Herald. He was generous to share his discovery with the Transcript Bulletin, and now with you. It offers much illumination about the pipe.
Under the headline, “At Thrifty Tooele — The Enterprise Displayed by the Water Company,” the author, known only as “49er,” wrote:
The season, thus far, for Tooele City, has been prosperous, quite an abundance of water and very good crops.
What also has been of great benefit to the place, indeed, almost the life of it, has been the putting in of a water system for the use of the inhabitants of the city, furnishing them an abundant supply of good, pure mountain water for culinary purposes. The water is being brought from a large, beautiful, cold spring, one mile from the southern part of the city. On the hill immediately to the south of the city we put in a large tank, 25×40 feet and 12 1/2 feet in depth, blasted out of solid rock, inside of which is built an 18-inch concrete wall, thoroughly plastered, and all of the best Portland cement.
The walling and cementing of the tank was done by Elias Morris of Salt Lake City.
The tank is also closely roofed in and made secure, will, no doubt, answer the purpose of its design for a great length of time. The fall from the spring to the tank is 120 feet, and the fall from the tank to the lower or mouth end of the city is 230 feet.
Six miles of mains have been laid and over twenty service pipes, also, before the water was turned on. One mile above the tank is laid with sewer pipe from eight to six inches in diameter.
Five miles of mains in the city of Puget Sound iron bound wood pipe from eight inches to two inches in diameter.
The work has been done under the engineering of F.M. Lyman, Jr. David James, of Salt Lake City, has furnished all the material, pipes, plugs, hydrants, etc, and has put in the entire works.
The putting in the system has furnished a great amount of work for many men in this city.
It has been just 100 days today since the first blow was struck and the first shovelful of earth removed on this undertaking.
The men who have been most energetic in the accomplishment of the work and are the directors are: Francis M. Lyman, Alex Herron, George F. Richards, H.S. Gowans, Peter A. Droubay, Francis M. Lyman, Jr., and John Gillespie.
In times past, particularly in the summer season, the people have been of necessity compelled to use water more or less filthy; but with this water system running through every street in the city, north and south, east and west, every family at a nominal cost may be supplied with good, pure water summer and winter, the price being but about one half as much as is usual in other cities, the following being the cost per year: For family use, $5; washing vehicles, $1 each; watering horses or horn stock, 50 cents per head; sheep 10 cents per head, and all other service in proportion.
Whether the enterprise will be immediately patronized so as to pay interest on the investment or not, remains to be seen, the cost of the system not being less than $18,000. But it is a fact that the work is complete, the water in, and for the people, and was so proclaimed on this day at the public celebration by Apostle Francis M. Lyman.
The possible answer to the wooden pipe’s mystery may be found in the story’s sixth paragraph:
“Five miles of mains in the city of Puget Sound iron bound wood pipe from eight inches to two inches in diameter.”
If the wooden pipe unearthed by road crews in July is from that 1890 project, it is 125 years old.
That’s not quite as old as a mastodon tusk from the last Ice Age, but I’m still impressed. Maybe you are, too. Indeed, not all acts of archaeology dig up bones and shards of great age and worth. But more importantly, they bring light to remarkable stories about a heretofore people and place.
Thanks to Brent and Julie Hunt, such a story is now known.