Travels Through
Greco - Roman Antiquity
An exploration of texts and images from Falvey Library's Special Collections works on ancient Greece and Rome.

Fairmount Water Works



Philadelphia Water Works. My photo. Taken April 30, 2016.

(Picture 1)


The Philadelphia Water Works was put into operation in 1815 as a way to provide the city with clean water from the Schuylkill River after several outbreaks of disease. Frederick Graff was the chief engineer and designer of the water works, both inside and out. The pumping station used steam powered pumps and boilers to move the water through pipes to the city, but after several fatal accidents due to the dangers of steam-power, the city sought a safer and cheaper way to power the pumping station. In 1821, Frederick Graff redesigned the water works to replace the steam-powered pumps with a dam and water wheel system so that the river itself powered the pumps and pistons. The pumping station closed in 1909 when the city moved to a different system of filtration and pumping. Since then the Water Works has been an aquarium, a swimming pool, and finally in 1976 the site was declared a National Historical Landmark and is has now been restored and preserved and serves as a space for education about clean water.

             The Water Works, as they stand today, were designed in the Greek Revival style that reflected the Romantic ideal of the seamless blending of nature and technology. The most notably classical feature of the water works is the open-air columned structure in the middle. (Picture 1). The structure seems to be a mix of Doric and Ionic features and is overall simple and unadorned. The columns are simple and thicker, with no ornate decoration and a simple capital at the top, as one would expect of the Doric style. But the columns are not fluted, as both the columns of Doric and Ionic usually are and the columns do not rest directly on the ground, but are given a base, as Ionic columns are. The structure has a pitched roof with two pediments on either side and a continuous frieze around all four sides. But both are bare and unadorned. The structure was perhaps left simple and unadorned as to not detract attention away from the beauty of the natural river and gardens.


fairmont 2.jpg



Gibson, Jane Mork, and Robert Wolterstorff. “The Fairmount WaterWorks”.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin. 84.360/361. 1988: 1-46. Web. Jstor.


“About Us”. Fairmount Water Works.

Accessed April 25, 2016.


Philadelphia Water Department. “Fairmount Water Works Films”. Online Video Clip.

Fairmount Water Works. Vimeo, May 12, 2014. Web. April 25, 2016.