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Fairmount Waterworks

Philadelphia's Waterworks: Fairmount

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Because of limited capacity of the Centre Square Waterworks, as the city continued to grow it was determined that a new waterworks system should be built at Fair Mount, located along the banks of the Schuylkill River to the northwest of the city. In 1812, an engine house was built at the foot of the hill to house two steam engines which were to pump the water up to a reservoir on the top of Fair Mount. The engines went into regular service in 1815. Between 1819 and 1822, a dam and mill house designed by Frederick Graff were built, and the system was changed from steam to water power. Through these improvements, Philadelphia's water system became the most advanced municipal system in the world, drawing visitors from around the country and the world to marvel at this technological wonder.

The period between about 1830 and 1850 was a golden age for the Fairmount Waterworks. The waterworks had been designed to provide aesthetic appeal as well as to serve practical ends. The buildings had been artistically designed and the setting made into a park. A garden was completed to the south, and paths, fountains, and an esplanade were built around and up to the top of Fair Mount. This created a beautiful natural setting for the waterworks and corresponded with the period's romantic belief that man could harness nature in a benign manner.

In 1855, Fairmount Park was established, extending the park-like setting to the north and protecting the water supply. Beginning in 1859, a new mill house was built with a wide patio on top, and the next year saw the beginning of the establishment of permanent boat houses to take advantage of the navigable and calm waters above the waterworks dam. Improvements continued to be made, but as the nineteenth century progressed the usefulness of this system waned, until it was decommissioned as a water pump station in 1911. At this time the old mill house was turned into an Aquarium and in 1919, construction began on the present Museum of Art, located on top of the old reservoir. Though the Fairmount Waterworks has not been used for its original purpose for almost a century, the superb appearance of the buildings and their setting has maintained it as one of the most popular Philadelphia sites to this day.

Report of the Watering Committee, to the Select & Common Councils of the City of Philadelphia Relative to the Fair Mount Water Works. Philadelphia, 1823. Octavo pamphlet with original paper cover. Complete with two plates. Some minor internal spotting, but overall very good condition.

The report of the Philadelphia watering committee given to the city councils on January 9, 1823 concerning the state of the Fairmount waterworks. This waterworks, which replaced the Centre Square waterworks, was built in 1812, with two steam engines to raise the water from the river to the reservoir at the top of Fair Mount. This process was costly and inefficient, so in 1822, the system was changed to water power, with a dam and mill house built. This report was explaining the changes, costs and benefits of the new system. It includes two engraved plates with some of the mechanics of the system. $65

Doughty-Childs waterworks
Thomas Doughty. "...This View of Fair Mount Works,..." Philadelphia: C.G. Childs, ca. 1826. 13 x 19 1/4. Etched and engraved by C.G. Childs. Old water stains on back. Short tears professionally repaired. Hand color. Strong impression. Deák: 333; Prints of Philadelphia, 58.

A second print of the waterworks by Thomas Doughty, this time in combination with another Philadelphia printmaker. The apparent lack of success of the Doughty-Hill print (first entry above) did not discourage Doughty, and within a few years he combined with Cephas G. Childs to produce this somewhat smaller but still impressive engraving. Childs, a native of Bucks county, was an expert engraver and publisher, and later ran an important early lithographic firm. Despite his energy, skill and popularity, Childs never made much money from printmaking, and so in 1834 he abandoned the business to become a newspaper publisher.

Beginning in 1824, Childs had engraved several of Doughty's images of the Fairmount Waterworks, of which this is the finest. It is probably the best example of Child's engraving ability, which was equal to Doughty's painterly skills. The view shows the waterworks from across the Schuylkill River, a vantage point that Doughty had used for a number of his paintings of Fairmount. The print includes a dedication to Joseph S. Lewis, a local merchant who provided significant financial support for the completion of the waterworks a few years previously. The buildings are depicted about a year after William Rush's carved allegorical figures were mounted over the entrances to the mill house. $3,600

Thomas Doughty. "...This View of Fair Mount Works,..." Philadelphia: C.G. Childs, ca. 1826. 13 x 19 1/4. Etched and engraved by C.G. Childs. With two tears into image and wear at lower edge, professionally repaired and nearly invisible. Strong impression. Deák: 333; Prints of Philadelphia, 58.

Another fine example of the Doughty/Childs view of the waterworks, this one uncolored. $3,200

Jacques Gerard Milbert. "Machine à vapeur sur la rivière Schuylkill. Walet [sic] works on the Schuylkill river." From Amérique Septentrionale. Paris, ca. 1835. 9 1/2 x 14 1/2. Lithograph by Arnout. Full hand color. Framed. Very good condition.

Besides his Itinéraire Pittoresque, Milbert also produced a number of other series of views of America, including a set of images titled Amérique Septentrionale. This image is from that set and it shows up upper regions of the Mohawk River in New York State. It is typical of Milbert's excellent artistic ability and provides a wonderful image of this important region shortly after the opening of the Erie Canal. Slightly larger and much rarer than the Itinéraire prints, this is a most desirable American print. $675

Prints by W.H. Bartlett. From American Scenery. London, 1839-40. 4 3/4 x 7 1/4. Engravings. Hand color. Very good condition.

Day: Fairmount Water Works
"Fairmount Water Works." From Sherman Day's Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: George W. Gorton 1843. Wood engraving.

During the middle of the nineteenth century, Pennsylvania's economy experienced new, state-wide growth, sparking new interest in previously lesser-known areas of the state. Prompting travel to new communities, this economic growth also sparked publication of new books to satisfy curiosity about all parts of Pennsylvania. One of the most important such works, Sherman Day's Historical Collections is noted for its individual county histories, well-illustrated with charming wood-engravings. Covering larger cities like Philadelphia and Reading, the images also display the Keystone state's smaller towns and rural sites. Relying on first-hand sketches, the printer translated the images into wood-engraving, which allowed for mass printing and distribution of this important early set of state-wide illustrations. In some cases, Day's views comprise the only mid-nineteenth century views of Pennsylvania's smaller communities. From the well-known views of Philadelphia to the obscure country landscapes, prints from Day's volume are treasured documents of state history. JT OUT ON APPROVAL

[Fairmount Water Works] From Eli Bowen's The Pictorial Sketch-Book of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: William Bromwell, 1853. Wood-engraving.

A Philadelphia image from an excellent series of views of Pennsylvania from a guide book of Pennsylvania's "Scenery, Internal Improvements, Resources, and Agriculture, Popularly Described." The volume included descriptions of all parts of Pennsylvania, but its feature of most note was the inclusion of numerous engraved illustrations of scenes of all parts of the state. Another series of excellent images of Pennsylvania communities, both large and small. $45

Prints from John H. Hinton's The History and Topography of the United States of North America. Published in London and Boston, various publisher: 1830-1855. Octavo. Steel engraving. Very good condition. Uncolored unless noted otherwise.

Lovely examples of steel engravings from one of the more popular nineteenth century view books, Hinton's History and Topography. This work contained text and numerous illustrations documenting the history and topography of the United States. Hinton used many different artists, all the engravings being made from drawings made on the spot. For their wide coverage, accurate detail, and pleasing appearance, these are amongst the finest small images of early nineteenth century America to be found anywhere.


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