“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Fort Benton in Chouteau County, Montana — The American West (Mountains)

Priming the Pump

Public Works in Fort Benton

Priming the Pump Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 22, 2020
1. Priming the Pump Marker
Captions: (bottom left, top to bottom) Fort Benton Water Works Sand House; Fort Benton Water Works ca. 1940; Water and Power Plants ca. 1908; (background) Panoramic view of Fort Benton and the Water Treatment Plant (above) taken by John G. Showell in 1900. You are here.; (bottom right) The ultra-violate light system (above) was cutting edge technology when Fort Bento became the first in the nation to use it - jus as the state's first water treatment plant here in 1888 lead the local paper to marvel (left) at the 'inventive genius" of being able to deliver clean water and electric lights at the same time.
Inscription.  Civilizations have always established themselves around water sources, and the founding of Fort Benton continued the pattern. As the population grew and the community developed, a water treatment plant became necessary.
Montana's first water treatment plant was constructed in 1888 where the Interpretive Center stands today. Fort Benton's water treatment plant used an ancient technology developed by the Egyptians as early as 1500 B.C., which used alum (or potash). River water was pumped into a series of settling ponds, where alum was added, causing sediments to fall to the bottom. The clear surface water was then pumped through wooden pipes to people's homes.
By the time of the Great Depression, Fort Benton's entire water system-the state's oldest-was decaying and in need of repairs. In 1933, Congress created the Public Works Administration, and budgeted $6 billion for projects that would improve public welfare while also "priming the pump" for the nation's economy, by creating jobs and reviving industry. Modernizing Fort Benton's drinking water plant was one of the projects.
The small circular brick building in front of
The Water Pump House and Priming the Pump Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 22, 2020
2. The Water Pump House and Priming the Pump Marker
you was built then, and served as the pump-house that pulled water from the river to the treatment system, which used chlorine to disinfect the water. In 1987, a newer water treatment plant was constructed down river from here, but the round pump-house was left intact.
Fort Benton has remained in the forefront of water treatment solutions. Its current facility was the first municipal water treatment plant in the U.S. to use ultraviolet light as its primary means of making the river water clean and healthy to drink.

"Tuesday afternoon a River Press reporter in quest of information strolled through the upper end of town, and doubtless obeying the law of gravitation soon found his steps directed toward the city water works plant. It is a neat comely brick building that attracts the attention of the visitor, and its thirty-inch smokestack that towers seventy feet in the airs is suggestive of a manufacturing industry. Such, in fact, it is, for not only does it handle water in wholesale quantities, but manufacturers light. Strange, isn't it, what man's ingenuity and inventive genius has accomplished in the modern days in which we are living." Fort Benton River Press, February 22, 1888
Erected by Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Charity & Public Work
Water Pump House image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 22, 2020
3. Water Pump House
Location. 47° 48.62′ N, 110° 40.352′ W. Marker is in Fort Benton, Montana, in Chouteau County. Marker can be reached from 7th Street near River Street. The water-pump station is on the northside of Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 701 7th Street, Fort Benton MT 59442, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Little Shell Chippewa (a few steps from this marker); Grasshoppers in the River? (within shouting distance of this marker); Cow Island Incident (within shouting distance of this marker); Most Progressive in Montana (within shouting distance of this marker); Fort LaBarge (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); Whoop Up Trail (approx. 0.2 miles away); Great Northern Railway (approx. 0.2 miles away); Nez Perce Fight (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Fort Benton.
Credits. This page was last revised on December 3, 2020. It was originally submitted on December 3, 2020, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California. This page has been viewed 29 times since then and 3 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on December 3, 2020, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.
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Mar. 6, 2021