Fairmont Water Works & Fairmont Park

Fairmont Water Works was designed by Frederich Gaff and is Philadelphia’s second municipal waterworks. It was built between 1812 and 1872. It was in use till 1909 when they had to close due to water being too polluted from population and industry growth; there were newer and updated facilities that took it’s place. In 1976 the water works was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.



The boat house is in the middle all the way in the background. The man made looking waterfall is the dam.


The gardens of water works made us think of Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers, NY.

The first waterworks was designed by Benjamin Latrobe after a series of yellow fever epidemics in the late 18th century. They thought the unclean water and rotting matter in the streets caused it. Latrobe’s system utilized two steam engines to pump water from the Schuylkill River into the city and then into two wooden tanks that held a total of 57,000 gallons.


Pipes were made out of wood and they used cast iron joints to connect them.


That’s when Frederick Gaff (Latrobe’s apprentice and chief engineer) and John Davis were picked to revamp the waterworks. They had to work on a plan for the growing Philly population.




This wall was recreated to show us what it looked like back in it’s day.

Fairmont Water Works was built on the east side of Schuylkill River. The earthen reservoir sat where the art museum is today. 1819-1821, a 1600 foot damn was built across the Schuylkill to direct water flow into Mill House which contained three wheels that replaced the steam engines in 1822. The dam was built to prevent tide water from contaminating the water supply. Old Mill House was renovated and Jonval turbines were sued to lift water into New Mill House.

The exterior of the buildings is Classical Revival. They are beautifully constructed. During its heyday, the waterworks became a tourist attraction. It was praised for its pleasant design and public use.


Fairmont Park is 2,054 acres, consists of East and West Park and is divided by the Schuylkill River. It’s the largest urban park in the world according to wiki. The west side of the park contains the Please Touch Museum, Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, and the zoo. The east side has the art museum, Fairmont Water Works and the boathouse to name a few. There are trails and woodsy areas in the park. Some historic mansions can be found.


Leading to Mount Pleasant from the trail.

After Fairmont Water Works closed, it became the Philadelphia Aquarium a while later. They tried using the river water but the wildlife died due to how heavily polluted the water was. The aquarium closed in 1962 and then the facility was turned into an indoor pool which closed in 1973. Now the buildings consist of the Fairmont Water Works Interpretive Center which is a hands on environmental and science education center.


At sunset, if you are close to the art museum, you can see the individual colors on the building not noticeable other times of day. The way the light highlighted the building was very nice. The naked eye caught it better than the photo.

We went on the self tour which is free but we donated money when we left. A good tour for architecture/history buffs.


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