Philadelphia’s Waterworks: A Free Museum And Hidden Sculpture Garden

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Built in 1815, the waterworks provided water to Center City Philadelphia until 1909.  The steam-powered technology, the gorgeous neoclassical architecture, and the landscaped gardens (one of the largest urban parks in America at the time) made the waterworks a famous 19th century tourist destination – Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were both impressed during (separate) visits to Philadelphia in the mid-1800s.  Originally steam powered, the engines were replaced by much cheaper (and much more primitive) water wheels (later turbines) after an explosion that killed 3 workers.  By the 1890’s the water in the Schuylkill had become so polluted that outbreaks of cholera and typhoid led to closing of the waterworks in 1909.

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Today, the original pump house contains a FREE museum with a movie highlighting the history of the waterworks and hands-on exhibits focusing on the water cycle and watersheds.  My favorite is a display of video highlights of animals using the fish ladder, including a turtle, snake and an otter.

 

WAY off the beaten path (down a small staircase to the left of the Waterworks), hidden down at river-level, is a sculpture garden focusing on the history of the Schuylkill River – from a source of food for the natives Lenape, and resource utilized by colonists, through its emergence as a manufacturing hub during the Industrial Revolution – and its return to health as a fishery and public resource.

 

http://fairmountwaterworks.org/

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