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The following are just a few of the interesting Web sites I've come across over the past few years. There are many others that I have not listed: for example, most of the major streams in the Philadelphia area have "affinity groups," often a watershed associations, that work for their protection. Most of those in and around Philadelphia can be found at the PWD/Office of Watersheds site listed below, but those for any area of the country can often be located by simply searching the Web for "[CREEK NAME]"+"WATERSHED".

Images abound on the Internet, and the links I've included here only scratch the surface. Sewer history sites are rarer, and I think I've found the best of them. I'm always on the look at for historic photographs and maps or historic sewers that have been scanned at a high enough resolution for me to use in my PowerPoint lectures. Please contact me if you know of any sites that you think might interest me, and also, if any of the links below aren't bringing you where they should.

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
HomeCreek to sewer
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Philadelphia Water Department

You can reach the PWD Home Page here. PWD also operates the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center, an innovative restoration of America's first large-scale municipal water works, with educational exhibits geared to both children and adults. When people contact me for information on the history of Philadelphia's water supply and drainage systems, I always direct them to the FWWIC first. Click here to see my only slightly-biased review of the FWWIC, along with a map detailing "The Journey of Your Flush."

Sewer History

Tracking Down the Roots of Our Sanitary Sewers
A large site, still expanding, spearheaded by Jon Schladweiler, a deputy director of wastewater management in Tucson, Arizona and historian of the Arizona Water & Pollution Control Association.

Sinking Homes

Army Corps of Engineers and US Geological Service (USGS) Sinking Homes Studies
Fascinating surveys of several Philadelphia neighborhoods that grew up around two buried streams, Wingohocking Creek and Wissinoming Creek. This report, which included many photographs of the neighborhoods in question, is no longer available on the Web, so I have posted two PDF files related to the study directly on this site. The files can be downloaded by clicking the links below:

Mapping Buried Stream Valleys in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
USGS Fact Sheet FS–117–00. 2000

Geographic Information System Analysis of Topographic Change in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, During the Last Century
By Peter G. Chirico and Jack B. Epstein. USGS Open File Report 00-224. 2000
PLEASE NOTE: This is a large file: 21 Mb

Historical and Current Images

I've found that the key to conveying my story of topographical change is having wonderful "before" illustrations to match the current images, the comparison showing the changes far more clearly and convincingly than I could manage to do in thousands of words. I still have to do much of this research in libraries and archives, but Web-based resources are becoming more and more available and extensive. The following are among the most useful that I've found, with a focus on those relating to Philadelphia and vicinity:

