City Improvements

The Water Works

The attention of the public to the necessity of a supply of pure water, was invited by the venerable Franklin, and in his Will he directed, that when the interest arising from a legacy, which he left, for the benefit of young mechanics, amounted to a certain sum, it should be applied to that important object. Repeated attacks of an awful epidemic, a growing conviction in the public mind, of the connection between the cleanliness of the city and its health; of the utility of a copious supply of water, in cases of fire, and for culinary purposes; and the deterioration of our pump water, owing to the infiltration from the increasing sources of impurities, becoming every year more perceptible, a general sentiment prevailed, that some measures should be pursued, to ensure an adequate supply.

Water Works

In 1797 petitions, signed by an unprecedented number of citizens, were presented to the City Councils, and their attention, in consequence, was efficiently directed to the object. Various schemes were proposed, and among them, the formation of a reservoir, on the banks of the Schuylkill, but after much deliberation the plan of Mr. Latrobe, which embraced the erection of a marble building, at Centre (now Penn) Square, with a reservoir, at an elevation of 50 feet, from the foundation, and the establishment of two Steam Engines, adequate to raise 3,000,000 gallons of water, every 24 hours, was adopted.

Although the City Councils, in order to carry out the plan proposed, created a loan of $150,000, and otherwise manifested a proper spirit on the occasion, still from various causes, the project was but coldly received, and the enterprise, not actually commenced until May, 1799; with however, the aid of a loan, from the Old Bank of the United States, the object was actively pursued; and, on the 21st. of January, 1801, the first water was thrown into the City, about one mile of pipes being then laid down. A basin was formed at the Schuylkill, near the permanent Bridge, 84 feet wide, and 200 long, which communicated with the river, by an open canal, and was connected with a subterraneous tunnel, six feet in diameter, and three hundred feet long, to a shaft in a steam engine house, from which situation the water was raised to a brick tunnel, six feet in diameter, and one thousand, four hundred and eight yards long, passing up Chesnut Street to Broad, and thence to the center engine house, where the water was raised, by the steam engine, to a reservoir, capable of holding sixteen thousand gallons.

The Steam Engines at Schuylkill and Centre Square, were wrought with the best Virginia Coal, (our supplies of anthracite, at that time being unknown) and were constructed, after the plan of Bolton & Watt, with some improvement.

The pipes or tubes of wood, which were at first laid down, were bored of a diameters, varying from 3 to 4 inches, and connected at their joints, by cast iron cylinders, gradually sloped towards each end, in order to produce a tight joint, when the tubes were driven together. The length of tubes laid down in 181 1" exceeded thirty-five miles, and the quantity of water supplied at that time, exceeded (daily) 700,000 gallons.

The marble building, at Centre Square, after the erection of the present Water Works, at Fairmount, was occupied for several years, as a Depository for Oil, employed in lighting the City, it was removed about 8 years ago, and the Centre Square converted into the four Squares, now known as Penn Square.

Fair Mount Water Works

As a source of convenience, health, and safety, the citizens of Philadelphia cannot too highly estimate the present establishment at Pair Mount, for watering the city. The erection of a dam and the preparation of reservoirs, was commenced on the 19th of April, 1819. At the site of the dam, the river is about nine hundred feet wide, one fourth of which, on the eastern side is supposed to be a rock, covered with mud, and the remainder rock. The greatest depth is 30 feet, at high water, gradually growing shoal towards the western shore, where at the fall of the tide, usually about six feet below the high water mark, the rock is left bare. In consequence of the frequent occurrence of sudden and violent freshets, it was necessary to construct a dam, of great strength and place it in such a situation that it would most effectually resist the greatest accumulation of water in the Schuylkill. The dam rests on a foundation of cribs, formed of large timbers, 50 feet in length, in the direction of the river, and 18 feet wide, firmly secured in their situation, by heavy stone, with which there are filled: these cribs are firmly secured to each other, and support the planks and timbers, which form the dam. The materials placed above the dam, consisting of earth, stone, &c. form a base, with the wooden structure, of at least 150 feet, gradually doping toward the top, at which place it is narrowed to about 12 feet, and paved three feet below the summit, with building stone, to guard it from injury from ice, and washing by water. The whole length of the dam, which runs in a diagonal direction, from the eastern to the western shore, until it nearly reaches the latter and then bends in an acute angle, running from the point to the western shore presents a surface of over 1,600 feet, which, although the structure has stood twenty years, yet displays the water falling, in an almost unbroken sheet over its entire surface, even at midsummer, when the Schuylkill has its lowest supply of water, at which time it is computed that four hundred and forty millions of gallons of water are afforded by the river, every twenty-four hours, and it is estimated, (allowing for leakage, waste, &c.) that forty gallons of water, acting upon the wheels, will raise one gallon into the reservoirs at the summit, and it follows from the calculation, that the reservoirs will afford a supply of eleven millions of gallons of water (daily) in the driest season of the year.

