Like many other first settlements along the East Coast, the first “public” water came from wells located at convenient corners along the streets. As Poughkeepsie grew, homes and businesses began constructing individual wells and cisterns for sewage disposal. By 1854 Poughkeepsie’s population grew to 20,000. This activity caused groundwater contamination resulting in epidemics of cholera, typhoid fever, smallpox and diphtheria, which claimed hundreds of victims. To the City’s embarrassment Poughkeepsie was heralded in newspapers far and wide as “The Sickly City,” even as far West as Chicago. One account called Poughkeepsie, “A fine place to live, with fine schools and churches and railroad accommodations, well governed but oh, how sickly.” Shortly thereafter the City Common Council directed Mayor Emott and two other leading citizens to “look into the possibilities of a public water supply. Unfortunately, the drive stopped with the onset of the Civil War.
In 1870 public pressure returned. A general election to decide the question of whether or not to develop a public water supply resulted in a vote of 544 to 43 in support of the proposal. On this basis a Water Board was formed which sought out an Engineer for the project. In 1871 progress moved dramatically forward as Harvey G. Eastman was elected Mayor. Mayor Eastman was credited as the driving force that carried out the public wishes. Through his leadership, gift of persuasion and vision the first successful slow sand filtration plant in America was placed into service July 8, 1872. The success of this project was heralded as epidemics all but disappeared and Poughkeepsie could no longer be called a “Sickly City”.
The success of the plant was significant to the water industry. The design criteria was followed throughout the Country as other Cities realized the benefit that filtration could bring to their community. To this day Poughkeepsie is recognized as the national leader into filtration.
After 87 years of continuous service the plant could no longer meet the communities thirst. Water demands had risen from 2 million gallons per day (MGD) in 1920 to a peak day demand of 10.5 MGD in 1955. Design to replace the plant began in 1959 and the plant was placed into service in 1962. This plant was originally designed to provide 12 MGD, which was increased to a permitted capacity of 16 MGD in 1990. Following completion of our most recent facility upgrade, the permitted capacity of the plant is now 19.3 MGD. This plant continues to serve our community today.