Situated on the east bank of the Schuylkill River between historic Boat House Row and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Fairmount Water Works opened its doors in 1815 as the sole water pumping station for the City of Philadelphia.
Almost a century later, in 1909, the Water Works was decommissioned as a pumping station when the City moved to sand filtration for purification in response to industrial development and the resulting detrimental impact on the region’s water quality.
In 1911, most of the once technologically revered water pumping equipment was removed to make way for the opening of the Philadelphia Aquarium, which operated until 1962.
For the next ten years the site was home to the John B. Kelly Pool, a practice pool for competitive swimmers and for School District of Philadelphia students.
In the 1970s, the Junior League of Philadelphia, appalled at the neglect of such a historical treasure, began a fundraising effort to preserve the site and restore it to its former beauty and status as an unrivaled destination.
Since 1972, spurred by the passage of the Clean Water Act, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) has been a national leader in educating the public about the value of clean water and the need for public stewardship of our regional and local watersheds. After several years of conducting tours and classes at the Fairmount Water Works, PWD recognized the need for a permanent educational facility focused on urban water education.
When the FWW opened its doors October 2003, this achievement was the culmination of a 40-year effort, originally spearheaded by Susan Myers and the Junior League, to save and restore this National Historic Landmark. Many individuals, organizations and civic leaders played a part in creating and nurturing an adaptive reuse of the iconic structure, and made reality out of the vision of an interpretive center that would bring together citizens and water resources.
This 16 minute film explores the history of the Fairmount Water Works from the early 17th century to it’s opening in 2003 as an education center.
Now the FWW has become the region’s premier urban environmental education destination and is recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as The Delaware River Basin’s Official Watershed Education Center and Gateway Center for the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area. Over the past 10 years, the FWW has become the place to go for promoting and sharing new concepts in urban-related water projects recognized for innovation and sustainability. With more than 460,000 visitors to date, the Fairmount Water Works has become the hub of innovative water and watershed education programming in the region.
The Fairmount Water Works celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2015 with a series of special events including a free public kick-off celebration, music and dance performances, art installations, yoga classes, and a Bicentennial Brunch gala.
Over the next 25 years, the FWW will be the leading repository for urban watershed research and data associated with PWD’s innovative green management solutions to treat storm water as a precious resource and to restore our rivers and streams to clean, safe, fishable, swimmable and beautiful amenities. This EPA-approved pioneering model of Philadelphia as an outdoor laboratory in monitoring the effectiveness of these new tools has national and global significance.