The Neighborhood of Fairmount
Philadelphia's Art Museum Area
The Fairmount Waterworks
In 1801, The Centre Square Water Works opened on the site where City Hall stands today. However, the demand for water in the growing city soon exceeded the capabilities of the small steam-powered pumps, and Frederick Graff was put in charge of finding a solution.
After trying to improve the pumps at Centre Square, Graff decided it would be better to build a new waterworks on the Schuylkill River. City Council approved a plan in 1811 which called for a new pumping station to be build along the river. The steam-powered pumps would send water to a reservoir to be built atop Morris Hill (Faire Mount). Water would then be carried to the Centre Square pumps via underground wooden pipes.
The surrounding country side, with its rolling hills and view of the river soon became a popular attraction for tourists and residents alike. The City decided to develop the area into a park and installed walkways and fountains. Morris Hill regained its former name of Fairmount. The Gazebo was built in 1835 at the end of the mound dam. Many artists came to capture the scenic view and made the Fairmount Waterworks and Lemon Hill world famous.
Henry Pratt, owner of Lemon Hill, charged admission to visitors who flocked to walk through his gardens. The city later bought Lemon Hill and the Sedgley Estate, and in 1855, officially created Fairmount Park.
In 1861, a New Mill House was constructed between the Old Mill House and the Mound Dam. The old wood and iron wheels in the Old Mill House were replaced by turbines in a major renovation in 1871. The beautiful Pavillion, a large open-air structure, and the adjoining Entrance Houses were built the same year.
The Fairmount Waterworks closed in 1909 as new and more advanced pumping stations were built. The city turned the Old Mill House into an Aquarium in 1911, and in the 1940's, the New Mill House became the Kelly Auditorium where dances and special events were held. A pool was also installed.
When Philadelphia built an aquarium in South Philly in the 1960's, the buildings were closed and fell into disrepair. There was an ill-fated attempt to rehabilitate the complex by the Junior League of Philadelphia in the 1970's, and for a time, an outdoor cafe operated on the terrace of the Graff Mansion. The Watering Comittee's Building was restored and used by the Fairmount Park Commission in 1984. When funding for the restoration of the complex ran low, the project fell through.
Today, the city is slowly working on repairing the structures of the Fairmount Waterworks. It has been declared a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Mechanical and Civil Engineering Landmark. With renewed interest in historic restoration and funding from several public and private organizations, The Fairmount Waterworks has a good chance of survival. Hopefully, future generations will enjoy the scenic walkways and engineering marvels of this historic site.
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