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Watershed History: Roxborough Pumping Station Demolition

From the desk of Philadelphia Water Department historical consultant Adam Levine:

Roxborough Pumping Station, 1961

Roxborough Pumping Station, 2010

As of July 7, the old Roxborough Pumping Station was in the process of being demolished. This piece of the city’s water supply history had been out of commission since 1962, and as shown in the color photos (taken by city photographer Richard Goldey in December 2010), it had lately become a graffiti-covered ruin. The black and white photos were taken in 1961, just before the plant was taken out of service. The high roofline once accommodated huge coal-fired steam pumping engines, which were replaced by the much smaller but much more efficient electric pumps shown in the 1961 photo below. Even in its derelict state, the former grandeur of this public building, designed to be both functional as well as beautiful, is still apparent. 

Interior of Roxborough Pumping Station, 1961

Interior of Roxborough Pumping Station, 2010

Related: Read our recent post on the Roxborough Water Works.

Soak It In: Photos From Philly's First Porous Street

Mayor Michael Nutter, Councilman Frank DiCicco, Deputy Mayor of Transportation and Utilities Rina Cutler, and PWD commissioner Howard Neukrug recently unveiled Philadelphia’s first porous green street on the 800 block of Percy Street in South Philly. The porous asphalt replaces traditional impervious asphalt and reduces the amount of stormwater that enters our sewers. Green infrastructure tools such as porous asphalt are part of PWD's Green City, Clean Waters plan to invest approximately $2 billion over the next 25 years to significantly reduce Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs)—a combination of sewage and stormwater that overflows into our rivers and streams when it rains.

The Percy Street unveiling ended with a water-balloon toss and Mayor Nutter demonstrating how the street functions by pouring a gallon of water onto the asphalt. It worked! More photos after the jump.

Watershed History: Roxborough Water Works

A brief history of the Roxborough Water Works by Philadelphia Water Department historical consultant Adam Levine

Looking north on Granville Street toward Upper Roxborough Reservoir, 1948

By the end of the 1850s, it was already apparent to Henry P.M. Birkinbine, chief engineer of the Philadelphia Water Department, that the northwestern section of the city—including Roxborough, Manayunk, and Chestnut Hill—would need to be served by its own water works. The high ground in this area was far above the reach of existing reservoirs in the city, which supplied water by gravity to homes and businesses. Wells in populated areas were becoming unpalatable and in many cases unhealthy. A small private water works, built to serve Germantown and its vicinity, used a spring and dam of water along Papermill Run (now called Monoshone Creek), but Birkinbine predicted that its capacity would soon be outstripped by the rapidly growing population.

“Manayunk and Roxborough [contain] a population numbering about twelve thousand,” Birkinbine wrote in a report to City Councils in September 8, 1859. “Of these, at least three thousand are operatives employed in the different factories. This part of the city is much in need of a supply of water for culinary, manufacturing and sanitary purposes, and for protection against fire, as the property in the manufactories is of great value, and now almost entirely without protection against fire…. From the dense population of parts of the district, the wells have become so contaminated, that the water in but few of them is now fit for culinary purposes. The necessity of a supply for manufacturing and mechanical purposes, is evident.”

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