Fred D. Borrelli
Dedicated Philadelphia Water Department employee
A remembrance by his son, Bob Borrelli

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Bob Borrelli, who now lives in Southern California, discovered PhillyH20 and contacted me with stories and photos of his father, who worked for the Philadelphia Water Department as a General Foreman between 1938 and 1963. I have long had it in mind to interview long-time and retired employees about their experiences with PWD, but this has remained a line in a "To Do" list for years now. I'm hoping that posting this loving tribute to a dedicated civil servant will inspire other people to contact me with their own stories and pictures. I would be glad, with permission, to post any such stories on this website. -- ADAM LEVINE

LEFT: Fred Borrelli on the move, chasing down polluters of Cobbs Creek, probably 1940s.

Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
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My father was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1898 and then moved to 63rd and Callowhill in West Philadelphia as a child. He attended Drexel for two years and then joined the 7th Cavalry during World War I under General Pershing and General Patton. He had his own
cement contracting business up to the time I was born in 1931, but then lost it all in the Depression. He finally was able to find work with the Works Progress Administration in 1936. A couple of years later he was hired by the Philadelphia Water Department as a gang foreman, and worked up to General Foreman in his 25 years with the city. He had a heart attack in 1962 at the age of 64 and had to retire, but his love for PWD was always with him until he passed away after many illnesses out here in Southern California.

Fred Borrelli, on leave from World War I, 1917
(Click thumbnails to see larger images)

He was devoted to the department, and took his work so seriously that I think it really affected his health. He would be called out at any hour of the night if there was an emergency sewer or water line break, and get into the hole with his men, most of whom were Italian immigrants who were master stone masons and bricklayers. His direct boss in those days was a Mr. Paul MacMurray, who I believe became a Park Commissioner in later years, and they worked hard to keep Philadelphia's water the best. He helped sniff out polluters and would have the City down on them; he was intent to keep the water and the reservoirs clean and safe. During World War II my father could have worked for the US government for a much larger salary, with his education and knowledge of water engineering, but he chose to continue working for the city. I can remember those middle of the night phone calls concerning a water main or some other problem, rain or snow he would tell his next in line just what to do until he got to that site. May times he would not even have a cup of coffee before he left the modest home we had. I'm sure you have heard the words "Greatest Generation" bandied about. It was men like Pop who created that greatest generation with their
work ethic. The city gained much from men like him.

LEFT: Fred Borrelli (second from left) overseeing gang on water main break, late 1930s. RIGHT: In his office in City Hall Annex, about 1955
BELOW: With friends from the vicinity of 64th and Vine in West Philadelphia,
including J. Fiorello, L. Fiorella, F. Panichelli, F. Cocco, D. Cannitto and M. Anastacio.


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Page last modified June 15, 2009