History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers
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.
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.
Many interesting reports, articles and
images can be found at
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
A growing collection of graphic documents can
be found at
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
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
I hope you take time to read this story and explore the entire site, to
delve deep under its surface as I have delved under the surface of the
city during my three walks in the city's underground sewers.
The GOOGLE search box
above is the best way to search the site, but it may not include updates
made in the past few months.
provides detailed descriptions of all material on the site.
offers thumbnails and brief descriptions of many, but not all, maps
on the site.
provides a comprehensive list 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.
ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK OF PHILLY H2O
of what makes this my work on this site worthwhile is knowing that
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 of Philadelphia)
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
RIGHT: Sandy Run Sewer, 1942. Once finished, this pipe
obliterated most of Sandy Run,
a Pennypack Creek tributary. (City Archives of Phildelphia)
Website by Adam
Page last updated November 3, 2012