Union Water Works, now known simply as Water Works, is a residential village in North Annville Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. The community, located at a crossing of the Swatara Creek, was originally called Alger. During the early 1800s it became a point of interest along the Union Canal, which connected the Schuylkill River to the Susquehanna River. It was here that the canal company built a pumping station, the water works, to lift water from the Swatara Creek to feed the summit at Lebanon.
The original proposal from the canal company included right-of-ways for streets, in anticipation of the formation of a town. Construction of the canal had begun decades earlier, but it finally opened to full operation in 1828. From the water works, the canal ran parallel to the Swatara Creek — known to all as the Swatty — to Middletown on the Susquehanna River. The canal actually crossed from the south bank to the north bank of the creek via an aqueduct just downstream from Harpers Tavern.
The original water works were powered by a waterwheel. It may sound redundant, sort of like a solar-powered clothes dryer, but it actually worked that way. Power from a waterwheel pumped other water even higher into the feeder at the top of the hill. As you can imagine, the system was not very efficient, since it used about a 7:1 ratio of water power to water output. In other words, it required 7 gallons of waterwheel water for every 1 gallon of canal water it produced. The waterwheel was soon replaced by a set of steam engines. The feeder, which started at the water works, was a wooden barrel-type pipeline that ran the four miles back to the Union Canal Tunnel.
In order to keep the feeder line level over the rolling farmland, it was often supported on trellises up to thirty feet high or dug underground. The destination end of the feeder was constructed as a brick culvert, which in turn emptied into the canal. The whole operation was such an impressive feat of engineering, and everyone in the area knew about the Union water works, that Union Water Works quickly became the de facto name of the community as well, although the name Alger persisted in documents of the day as late as 1900.
In 1832 an additional branch of the canal was built north to Pine Grove in Schuylkill County to service the anthracite coal fields of central Pennsylvania. The north branch connected to the main canal at the Water Works dam. The business of the canal included the pumping station, a weigh station and toll house, and several nearby locks. In winter, when the canal was silent, the company kept some employees to cut and sell ice from the dam.
The federal censuses of North Annville for 1850 to 1880 show men with occupations such as canal superintendent, canal manager, lock keeper, weighmaster, boatman, steamhouse tender, engineer, and boat maker. Although the community never really evolved into a town, businesses characteristic of a rural town developed around the water works, including a hotel, blacksmith, general store, grain, coal, and lumber merchants. Dohner Mennonite Church was established in 1831, and built their church on a hill about a half mile from the dam. The church, now in its 175th year, is still active at the same location. A decade later, other residents of Water Works formed a congregation of United Brethren and built a church on land donated by Jacob Heilman and Michael Seltzer.
Read more in Life after the Canal.
- Construction, Operation and Decay of the Union Canal. Paul D. Mullwolland. Thesis submitted to Lehigh University, 1886.
- Lebanon County: A Post Card History. Donald R. Brown, Robert Heilman, and Henry C. Westenberger. Lebanon County Historical Society, Lebanon, PA, 1992.
- One Room Schools in [Lebanon County], 3rd Edition. Compiled and edited by Wayne Anspach. Lebanon County Historical Society, Lebanon, PA, 2005.
- The Two Canals of Lebanon County. Dean M. Aungst. Lebanon County Historical Society, Lebanon, PA, 1968.
- Union Canal. Vertical file, Hauck Research Archives, Lebanon County Historical Society, Lebanon, PA.