The Histories of the Calf Pasture Pumping Station Blog began in 2013 as the result of a practicum project by UMass Boston public history graduate students. Under the direction of Dr. Jane Becker, they worked in partnership with the University Archives & Special Collections to research the rich history of the Calf Pasture Pumping Station.
The blog was updated in 2016 to continue to raise awareness and educate the public about the Calf Pasture Pumping Station, and to encourage the UMass Boston community to look towards the future of the preservation of the important historic structure.
Prior to the development of sophisticated sewerage systems like the one that Boston created in the 1870s, urban water supplies posed a significant health risk to residents. Water-borne illnesses such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid thrived in the unsanitary conditions that came with dense urban living before modern sanitation. Between 1846 and 1863, several cholera outbreaks struck India, then the Middle East, then Europe and Africa, before making their way to the United States. Estimates suggest that these outbreaks resulted in a total of over one million deaths .
In the large towns of colonial America during the 17th century, the earliest residents often had a privy at ground level that discharged directly into the street, usually with an open gutter or channel serving as a sewer. Occasionally, privies led to cesspools or vaults which stored the waste until it could be disposed of or until it soaked into the ground. Often, however, waste remained in the streets, in contact with food and water sources, wandering livestock and human feet. By the 19th century, many urban areas had adopted a dry sewerage system in which residents transported the contents of their privies to a designated area in order to try and stave off widespread contamination.
In 1848, over three hundred Italian immigrants who had been exposed to the cholera virus arrived by ship in New York City. Although there were some attempts at quarantine, the city had not seen an cholera outbreak in fifteen years and was unable to contain the virus. Within months, the cholera pathogens spread from New York City to Boston. The disease spread rapidly through the newly crowded cities, sending residents and public officials into a panic.
In Boston, the mayor issueda public announcement advising people to practice hygiene and instructing them to collect waste and rubbish on particular days so that the city could systematically dispose of it. Newspapers published articles on the symptoms of cholera and treatments for it. Nonetheless, the toll taken on the city was significant.
After the outbreak of 1849, and the following outbreak of 1866, Boston began to look towards an overhaul of the sewerage system to modernize the city and protect its residents from disease. By 1875, Boston had launched a study to research pollution and water contamination causing health issues including cholera, typhoid and dysentery. The study prompted a newly designed sanitation system, which was completed and functional by 1884; this system included the Calf Pasture Pumping Station Complex, and the Moon Island treatment facility. This investment in public health had a huge impact on curtailing the spread of waterborne diseases in the city and brought Boston into the modern age of sanitation.
Burian, Steven, Stephan J. Nix, Robert E. Pitt, and S. Rocky Durrans. “Urban Wastewater Management in the United States: Past, Present, and Future.”Journal of Urban Technology. no. 3 (2000): 33-62.
When Boston’s City Architect, George Albert Clough, set out to design the structure that would house the pumps that would power the Commission’s proposed Boston’s Main Drainage System, he choose the prominent Richardsonian Romanesque style. Named for the American architect who initiated the Romanesque revival in the United States–Henry Hobson Richardson– who designed some of Boston’s most significant structures such as Trinity Church. Regal and proud, the Romanesque style reflected the proud accomplishment of creating a brand-new modernized sewerage system. Unlike today, when municipal buildings are often created to blend in with their surroundings, the Calf Pasture Pumping Station was designed as a visual landmark, a testament to the city’s advances in technology and sanitation. Although it wasn’t accessible to everyone, it was a public building and could demonstrate that Boston’s huge sewerage treatment project had been successful.
Richardsonian Romanesque is a medieval and fortress-like design characterized by the use of rustic brick and granite in contrasting colors, heavy columns, and stone arches. Buildings designed by Richardson and in his style were constructed throughout the United States. Richardson designed Boston’s iconic Trinity Church, rebuilt in the city’s new Back Bay neighborhood in 1877 after the Great Boston Fire of 1872 destroyed its previous structure on Summer Street. Other local Richardson contributions include, what is today, the First Baptist Church (known in Boston as “Church of the Holy Bean Blowers” for the trumpeting angels on its bell tower), the Quincy Library, a suite of town buildings in the center of Easton, Massachusetts, as well as a number of train stations, commercial buildings, and private residences in Massachusetts.
Henry Hobson Richardson was born in Louisiana and raised in the South. He came to Boston in 1855 to attend Harvard University and later when on to continue his architectural studies at Tulane and the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris. Strongly influenced by the French Romanesque style (itself a hybrid of Gothic and Romanesque architecture), he blended that sensibility with an enthusiasm for Medieval architecture when he returned to the United States from France in 1865. The result was a unique architectural style incorporating rough-hewn granite, stone arches, the mixed use of brick and stone, and castle-like peaked roofs rising above wide columns. Richardson’s first major commission came in 1870, the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane (today known as the Richardson Olmsted Complex) cemented him as a major American architect, and he steadily gained prominence, although it was discovered after his death that he had gravely mismanaged his finances and left his family in debt. The elements of the Richardsonian Romanesque style are specifically incorporated and clearly noticeable in the Calf Pasture Pumping Station. Although the outside is mainly built of grey granite (the red brick window-infills are modern), there is extensive use of multicolored brick and stone to create designs and patterns inside. The squat, fortress-like structure is lined with square and arched windows and stone arches. Castle turrets adorn the corners on each level and an imposing peaked roof caps the entire structure.
