A new book delves deep into the history of the Lebanon area’s public water supply, and the public is invited to a lecture this weekend at the Lebanon County Historical Society to sip from this recently published firehose of information.

Today, public water supplies are ubiquitous, and blend into the background for the majority of Lebanon County residents. (Penn State Extension estimates that, statewide, three out of every four households are connected to a public water supply.) But that hasn’t always been the case – and certainly not without major effort from civic-minded individuals over a half-dozen generations.

City of Lebanon Authority executive director Jon Beers oversaw the completion last year a definitive study of the Lebanon area’s public water supply, dating back to the 1870s, titled “The City of Lebanon Authority: History of Lebanon, PA’s Water and Sewer Systems.”

Cover of the book completed in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Lebanon’s public water supply.

Although Schaefferstown boasts an even older water system than Lebanon, Beers focused his efforts on the Lebanon area, a topic near and dear to his heart through his work with the authority, which serves residents in a half-dozen municipalities with their public water supply.

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Beers was greatly assisted in the work by former Lebanon Daily News reporter John Latimer, who had nearly two decades of experience covering the city authority during a news-filled era.

Latimer and Beers built on work previously conducted by former authority director Maury Erdman, who served on the board from 1964 to 1996, as well as a 1905 work by a former owner of the Lebanon Daily News, Joseph Reinhard. Only one copy of Erdman’s 240-page report was known to exist, and Beers was able to work with the Lebanon County Historical Society to properly digitize this singular artifact.

Erdman’s work concluded with the construction of the Siegrist Dam, located just over the Lebanon County border in Schuylkill County, in the 1990s.

The Siegrist Dam, 600 feet across and 125 feet high. Once publicly traversable, the dam has since been fenced off for safety reasons. (Joshua Groh)

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Latimer co-authored the book with Beers and conducted additional interviews to fill in the missing pieces, including conversations with longtime authority employees like retired water superintendent Ron Luciotti and retired waste water superintendent Jim Fraytic.

“We thought about how lucky we are that so many people who helped build the City of Lebanon Authority are still alive to tell their story and preserve our history,” authority chairman Marty Yocum said in a release. “If we did not do it now, then it would be lost for the generations to come. With this book, which was put together so well by so many people, we have it and have it forever.”

The goal was to update the earlier documentary efforts and produce a new, complete chronicle in time to celebrate the 150th year of public water being supplied to the Lebanon community, said Beers.

Beers will discuss the book in a free Sunday program at the Lebanon County Historical Society, 924 Cumberland St., on Sunday, April 24, at 1:30 p.m.

“While the subject of providing an urban water supply might not sound exciting, it is as old as and more vital to civilization than practically anything else,” said Dr. Bruce Bomberger, historical society archivist and librarian, in a press release. “As a public undertaking for the public good, the history of the Authority’s accomplishments and ongoing service is an activity that all who receive its benefits should understand and appreciate in its transparency in the records of both its successes and difficulties.”

Copies of the book can also be purchased online for $25 via the historical society website or in person at the Lebanon County Historical Society, the Cornwall Iron Furnace, and the City Of Lebanon Authority’s offices at 2311 Ridgeview Road.


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