  1. Philadelphia Geohistory Web Site
    A wonderful and growing source of Philadelphia maps and atlases, searchable City Directories from 1856 and 1861, and a searchable database of the Hexamer General Surveys, amazingly detailed 19th-century surveys of industrial sites, most of them in Philadelphia and vicinity. From the Website: "The Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network (GPGN) is a pilot project of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) to develop a web-based repository of geographically organized historical information about Philadelphia, its geography, its buildings, and its people." New items are added on regularly, most recently about 2,000 City Plans from the late-18th to the mid-20th century, a ollection that has been years in the making.
  2. City Archives of Philadelphia, , and PhillyHistory.org
    As the main repository for the records of the City government, City Archives has an almost unfathomable collection of graphic and primary source material. The online catalogue provides a good starting point for researchers; clicking the "Browse Philadelphia government agencies by name" link will access a finding aid for a major portion of the so-called "record groups" in the archives. Not online is a Photographic Inventory, available at the Archives, that indexes thousands of photographs (dating back to the 1870s) by subject and by street address. The associated website, PhillyHistory.org, includes an expanding selection of the roughly 2 million City photographs, with small watermarked images available online. Images are searchable in a number of ways, either by clicking on a map or by street address or other keywords. Searches can also be viewed in Google Earth (see below), showing the location of each photograph in relation to others.
  3. Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA)
    Pennsylvania's official public access geospatial information clearinghouse, PASDA has high-resolution aerial photography, topographic maps, GIS data, and other mapping data available for free download. Included are georeferenced histiric topographical maps (see below for link and more information). A description of PASDA from its homepage: "PASDA was developed as a service to the citizens, governments, and businesses of the Commonwealth. PASDA is a cooperative project of the Governor's Office of Administration, Office for Information Technology, Geospatial Technologies Office and Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment of the Pennsylvania State University. Funding and support is provided by the Pennsylvania Office for Information Technology, Geospatial Technologies Office.PASDA serves as the the Commonwealth's node on the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), Geospatial One Stop, and the National Biological Information Infrastructure. PASDA is also a member of the Geography Network. The data made available through PASDA is provided by our data partners to encourage the widespread sharing of geospatial data, eliminate the creation of redundant data sets, and to further build an inventory (through the development and hosting of metadata) of available data relevant to the Commonwealth. PASDA serves as a resource for locating data throughout the Commonwealth through its data storage, interactive mapping/webgis applications, and metadata/documentation efforts. PASDA now includes a backpage from which georeferenced historical topographic maps of Pennsylvania can be downloaded.
  4. City of Philadelphia Maps Homepage
    The City of Philadelphia has a searchable database of aerial photography, and will even create a PDF of the image resulting from the search. Unfortunately, the address for which you are searching ends up printed right on top of the location, obscuring the details. Perhaps the city will fix this by simply putting a transparent dot at the location, or something less obtrusive. Until then, one solution might be to search for an address a few blocks from the one you really want...
  5. Places in Time: Historical Documentation of Place in Greater Philadelphia
    A team led by architectural historian Jeffrey A. Cohen at Bryn Mawr College has compiled this simple, easy-to-navigate and quick-to-load site. Don't be fooled by the site's plain-looking face: "Places in Time" is deep, rich in catalogue indexes and actual scans of Philadelphia-area graphic material. From the site's introduction: "This project is an effort to bring together some resources--images, documents, tools, and links--for pursuing historical information about place in the five-county Philadelphia area: Bucks, Chester, Delaware. Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties. The overarching idea is to use new media to more effectively disseminate information about place, to enhance cross-institutional access to documentary materials of this sort, to better connect people with the history of their environment, and to thus enrich their lives here."
  6. Temple University Libraries Urban Archives
    Besides a providing a description of its own holdings of photographs from Philadelphia newspapers (1929-1982), the Philadelphia Housing Association (1897-1972), and some 50 other organizations (more than 5 million images total), the site also includes the PACSL Photograph Directory, which describes the photographic holdings of more than 280 Philadelphia-area institutions. The Urban Archives collection also includes the George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Newsclipping Collection, which is the entire clippings library of the Philadelphia Bulletin (ca. 1910-1982).
  7. Library Company of Philadelphia
    Using WOLFPAC, the LCOP online catalogue, you can search their extensive collection of visual resources. Through this link, it is also possible (by changing the "Use Database" menu at the top of the search page), to search the catalogues of other area historical institutions.
  8. Library of Congress American Memory Project
    I have downloaded some wonderful, high-resolution maps from this site, which includes video and audio files as well as images. Most maps come in MrSid format, which requires a viewer that can be downloaded free. With a full version of MrSid software, the images can be exported to high-resolution .tif files that are much more versatile and can be cropped and edited just like any other image. HABS/HAER (an awkward acronym for the Historic American Building Survey and the Historic American Engineering Record) have their own section of this site which is well worth visiting. An excerpt from the HABS/HAER description: "The collections document achievements in architecture, engineering, and design in the United States and its territories through a comprehensive range of building types and engineering technologies including examples as diverse as the Pueblo of Acoma, houses, windmills, one-room schools, the Golden Gate Bridge, and buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Administered since 1933 through cooperative agreements with the National Park Service, the Library of Congress, and the private sector, ongoing programs of the National Park Service have recorded America's built environment in multiformat surveys comprising more than 350,000 measured drawings, large-format photographs, and written histories for more than 37,000 historic structures and sites dating from Pre-Columbian times to the twentieth century. This online presentation of the HABS/HAER collections includes digitized images of measured drawings, black-and-white photographs, color transparencies, photo captions, data pages including written histories, and supplemental materials. Since the National Park Service's HABS and HAER programs create new documentation each year, digital images will continue to be added to the online collections."
  9. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Historical Maps and Charts
    Beautiful high resolution charts that can be downloaded in .jpeg format. The link is to the non-geographic search page, where keyword searches can be done that will turn up more reliable results than by the map-based search method. The following description is from an old version of the Web site, but still applies to the present content: "The Office of Coast Survey's Historical Map & Chart Collection contains over 20,000 maps and charts from the late 1700s to present day. The Collection includes some of the nation's earliest nautical charts, hydrographic surveys, topographic surveys, geodetic surveys, city plans and Civil War battle maps. The Collection is a rich primary historical archive and a testament to the artistry of copper plate engraving technology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Historical Map & Chart Project scans each map or chart and offers the images free to the public via the Coast Survey web site. The Project is managed by the Cartographic & Geospatial Technology Program of the Coast Survey Development Laboratory. Notable offerings include maps of Vancouver's explorations; the "Wilkes Atlas" of the US Exploring Expedition; James Whistler's Anacapa Island chart; an extensive Civil War collection; a large scale topographic series of Washington, DC; city plans; the re-engraving of the famous 1792 L'Enfant and Ellicott plan for Washington DC; artistic landscape perspective sketches that were an integral part of hydrographic surveys and published charts; historical maps and charts from the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Columbia Rivers; topographic maps of Cincinnati; and early 1920 charts of the Erie Barge Canal."

Information about other resources, as well as corrections, reactions, ideas, feedback,
communication with like-minded or unlike-minded folk: all is welcome.
Reach me at this address.

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Page last modified April 4, 2015