Bremen historic standpipe discussed
By Angel Perkins
A small group of history buffs met at the Italian Coffee Bar in Bremen to learn more about the local water standpipe. Bremen’s Charlie Sauter, U.S. History teacher at Jimtown High School, is a former water department employee, so he was naturally chosen by former township assessor Pat Rowe to be featured as the local authority on the subject.
He told those present at the History Chat that in 1967, the American Water Works Association established an award to recognize water utility structures as landmarks. He said that as of Aug. 10, 1975, the Bremen structure became an official historical landmark.
Sauter said that former Bremen Enquirer editor, Cal Sinninger was the main supporter of establishing a water service in the town. There were cisterns at the time that collected rainwater but he felt that a more modern and plentiful source of water should be provided by the town.
Opposing townsfolk at that time had many reasons to counter Sinninger’s proposal: They didn’t want to raise taxes; they felt that what had been good enough for their fathers was certainly good enough for them; the estimated cost was just too much for them to try to come up with; and they were confident their fire protection was ample for the town’s needs.
Attitudes soon changed after a devastating fire Nov. 6, 1891 torched an entire city block, and Jan. 12, 1892 an election was held that found the majority (143-69) in favor of drilling for natural water resources. The Van Skyhawk Brothers were hired to drill wells at Shadyside Park. They built an engine house and hired local help to get the job done. James Madden, a contractor from Fort Wayne built and laid the mains and by that August, the majority of the job was done with the very first hookup being to the home of the town clerk, Frank Knoblock.
“The construction (for the water standpipe) cost was $10,000,” explained Sauter. “Now that same job would cost about $200,000.”
Another interesting fact he shared with the group was that after researching the Bremen standpipe he found that his great-grandfather (William May) was the town board president at the time of the controversial water service progression. At 104 feet tall, with a 68-foot clay brick base, the standpipe could hold 30,000 gallons of water. The 36-foot tank made of steel plates is 15 feet in diameter and steel rivets (varied at six-foot connections) held it all together to hold precious water for the Bremen citizens.
In 1955 the town built a water tower that holds 300,000 gallons and as a result, the standpipe was retired in 1956. Though many people thought it was time to take it down, it was renovated in the 1980s. “The undercoating was starting to show,” Sauter said. “The glass was broken out at the top and pigeons had taken up occupancy.”
He shared that he had a literal hand in creating part of the standpipe’s history. When he and fellow worker Paul Hirstein were working to clean and fix up the top of the standpipe, they saw some writing on the wall from the 1920s and decided to add some graffiti of their own, by writing their names and the date, (of which Sauter showed a photo of to the group) “4-6-74.”
“The water usage today is a half-million to a million gallons a day,” Sauter said. “And we’re still using two of the three original wells that were drilled.”