River Station Construction History
city water works system fueled growth" from the Cincinnati Enquirer 3-18-2012
A Remarkable Project
1898 began a unique period in history when four of the world's
largest vertical, triple expansion, crank & flywheel, water
pumping steam engines were incorporated in an equally unique
pump house for the Cincinnati Water Works. Most everything about
the design of the engines and the pump house was influenced by
the wide dynamic range of the Ohio River from low pool stage to
over 75 feet. The pump house sits deep in the ground resting on
a wood caisson and simultaneously, as the stone pump pit was
constructed, the caisson was lowered to a depth of 105 feet by
excavating under the caisson. The rate of excavating closely
followed the rate of stonewall construction on top of the
caisson, which allowed the stone construction to occur mostly at
ground level. Considerable challenges existed throughout the
project, and all were eventually solved, but required innovation
and creativity from both the engineers and the crew.
Why This Deep?
The pump pit was located at this unusual depth because dangerous
conditions can occur when air enters the inside a large water
pump. Eliminating that risk was important and easily
accomplished by locating the floor of the pump house five feet
below the bottom of the Ohio River. At low river levels this
depth provided a small head pressure for the pump inlet allowing
an easy prime of the pump, and allowing the pump to take suction
without cavitating. The facility could pump 120 million gallons
per day and supplied all of the water to the City of Cincinnati
for nearly 60 years.
For the first time in the history of the Cincinnati Water Works
an entire pumping "system" was purchased where a single designer
and manufacturer had the ability and the responsibility for
furnishing and installation of a highly efficient and reliable
unit. The nearly 60 years of reliable operation of these units
was a testament to the advisability of this concept.
The River Station, aka Eastern Pumping Station, for the New
Water Works in Cincinnati, Ohio was built between 1898 and 1907
under contract to the F. H. Kirchner & Company of Cincinnati.
This would appear to be a contradiction to the 1908 date on the
nameplates for each of the engines, but it isn't. 1908 is the
year final tests were performed on the engines and the Water
Works accepted the four engines.
The facility included a circular pump house, a boiler room, an
auxiliary building, and an elevated coal storage building, a
coal-hoisting house, a deaerating plant and a water softening
plant. Four vertical triple expansion, crank & flywheel
water-pumping engines rest on the pump room floor eighty-five
feet below grade, and extend to eighteen feet above ground. The
engines, boilers and overhead radial crane were under contract
to the R. D. Wood Company of Philadelphia, PA, and built by the
Camden Iron works of Camden, NJ, and were installed by the Lane
& Bodley Company of Cincinnati.
Pump House Construction
Construction began with a pit eighteen feet deep and 134 feet in
diameter at the base, tapering outward to a larger diameter at
the surface. A one-inch thick circular steel plate-locating ring
measuring twenty-four inches high with an eight inch T-base
rested on the floor of the construction pit. This ring defined
the outer most edge of the caisson and served to restrict radial
movement of the caisson shoes during the sinking operation.
Caisson Deck and Shoes
Eight crisscrossed shoes (four of which were end tapered to fit
the knife-edge of the caisson) are three feet wide and seven
feet high from 12 inch square air-dried and drift-bolted, white
oak timbers. The shoes provide support for the circular solid
wood caisson deck floor, 12 feet thick by 128 feet in diameter.
Walled space within the shoes provided twenty-one working
chambers, twelve of which were provided with excavation shafts
three feet in diameter that extended through the floor of the
caisson deck. The twelve shafts provided for worker access and
soil removal from the sinking operation. Thirty-two passage ways
through the cross walls provided access among the twenty-one
chambers to assist soil removal and communications for the
sinking operation. The center chamber provides a circular steel
encased opening, sized to fit the ten-foot diameter standpipe
passing up and through the caisson floor, and was supplied by
the Variety Iron Works of Cleveland, Ohio.
Completion of the caisson deck lasted twelve months and was
delayed in part by a short supply of locally grown timbers. The
deck has a finished diameter of 128 feet and measures nineteen
feet thick at the outer most edge and tapers inward to a
thickness of twelve feet. At the proper position for each
engine, sixty-four one-inch bolts were installed vertically
through the caisson timber deck to secure the crisscrossed
timbers in preparation for the 18" high cast iron engine base
plate. 256 vertical bolts were used to secure the closely spaced
timber deck at the four engine locations. Twelve inches of
concrete was poured on the deck floor after the construction of
the pump pit wall and deck stabilization.
