Before Grand Junction took its water from the Grand Mesa’s watershed, citizens took water directly from the Gunnison River, and with it Diphtheria, Typhoid Fever, and other interesting diseases that were not remedied until the twin advances of proper water management and vaccinations came into being.
A May 1883 issue of the Grand Junction News mentioned the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad’s (D&RG) plan to provide the City of Grand Junction with water. Over the next few months, the News detailed the progress of D&RG’s pump and pipeline installation. D&RG built the pump and pipeline to supply its own facilities, but, as owner of many plats in Grand Junction, the company also had a vested interest in supplying water to the town to facilitate its growth. The pipeline was built concurrently with the railroad bridge at the confluence, and pipe laid over the bridge before being buried in route to Grand Junction’s first train depot (also then under construction near the location of the current depot). In their November 11, 1883 issue, the News mentioned both pump and pipeline being in working order.
As Mesa County Oral History Project interviewee Levi Morse remembers it, a buried pipeline from the Gunnison River came up on 7th Avenue between Chipeta and Ouray Streets in the early Twentieth century, and gave the town its water supply. And, as Dr. Everett Munro remembers it (the city’s first Health Officer beginning in 1922), the water brought with it all sorts of waterborne diseases.
Munro, a Colorado pioneer in the administration of vaccines and in water quality advocacy, helped establish the proper water management and widespread vaccination that eradicated such diseases here. In one of his interviews, he also recalls a local “Typhoid Mary” who refused to be vaccinated, and as such, spread the disease wherever she moved. Finally they tracked her down, she was vaccinated, and the spread of Typhoid Fever slowed and then stopped.
Today Grand Junction takes its water from the Grand Mesa’s watershed and has modern water purification facilities, making Typhoid Fever, Typhoid Marys and Diphtheria rare problems that we hope are consigned forever to our region’s past. Find out more about early rural health services in Mesa County or about Mesa County’s history in general by visiting our Mesa County Oral History Project online and our Grand Junction News microfilm rolls in the Central Library.