PWD ID# 2008.003.0005
This is one of many plans proposed between the 1860s and 1940s to pipe
drinking water into Philadelphia via aqueduct. This particular plan,
which proposed to bring water from the Schuylkill above Norristown,
was more modest than other plans that reached much farther upstate for
a clean supply to replace the polluted Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.
(For earlier proposals, click here
or here to open other pages on PhillyH20.)
This plan proposed using the storage capacity of the river and the canals
of the Schuylkill Navigation Company to assure an adequate supply of
water. It was never implemented, and Philadelphia continues to this
day to get its drinking water from the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers
within the city limits.
Since the claims outlined in the text below regarding the cleanliness of the river above Norristown were, I think, somewhat exaggerated, and since the river would become more and more polluted in the first half of the 20th century, it is probably a good thing that this particular plan was never adopted. The best thing to come out of it, from a historian's perspective, are a collection of detailed plan: of the proposed aqueduct and gate houses (designed by Philadelphia architect Frank Furness), the Schuylkill Navigation Company's canalas, locks and dams from Tumbling Run to Norristown,
The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers
Compiled by Adam Levine
Philadelphia Water Department
and an exquisitely drawn map showing the entire Schuylkill watershed. You
can download these plans, from the PWD Historical Collection, at the links
below. Thanks to Joe Shapiro, PWD Archives volunteer, for cataloguing these
items, and to the Matt Herbison at the Independence Seaport Museum Library,
which has a bound copy of these plans, the perusal of which helped us order
and better understand our own disbound copies.
Files range from 1 to 6 mb and may take time to download depending on your Internet connection speed.
Title page: 2008.003.0005.001
1. Map of the drainage area of the Schuylkill River showing the location of ponds and canals of the Schuylkill Navigation. E. F. Smith C.E. May 1891. 2008.003.0005.003
2. Map showing route of proposed aqueduct from Norristown Dam to the pumping stations of the City of Philadelphia on the Schuylkill River. May, 1891, E.F. Smith C.E. Emil L. Neubling, del. 2008.003.0005.004
3. Profile and details of the proposed aqueduct to convey the water of the Schuylkill River from the Norristown Dam to the Pumping Stations of the City of Philadelphia. May, 1891. E.F. Smith C.E. 2008.003.0005.005
4. Plan elevation and section of Schuylkill River Bridge near Belmont and other crossings on line of proposed aqueduct from Norristown to the pumping stations of the City of Philadelphia. May, 1891. E.F. Smith C.E. W.S. Davis, del. 2008.003.0005.006
Plans and elevations of inlet and gate houses on the line of a proposed aqueduct for the water supply of the City of Philadelphia from Norristown Dam. Elevations by Furness, Evans and Co., Architects. Ground plans and section by E.F. Smith, C.E. May, 1891 2008.003.0005.007
Following plans show details of the canals, locks and dams of the Schuylkill Navigation Company:
0. Map of the valley of Tumbling Run showing the lands of the Schuylkill Navigation Co. with the existing and proposed reservoirs therein and its drainage area. E.F. Smith C.E. May, 1891. Emil L. Neubling, del. 2008.003.0005.008
I. Plan of property and works of the Schuylkill Navigation from Tumbling Run to head of Lords Dam No. 14. E.F. Smith C.E. May, 1891. Emil L. Neubling, del. 2008.003.0005.009
II. Plan of property and works of the Schuylkill Navigation from head of Lords Dam No. 14, to Red Hill, Shoemakersville. E.F. Smith C.E. May, 1891. 2008.003.0005.010
III. Plan of property and works of the Schuylkill Navigation from Red Hill, Shoemakersville to Felix's Dam No. 19. E.F. Smith C.E. May, 1891. Emil L. Neubling, del. 2008.003.0005.011
IV. Plan of property and works of the Schuylkill Navigation from Felix's Dam No. 19, to Big Reading Dam, No. 24. E.F. Smith C.E. May, 1891. Emil L. Neubling, del. 2008.003.0005.012
V. Plan of property and works of the Schuylkill Navigation from Big Reading Dam, No. 24 to Sixpenny Creek. E.F. Smith C.E. May, 1891. Emil L. Neubling, del. 2008.003.0005.013
VI. Plan of property and works of the Schuylkill Navigation from Sixpenny Creek to Fricks Locks. E.F. Smith C.E. May, 1891. Emil L. Neubling, del. 2008.003.0005.014
VII. Plan of property and works of the Schuylkill Navigation from Fricks Locks to mouth of Perkiomen. E.F. Smith C.E. May, 1891. Emil L. Neubling, del. 2008.003.0005.015
VIII. Plan of property and works of the Schuylkill Navigation from mouth
of Perkiomen to Norristown. E.F. Smith C.E. May, 1891. Emil L. Neubling, del.
Water Supply For The City Of Philadelphia
To obtain pure water for Philadelphia from the Schuylkill River, it is essential that the supply should not be taken at any point within the city or its suburbs.
The four principal pumping stations of the city-Roxborough, Belmont, Spring
Garden and Fairmount-are located on Flat Rock and Fairmount Pools, in the
midst of the thickly populated manufacturing districts of the city. During
the year 1890, ninety-four per cent. of the total consumption of water was
pumped at these stations.
Dr. Leeds, the eminent chemist, says: "The condition of the Schuylkill River at Roxborough cannot be taken as representing the composition of unpolluted Schuylkill River water. The composition of the water at Phoenixville is very different and very much superior."
Between Phoenixville and Norristown is a series of pools in the river, formed
by the dams of the Schuylkill Navigation, namely, Black Rock, Pawlings, Catfish
and Norristown. These pools aggregate twelve and three-quarters (12.74) miles
in length, and hold a reserve supply of over seventeen hundred million (1,710,000,000)
gallons of water. This water flows over the rock and gravel bed of the river,
a distance of twenty-five miles, through red sandstone and oolite formations,
from the South Mountains, near Reading, to the Black Rock Hills, at Phoenixville.
The water is thus purified by aeration and by the subsidence which follows
in the pools above named, and it is therefore not strange that the Schuylkill
water, above Norristown, is found in its best condition as to purity.
PROPOSED PLAN FOR SUPPLYING PHILADELPHIA WITH SCHUYLKILL WATER FROM NORRISTOWN DAM.
Starting at a point on Norristown Dam, where Barbadoes Island, nearly one
mile long, divides the river into two channels and effectually protects the
west channel from contamination, it is proposed to build an aqueduct to the
city pumping stations on Flat Rock and Fairmount Dams.
Roxborough, 42.00 feet above City Datum. Saving 11.1 feet lift.
This plan would insure good water to the City of Philadelphia for a century to come. Not the least of its advantages would be the saving to the City of the present pumping stations, which are admirably adapted to their work, and are the result of many years of labor and a large expenditure of money. To go to any other source of supply will involve sacrificing this plant, the boast of Philadelphia in the past, which, if supplemented by the construction of the proposed aqueduct, may continue to be the pride and satisfaction of the city for another century.