Sinking the Caisson
The caisson was lowered in 6 months beginning May 1, 1899 and
ended October 12, 1899. That effort placed the bottom of the
wood support shoes at 105 feet below grade and the top of the
wood deck at an elevation of ten feet below the extreme low
water level, which placed it eighty-five feet below grade and
5.5 feet below the bed of the Ohio River. Simultaneously, as the
caisson was being lowered, the masonry stonewalls and steel
liner was constructed on the caisson floor, and was intended to
provide sufficient weight to keep the caisson from floating. The
rate of excavating closely matched the rate of stone
construction on top of the caisson, which allowed the stone
construction to occur mostly at ground level.
The sinking operation was a coordinated effort from many
workers simultaneously excavating the clay and sand in the
working chambers and hoisting it through the twelve 36 inch
diameter working shafts. Excavation progressed through about
twenty feet of surface clay and the remainder through the
water-bearing sand under the clay. Part of the sand excavation
was deposited on the caisson deck floor as ballast to assist in
overcoming the sinking friction after the caisson had reached
the stage of ground water. The working air pressure in the
standpipe was just above standard atmospheric pressure and did
not exceed 17 p.s.i.
The First Surprise
As the sinking operation progressed, it became obvious from the
movement of the caisson that the anticipated weight of the
engine house and engines would not be sufficient to prevent
shifting of the caisson as had originally been planned. It did
not prove feasible to rest the caisson on bedrock and, as a
result, the station had the undesirable possibility of
"floating" during periods of high river levels from the
hydraulic pressure that resulted from high groundwater levels.
Even the slightest movement of the pump pit floor would
interfere with the smooth operation of the huge engines that
were to be installed. A 1/8 inch movement to the level of the
floor resulted in a 3/8 inch movement at the top of the 104 feet
high engine. Engine alignment was to be within 1/100 of an inch
and would not be feasible if the pit floor moved every time the
river level changed.
After the sand ballast from excavations was removed from the
deck floor on December 12, 1899 and prior to engine placement,
the caisson wood deck deformed taking the shape of an inverted
ice-cream cone. The center rose 3 5/8" while the wall-edge fell
1½ inches. Deformation was caused in part for three reasons.
First, and prior to engine placement, a disproportionate
amount of weight from the pump pit stonewall rested on the outer
most section of the caisson. 100% of the walled weight rested on
the outer most 25% of the caisson deck. This unbalance had a
tendency to cause the caisson to sink at the outer most edge and
rise at the center. Secondly, for the first twelve months or so,
the caisson was under extreme radial pressure caused by the
moisture expansion from the closely space and bolted timbers.
Dry white oak can easily expand 5% or more when saturated with
water. This high radial pressure had a tendency to destabilize
the deck structure. Thirdly, hydraulic pressure from high river
levels in the Ohio River provided the necessary force to nudge
to center upward.
Below is the timeline for the "extraordinary effort" to deal
with and correct this deformation.
12 months, May 18, 1898 to May 1, 1899, Caisson construction,
+6 months, May 1, 1899 to October 12, 1899, sink the caisson
to 105 feet.
+2 months, December 12, 1899, river rises, caisson deforms,
center rises to 3 5/8", and wall-edge falls 1½ inches.
+12 months, November 30, 1900, high river level, center
reached 4 ¼ inches above normal, the wall edge remained 1½
inches below normal. The center fell about ½ inch at low river
+5 months, April 27, 1901, high river level, center took a
set at 3 5/8" at high water and fell slightly at low water.
+12 months, March, 1902, high river level, center took a set
at 4 7/16" at high water and fell slightly at low water level.
+12 months, again in March, 1903, high river level, center
took a set at 4 7/16" and fell slightly at low water level.
To stabilize the caisson a center counterweight was selected
as the most appropriate solution. Supplied by the Bullman-Wilson
Foundry Company of Cincinnati, the ballast took the form of a
circular wall concentric to the pump pit standpipe. The ballast
was constructed using 700 tapered cast iron sections, weighing 6
tons each, for a total ballast weight of 4,200 tons.
+12 months, February 6 to April 15, 1904, 4,200 ton of cast
Iron ballast installed
The Second Surprise
+1 month, May 13, 1904, low river level, the center lowers an
insignificant amount. Even at low river level and 4,200 tons of
center ballast the caisson center resisted movement downward.
This resistance was caused by the high friction from the closely
spaced and bolted, water expanded timbers not allowing
individual movement among the timbers inside the caisson. Four
and a half years had passed since the original deformation of
the deck, allowing for maximum pressure to build from the water
soaked and expanded timbers.
The Third Surprise
+2 months, May 13 to July 7, at low river level, 31 feet of
water was added to the bottom of the pit adding an additional
6,880 tons to the existing cast iron ballast of 4,200 tons, and
served to lower the deck to within 3/8 inch of the original
location, but no further.
