Water Works: Starr Home Among First to Join Marshall’s Water System

In March 1888, two articles appeared in the Marshall Messenger about a new waterworks (citywide water system) under construction in the city. The article appearing on March 1, 1888 lists locations of the new waterlines including “another branch at Grove running south to J. F. Starr’s residence” and the March 8 article declares “the waterworks will be completed about May 1” as pipes and other infrastructure “have been extended nearly over the eastern part of the city.”

The waterworks would bring water to citizens courtesy of the city—for a fee, of course. The news was probably met with excitement, but might have been a little vexing too, as most structures were not plumbed for water. To hook onto “city” water, owners would have to pay professionals to design and install the needed plumbing and purchase the required fixtures and equipment. This was true in Frank Starr’s case.

In 1884, Frank added plumbing for a washbasin upstairs and a washbasin and a bathtub downstairs in Maplecroft. Water was pumped from his cistern by a windmill to a water tower and then gravity fed to the sinks and tub. His water was free, but he incurred the expense of modifying his house to accommodate the new plumbing and the addition of the two-story water tower.  

That same year, several articles appeared in the Marshall newspapers advocating for waterworks. On February 16, 1884, the Tri-Weekly Herald stated “There is no good reason why Marshall should not have waterworks. There is the town of Belton, with not half the population and less than half the taxable valuation of property of Marshall that has recently closed a contract for waterworks together with the equipment for a first-class fire department.”

Throughout that year, many other articles appeared in the same vein. Some mentioned that the public’s aversion to the project could be a possible increase in the tax rate, and others reported on the successful testing of new waterworks in cities across the state of Texas. It seems to have been an organized campaign waged by the newspapers to convince the movers and shakers of the community that Marshall needed the waterworks due to the city’s rapid growth and the need to improve the local fire department.

The campaign worked. By March 1889, the construction of the waterworks in the city was well underway. On March 1, 1889, the Marshall Messenger reported that “Mr. Sutphin has recently sunk six more wells and is engaged in sinking four more. Excavating has begun for the erection of the tower, and the tower itself will be in in a few days.”  This is progress that Frank Starr certainly saw fit to take advantage of.

In 1889, Frank installed more plumbing in his home. “We are supplied with water from City Water works” he stated in a letter to the Durham House Drainage Company on September 17, 1889, ordering more plumbing supplies. He sent along with the letter a drawing of the new plumbing scheme, which included additional pipe, a water closet, and a connection so the exterior pipes “flow into a watertight cesspool.” The city did not yet have a sewer system.

The new waterworks had another positive impact on local citizens. On November 13, 1890, Carter & Fry and R.P. Littlejohn, insurance agents, posted an article in the Marshall Evening messenger stating, “after a long struggle” they had “succeeded in having the fire insurance rates reduced in this city on account of the waterworks. Brick buildings and contents are reduced 15 cents on the $100 and frame stores 25 cents, to take effect after the 15th inst.” The term “inst.” is the abbreviation for instant and means the event took place in that month. 

Finally, Frank Starr’s home was hooked to the city’s waterworks.  The family had the luxury of at least one indoor flush toilet. What was the price for this new convenience?  As stated in the Marshall Messenger on July 12, 1889, the annual charge per residence “3 persons or less $8; over 3 and not over 5, $10; over 5 and not over 7, $12; this shall include water for bathtub, one cow and one horse.” The Starr family included six children and four adults and paid approximately $12 per year. It can be assumed that the family felt this was money well spent.

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  • Plumbing Plans 1884 First Page, Panel 1