LIMA — Sixty years ago, as Lima’s business and civic leaders looked on, a giant valve was opened and water from Metzger Lake reservoir slowly spread across the bottom of Lima’s newest reservoir, Ferguson Lake.
As he watched the water “spew into the lake and drain away toward the lake’s low point, eddying across the rough bottom of the reservoir as it went,” Lima mayor Clyde Welty, according to a story in the New Year’s Day 1960 edition of the Lima Citizen, commented, “This will insure Lima of an adequate water supply for years to come.”
Lima had been seeking an adequate supply of water since the city’s founding in 1833, but the pursuit became more urgent as it grew in the late 19th century.
Before the mid-1880s, George W. Quatman wrote in the 1976 history of Allen County, water was obtained from wells and cisterns. Benjamin Faurot, so the story goes, was drilling for water for his paper mill when he struck oil in 1885, touching off a period of explosive growth.
In 1887, the city constructed Lost Creek Reservoir, from which water flowed to two receiving reservoirs, Twin Lakes, at what was called the water works. By the early 20th century, with Lima’s population topping 20,000 and new industries opening, the water system was severely strained.
“What Lima wants, needs and must have, is a supply of water without limitation and of a quality that will stand the test to which it is being put by the corporations that are pouring (their) wealth into the city,” the Lima Times-Democrat wrote Feb. 28, 1902, as the city contemplated construction of what would become Lima Lake reservoir.
Four decades later, with World War II raging and factories going around the clock, the city again faced a water crisis. As part of the solution, German POWs were employed in January 1945 “to lay an emergency pipe from quarries near Blue Lick Road so water could be pumped from them into the city supply,” the Citizen wrote. A permanent solution, Metzger Lake reservoir, named in honor of Lima Medal of Honor winner Lt. William Metzger Jr., was completed in 1947 in Bath Township east of Lima.
“In the mid-1950s,” Quatman wrote in the 1976 history, “the city was approached by representatives of a large manufacturing firm (Ford Motor Co.) which would employ over 3,000 persons and would locate in Lima, providing they had the assurance of a water supply for a plant consumption of a maximum of three million gallons daily. With this industrial possibility, tremendous incentive action was started to bring about the construction of still another up-ground reservoir with a capacity of 2,500 million gallons.”
In 1956, under the leadership of Lima’s new water superintendent, Sharon Bresler, for whom another reservoir would be named, a proposal was submitted to City Council and a campaign started for a $1.9 million bond issue to fund the project. “Mayor Clyde Welty said today he would ask the Lima Realtors Association to help the city obtain options to buy land east and south of Metzger Lake,” the Lima News noted on May 1, 1956. “The action, another step toward the goal of providing Lima with another water reservoir to meet storage needs for the next 29 years …”
Meanwhile, the work of promoting the bond issue began, much of it handled by A.D. MacDonell, who headed the water committee of Lima’s Community Development Committee. “Twenty years ago, fewer than half of the single-family dwellings in the United States contained the elementary convenience of running water,” MacDonell told the News on Oct. 24, 1959. “Today’s homes of modern kitchens, multiple bathrooms and increasing water use, in a single generation, have forced sharp upward revision of water need estimates.”
On Nov. 7, 1956, the day after a general election which saw Dwight D. Eisenhower win a second term in the White House, The Lima News reported that “Lima voters yesterday stamped their approval on an $880,000 public library bond issue and a $1,900,000 water bond issue by near-record smashing majorities.”
Two years later, the reservoir had a name. “Flowers and words of recognition,” the News wrote on Dec. 9, 1958. “Bill Ferguson’s widow was given both by City Council Monday night as it passed a resolution naming Lima’s new reservoir ‘Ferguson Lake.”
William L. Ferguson, who was twice elected mayor of Lima and had held various municipal offices since 1933, died at the age of 70 after collapsing at his City Building office in January 1955. “He had lived here more than 50 years and before that had visited Lima often with his parents, while his family lived in Waynesfield,” the News eulogized on Jan. 23, 1955. “He was proud of having watched Lima grow since it was a crossroads town without a single paved street.”
When the reservoir became reality on New Year’s Day of 1960, Lima City Council President Homer Cooper told the Citizen he wished Ferguson could have been present. “This was his dream,” he said.
Work on Ferguson Lake reservoir was set to begin the following spring, but only after the residents of the reservoir site had been relocated. “This site now harbors a good-sized population of cottontail rabbits,” the News reported Feb. 15, 1959. “These rabbits will be giving birth to their young at about the same time as the equipment moves in. Were it not for the thoughtfulness of one of the local clubs, all these rabbits would be lost. But the Allen County Conservation Club, again in cooperation with the game protector and the division of wildlife is going to live-trap these rabbits and re-distribute them throughout the county.”
By the late spring of 1959, with rabbits relocated, bids awarded, ceremonial ground-breaking completed and weather warmer, the earth-moving equipment moved in to begin clearing the area where the embankments would stand. With the main contractor, Miller Brothers, of Archbold, working around the clock through the summer, Lima utilities director Frank J. Callahan was able to tell the news on October 1959, that water would begin flowing into the new reservoir on Jan. 1, 1960.
On Oct. 23, 1959, the News reported city officials had “decided to save the embankment separating Metzger Lake and Lima’s new reservoir, Ferguson Lake.” Callahan told the News the city “wants to be able to operate each reservoir separately, rather than as one big lake.”
With the addition of Ferguson Lake’s 2.2-billion-gallon capacity, Lima’s reservoirs could hold more than 4.8 billion gallons of raw water in 1960.
With water not yet covering the bottom of the new reservoir on Jan. 1, 1960, MacDonell, according to the Citizen, “let his eyes rove over the vast expanse of the 304-acre Ferguson Lake and beyond,” and said: “It may be a little shock to some people, but I wonder where we’ll build the next one.”
The next one, Bresler Reservoir, was constructed about 3 miles west of Lima in 1970 and filled in 1971. It holds about 5 billion gallons of water. Williams Reservoir, named for former city councilman, council president and community activist Furl Williams, was completed in 2011 just west of Bresler Reservoir. It, too, has a capacity of about 5 billion gallons.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.