+1 month, August, 1904, low river level, in an effort to
nudge the center downward another 3/8 inch the engine bedplates
were anchored to the caisson deck but no additional lowering of
the center occurred.
+1 month, October, 1904, at low river level, a second major
attempt was made to lower the caisson to its original location.
796 tons of engine castings were scattered about the pit floor
and 34 feet of water was added for a total ballast weight of
13,000 tons. This extraordinary ballast weight was required to
overcome high internal friction of the deck from the
+2 months, December, 1904, the floor returned to within 1/16
inch of the original location. The engine castings were removed
and the engine bedplates were re-leveled and set in twelve
inches of concrete. Erection of the engines began.
+2 months, February 27, 1905, as engine erection continues, 15
feet of water was added to the pit floor to counter balance a
rise in river level, and removed by late April as the river
+ 3 months, May, 1905, 10 feet of water was added to the pit
floor because of a rise in the river level.
+3 months, from May 23 to August 1, all four engines were
quickly assembled without regard to alignment or leveling in
order to add weight to the pit floor in anticipation of a river
rise in November and December.
+5 months, January 10, 1906, one by one, each engine was
disassembled and accurately reassembled with regard to accurate
placement, leveling and bearing alignment.
+9 months, September 18, 1906, engine two was started for the
first time, running a few hours on that day and the following
+1 month, October 29, 1906, engine two went online full time.
+5 months, April 28, 1907, engine three went online and by
May 9, Engine 1 was online.
+3 months, August 13, 1907, engine four went online.
When groundwater reached a pre-specified level, water would
be added to the caisson, foot for foot, with the rise in the
groundwater. This precaution has been taken a number of times in
over 104 years of operation.
The tapered pit wall is formed from circular blocks radial sawed
inside and outside, Oolitic dimensioned Bedford limestone, with
the inside face being plumb and fine-pointed. A cylindrical
shell of riveted and caulked steel plate is built into the stone
and masonry wall to render the pit watertight. The station
standpipe is of caulked and riveted steel construction and
extends to bedrock for intake from the river tunnel.
The above grade exterior wall was designed using the Romanesque
Revival architectural style. The limestone stone is from
Bedford, Indiana, Oolitic* dimensioned with the outside surface
being rock-faced and fine pointed. The above grade interior wall
is finished with Tiffany white-enameled brick while the below
grade interior wall is circular sawed and fine pointed.
At the top of the below grade wall three steel horizontal
struts are anchored into the wall and riveted to the steel
standpipe. Opposite the middle strut and in line with the
entrance to the engine house a railroad plate girder is built
from the wall to the steel stand pipe, and supports a
standard-gauge, 4' 8.5" railroad track, which permits railroad
cars being run into the engine house.
The pump house is covered with a cone-shaped conical steel
roof using lantern frame construction, and covered with hard
burnt American red vitrified** "S" tile.
*Oolite dimensioned limestone = grain size .25-2 mm.
**Vitrified Tile is a tile created by the vitrification
manufacturing process which has very low porosity and water
absorption, making it stain-resistant and strong.
A circular gallery six feet wide with polished brass railing
four feet high is supported around the engine room at the floor
level on steel brackets anchored to the pump-pit wall. This
gallery is connected with the gallery around the pumping
machinery. It was common practice during plant operations that
when a worker walked long the brass railing they would carry a
polishing rag in each hand and rub both the left and right rails
as they traveled. On the return trip they would reach to the
lower rails and polish as they walked.
Between pumping engines one and two and adjoining the pump-pit
wall, an electric elevator and cab is provided for carrying men
from the engine-room floor level to the pump-pit floor, or any
of the main engine levels. Warner Elevator Manufacturing
Company, Spring Grove Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio provided the
2,500 lb. capacity, 230 Vdc motor driven elevator.
The Warner Elevator Manufacturing Company was the third
largest elevator manufacturer in the country and was the first
to supply water driven hydraulic elevators to the local area.
When electric power superseded water pressure in the late
nineteenth century, Warner kept stride with progress by
designing electric-driven elevators. They made every type of
elevator, from the high-speed passenger and freight elevator to
the dumbwaiter. An exclusive product was their electrically
driven, plunger type elevator for residential use.
Dual Spiral Stair Cases
Two spiral staircases supplied by the Camden Iron Works extends
from the pit floor to the eccentric deck. A railed staircase
extends from the main engine floor to the wheel deck and several
levels in between. Railing for all stairs and elevated walkways
was bright work polished brass.
