In the 1700s the city of Philadelphia made supplying clean water to its residents a priority. Believing that yellow fever was a water borne disease the municipality established a Watering Committee to insure that the drinking water remain uncontaminated. Frederick Graff was chosen to oversee the construction of a waterworks on the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River. At first steam engines were used to pump the river water and later they were replaced by waterwheels, finally Jonval turbines were used. The water was pumped all the way to a reservoir on Faire Mount.
From the beginning the blend of nature and technology attracted fascinated visitors to Fairmount Water Works. Today the aesthetic, functional and profitable system is a popular tourist attraction. The former Engine House has been converted into a restaurant and the Fairmount Interpretive Center exhibits this highlight of the American Industrial Revolution. Thanks to the waterworks Philly was supplied with safe and plentiful water but unfortunately over time it also brought pollution as factories and locals used the river to dispose of their refuse and waste. To solve this problem the city purchased Lemon Hill to drain into the river. Lemon Hill later became what is Fairmount Park today.
Using the river for waste disposal and as a source of drinking water didn't work out and in 1909 the waterworks were closed down. The Fairmount Waterworks are a National Historic Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark, they underwent several transformations since their closure, they became an aquarium (until 1962), a swimming pool (until 1973) and later housed the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center together with the Engine House restaurant.
At the hands-on Interpretive Center, focused on environment and science, visitors can learn the difference between a watershed, headwaters and water works. They'll learn about the sites history and its significance to the development of Philadelphia. The site is packed with exciting attractions like the helicopter simulator which takes you for a virtual ride from the Delaware Bay to the Schuylkill River. You can visit "Pollutionopolis" to see how messed up a city can get without a reliable water supply. The water works themselves are within an attractive Classical Revival-style building and the beauty of the structure blends with the beautiful location along the river bank.