Paul B. Perkins built numerous waterworks systems in towns in Missouri, as well as other states across the country. In Springfield, despite what it said in the old, short history of the city, the city leaders did not advertise for proposals for a waterworks until 1875. Perkins did not come to Springfield to construct the waterworks there until 1882 (so the 1872 was probably a typo).
Perkins had constructed a water system for Joplin in 1881, utilizing Shoal Creek as the source of the city's water. According to a 1923 article in the Joplin Globe, Perkins came to Joplin and applied for a franchise agreement from the city to construct the waterworks there. His proposition was put to a citywide vote and passed overwhelmingly in January of 1881, and Perkins installed his system.
When he arrived in Springfield, Perkins asked the city to pass an ordinance allowing him to install his system and operate it with a company he would form. A former mayor of Springfield introduced Perkins to the city council at one of its meetings and he made his pitch. The council crafted an ordinance to suit Perkins, put it to a citywide vote and it passed 733-187.
Perkins constructed his waterworks station at the site of a former gristmill at Fulbright Spring. When his system was completed in November 1883, he scheduled a demonstration. Even the Springfield schools dismissed classes so the students could witness the test. On the public square, firemen hooked a hose onto one of Perkins' new fire hydrants and there was enough water pressure to spray water onto the tallest buildings on the square.
Imagine what it would be like to suddenly have a way to fight fires with pressurized water at your disposal, rather than the old-fashioned method of a line of people passing buckets of water from a well, or even the newer, but barely more efficient, pump and ladder method. In addition to adding comfort and less work to firefighters’ lives, a water system could literally save lives.
That same year, Perkins installed the city waterworks in Boonville. There were others installed in Missouri in the 1880s, including at Jefferson City in 1887 and Nevada. The Leader and Press reported in June of 1886 that Perkins was most likely going to install his system in Parsons, Kansas.
Also in 1886, Perkins received a patent for his waterworks system that was an improvement over other such systems.
Since Paul B. Perkins was listed as a resident of Geneseo, Illinois, in the 1880 census and traveled to numerous cities and spent time there installing their water systems, it's difficult to pin down when he moved to Springfield.
The mention in the Daily Leader in October 1887, that his “new residence” on College Street was nearing completion is a clue, but it doesn't say whether he had been renting a residence there, or living in an older house he had previously purchased. An earlier mention in the Leader and Press on Aug. 2, 1886, reported that “P. B. Perkins and daughter Nellie went to St. Louis last night,” which might be an indicator that Perkins and his family were already living in Springfield.
On Nov. 2, 1887, the Daily Leader reported that in a meeting at the Board of Trade Hall in Springfield, “Col. P. B. Perkins presided in his practical, earnest manner” concerning the Scott Investment Company that had been formed three years before. Over $200,000 in stock was sold in the company of which Perkins was apparently one of the officers.
Just over a month later, it was reported in the Daily Leader that the Scott Investment Company had purchased a rival Springfield newspaper 'the Herald,' and that, “The editorial management has not been announced, but it is understood that P. B. Perkins will issue his edicts in the choicest English and in classic purity.”
On Dec. 16, 1887, the Daily Leader noted that P. B. Perkins spoke at a meeting to solicit subscriptions for the proposed Chicago, Hannibal and Springfield Railroad. Then in February of 1888 at the Board of Trade Hall, “Chairman” Perkins addressed a crowd gathered to hear about the proposed railroad.
Perkins' address was followed by one made by “Colonel Boyd,” who was most likely Col. Sempronius H. “Pony” Boyd of Springfield who, three years later, would be appointed a member of the continental railroad commission by President Benjamin Harrison. Boyd was also a former mayor of Springfield, a former congressman, and a future minister to Siam.
By March 1888, Perkins himself was being talked up as a possible candidate for mayor of Springfield by the Daily Leader and it was stated that he and Judge Walker were the favorites, which meant he had to be a resident of Springfield at that time.
Also, on March 26, the Perkins Grand Opera House was dedicated. In the ad for the event, which touted the appearance of Emma Abbott of the New Grand Opera Co., Perkins was listed as Proprietor and Manager. On April 18, 1888, an ad for the Perkins Grand Opera House proclaimed a “Grand Testimonial to Manager P. B. Perkins by the Citizens of Springfield.”
By May 10, 1888, it was reported that James H. Mackie had apparently purchased the Perkins Water Works Manufacturing Company. In the article, Mackie was quoted as saying that the company was presently making all the castings for the FRISCO Railroad and that the company was “now receiving a great many orders from architectural iron supplies.” That latter category would include the cast-iron tread-plate used on the front of the building in Eureka Springs.
Next: The Perkins Water Works Manufacturing Company becomes the Crescent Iron Works.