The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Compiled by
Adam Levine

Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department

It has been my pleasurable challenge, as a consultant to the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) since 1998, to try to piece together the fascinating history of the city's many lost streams. PWD has preserved its own collection of historical material, which is a rich source of information, and I have supplemented that base with research in local libraries, historical societies, archives and relevant departments of the city government.

Besides many useful written records, I have uncovered a wide range of graphic material including paintings and drawings, maps and plans, photographs and surveys. This material stretches across the breadth of the city's long history, since changes were made in the landscape almost as soon as William Penn began building his new city along the Delaware River in 1682. The bottom line is that, over the course of several centuries, most of the city's surface streams have been channeled underground and incorporated into the city's 3,000 mile sewer system.

HomeCreek to sewerDown underarchivesmapsAdam LevineLinks

Enter keywords in box below to search Philly H20
NOTE: Search works only when you are online, and results may not include most recent updates.
CHECK THESE LINKS
Latest PhillyH2O Updates
ADAM LEVINE's Hidden City BLOG posts on ODD subjects

***Online Exhibit: 100th Anniversary of Water Filtration in Philadelphia***
***PWD HISTORICAL COLLECTION ONLINE CATALOGUE***
***List of lectures and tours by Adam Levine***
***Hints on researching your own Philadelphia-area watershed***


The main theme of Philly H2O can be found at

where I explore the many ways that the topography of the city has been transformed over the years to facilitate drainage,
to improve public health, and to promote real estate development.

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Many interesting reports, articles and images can be found at
archives
including some of the earliest reports of the Philadelphia Water Department, dating to 1799, and a collection of 19th century documents on the pollution of the Schuylkill River, then as now a major water source.
A growing collection of graphic documents can be found at
maps
including maps of the past and present water and sewer system, maps and plans of Philadelphia, and other material that will reveal some of the aspects of the City that have been transformed over the past 300 years.
Information about me, Webmaster and Sewermeister, can be found at
Adam Levine
where I also describe in an informal resume some of my related activities, including a variety of lectures, archives management, historical consulting and research, and guided tours of PWD facilities.
The story that got me started down the drain, so to speak, is told at
Down under
I hope you take time to read this story and explore the entire site, to delve deep under its surface as I once delved under the surface of the city when I suited up and took an hour-long walk in a Philadelphia sewer.

Hints for Making the Most of Your Visit

SEARCHING THE SITE: While the GOOGLE ™ search box above is incredibly useful, it is not absolutely comprehensive, nor will it include the latest updates to the site. The "Archives" link provides detailed descriptions of all material on the site. At the "Maps" link, thumbnails and brief descriptions of the maps can be found. "Latest Updates" provides a comprehensive view of new material posted after the inital site was uploaded. As on any Web site, all pages are searchable with the "Find" tool under the "Edit" toolbar in your browser.

IMAGE SIZE AND DOWNLOAD TIMES: Many of the images and documents on the site, and even some of the longer pages, are large files and may take time to download depending on your Internet connection. In most cases, I have marked any files that are over 100 kilobytes (kb), but I hope that doesn't deter anyone from downloading them. The images are large because I, for one, am tired of Web sites where interesting material is all but illegible. While many of my files probably could be further compressed with no ill effects, I have done as well as I could, choosing to err on the side of clarity.


LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK OF PHILLY H2O

Part of what makes this my work on this site worthwhile is knowing that
people out there are using it. Please contact me with any ideas about ways
to improve the site, material I might want to add, suggestions for links
to other sites, problems with downloads or broken links,
criticism of content or spelling, etc.
I'd love to hear from you!


PHOTO CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Click links for larger versions
LEFT: Construction of Rock Run Sewer, 1922. This pipe obliterated Rock Run,
once a tributary of Tacony Creek. (City Archives) [101 kb]
CENTER: Mill Creek Sewer, West Philadelphia, ca. 1883. This large sewer, built over a 25-year period, ran for five
miles and obliterated the West Philadelphia stream for which it is named. (PWD) [244 kb]
RIGHT: Sandy Run Sewer, 1942. Once finished, this pipe obliterated most of Sandy Run,
a Pennypack Creek tributary. (City Archives) [127 kb]

Website by Panacea Design and Adam Levine
Page last updated December 28, 2011