The history of public water utilities in Connecticut is an undeniably fascinating story of growth and evolution that weaves the histories of multiple cities into one. At this site is the current headquarters of Aquarion Company, a water conglomerate that now serves most of the state of Connecticut, but the history of Aquarion’s subsidiary water systems can be understood by following the story of its two largest acquisitions: the Stamford Water Company and the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company.
Stamford Water Company of Stamford, CT, is one of Stamford’s earliest public utility companies, predating the official incorporation of Stamford as a city by just shy of 40 years. Since 1868, the goal of the company was to ensure the city was affordably and well-supplied, a goal which the company pursued for over a century.
The original Stamford Water Company was founded by a group of Stamford investors including James H. Hoyt, but it never took off the ground. Instead, nearly a decade later, a new iteration of the company was founded, spearheaded this time by James H. Hoyt. The 1868 rebirth of the Stamford Water Company started concrete work immediately, and by 1871, the town of Stamford had a gravity distribution system delivering water to homes and businesses through Connecticut-made pipes.
The Stamford Water Company drew most of its water from the nearby Mill River, having begun construction on a major reservoir on the Mill River which was completed in 1966. While Stamford handled the water of the city for most of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, the 1960s brought heavy scrutiny to the company following a series of water shortages amidst a drought.
In 1984, Stamford Water Company was acquired by the Aquarion Company, previously known as the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company. BHC itself has its roots in the mid-19th century, being founded in 1857 and quickly growing to provide water services to multiple cities in the state.
With the acquisition of Stamford Water Company by Aquarion, the city is now serviced primarily by a single privately-owned water company, whose headquarters are in Bridgeport.
The Bridgeport Hydraulic Company traces its history to a Bridgeport Reverend by the name of Elijah Waterman. In 1818, Waterman designed a simple log pipeline that brought water from his hill property down to the Bridgeport waterfront. This allowed sailors and citizens to have access to a rudimentary form of running water.
In 1823, Lewis C. Segee renovated the pipeline and renamed it the Waterman-Segee Pipeline. Shortly afterwards, Segee negotiated the sale and development of the pipeline, resulting in the creation of the Bridgeport Golden Hill Aqueduct Company.
1845 brought devastation to Bridgeport in the form of the Great Fire of 1845. This fire destroyed most of Bridgeport’s business district and solidified the need for better water infrastructure. The sudden motivation for new sources of water resulted in the creation of Bridgeport Water Company in 1853. Led by Nathaniel Green, the Bridgeport Water Company was granted the rights to develop the water infrastructure of the city provided they offered water to all in the city equally.
However, despite the Bridgeport Water Company making some early strides, financial hard times led to the closure of the company only two years later. The lack of a water company to maintain water in Bridgeport pushed the Connecticut General Assembly to pass a special act which allowed for the formation of the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company in 1857.
Led by a number of the original owners of the Bridgeport Water Company, the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company was stymied in its early development efforts by the commencement of the American Civil War. Throughout the war, the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company maintained its existing infrastructure, but by 1876 they had grown the city’s water distribution systems almost threefold.
In 1877, the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company’s history became even more colorful. Phineas T. Barnum, the famous performer and promoter of Barnum and Bailey Circuses, became the second president of Bridgeport Hydraulic. Barnum was greatly involved in business and politics in Bridgeport, having previously served as the mayor of Bridgeport just two years prior.
Under Barnum, a number of reservoir and usability projects were completed. These projects proved to be vital to the future of Bridgeport as the population boom of the 1880s grew the city massively. With a population of citizens approaching one-hundred thousand, Bridgeport’s water demands had never been higher.
When Barnum left the company in 1886, William D. Bishop began the process of acquiring many of the smaller water companies that had sprung up in the midst of the population boom. Many reservoirs were added to the company’s repertoire, but as the turn of the century approached, the water service was proving to be inadequate to serve Bridgeport’s needs.
A number of company leaders, including Dr. Ira DeVer Warner and Samuel P. Senior, helped prepare Bridgeport Hydraulic Company for the increasing demand, taking on major infrastructure renovation projects that resulted in a major modernization of the water supply in Bridgeport.
Ira Warner’s son would later come to lead the company. DeVer H. Warner was president through both world wars, a time of great prosperity for the company. With help from decades-long veteran Samuel P. Senior, Warner was able to grow Bridgeport’s water supply throughout the First World War, survive the Great Depression, and guide the company back into growth again during the Second World War.
From the 50s onward, Bridgeport Hydraulic Company continued to grow in lock-step with Bridgeport itself. A number of major administrative changes were undertaken, largely in the form of acquisitions, mergers, and legal reorganizations. Bridgeport Hydraulic Company would, by the end of the 20th century, grow to service not just Bridgeport, but the surrounding area as well.
Stamford’s water companies were acquired by Bridgeport Hydraulic throughout the 80s, as were a number of other local companies. By the 90s, Bridgeport Hydraulic Company had grown to a size that hardly resembled the small public works company they once were.
In early 1991, the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company became Aquarion Company, with the perfectly-fitting stock ticker symbol WTR. This change of name now seems like a fitting turning point for the company. While new acquisitions did indeed occur throughout the late 1990s, the turn of the millennia brought with it a different change: The acquisition of Aquarion itself by the UK-based firm known as the Kelda Group. Kelda Group owns Aquarion to this day, despite Aquarion’s day-to-day operation continuing very independently.