Court Cases & Documents Concerning Condemnation Proceedings for the Washington Aqueduct
Description of court cases and documents involving the United States and the Great Falls Manufacturing Company concerning the Washington Aqueduct.
(Updated December 4, 2000)
The Maryland General Assembly granted the United States Government the power to condemn land for an Aqueduct across the Potomac in 1853, GENERAL ASSEMBLY (Laws) 1853, Chapter 179, MdHR 820932, 2/2/6/17, L929. Using these powers, the government applied for a writ of condemnation against the Great Falls Manufacturing Company in 1858. During the proceedings the Great Falls Manufacturing Company claimed damages based on the supposed riparian rights of the Toulson Tract in Virginia and on Conn's Island (also known as Bishops Island located in Montgomery County, Maryland).
The initial condemnation proceeding was known as the United States v. the Great Falls Manufacturing Company and heard in Montgomery County Circuit Court. A jury awarded the Great Falls Manufacturing Company $150,000 for damages stemming from the construction of a dam across the Potomac above the Great Falls. The jury's finding was in part based upon riparian water rights supposedly connected with the Toulson Tract. This award was was overturned by Judge Nicholas Brewer (and reported in: The Great Falls Land Condemnation Case, Judge Brewer's Opinion, Senate Executive Document No. 42, 35th Congress, 2d Session). Judge Brewer ruled that since the the Toulson tract was located in Virginia it had no riparian rights to the Potomac River and that "The riparian rights of the Great Falls Company has, is entirely upon the ownership of Conn's Island (island located in the Potomac River in Montgomery County, Maryland), the title to which is derived from the State of Maryland through its grant." (p.9) He found the initial condemnation proceedings and damages invalid and ordered that the condemnation proceedings begin again. The second round of condemnation hearings began in 1859, but were not resolved in Montgomery County Circuit Court because both both sides agreed to submit to Federal arbitration in 1863.
Concurrent with the Montgomery County condemnation proceedings, the Great Falls Manufacturing Company was granted a warrant to survey the following tracts located in the Potomac River near the site of the proposed Aqueduct: Neilsons Desire, the Resurvey on the Resurvey on Conn's Island, and the Cyclades. In 1862, after the surveys were returned and Judge Brewer's opinion was issued, the Great Falls Manufacturing Company patented the tracts. The tract known as Neilsons Desire bordered the Virginia Shore and covered 90 acres in the Potomac River composed almost entirely of water (except for several very small islands).
The United States filed caveats against the Great Falls Manufacturing Company with the Maryland Land Office on September 20, 1859. During hearings conducted in Annapolis, the government presented its argument against patents being issued for Neilsons Desire, the Resurvey on the Resurvey on Conn's Island, and the Cyclades. The United States' reasons for filing the caveats were detailed in LAND OFFICE (Caveat Papers) 17. Reasons for filing caveats against certificates of Great Falls Manufacturing Company, Filed Sep 20, 1859 MSA S5-441, MdHR 18,020, 1/28/3/4.While these reasons given were basically the same in all three caveats, the arguments presented for Neilson's Desire are as follows: (see the Land Commissioner's Opinions for the arguments given for each caveat).
The case against the Resurvey on the Resurvey on Conn's Island continued until February 24, 1864. The Court of Appeals overturned the Land Office's decision and upheld the caveat. The court ruled that the Maryland General Assembly's legislative Act of 1853, chapter 179, granted the federal government first title to the land and water rights in question. More information on the ruling is available in COURT OF APPEALS (Maryland Reports) The United States for the Use of the Washington Aqueduct v. the Great Falls Manufacturing Company, 1864, vol. 21, folio 119-135, 2/6/10/12.
As the caveat appeal was being heard in the Maryland Court of Appeals, federal arbitration hearings began to assess damages relating to the condemnation of land necessary for the dam's completion. They were concluded by July 1864 (note: according to subsequent court proceedings, the arbitration hearings were never formally ratified by both sides). During the hearings federal officials prepared four separate plans (known as Plans A-D respectively) for the construction of the dam and arbitrators determined the damages that the Government would pay if each plan was implemented. In July of 1864 the United States began to build the dam roughly along the lines of Plan D, which called for a dam from the Maryland shore to Conn's Island in the middle of the Potomac. Arbitrators had determined that if Plan D was implemented the Great Falls Manufacturing Company would be compensated $15,692.
