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