Lititz Irrigation Project (1770)

Believed to be the only irrigation project of its kind in the Colonies was one of the novel ideas put into practice in Lititz in 1770. The village was now fourteen years old and was producing practically everything that was needed by it and the settlers of northern Lancaster County. Hard cash was scarce and the one crop that could be turned into ready money was rye — but only when sold by the gallon. When grazing was available, stock raising was profitable as the animals could be walked to the Philadelphia Market.

No home in Lititz was complete without a horse or two, a few cows, hogs and poultry. Goats were also raised, but these roamed all over town with the dogs and cats. Grazing was at a premium during drought periods and hay was hard to buy.

A ditch was dug from the large pond and swamp which today is the Park, and water was drained as far east as Locust Street, practically on the level of the railroad today and not far from Front Street.Irrigation1

Twenty meadows were fenced off which were rented for $1.25 a year. The tenant would simply open the sluice gate for his field and flood it at will. Flooding in the fall of the year was a protection against frost and extended the growing season. This practice dates back to Roman times.

Getting the livestock home from the meadows at night was easy, but one can imagine how difficult it was for the boys to get them into the right field in the morning. They must also be kept off the pavements or raise the ire of the neat housewives, especially when the streets were kneedeep in mud.

The carding mill dam at Oak Street extended to Locust Street as well as another block on the San Domingo Creek which also had an irrigation ditch. Water was also drained into orchards and undoubtedly produced bumper crops.

The irrigation idea was not new here for as early as 1757 water was drained from the John Bender dam at Rome. An early record states “George Klein made an agreement with Hess to raise the water in his saw mill dam so he could lead it to his land.”


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