Circular Traveling Overhead Radial Crane
On a projection in the above grade wall is placed a steel track
girder for the rail of a circular radial traveling electric
crane. The inner end of the crane revolves on a track placed on
the top of the standpipe rising from the center of the caisson.
Supplied from the Morgan Engineering Company (formerly the
Morgan Crane Company) in Alliance, Ohio, the crane has a span of
49 feet 6 inches and a 30-ton lift of 110 feet. The three
electric motors use Morgan controllers with adjustable speed and
direction controls. All motors are 230 Vdc and include a 30 HP
hoisting motor, a 25 HP bridge motor and a 5 HP trolley
Design of the engine and its pumps allowed every principle
part to be reached and removed by the overhead crane without
disturbing any other part of the machinery. However, when the
head for the intermediate pressure cylinder cracked at startup
on engine two, requiring replacement, some steam piping was
removed to access the engine.
A 55 foot by 54 foot annex building connects the pump house with
the boiler house. This building housed a number of station
auxiliaries such as a steam turbine electric generator,
electrical panels, air compressors, and a machine shop.
A stone walled boiler house measuring 60 feet X 180 feet was
constructed from Oolitic dimensioned Bedford limestone, with the
exterior being rock-faced and fine pointed, and the inside sawed
smooth and rubbed. The boiler room floor is concrete; the toilet
room from red American tile, and the office and storeroom
included matched yellow pine flooring. A steel roof using
lantern frame construction is covered with vitrified** "S" tile.
Individual lockers for all employees, toilet rooms with showers
and other conveniences were provided.
The boiler plant consisted of nine Stirling Company water tube
boilers equipped with American underfeed stokers for a total
plant capacity of 3,921 HP Later on, forced draught Riley
Stokers replaced the American stokers. The four-drum boiler used
176, three-inch diameter steel tubes. There were four batteries
of two boilers each at 424 HP and a ninth boiler at 529 HP
Each battery of boilers was provided with a Foster super heater,
located between the boilers, and so arranged that the boilers
could be operated with or without the super heaters. Each double
battery of boilers was equipped with a Green economizer, and a
Buffalo Forge fan engine using a Buffalo Forge fan of sufficient
capacity to supply air to all the boilers. The exposed surfaces
of the boiler settings, flues and economizers was faced with
Hanover red pressed brick, laid and pointed in red colored
The coal work duty tested at 152,875,648 ft. lb. for every
100 lb. of coal, while the steam duty tested at 172,925,997 ft.
lb. per 1,000 lb. of dry steam, weir measurement.
Each battery of boilers was capable of furnishing steam at
150 p.s.i.g. sufficient to operate each pumping engine at its
full capacity under maximum load. A fourteen-inch pipe delivered
steam to the engine room arranged to use either saturated or
super-heated steam, and branched into two lines with two engines
taking steam from each branch.
The boilers also furnished steam necessary for operating the
electric generators and all auxiliary machinery, and for heating
the building which consisted of radiators and coils distributed
throughout the buildings.
Located in the boiler room and used to handle the exhaust
steam from the ancillary engines, the plant included two Wheeler
surface condensers equipped with grease separators, and two
double-action Valveless suction Mullan air pumps.
A special eight-inch water line from the filter plant
supplied the boilers and toilet rooms with filtered water.
A 175 foot high smokestack fitted with a cast iron top was
located between the boiler house and the elevated coal storage
building. An eight-foot inside diameter stack was built on a
35-foot diameter by 8-foot deep foundation. Lightning protection
was not initially provided for the stack and as a result
considerable surface damage occurred close to the steel ladder
used to climb the stack.
Water Softening and Deaerating Plant
A water softening and deaerating plant was installed for the
treatment of boiler feed water and proved to be very efficient
in the elimination of boiler scale.
Providing dry coal during periods of high water was an important
consideration in addition to providing sufficient coal for
periods of un-navigable low river levels. An elevated 69 foot X
225 foot coal storage building with a superstructure of steel
supported on steel columns and covered with a roof from
eight-inch plain boards was designed and constructed by Chas. L.
Strobel, of Chicago.
Storage for 7,980 tons of Pittsburg nut and slack coal
allowed for a ten-month supply. Coal was delivered originally by
barge and occasionally by truck in the later years.
