Ancestors, Legends & Time

As Webb City’s population boomed, many new residents had to collect rain as their source of water

Jeanne Newby

The headlines would read that there had been an ore strike in a newly mined area. Within days, men with their families would move into the area to work the mines. Some slept in tents, many were fortunate enough to find a home to rent or a room to sleep at night. Homes would be hurriedly built to accommodate the needy. Some were built so fast and so cheaply they didn’t have time or money to dig an expensive well. Folks depended on rain barrels or cisterns to gather their source of water.

Rainwater was used for laundering, bathing, scrubbing floors and many other purposes. But during the dry spells, those barrels and cisterns would be without the precious commodity so badly needed.

That’s when the water wagon would make its visit. A horse drawn wagon with a huge tank on the wagon would fill up water from a deep well. That cool fresh water was worth gold to many families, but most could only pay pennies for the delivery.

The wealthier folks had fancy plumbing which pumped the water from the barrel or tank into their kitchen. But most common folk carried their water from a barrel to the kitchen with a water bucket. Housewives would make sure the barrels were cleaned out and available for delivery day. Some delivery wagons charged 5 cents if they had to clean the barrels before filling. Those little tadpoles and pollywogs could be expensive.

The water was fresh and clean. Many homes that had wells still had water delivered if their well water was contaminated and contained impurities. The water wagon delivery man didn’t make a lot of money, but it was a living and somebody had to do it. 

The adults were glad to see him coming, but usually the kids skedaddled to the woods to avoid the dreaded Saturday night bath. We sure take a lot for granted these days.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.

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