Return to Dr. Bronson’s St. Augustine History
Public Water Comes to
St. Augustine, Florida
“Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink”. On March 17, 1884, E. F. Joyce was granted a
ninety-nine year charter for exclusive rights for water works to supply the city and all other purposes.
He had twelve months to have pipes laid and water running.
The St. Johns Weekly on June 12, 1885 had an advertisement that reads as follows: The St. Augustine
Water Company is now prepared to furnish parties with water on St. George, Charlotte, King, Plaza,
Cuna, Spanish, and Fort streets as far as the water mains are laid, for drinking, cooking, sprinkling, and
all other purposes, at moderate rates.
All service pipes, fixtures, etc. put in by thoroughly competent men. All water is supplied from artesian
wells and is absolutely pure and good. For further information, enquire of E. F. Joyce.
Public water arrived at the doors of St. Augustine residents after 319 years. The early system was only
good for the first floor, due to a lack of pressure, and that was not the worst of it. All St. Augustine
water had a problem –¦it was sulfur and very hard water. Plumbing fixtures had a short life span and
drinking it??? There was no corresponding sewer system. By 1898, there were thirteen miles of pipe
for the city system with only one hundred and sixty customers.
Henry Flagler needed lots of water for his hotels and he needed a sewage system to go with it. For the
Union depot he bought city water from Joyce, but for the Ponce and Alcazar he dug his own artesian
wells. The wells were deeper and wider than the city wells and were pumped up into the towers of the
hotels to give adequate pressure, not only for the rest rooms, but also for fire suppression systems for
the buildings. However, Flagler was still faced with the problem of the sulfur water. He attempted to
have this corrected by aerating the water through a series of fountains, but it simply did not work.
Flagler contracted McGuire and McDonald to build a water works system four miles out of town in the
Moultre creek watershed. Forty acres of land was purchased, a dam built and a pumping station and
standpipe were erected. They built a 30 x 30 foot pump house on the site. It contained a 70 hp boiler
and a snow duplex pump. The water went through a Jewell filter with the capacity of 500,000 gallons
daily. A 10 inch pipe carried the soft water to the hotels.
The laundry for the hotels was located near the depot. It had 30 tubs, ringers 2 80 horsepower engines
and 1 40 horsepower motor. The laundry was air-dried. The help was segregated so there were
separate rest rooms and eating facilities