Dryden and Water in Early Los Angeles


Aside from being a notorious judge, William Dryden was also an aspiring entrepreneur. He was one of the first to make a real stab at the city’s water problem. In 1858 he established the Los Angeles Water Works, the region’s first water company. Erecting a massive wooden water wheel along the Los Angeles River’s banks near Solano Canyon, he conveyed the river water via the Zanja Madre (Mother Ditch) to a central brick reservoir in the main plaza.

The fledgling venture didn’t last long, however. By the winter of 1862 flooding had demolished Dryden’s operations, and the judge suddenly found himself scrambling to resurrect his brainchild amid competition from several rivals. In the end, his efforts proved futile: the Common Council terminated his contract and awarded the franchise to Jean Louis Sainsevain.**


(ca. 1850 - 1869)* - Judge William G. Dryden    



Click HERE to see more on LA's Early Water Works System.




Timeline of William Dryden's Involvement in Water in Early LA

1853 - William G. Dryden makes a proposal to the City to construct a closed-pipe system to service homes. Water contamination was becoming a problem. The uncovered ditches are being polluted by bathers, animals, laundry use, and refuse disposal. However, the Los Angeles common council rejects Dryden's proposal because it believes his request for both land and a twenty-one-year franchise in return for the construction and operation of the system to be excessive.

1853 - Water carriers with jugs and wagons are allowed to serve the city's cleaner water needs and peddle higher quality water from door to door to augment the existing water courses.

1854 -The city council establishes a new position called Zanjero who is responsible for overseeing the protection of the water courses against blockage, contamination, breaches in the system, and illegal use of water by persons without authority.

1857 - The city council relents and agrees to grant Dryden a franchise to deliver water to homes through a system of wooden pipes beneath the streets. Dryden incorporates the Los Angeles Water Works Company.

1857 - LA Water Works erects a forty foot water wheel to lift water from the city's main ditch.

1858 - LA Water Works constructs a large brick and wood storage tank in the center of the city plaza (see below photo - 'LA's First Reservoir'). Click HERE to read more about William Dryden and the LA Waterworks Company.

1861 - Heavy rains washes out LA Water Works system. Dryden withdraws and closes up shop.

1863 - Jean L. Sainsevain enters into a similar contract with the city and promises to improve on Dryden's system but soon gives up.



Click HERE to read more in Water in Early L.A.






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* DWP - LA Public Library Image Archive

**Dateline - Face From the Past: The Ever-Notorious Judge William G. Dryden


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