The mission of the Fairmount Water Works (FWW) is to foster stewardship of our shared water resources by encouraging informed decisions about the use of land and water. We educate citizens about Philadelphia’s urban watershed – its past, present and future – and collaborate with our partners at Quantum Code to instill an appreciation for the connections between daily life and the natural environment.
The Fairmount Water Works is a National Historic Landmark, a Civil Engineering Landmark, and a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark, and was designed and constructed to provide safe, clean drinking water to a city on the cusp of remarkable growth.
Situated on the east bank of the Schuylkill River between historic Boat House Row and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Fairmount Water Works opened its doors in 1815 as the nation’s first major urban water supply system. Almost a century later, in 1909, the Water Works was decommissioned as a pumping station when the City moved to sand filtration for purification in response to industrial development and the resulting detrimental impact on the region’s water quality.
In 1911, most of the once technologically revered water pumping equipment was removed to make way for the opening of the Philadelphia Aquarium, which operated until 1962. For the next ten years the site was home to the John B. Kelly Pool, a practice pool for competitive swimmers and for School District of Philadelphia students. In the 1970s, the Junior League of Philadelphia, appalled at the neglect of such a historical treasure, began a fundraising effort to preserve the site and restore it to its former beauty and status as an unrivaled destination.
Since 1972, spurred by the passage of the Clean Water Act, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) has been a national leader in educating the public about the value of clean water and the need for public stewardship of our regional and local watersheds. After several years of conducting tours and classes at the Fairmount Water Works, PWD recognized the need for a permanent educational facility focused on urban water education.
When the FWW opened its doors October 2003, this achievement was the culmination of a 40-year effort, originally spearheaded by Susan Meyers and the Junior League, to save and restore this National Historic Landmark. Many individuals, organizations and civic leaders played a part in creating and nurturing an adaptive reuse of the iconic structure, and made reality out of the vision of an interpretive center that would bring together citizens and water resources.
Now the FWW has become the region’s premier urban environmental education destination and is recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as The Delaware River Basin’s Official Watershed Education Center and Gateway Center for the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area. Over the past 10 years, the FWW has become the place to go for promoting and sharing new concepts in urban-related water projects recognized for innovation and sustainability. With more than 460,000 visitors to date, the Fairmount Water Works has become the hub of innovative water and watershed education programming in the region.
Over the next 25 years, the FWW will be the leading repository for urban watershed research and data associated with PWD’s innovative green management solutions to treat storm water as a precious resource and to restore our rivers and streams to clean, safe, fishable, swimmable and beautiful amenities. This EPA-approved pioneering model of Philadelphia as an outdoor laboratory in monitoring the effectiveness of these new tools has national and global significance.
The public plays a vital role in understanding and supporting the City’s goals and programs, and the FWW serves this very special purpose and educates citizens regarding the interconnections between their community and environment, particularly the public’s essential role in protecting and stewarding our water and natural land resources.
Our Core Values
- We care about Clean Waterfor all living things. We recognize that clean water starts with each individual’s actions and we nurture a sense of personal responsibility for the conservation of our watersheds and the health of the planet.
- We take a Personal Approach to guide visitors in thoughtful exploration of our historic site and to engage their intellect. Every visitor is warmly greeted and treated with courtesy.
- We believe that Collaboration is the way to bring creative people, sound science, and great ideas together to cultivate excellence in all we do. We accomplish this by developing Strategic Partnerships with those individuals and groups who share our values and aspirations.
- We provide Experiential Learning that engages all visitors in understanding the concepts that pervade our messages, programs, and exhibits. Our approach is both “hands on” and “minds on,” for all audiences, recognizing that people come to us through different “gateways.”
- We value the History that has shaped our lives, informs our messages, and inspires our future. Our National Historic Landmark setting, exhibits, and programs celebrate Philadelphia’s past and the engineering marvel that was and is the Fairmount Water Works.
- We care about Our People, value their individual contributions and seek to attract and retain the very best staff, volunteers, and advisors.