The History of the
Fairmount Water Works
In the early 1800s city leaders commissioned a talented, young engineer named Frederick Graff to design one of Philadelphia’s—and America’s—first municipal water delivery systems. Meeting the challenge set before him with innovative engineering and architectural beauty, Graff originally employed steam engines to lift water to the reservoir high atop Faire Mount—where the Philadelphia Museum of Art now stands.
Once the Schuylkill Dam was built the steam engines were replaced with water wheels powered by the force of the river itself. The Fairmount Water Works was truly an architectural, engineering and aesthetic marvel. This was considered the Fairmount Water Works’ “Golden Age,” as it became a world-class public facility and a must-see tourist destination. In fact, the gardens surrounding the site were the earliest tracts of what was to become Fairmount Park. By the early 1900s, the Schuylkill River had been devastated by industrial pollution, and Philadelphia’s demand for fresh water outgrew the Fairmount Water Works’ ability to provide it. In 1909 the Fairmount Water Works quietly closed its doors. Over the years the facility was adapted to house an aquarium and a public pool. During The Bicentennial in 1976, the Fairmount Water Works was honored as a National Historic Landmark.
Throughout the landmark’s “Golden Age” the Fairmount Water Works was a point of great pride for Philadelphians. It was said that you hadn’t truly experienced the city until you visited this marvel. It’s the mission of all of us here at the Water Works Restaurant and Lounge to make that sentiment ring as true today as it did then.