Cumberland Times-News

James Rada - Looking Back

August 4, 2012

Looking Back 1914: Lake had deep-sea diver

CUMBERLAND — You wouldn’t think that Cumberland, located in the Western Maryland mountains as it is and hundreds of miles from the ocean, would have a need for deep-sea divers. Yet, the city of Cumberland has been known to use them for nearly a century.

Cumberland’s first source of water was from the Potomac River. The Cumberland Water Works began operation in 1871, pumping water from the river to a water plant on Greene Street. From there, the water was filtered and sent throughout the city.

The problem with the Potomac was that it wasn’t the cleanest water around. It was polluted with things like sewage and coal mine runoff.

“Until Cumberland turned to Evitts Creek for its water supply in 1910, the Potomac water produced hundreds of cases of typhoid fever every summer,” John B. Wiseman wrote in “Allegany County — A History.”

Evitts Creek is more than 30 miles long, running from central Bedford County, Pa., to its confluence with the North Branch Potomac River east of Cumberland. When the city of Cumberland constructed a dam on the creek in Pennsylvania in 1913, it created Lake Gordon.

The following year, the dam needed some maintenance — in particular, the opening of a valve at the base of the dam.

However, the problem was that most of the work needed to be done on the lake side of the dam was dozens of feet below the surface of the water.

Merrill-Ruckgaber Contractors hired Harry Hanson to do the work.

Hanson was a deep-sea diver, which is a skill that was needed for the job since he needed to stay 70 feet below the surface up to 40 minutes at a time.

“The diver has all the necessary accoutrements of a deep-sea diver and his movements are very interesting to onlookers,” the Cumberland Press reported in September 1914.

Using the creek as a water supply for the city proved a good and healthy idea.

An Aug. 11, 1922, article in the Cumberland Times said that water-borne illness had virtually disappeared in the city.

“According to records at the City Health Department, Cumberland is in the healthiest state known in its history. For the first week in August, the deaths averaged one a day, considered remarkably low according to the population,” the newspaper reported.

During the previous year, the newspaper said that the city had only one case of typhoid and that came from someone drinking well water from outside of the city.

“July, August and September are the typhoid fever months in the year, but in recent years since the sanitation laws have been enforced and the Evitts Creek water system has been in use, this former scourge of Cumberland has been gradually eliminated and brought down to a few isolated cases,” the Cumberland Times reported.

The Water Works plant, which was built at the same time as the dam to handle the filtration and distribution of the water, remained in operation until it burned down in December 1920, according to Herman Miller, in “Cumberland, Maryland, through the eyes of Herman J. Miller.”

Also, as the city’s population grew, so did its need for water.

Koon Dam was built in 1932, which created Lake Koon to the north of Lake Gordon on Evitts Creek.

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James Rada - Looking Back
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