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Philadelphia's Waterworks: Centre Square

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As Philadelphia grew in size in the late eighteenth century, it became clear that there was an increasing need for a supply of clean water. This demand was intensified by the Yellow Fever epidemics in 1793 and 1798. Benjamin H. Latrobe was hired to design a system using the water from the Schuylkill River. A pump was set up at the foot of Chestnut Street to pump water from the Schuylkill to street level, whence it flowed to Centre Square. There, Latrobe designed a building in the neo-classical style which housed a steam engine to pump water up to a holding tank on the upper floor, with the water then distributed throughout the city by gravity via wooden pipes. The Centre Square Waterworks was started in 1800 and opened on January 27, 1801. This waterworks remained in operation for just over a decade, at which time it was replaced by the Fairmount Waterworks. The Centre Square building was used as a distribution tank until it was torn down in 1829.



John James Barralet. "View of the Water Works At Centre Square Philadelphia." Philadelphia: H. Quig, ca. 1830+. Fourth state. 11 3/4 x 20 1/8. Stipple by Cornelius Tiebout. Very good condition. Fowble: 286; Stauffer 3234, Prints of Philadelphia: 41.

This is the fourth state of the print, probably issued in the early 1830s. After adding the small, crudely engraved figure in the second state, Quig had the figure burnished out. This erasure was only partially successful, and so the third and fourth states of the print shows a light ghost image of this unfortunate interloper. The fourth state is distinguished from the third by the appearance of Quig's imprint at the bottom. $1,600



Casket: Centre Square Water Works
"Centre Square Philad'a." From The Casket. Philadelphia, October, 1831. 4 1/8 x 6 1/2. Engraving. Very good condition.

In 1826, Samuel C. Atkinson and Charles Alexander founded The Casket: Flowers of Literature, Wit and Sentiment. This monthly magazine ran until 1839, at which time it was purchased by George R. Graham. Graham soon combined it with Burton's Gentleman's Magazine and renamed the combined journal Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine. Though it had a fairly short run, the Casket was said to be the most widely circulated monthly in the United States. It included articles, stories, poetry, puzzles, and steel engraved illustrations, many of which showed scenes of Philadelphia. This is a good example of the output of the magazine. It is a retrospective view of the Centre Square Waterworks issued two years after the building was torn down. The park-like setting of the building is nicely depicted, and Rush's statue stands proudly in front of Latrobe's handsome edifice. $225



Public Ledger Centre Square
John James Barralet. "Centre Square. Erected in 1800. Taken Down in 1828." Philadelphia: Public Ledger, 1860. 7 x 12. Engraving by A.B. Walters. Printed by H. Quig. Very good margins and condition. Prints of Philadelphia: 193.

The use of prints for promotion extended to newspapers. In 1860, the Public Ledger issued this print for its paperboys to hand out to subscribers as an annual greeting. This print is identified as the "Ledger Carriers 1860 Annual Greeting." The print is a re-engraving of the Barralet image that had first appeared over three decades earlier (cf. above). It was sure to have been a most popular bonus. $450




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©The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. Last updated December 26, 2013