History of City Utilities - December 2012

We take for granted sometimes where our utilities come from. Every time we flip a switch the lights are just suppose to come on. Every time we turn on the faucet water is suppose to come rushing out. But if you take a minute and stop and think where and how these work it’s quite interesting.


When the first settlers arrived in Greenfield they had no utility hookups to their cabins. The first two utilities that were naturally important were water and streets. Water was a vital source of survival and streets gave a clear path of travel.


Streets and Sidewalks:
Streets were important for transportation purposes. Greenfield was a heavily wooded area. The first settlers used horses and wagons for travel. Small paths were cut through the trees. Keeping these dirt paths smooth and graded was a busy task as the wagon wheels and horses cut ruts into the dirt. Eventually roads widened as the population grew and traffic increased.


I could not find detail information that would state which street was the first official street in Greenfield. We do know that Main Street or the National Road was the first national highway that was put into production by President Thomas Jefferson. The road was first called the Cumberland Road and it was developed in Hancock County and Greenfield in the 1850’s.


Sidewalks began popping up around town about that time as well. Sidewalks were additional cleared paths and sometimes made of wood and then later gravel and brick. Several ordinances were passed in 1867 to grade and gravel streets and add sidewalks, beginning with State and Main Streets.


With the incorporation of Greenfield as a city in 1876, the city began a general system of improvements. In that year more general street improvements began. Pennsylvania Street was the first to be improved and for many years it remained one of the best streets in the city. The street was built by John R. Johnson. Brick sidewalks were added later. By the late 1890’s sidewalks were being constructed of concrete.


Brick streets began being paved in 1897. The following is a complete list of brick street paving: Howard alley -1897, by H. B. Thayer; Whiskey alley - 1897, which runs west to east directly south of Main Street, by W.S Fries: Main Street from Pennsylvania Street to Pott’s ditch; also South State Street, South East Street and South Street - 1898, by C.M. Kirkpatrick; Depot Street - 1899 by C.M. Kirkpatrick; North East Street, from Main Street to South Street - 1899, by C.M. Kirkpatrick State Street, from Main Street to North Street - 1899, by C.M. Kirkpatrick; West Main Street, from Pennsylvania Street to Broadway Street - 1901, by Daniel Foley; Pennsylvania Street, from South Street to Depot Street -, 1901, by C.M. Kirkpatrick; Mount Street, from Main Street to North Street -, 1901 by Elam J. Jefferies.


Depot Streets is the only street that is still brick today. The bricks still remain under most streets and can still be seen when street work occurs.


Water was naturally supplied to Greenfield and Hancock County through a series of creeks and one main river. Blue River crosses the southeastern corner of the county. A series of creeks branch off of Blue River. Nameless Creek runs on the northeastern part of the county and travels south. Six Mile creek drains the extreme eastern part of the county. Sugar Creek drains from the northeast part of the county and runs west and then turns and runs south through the county. Little Sugar creek drains the territory between Sugar creek and Brandywine creek in the southern part of the county. Buck creek drains the center to southern and western part of the county. Fall creek drains the western and northwestern part of the county.


In Greenfield the major water source was Brandywine creek. This drains a considerable area in the east central and southern parts, joining the Blue River in Shelby County.


Our first settlers in the county settled along the Blue River. Digging wells also was common. Most wells in this area had to be dug 30-40 feet.


During the winter of 1888-89 the city council approved the construction of a water plant. The plant and water system was prepared by Joseph H. Dennis of Indianapolis. The system design continued until October. In 1893 the city hired Voorhess & Witmer, of Buffalo, NY to develop plans for construction. Later Snider & Williams, of Dayton, Ohio was contracted to construct the plant for $23,875. Water was finally turned on to the city on August 14, 1894. A single well was dug on the same property and it feed directly into the plant. This plant was located on Baldwin Street between E. Main Street and North Street. This plant saw many updates and improvements over the years.


Today drinking water is pumped to two separate plants from eight separate underground wells. A large underground aquifer supplies water to the city.


In 1970-71 a new water treatment plant was constructed at the same location as original water plant. A home was razed along E. Main St. and the new plant was constructed facing the E. Main Street.
E. Main Street Treatment Plant


The second treatment plant is located on the north side of Greenfield in Beckenholdt Park. This plant was constructed in 2006. It is fed by a well that is located on the northeast quadrant of I-70 and State Road 9. Raw water is pumped from that well to the treatment plant at Beckenholdt Park.
Treatment Plant at Beckenholdt Park
Greenfield has 3 water towers that allow the city to store water and help with pressure. The first tower was constructed in the 1950’s and is located on Madison St.


