The grand Classical Revival structure along the river, while driving down Philadelphia's Schuylkill Expressway, is what first captured my eye, as it does to many passing through Philadelphia.
The structure, situated on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, is the Fairmount Water Works, Philadelphia's second municipal waterworks. The first had been located on the site of the present City Hall. After the yellow fever outbreaks of 1793 and 1798 caused widespread panic and thousands fled the city, the need for clean water was evident. The “Watering Committee” was formed in 1799 to provide clean water to the residents. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, an English-born engineer and architect, was hired to design a new water works for the city. Construction on the Centre Square Pump House began in 1799, in a classical Greek and Roman architectural style with Doric columns and a prominent dome. It was completed two years later consisting of steam engines, made partly of wood, and bored-log pipes. It didn't take long for the system to run into problems due to its wood design and the growing needs of the population.
Between 1812 and 1815, on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, the Fairmount Water Works was constructed. Designed by Frederick Graff, a hydraulic engineer who had employed by B. H. Latrobe as his assistant engineer in erecting the first water works, devised an iron-pipe system to be used instead.
The Water Works initially consisted of a 3 million gallon earthen reservoir atop Faire Mount.
Winning praise around the country for its design, which was disguised by a Classical Revival exterior, it quickly became a popular tourist attraction known for its beauty and its location on the riverside which was praised by visitor Charles Dickens.
The Fairmount Water Works eventually closed in 1909 and the facility was used for several purposes including an aquarium and an indoor swimming pool.
Today the water works buildings now house the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center and offers interactive exhibits, lectures, events, and school programs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Gonzalez is a photographer, blogger and historian currently residing in Newark, New Jersey.