ASME-Landmark:Chestnut Street Pumping Engine


From 1815-1840, water supplied to the Borough of Erie came from shallow wells and natural springs, such as the two famous natural springs featured at the Brown's Hotel. In the 1840s, a pump log water system was installed and supplied water from a large spring on Reed Farm.

This system proved inadequate by 1865. A proposal to build the water works on the bay was submitted but was rejected for being too costly. In 1868, the Board of Commissioners began the construction of the Chestnut Pumping Facility. This entailed the construction of the stand pipe, intake pipes and the first pumps. During this time through 1908, water was drawn from Presque Isle Bay without the benefit of any treatment—resulting to 1060 reported cases of Typhoid Fever and 135 deaths.

By 1912, the Water Works began treating the water by Hypochlorination. It was decided to construct a treatment plant with a complete chemical and bacteriological laboratory and locate it at the Chestnut Street Facility. "Big Bertha"—one of the largest steam engines, which stood four stories tall and pumped 20 million gallons a day—was installed.

The triple-expansion steam reciprocating engine, which pumped water from the filter plant to the city reservoir, was typical of those used in municipal water pumping stations throughout the country during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Built in 1913 by the Bethlehem Steel Company, the engine operated from 1913 to 1951, when the plant was electrified. See ASME website for more information