By Paul Kurtz
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — City, community and business leaders gathered at the old Fairmount Water Works today for a 200th anniversary celebration.
A very special toast and the beverage of choice was, what else, water fresh from the Schuykill River. Water Works Exexcutive Director Karen Young says the wheels of progress literally began turning for Philadelphia on September 7th 1815.
“Using a variety of technologies starting with steam engines, water wheels and finally hydraulic turbines,” says Young, “the Water Works pumped water of uncommon purity from the river up to the reservoirs where the Philadelphia Museum of Art stands today.”
In the years after the Water Works opening, City leaders bought up thousands of acres of land along the banks of the Schuykill to stave off pollution from mills and factories. But they couldn’t stop the pollution that came from farther upriver. However, the land they bought became the Fairmount Park system.
The purity of the water eventually overwhelmed by industrial era pollution. The Water Works was closed in 1909 and became an eyesore until a revival project was launched in the 1970’s.
In its heyday the Fairmount Water Works was one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
The Junior League spearheaded the effort to refurbish the WW by raising funds in the 1970’s. The gradual makeover began in earnest in 1985.
City officials now say they want to make it a central destination. Future development plans include a barge, a dock and a fresh water mussel hatchery.