Documentary History of American Water-works
August 4, 2019 5:48 AM   Subscribe

An extensive history of early US water and sanitation infrastructure, by Morris Pierce, based on the 1888 Manual of American Water-Works (, but with much added material, and links to online historical resources. There's a lot on the site, but you can start to drill down by location here
posted by carter (9 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
If you're planning a trip to Boston, include the Waterworks Museum on your itinerary. It's inside one of the two amazingly designed pumping stations along the Chestnut Hill Reservoir that used to supply Boston with its drinking water, a few miles downstream from Echo Bridge, which is where the aqueduct from the Sudbury Reservoirs crosses the Charles River at Hemlock Gorge (it's named for the echos you can get when you yell from its base, but its best part might be the view from the path atop it). Both the reservoir and the aqueduct had gone unused for decades, but were pressed into service in 2010 when the terminus of a newer (just six years old) aqueduct burst in 2010, cutting off most of the MWRA's water supply.
posted by adamg at 9:46 AM on August 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lots of cool stuff on the NYC page about the Croton reservoir.

There used to be a huge honkin' concrete tub of water in New York.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:09 AM on August 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Good point Ray Walston, Luck Dragon - Philadelphia has a smaller but informative interpretive center (free!) at the old Fairmount Water Works.
posted by carter at 10:53 AM on August 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I mean, adamg for the Boston museum link. But thanks both of you!
posted by carter at 11:12 AM on August 4, 2019

Weird bit of synchronicity, I've spent the last couple weeks working extensively on a research project involving the history of (a particular tiny bit of) the East Providence, RI water works. The Rhode Island Historical Society records they cite at the bottom of the page about East Providence is literally where I was and what I was looking at on Friday. So I can vouch that everything they've got about East Providence, at least, is accurate, although kind of lost in the dry "the General Assembly did this, the Fire District did that" is the degree to which the big corporations which ran the big mills at the time basically set the agenda. There was a lot of wheeling and dealing at the time regarding who had rights to how much water from which ponds and rivers, since they powered (and protected, via sprinkler systems) all the local mills. The East Providence Water Company was started when three of the biggest local companies decided to go in on it together and they essentially just bought out the City's fledgling water system, expanded it and ran it for a little over 30 years.

I didn't know, though, that the East Providence water tower was the largest metal water tower ever constructed at the time, which is kinda neat.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:20 PM on August 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is a great find, thank you for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:26 PM on August 4, 2019

In my tiny tiny town, I recently got to see a little of this history first hand. The whole town has had the pipes dug up and replaced with PVC, with new fire hydrants also. What surprised me was when I ended up talking with the city's water engineer supervising things on my block. The pipes are all from 1904. The fire hydrant on my block is also from 1904.

They showed a section of the removed pipe. Worn to an oval shape. Surprisingly narrow. About the same size as the piping within my house. Not the much larger conduit I expected.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 4:19 PM on August 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

They showed a section of the removed pipe. Worn to an oval shape. Surprisingly narrow. About the same size as the piping within my house. Not the much larger conduit I expected.

My guess is the narrow pipe size was to keep the pressure high.
posted by KaizenSoze at 5:48 AM on August 5, 2019

Should you visit Houston, you might want to tour the Buffalo Bayou Cistern, a columned concrete cavity just across the Bayou from downtown. When they could not locate a persistent leak the city shut down this drinking water repository and turned it into a park.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:08 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

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