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The Fairmount Waterworks was conceived in 1811, to meet the growing demands of Philadelphia's populace. A rock ledge on the Schuykill River at Fair Mount, the highest ground in the city, was selected as the site. Frederick Graff designed a pump house for two steam engines to send river water to a reservoir atop the hill above. The structure resembles a typical Federal period house with graceful details, belying the massive engine cylinders, pumps, flywheels and lever beams within.
An aesthetically pleasing building for a potentially dangerous function, it inspired additional such designs in time. About 1820 the dam and mill house was built for the conversion from steam to water power. Gardens were completed to the south, and an esplanade, paths and fountains were built around and to the top of Fair Mount.
Between 1830 and 1850 Philadelphia's water system was the most advanced municipal system in the world, attracting the visits of tourists from abroad as well as many other states.
In 1855 Fairmount Park was established, the largest city park in the world. Soon after a new mill house was built. Just north of the dam, boat houses line the river where oarsmen to compete in regattas and enjoy the calm, navigable waters.
In time the system waned. In 1911 it was decommissioned. In 1919 the reservoir space at the top of the hill was filled in, and was the site of beginning construction of the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it remains today.