LEWISTON — A Maine contractor working to install storm water drain pipes in Lewiston made tapped into a historic water hydrant dating back to the mid-1800s.

Excavator Todd Gendron says it’s the third historic cistern he’s unearthed in his career.

The Lewiston Sun Journal reports that the large brick cistern was installed around 1869 and could hold about 40,000 gallons of water.

“The craftsmanship of the brick work is totally amazing,” said Lewiston Public Works director Dave Jones.

Bates College retired professor Doug Hodgkin, who’s written several books about local history, said Lewiston didn’t start piping in water until the 1870s.

“Lewiston’s population was exploding,” Hodgkin said, of the era when the cistern was built. “The population was doubling from census to census. It would double from 1850 to 1860.”

He said fires were a serious concern at the time, because wood houses were built close together and fire could easily spread from one to another. Hodgkin said insurance companies pressured cities to reduce the risk of fire losses.

“They said if you don’t do something, insurances rates would be high,” he said.

Portland began piping water from Sebago Lake after the Great Fire in 1866.

Gendron said the cistern will remain in place on Spring Street and the storm water pipe will run through it.

The goal of the storm water drain project is to divert storm water from the city’s sewer system to prevent raw sewage from entering the Androscoggin River during heavy storms.