A short walk from the Reservoir Stop on the Riverside Line or Cleveland Circle stop on the MBTA, and located inside a gorgeously restored and rehabilitated Richardsonian Romanesque Pumping Station building, is Metropolitan Boston’s newest museum, the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum which opened on Sunday March 27th, 2011.
Designed by Arthur Vinal “Boston’s last city architect,” and built in 1886-87 and expanded in 1897-98, the High Service Pumping Station was the city’s response to the increased demand for clean water resources, which by 1800’s, like many other cities of its size in America, was rapidly experiencing population growth deeming it unfit to live in. The Great Fire of 1872 pushed city officials to locate other clean water resources outside the city to provide a steady and clean water supply for its citizens. As a result of this “push,” the Metropolitan Waterworks was born, breathing new life to Boston and its citizens.
The museum, primarily located in the Great Engines Hall of the High Service Pumping Station contains three massive pumps that will capture the attention of young and old. Through interactive exhibits and displays of tools and instruments, visitors learn of the social, architectural, and public health history of pumping station and its role in the City of Boston. The engines at the museum, once formed part of the largest reservoir water pumping system in the world!
The Great Engine Hall houses the Leavitt Engine, capable of pumping 20 million gallons of water a day is now considered a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The other two engines are the Worthington Engine, the only horizontal and smallest of all them is capable of pumping 15 million gallons of water a day and the Allis Engine, a massive engine which extends three stories above the operating floor and two stories below it. The engines are in the same location they have been since the High Service Pumping Station began operating.
I spent more than an hour “getting to know” the people behind the extraordinary architectural and engineering marvels of the Metropolitan Waterworks. Paying careful attention to (almost) every breathtaking detail of the three massive engines, I walked away with a deeper appreciation for the engineering works of 19th century Boston. Although steam pumping ended in 1976, the engines at the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum allow us to experience an aspect of 19th century life in Boston rarely discussed outside academic circles.
The Metropolitan Waterworks Museum offers guided tours highlighting the history of the landscape and other features of the history of the Chestnut Hill/Reservoir area. Please check the museum’s website or call for more information.