"In the first week of May a powerful storm dropped an ocean of rain on Chicago and again caused the Chicago River to reverse flow. Again the sewage threatened the city's water supply. The decaying carcass of a horse was spotted bobbing near one of the intake cribs.
This new surge underscored for Burnham the urgency of completing his plan to pipe Waukesha spring water to the fair by Opening Day. Earlier, in July 1891, the exposition had granted a contract for the work to the Hygeia Mineral Springs Company, headed by an entrepreneur named J.E. McElroy, but the company had accomplished little. In March Burnham ordered Dion Geraldine, his chief construction superintenedenent, to press the matter "with the utmost vigor and see that no delay occurs."
Hygeia secured rights to lay its pipe from its springhouse in Waukesha through the village itself but failed to anticipate the intensity of opposition from the citizens who feared the pipeline would disfigure their landscape and drain their famous springs. Hygeia's McElroy, under mounting pressure from Burnham, turned to desperate measures.
On Saturday evening, May 7, 1892, McElroy loaded a special train with pipes, picks, shovels, and three hundred men and set off for Waukesha to dig his pipeline under the cover of darkness.
Word of the expedition beat the train to Waukesha. As it pulled into the station, someone rang the village firebell, and soon a large force of men armed with clubs, pistols, and shotguns converged on the train. Two fire engines arrived hissing steam, their crews ready to blast the pipelayers with water. One village leader told McElroy that if he went ahead with his plan, he would not leave town alive.
Soon another thousand or so townspeople joined the small army at the station. One group of men dragged a cannon from the town hall and trained it on Hygeia's bottling plant.
After a brief standoff, McElroy and the pipelayers went back to Chicago.
Burnham still wanted that water. Workers had already laid pipes in Jackson Park for two hundred springwater booths.
McElroy gave up trying to run pipes directly into the village of Waukesha. Instead he bought a spring in the town of Big Bend, twelve miles south of Waukesha, just inside the Waukesha County line. Fair visitors would be able to drink Waukesha springwater after all.
That the water came from the county and not the famous village was a subtlety upon which Burnham and McElroy did not dwell."
For an excellent read on the World's Columbian Exposition, I definitely recommend The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson.