Boston’s Waterworks Museum

What are three preservationists to do on a sweltering hot summer afternoon in Boston, MA? Even we have our limits for strolling the row house lined streets. When we could bear the heat no longer, we headed out to Chestnut Hill, just past Brookline to the (relatively) new Waterworks Museum, located at the original Chestnut Hill Reservoir and pumping station.

The Chestnut Hill Reservoir and pumping station was constructed following the realization that poor water quality was related to the spread of disease, and the fact that Boston had an inadequate water supply for its ever-growing population. The 1880s is the era of Boston’s golden age, filled with great industry, financiers, and philanthropists. With this came impressive architecture and many benefits for the public, such as this Chestnut Hill Reservoir. This station operated until 1976. The building has now been rehabilitated into a museum and event space, with adjacent buildings rehabilitated to condominiums.

The Waterworks Museum, designed by Arthur Vinal (1886) with an addition by Edmund Wheelwright in 1897.

The Waterworks Museum, designed by Arthur Vinal (1886) with an addition by Edmund Wheelwright in 1897. It shows obvious influence by Henry Hobson Richardson.

For a better photo of the entire building, see here.

Building plaque.

Building plaque.

Another view of the exterior.

Another view of the exterior.

The pumping station chimney. Look at the detail.

The ¬†interior of the museum doesn’t feel like your typical museum. Interpretive panels, computer animated images, and artifacts guide you through the building, if you choose. Or you can work in your own flow or talk to one of the volunteers who is happy to explain how the engines work. However, the experience is about these giant machines, which stand (but do not operate) in their original location. The building is not the backdrop; it is the museum. Whether you’re a preservationist, a historian, an engineer, an architect, or someone interested in local history, the museum does a good job of offering something for everyone. The themes of this museum are public health, architecture, engineering, and social history. Here are a few interior photographs from my visit.

The heart of the museum is the Great Engines Hall.

The heart of the museum is the Great Engines Hall.

Inside the Great Engines Hall.

Inside the Great Engines Hall.

The building is a beautiful structure, filled with brass, mahogany, pine and no spec of detail overlooked.

The building is a beautiful structure, filled with brass, mahogany, pine and no spec of detail overlooked.

The Worthington steam engine.

The Worthington steam engine, one of the three in the building.

View from the overlook gallery.

View from the overlook gallery. Through the arches is the building addition.

It’s a fascinating building and a great lesson in urban and engineering history. And on a hot summer day, you can truly appreciate the technological advances of clean, fresh water. The museum is free, but donations are appreciated. Can’t get to Boston? Take a virtual tour and read the history sections on the museum website.¬†(For any UVM HP alum – yes, this did feel like a History on the Land class with Bob McCullough! And anyone in the SIA – this is totally up your alley.)

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One thought on “Boston’s Waterworks Museum

  1. Pingback: Bidding Adieu to 2013, Welcoming 2014 | Preservation in Pink

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