The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 29, 2021 1:00 am

Dec. 4, 1950: Clogged intake slows water in city

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

About 11 a.m. on Dec. 4, 1950, something went wrong with distribution of the city's water.

The main raw water line (there was only one at the time) was being repaired and the emergency intake being used during that time became clogged with debris from the St. Joseph River. Efforts were immediately made to clear the debris, but back-flushing didn't clear the line and before long, the city's reservoir levels fell and pressure in the water mains couldn't be maintained.

Firefighters supplied emergency reserves at the Water Filtration Plant on Griswold Drive and radio stations cooperated to get information out to the public. Schools were closed and businesses slowed or stopped work.

Hospitals were put on an emergency basis and all unnecessary use of water was discontinued. St. Joseph Hospital used water from its own well. Methodist and Lutheran hospitals reported water was being hauled in from wells for drinking purposes. One hospital official said patients would be drinking milk instead of water, according to one of the stories in The Journal Gazette the next morning.

Heating was also down to a minimum to conserve water and hospital laundries were shut down. Paper plates were being used since dishwashers were shut down, and any necessary washing was done by hand.

Restaurants in the city were allowed to stay open if all drinking water was boiled at least 20 minutes before use, but cleaning dishes posed a challenge.

Water service was restored after about 12 hours, but schools in the city remained closed Dec. 5 and residents were advised for several days to boil water.

Navy divers were brought in from Chicago on Dec. 5 to find debris that had clogged a screen, and the bottom of the river around the intake was being dredged. Schools and factories resumed full operation Dec. 6 as officials at the water filtration plant said no further water breakdown was expected. Crews were still working around-the-clock to repair the raw water main.

History Journal appears monthly in print with additional items weekly on The Journal Gazette's website. To comment on items or suggest dates and topics, contact Corey McMaken at 461-8475 or

Can you help?

Several years ago, we published photos and a short history item about astronauts Gordon Cooper and Virgil “Gus” Grissom visiting the area in the 1960s to test and work on “Hydrodyne” boats manufactured by Midwestern Industries Corp. in Harlan.

An engine enthusiast recently contacted The Journal Gazette hoping to speak to someone with ties to Midwestern about the engine that Cooper and Grissom worked on.

If anyone out there has information about the engine and is willing to speak with a motor fan tracing its history, call Corey McMaken at 461-8475 or email, and we will put you in touch.

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