The second tower was constructed in the 1970’s and is located on the Hancock Regional Hospital property.


The third tower was constructed in 2002 and is located on New Road.


Electric and Gas
Greenfield was lit up with lights beginning in 1875. Nineteen street lamps were ordered and placed along the principal streets, and also at the railroad crossings. These were the old-fashioned oil lamps placed on posts. They continued to be in use in 1886, when a committee appointed by the city council made a favorable report on lighting the city with electricity. But nothing came of adding electrical lighting at that time.


The following spring the first natural gas well was drilled in the city, after which, of course, the city was lighted with gas lights for several years. The first natural gas company was formed in 1886 and called the Greenfield Gas Company. Following the gas discovery, at least 43 gas companies were established. An 1888 article in the Hancock Democrat estimates that one thousand men were employed in gas-related jobs. The boom in the industry lasted until 1915.


Construction of gas well in Greenfield
Finally in May 1892 the city signed a contract with Irwin & Company of Crawfordsville, Indiana to light the city. The project added thirty-five arc streets lights. In November 30, 1892, the Greenfield Electric Light and Power Company were incorporated with a capital stock of $30,000 and with Charles G. Offutt, Orfila C. Irwin and Robert S. Thompson’s as directors. City lights were proved by this company for two years when at that time the stock was purchased by Charles L. Henry in February 1895. In November 17, 1898 an ordinance was adopted that allowed the city to lease back the electrical utility taking over the polls, wires and power plant.


Original Power Plant


Sanitary and Storm Sewer:
I put these two together because in the early stages of our treatment plants these utilities were a combined system.


Sanitary sewers began to be installed in 1932 when Greenfield built its first treatment plant. Before this septic tanks would have been used and prior to that out houses would have been the norm.


With the installation of the treatment plant, sanitary sewer lines began to be installed and individually running laterals to each customer in the city.


Today, Greenfield sewer utility consists of two water filtration plants and one wastewater treatment facility. The treatment plant has seen major upgrades in the 1960’s and in 1980. In 2004 an $8.5 million expansion was made to the plant giving it state of the art equipment and extended our treatment abilities for the next 20 years.


Current sewer treatment plant


The functions of a sewer treatment plant is quit an amazing and complex process. To give details of a treatment plant would be a book in itself. The city web page has a great breakdown of how this system works if you visit the utilities tab at the top of the home page and then to the right of the next page under More Information click the Wastewater Citizens Academy tab.


Current sewer treatment plant


When the original sanitary mains were installed they were often designed to transport storm water during rain events. Prior to this storm water was controlled naturally sheet draining on the surface to the nearest side ditch or creek. Several ditches run through Greenfield. Rocks were sometimes used as a gutter along roads. These combined sewers caused enormous problems at the treatment plant, as the flow could increase 10 times the normal rates.


Eventually separate storm pipes were installed. No records are left as to when this exactly started or where but it would be safe to say that the downtown Greenfield area would have probably seen the first storm pipes and inlets installed. Over the years the city has eventually eliminated the combination storm and sanitary mains.


Our storm system is continually improving. Storm drainage today is controlled through the use of detention ponds, weirs and damns. Increased pipe size and direct routes to our ditches and creeks help control the storm water on our streets.


Our utilities are a complex network of man power, equipment and technology. The City of Greenfield has done an excellent job maintaining its utility systems. It is a daily task. We sometimes take for granted our utilities but we should all be thankful that the days of going to the well for water and heading to the outhouse are over.


By Greg Roland 


Richman History of Hancock County
Images of Hancock County, Indiana by Joe Skvarenina
Then & Now Hancock County by Joe Skvarenina
Power & Light Department
Sanitary Sewer Department
Water Department
Storm Water Utility Department

More Greenfield History

City Phone Directory

Mayor's Office - 317-477-4300
Clerk Treasurer - 317-477-4310
Utility Billing - 317-477-4330
Planning (Permits) - 317-477-4320
Street Department - 317-477-4380
Power and Light - 317-477-4370
Wastewater Department - 317-477-4360
Park Cemetery - 317-477-4387
Pothole Hotline - 317-325-1680
Parks and Recreation - 317-477-4340
Water Department - 317-477-4350
Animal Management - 317-477-4367