The lower section of the storage area contained 114 pocket
hoppers with each pocket holding 70 tons of coal. A coal spout
and valve on each hopper left six and a half feet of headroom
above the narrow gauge coal tracks running lengthwise underneath
At the river end of the building a dual track narrow gauge
incline rail system extended from the upper track system above
the coal bins and from the hoisting house, down the riverbank to
the low water line. Steam hoisting engines in the hoisting house
used a dual cable-hoisting drum to lower one car as the other
car was being pulled up the incline. Steel trestle bents were
used for the elevated section. Steel aprons were provided to
span the distance between the tracks on the incline and the
tracks on the unloading barge at any stage of the river water
above elevation 16. During the delivery of coal by barge it was
found later that the distance between the center of tracks on
the inclines did not always agree with the spacing of the tracks
under the coal hoppers for the unloading barge, and some changes
had to be made on the steel aprons to permit adjustment to the
tracks on the barge.
From the barge, coal was unloaded into two-ton steel coal
dump cars, which are drawn up the incline and dumped at will
into the coal bin and onto a cross-belt conveyor. From the
cross-belt conveyor coal was distributed by means of
shuttle-belt conveyors to the 114 pocket hoppers.
Coal was supplied from the pocket hoppers into the boiler
room using the narrow gauge charging cars which were switched
into the boiler room by a narrow gauge electric locomotive
called the "Dinky", which also moved ash cars to the waste pit.
During one of the tests in June, 1906, made in the presence
of Mr. S. Vivian, the Architectural Engineer and draftsman for
this department and who had charge of the work under the
contract, an accident occurred which resulted in the death of
Mr. Vivian a few hours later. The accident was caused by a
loaded coal car, which had reached the top of the incline,
suddenly leaving the track near the hoisting drum and pinning
Mr. Vivian, who was but a few feet away, against the side of the
hoist house. In the death of Mr. Vivian the Department lost one
of its best men and an exceptionally careful, reliable, and
competent engineer, and a modest and industrious coworker.
A rail suspended hopper system called the "Lorry", eventually
replaced the coal shovelers and delivered coal to each stoker
hopper. The Lorry was supplied by a coal hoist in a new three
story poured concrete lifting house at the front of the boiler
house. The railroad siding had been extended to the coalbunkers
and a new river-side incline built, so that coal could be
received either by rail or by river. However, rail delivery was
It was important that a railroad connection be established
between the New Water Works and the Cincinnati, Georgetown &
Portsmouth Railroad Co. This connection enabled contractors to
deliver their tools and supplies as well as the construction
materials and machinery with the least amount of haul by teams.
The railroad along with the viaduct was built by the Fort Pit
Bridge Works, from Canonsburg, PA.
4,850 feet of dual gauge railroad track on a 2% graded
roadbed was laid from the main CG&P line to the New Water Works.
The CG&P was a narrow gauge steam line constructed by the
Cincinnati & Portsmouth Railroad company between 1876-1886, and
converted to Standard Gauge and Electrified in 1902. While the
line never made it to Portsmouth, it was the first steam
railroad in the country to convert to electricity. The branch to
the California water works was built with dual gauge tracks to
allow standard gauge freight cars from the Little Miami Railroad
to be hauled to the water works with the CG&P’ s narrow gauge
At the water works the tracks dividend with the standard
gauge tracks ending at the center of the pump house and the
narrow gauge continuing to the coal storage building. The tracks
consist of three 60-pound rails for three feet and four feet 8 ½
inch gauge track ballasted with gravel. The tracks were able to
carry a live load of two locomotives coupled and followed or
preceded by a uniform load of 3,000 pounds per lineal foot,
moving at the rate of thirty miles per hour.
The Cincinnati-Georgetown Railroad Co. reorganized in 1927.
Service was cut back and they eventually abandoned the entire
line with the remaining route between Carrell Street and the New
Water Works sold to the City of Cincinnati. The City Water Works
use was suspended in 1943.
You can see additional pictures and documentation for the CG&P
by Jeffrey B. Jakucyk at
and more traction history at
The electric generating plant, located in the Annex and supplied
by Dravo, Doyle & Co., of Pittsburg, Pa, consisted of three
units of two 75-kilowatt, 4-pole Crocker-Wheeler 230 Volt direct
current generators. They were directly connected to two gear
wheels, which were driven by a DeLaval steam turbine, fitted to
operate either condensing or non-condensing. These generators
were used when the current required by the station was greater
than could be supplied by the power generated from the water
wheels at the Filtration Plant.
In addition, a 60-kilowatt Northern electric 230 Vdc
generator direct connected to a diesel fuel Russell engine
installed in the Annex. The generator supplied current to the
electric motor operating the tunnel pump and was used as
emergency backup to the steam driven generators. A seven-panel
highly polished black enameled switchboard, on which all the
various instruments are mounted, was also located in the Annex,
so as to be within observation from any point near the