We take plentiful clean water for granted, but in early Fairbanks, clean water was a limited commodity. Most wells in Fairbanks were shallow — yielding foul-tasting, organic-rich water. Consequently, many residents had water delivered.
There were other water delivery services around Fairbanks in the early 1900s, but Fred Musjerd’s was the best known. He had several wells on his property between Eighth and Ninth avenues on Cowles Street. They produced good quality water, and during the 1920s and 30s he operated the Blue Crystal Water Company.
According to Cheryl Egan, who, with her husband, Michael, now owns the property, a well was located inside the garage on the corner of Cowles Street and Ninth Avenue. This building. which can be seen behind the well house, was formerly the White Seal Dock. It was originally on the Chena River waterfront, but sometime during the 1920s Musjerd moved the structure to its present location.
In his early water hauling years Musjerd ran a horse-drawn water wagon out of this building. During the summer the wagon sported wheels and in winter Musjerd ran it on sled runners. Winter photos show a wood-sided wagon with the words “Blue CrystalWater Co. – No Limit” printed on the side. Sticking out of the top of the wagon’s mid-section was a small smoke-belching stove used to keep the water from freezing. There were two spigots at the back of the wagon for filling pails, with several pails usually made from recycled Hills Bros. 5-gallon coffee tins.
Some winter photos show the wagon encased in ice. According to Dermot Cole’s book, “Historic Fairbanks, an Illustrated History,” Musjerd, who was a large man, was even more imposing during winter, muffled in a large fur coat and hat, “with frost or small icicles hanging from his walrus mustache.” In later years Musjerd replaced the horse-drawn wagon with a truck.
Customers placed empty 5-gallon pails outside their doors and Musjerd replaced them with full ones. In a 1993 interview, long-time Fairbanks resident Marge Haggard said that residents displayed cards in their windows indicating how many pails of water they needed. The water cost 10 cents per pail, but Haggard also related that customers set out bingles (tokens purchased in advance) to pay for their water.
Another well was located in the well house shown in the drawing. According to borough records this building was built in the mid 1930s. It is an 18-foot x 24-foot wood-frame structure with beveled wood siding and metal roofing, most of it original.
During the 1930s Musjerd also built a house on his property, similar in construction to the well house. Both are what Janet Matheson, author of “A Fairbanks City Historic Survey,” calls “Pioneer Neoclassical,” a take-off on American Neoclassicism in which elements from classical Greek and Roman architecture were melded with contemporary building materials and designs. Neoclassicism was popular between 1900 and 1940, and there are several other buildings of similar construction in town.
The house is still there, and Musjerd installed a third well in the house basement. As built, his home was a two-story 15-foot x 31-foot gable roofed house with the same siding and roofing as the well house. The Egans doubled its size in the 1980s by essentially constructing a similarly proportioned house beside the existing structure. The addition matched the original’s styling. Cheryl saved all the doors and molding taken down during construction and painstakingly re-finished them for use in the newly remodeled house.
Michael Egan told me that some people have urged him to tear down the well house and old garage. Fortunately he has ignored them, saving these little-known but important elements from Fairbanks past.
- Conversations with Cheryl and Michael Egan, current owners
- “Fairbanks, a City Historic Survey.” Janet Matheson. City of Fairbanks. 1985
- “Fairbanks, a Pictorial History.” Claus-M. Naske & Ludwig Rowinski. The Donning Company Publishers. 1981
- Fairbanks North Star Borough property records
- “Historic Fairbanks, an Illustrated History,” Dermot Cole, 2002, Historic Publishing Network
- Marie Haggard interview. Recorded by Margaret Van Cleve on September 15, 1993. University of Alaska, Fairbanks Oral History Collection
- Photos of Blue Crystal Water Co. water wagon. Charles Cann photographer. Alaska State Library – Historical Collections