On the west side of the river, there are erected a head-pier, and guard-locks, connected with a canal, 569 feet long, to two chamber locks, of six feet lift each, by which the navigation of the river is maintained, and the whole structure is guarded by a wall, and blocks of stone, placed towards the river. In constructing the eastern side, it was necessary to excavate solid rock, to the extent of 140 feet, parallel with the river, to form the site for the wheelhouses and other buildings, at the base of Fair Mount. The length of the mill race is 410 feet, and depth of excavation in its construction, varied from 16 to 60 feet, and caused an expense of over 910,000, for gunpowder, used in blasting the solid rock.

At the upper part of the race is erected, three head-arches, which form a continuation of the dam, to the rock of the bank. On the vilest side of the race, which is about 90 feet in width, the wheelhouses rest firmly on a solid rock, presenting structures of stone, 238 feet long, by 66 feet wide. The lower section is divided into twelve apartments, four of which are intended, for eight forcing pumps, the others, for forebays, &c. all of which are arched with brick, and perfectly secure from the weather. These apartments have a gallery on one side, which enables the spectators to see all the wheels at one view, and they are kept warm in winter, to preserve the wheels clear of ice. The wheels are made of wood, with shafts of iron, and are very heavy and strong. The first wheel is capable of raising 1½ million of gallons of water, in 24 hours. The second, 1 1/3 million. The third 1½ million, and the others in the same ratio. At the summit, five basins have been constructed, which communicate with each other successively, affording an opportunity for the water to deposit earthy impurities, before it is transferred to the basin, communicating with the main pipes leading to the city, and securing an ample, supply at all times, in emergencies, from fire, and other causes.

The wooden pipes, at first laid down, have been (generally) replaced with iron, and the extent of the latter, in the city and surrounding districts, is so great that they, at all times, contain a large body of pure water, in a state much cooler than water in the reservoirs. The public wells, fireplugs, and fountains are supplied from Fair Mount, manufactories, breweries, public and private baths, and public and private houses, are all supplied from the same source. The number of bathing rooms, in private houses, exceeds 2,000.

No City in the United States, and perhaps, no one in any part of the world, is better supplied with the inestimable blessing of pure water, than Philadelphia, and many of our Atlantic cities would estimate an establishment similar to that of Fair Mount, could it be obtained, a cheap acquisition, at ten times its actual cost to this city.

Philadelphia Post Office

This very extensive establishment is in the Exchange Building, Corner of Third and Walnut Streets.

The Office is open Daily, (except Sundays) for the transaction of business from sunrise, until 8 o'clock, in the Evening.

In conducting the business of the office, 23 clerks are employed and 15 carriers are appointed, for the delivery of letters in the city and all parts of the adjoining districts.

The annual revenue, in 1832, amounted to $125,000

In 1838, it had increase to $210,000.

The number of letters received, and forwarded daily averages about 11,000. It is estimated that 20,000 packages newspapers are daily deposited, for distribution.

James Page, Post Master. Philadelphia, June 19, 1839.



History of Philadelphia

Source: A History of Philadelphia: With a Notice of Villages, in the Vicinity, Printed and published by Daniel Bowen, 1839

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