Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Pasted Graphic

Belmont Pumping Station
, 1899-1900
West River Drive at Montgomery Drive, Philadelphia PA

Jane Mork Gibson, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The City of Philadelphia maintains two pumping stations that draw water from the Schuylkill River—Belmont (1870) and Queen Lane (1895)—both of which are connected to filtration and water purification facilities. The filtration beds installed and the increased capacity of these stations and of those on the Delaware River enabled the city to shut down three earlier pumping stations on the Schuylkill: Fairmount (1812-1911), Spring Garden (1844-1909), and Roxborough (1869-1962).
Protecting the purity of the city water supply was a major reason for the creation of Fairmount Park, and this action made possible the selection of the site for the Belmont Pumping Station in 1870, with the elimination of polluting industries on the west river bank immediately upstream—namely, Belmont Petroleum Refinery and the Simpson Calico Print and Dye Works (Washington Print Works).
The 1870 structure was replaced in 1899-1900 by the extant red brick Victorian Pump House. Originally the power was supplied by steam engines, with a separate boiler house in the rear.  In the 1920s the steam engines were replaced with electric motors and the boiler house has since been taken down. The combination of alternating current power for the pumps and direct current power for the valves require appropriate switchgear equipment. To control the valves in an emergency, a group of storage batteries is maintained as a back-up.
There are five centrifugal pumps (1960s and 1981) which have a total capacity of 170 million gallons per day (mgd)—two at 40 mgd and three at 30 mgd. The station is unmanned, but the intakes at the river are manually raked to clear debris. The two intakes are made of brick and are approximately 6 feet diameter. Two 48-inch diameter mains, 8,880 feet each, carry the water to the Belmont Treatment Plant located on Belmont and City Line Avenue.

1  Telephone interview with Drew Brown.

Update May 2007 (by Jane Mork Gibson):
There has been little change at the Belmont Pumping Station since 1990. Water taken from the Schuylkill at this location is pumped to the large sedimentation reservoir and filtration plant on City Line Avenue, where there is an additional high service facility. In 1870, a large cast iron pipe was laid across the bottom of the Schuylkill River so that water pumped at Belmont could supply eastern parts of the city via an extensive layout of pipes and reservoirs. Today the distribution system is arranged so that the pumping stations and reservoirs are all interconnected, with links that enable water to be channeled to any area in the city.