Monday, August 27, 2012

1812 and the Fairmount Water Works

1811-1815 Blogging, Part 5 of 5
Fairmount Water Works

In these long breaks between the signature 21 Essays series, I relax by considering possibilities for future series.  I spin the roulette wheel to pick a year (or set of years) and then brainstorm on some potential essay topics.  This time the wheel spins, gradually slows, then clicks to a stop, pointing at:  1811-1815. 

So here’s my fourth 1811-1815 series possibility:  21 essays on the Fairmount Water Works in Philadelphia.

The Fairmount Water Works in December 1984.
U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Designed by Frederick Graff, the Fairmount Water Works was instantly acclaimed for both its state-of-the-art engineering and for its aesthetic beauty.  The engineering supplied clean water to the entire city through a giant new reservoir built on the top of Faire Mount, a hill directly behind the Water Works.  In order to create the inviting and attractive appearance of the Water Works, Graff proposed a Classical Revival exterior that created an oasis of Arcadian beauty amid the growing industrial city.  Tourists flocked to it.

Recently restored to feature an interpretive center and restaurant, the Fairmount Water Works are still a beautiful Philadelphia attraction… with one caveat.  Originally, the Water Works was designed to be the visual centerpiece of this section of the Schuylkill River.  However, with the construction of the enormous Philadelphia Museum of Art in the 1920s, the perfectly proportioned yet much smaller Fairmount Water Works was dwarfed.  To get the appropriate 19th century image, view the Water Works from across the Schuylkill River and mentally photoshop out the colossal museum towering above it.  If you squint just right, you’ll get a glimpse of Arcadia on the banks of the Schuylkill.

It would take a full 21 essays to begin to cover the science, architecture, and history of the Fairmount Water Works, one of Philadelphia’s most enduring institutions.  I’d even be following in the footsteps of Charles Dickens, who was mightily impressed by the Water Works during his 1842 visit to Philadelphia:  “The Water-Works, which are on a height near the city, are no less ornamental than useful, being tastefully laid out as a public garden, and kept in the best and neatest order.”

Fairmount Water Works, 1860-1910, from the Robert N. Dennis
Collection of Stereoscopic Views at the New York Public Library.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

This is the last of my official 1811-1815 ideas (with no promises that I’ll necessarily be getting to any of them…).

Next year(s) up on the random year(s) generator:  1401-1425.  But you’ll need to be patient.  Our tour of the early 15th century must wait at least a month because I’m planning something special for 21 Essays in September.  More about that tomorrow…

© 2012 Lee Price

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