Never Parched

Pre-Erie Canal, the Philadelphia Water Works was American know-how sine qua non. No other city in North America could furnish clean water to its citizens, and as a result it was one of the greatest tourist attractions in the US. As you might imagine, it was also expensive to operate, and Philadelphia charged Spring Garden, Southwark, and the Northern Liberties, and the other small cities and districts in Philadelphia County a high fee to tap into the system.

Photo courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia

In the mid-1840s, after unsuccessfully bargaining with the City of Philadelphia to lower the cost of water, officials in the Northern Liberties and Spring Garden, growing districts that were also rapidly industrializing, decided to face down the ten-ton gorilla that was Philly and build their own system. The new Spring Garden Water Works, at the present site of the Glendinning Rock Garden, just below the Girard Avenue Bridge along Kelly Drive, would be a mile upriver from the city’s Water Works at Fair Mount. Construction began in 1844 and was completed in 1845. Philadelphia officials, meanwhile, paid careful attention to the Spring Garden Water Works because they feared a depletion of the water supply. They also worried about contamination.

But for nine years until the city and county consolidated in 1854, the Spring Garden Water Works kept Northern Liberties and Spring Garden satiated, despite the occasional outbreak of cholera. After consolidation, the city acquired Lemon Hill, and bit by bit, the factories and estates along the Schuylkill as a means to protect the city’s water supply. This would become Fairmount Park. It was a visionary environmental act by what was now one of the largest cities in the world. The Spring Garden Water Works, in turn, came under the city’s Water Department, part of a network of pumping stations that provided water to the vastly expanding city.


2 Comments


  1. Been by that spot a hundred times and had no inkling that was ever there. Beautiful photo, fascinating history. Aerial oblique photography reveals vestiges still in place:

    http://tinyurl.com/3fdja4d

    Mike Szilagyi

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
In Belmont, The Making Of A

In Belmont, The Making Of A “City Of Villas”

January 20, 2017  |  Vantage

Contributor Joshua Bevan takes us on an architectural tour of Belmont, where the origins and growth of the neighborhood can still be read in its distinctive homes > more

Shaping A New Urban Crossroads At 33rd And Chestnut

Shaping A New Urban Crossroads At 33rd And Chestnut

January 18, 2017  |  Vantage

Contributor Ann de Forest stands at the confluence of Penn and Drexel's campuses where a once listless intersection is being redefined with energy, connectivity, and strategic design > more

The Best Seats In The City, Ban Be Damned

The Best Seats In The City, Ban Be Damned

January 16, 2017  |  Buzz

Last week Friends of Rittenhouse Square and PPR announced a ban from sitting on the interior walls of the park. Two days later Mayor Jim Kenney reversed the rule. We take a look at life along the balustrades in these old photos > more

Capturing The Ghosts Of Demolition

Capturing The Ghosts Of Demolition

January 13, 2017  |  Last Light

The demolition composites of photographer Andrew Evans beguile the eye with ghostly images of a city passing through time. Evans presents his newest additions to the series and explains his process with this photo essay > more

Pencoyd Bridge Reopens In Manayunk, As Redevelopment Of Foundry Site Begins

Pencoyd Bridge Reopens In Manayunk, As Redevelopment Of Foundry Site Begins

January 11, 2017  |  Vantage

The deserted industrial site of Pencoyd Iron Works is next on a growing list of riverside redevelopment along the Schuylkill. Contributor Mick Ricereto takes us deep inside the history of the family-owned foundry and farmland that dates back to the city's founding > more

Urban Fantasy: The Carousel Maker Of Broad & Erie

Urban Fantasy: The Carousel Maker Of Broad & Erie

January 10, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

Traditional carousel design may have roots in Europe, but "Philadelphia Style" took the amusement ride to a whole new level. The Shadow takes a stroll down Germantown Avenue where the G.A. Dentzel Carousel Company became the gold standard in animal kingdom merry-go-rounds > more