Since there had been no formal ratification of the agreement, the Great Falls Manufacturing Company brought suit against the U.S. in the United States Court of Claims in 1880. The Claims Court upheld the ruling of the arbitrators for $15,692. (NOTE: A fairly detailed summary of the proceedings to this point is provided in THE GREAT FALLS CASE: The Great Falls Manufacturing Company v. The United States, UNITED STATES COURT OF CLAIMS 16 Ct. Cl. 160; 1880 U.S. Ct. Cl. LEXIS 11. As part of the arbitration process, the Manufacturing Company was required to show proof of title to the Toulson Tract, Conn's Island, and the Cyclades. This was done satisfactorily to the arbitrators although the case description does not mention what form of proof was required and given. This ruling was affirmed by appeal to the Supreme Court in UNITED STATES v. GREAT FALLS MANUFACTURING COMPANY. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES 112 U.S. 645; 5 S. Ct. 306; 1884 U.S. LEXIS 1913; 28 L. Ed. 846 (it also upheld the Manufacturing Company's title to the land in question).
In 1882 Congress authorized the completion of the Aqueduct to the Virginia shore (approved July 15, 1882 "An act to increase the water supply of the city of Washington, and for other purposes,"). The Great Falls Manufacturing Company made an unsuccessful attempt to block the completion of the dam as detailed in GREAT FALLS MANUFACTURING CO. v. GARLAND, Atty. Gen., etc., and others. Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland 25 F. 521; 1885 U.S. App. LEXIS 2287. This was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1887 GREAT FALLS MANUFACTURING COMPANY. v. THE ATTORNEY GENERAL. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES 125 U.S. 581; 8 S. Ct. 631; 1888 U.S. LEXIS 1896; 31 L. Ed. 527.
In 1895 the land and water rights held by the Great Falls Manufacturing Company were sold to the Great Falls Power Company "...reserving only the claims of this company against the United States for damages for lands taken and for water heretofore diverted from the Virginia Channel in said river...".
MONTGOMERY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Land Records) Deed Great Falls Manufacturing Company to Great Falls Power Company, July 22, 1895, Liber JA 49, Folio 364-378, MSA CM705-95, CR 3470-27Eventually the Great Falls Power Company sold its land and water rights to land the Aqueduct dam was built on to the United States in 1903.
Deed recorded in Montgomery County (probably recorded in Fairfax County as well) that lists property sold to the Great Falls Power Company in Maryland and Virginia. Virginia tracts include part of the land near and over the Difficult Run in VA, the Jackson Lot in Fairfax County (anchor point for the Aqueduct dam), the greater part of the Toulson Tract in VA (originally sold by Hall Neilson to the Great Falls Manufacturing Company in 1854 and recorded in Fairfax County, VA). Maryland lands listed include Conn's Island, Neilson's Desire, and the Cyclades. Also conveys rights vested in the Great Falls Manufacturing Company "...reserving only the claims of this company against the United States for damages for lands taken and for water heretofore diverted from the Virginia Channel in said river..."
MONTGOMERY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Land Records) Deed Great Falls Power Company to the United States of America, November 26, 1903, Liber TD 27, Folio 138-139, MSA CM705-133, CR 3489-2a.(View additional information relating to the Great Falls Power Company including legal proceedings between the Great Falls Power Company and the C&O Canal over land in the Great Falls region).
Deed to the United States from Great Falls Power Company that "...grant, convey, assign, release and quit claim unto the said United States of America the land and water rights belonging to the grantor situated in the States of Maryland and Virginia and described as follows: all land of said grantor or in which the grantor has any interest upon which is located the dam of the United States Government at the Great Falls of the Potomac..." Includes Conn's Island (also known as Bishops Island) the land on which the Aquaduct dam was built.