Although small changes have been made to the property over the years, it retains its essential character as a Richardsonian Romanesque building. Restoring and repurposing the Calf Pasture Pumping Station would be a valuable way to preserve a piece of H.H. Richardson’s architectural legacy and New England’s history.
Griswold Van Rensselear, Mariana. Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works. New York: Dover Publications, 2009.
The Calf Pasture Pumping Station is a prime example of industrial innovation and engineering and stands today as an architectural and historical landmark on Columbia Point. Unused for over forty years,the empty but impressive structure begs the question, what comes next?
Restoring and reusing such a pumping station is a daunting task, but there are successful models undertaken at similar structures elsewhere in the United States, with a variety of interesting results. How have other communities restored, preserved, and reused such impressive reminders of the history of public health and technological innovation? What can these models teach us about the possibilities for the future of the Calf Pasture Pumping Station, and the challenges we might encounter with their preservation?
Pumping Station No. 1
Some pumping stations have a surprising history. In Homestead Pennsylvania, “Pumping Station No. 1” is the last remaining structure of Homestead Steel Works. Purchased by Andrew Carnegie and incorporated into Carnegie Steel Company in 1883, Homestead Steel Works was one of Carnegie’s largest producers of steel. In 1892, Homestead’s Pumping Station No. 1 was the site of a violent clash between workers striking for better pay and working conditions, and Pinkerton agents hired by Carnegie Steel to break the strike. One of the strikers was killed inside the pumping station by a Pinkerton bullet.
Homestead Steel Works closed in 1986, and within the next few years, most of the structures on the site were dismantled. In 1988, the site was sold to the Park Corporation which began to clean and prepare the building for restoration and new construction. There were several environmental issues to overcome, especially soil contamination from lubricants and asbestos. Structurally, the pumping station on the Homestead grounds was sound the land and building were filled with slag, a byproduct of manufacturing steel. The original ground floor of the pumping station, as well as the river landing that the workers and Pinkertons disembarked from during the 1892 conflict,both remained beneath the infill.
Ultimately, the preservation of Pumping Station No. 1 resulted from the actions of two groups with interests in preserving the site–Continental Real Estate, and the Battle of Homestead Foundation (BHF), a group of local citizens, historians and educators. In the 1990s, Continental Real Estate purchased the building, and BHF implemented interpretive and educational programming at the site.
Today Pumping Station No. 1 is owned by the Steel Industry Heritage Corporation, which is dedicated to preserving the memory of the pivotal Homestead Strike through educational programming. Part of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, the Homestead pump house provides space to support community events dedicated to education and the arts. These include a “Heritage Market” and a “Bike Friendly Eco-Center,” with specially designed amenities for cyclists traveling the bike paths that run along the edge of the river, encouraging them to take a rest and explore its valuable history.
Eden Park Pump House
The Eden Park Pump House in Cincinnati, Ohio, was designed by well-known architect Samuel Hannaford in 1889; it sits in the historic Eden Park, originally on the banks of a large man-made reservoir. The pumping station ceased pumping operations in 1908; in 1939 it was repurposed as a central radio communications center for the city’s fire and police departments. It remained in use as a communication center until the mid-1980s when it was then used for storage and eventually fell into disrepair. In 2012 a former city employee, Jack Martin, leased the property from the city with the proposed plan to restore it and give it new life as a microbrewery.
The “Brewery X” project showcases the struggles in renovating a 19th century pumping station and working with the local community to establish a new, business use for the property. Jack Martin, a retired architect was attracted to the Eden Park Pump House for the site of his brewery partly because of Cincinnati’s history and legacy of beer making. The city approved Martin’s initial plans for interior and exterior restoration and reconstruction , but the project has been delayed by the multiple and varied challenges posed by investors, community, zoning and architectural boards, and the Cincinnati City Council. As of April 2015, priced at an estimated $3.5 million, had yet to be completed.
Louisville Water Company Pumping Station No. 1
The successful renovation of the Louisville Water Company’s Pumping Station No. 1 preserves a significant architectural landmark and Louisville historical resource. Architects Theodore Scowden and Charles Hermany designed this water pumping station, which operated from 1860-1912. This Classical Revival structure resembles a two-story temple, with wings on both sides. The pumping station was nominated to the National Historic Register in 1971. Renovations began that same year, and continued until 2013. Finally restored to its original condition, exterior and interior renovations have cost around $2.3 million.
The Louisville Water Company’s Pumping Station No. 1 now houses a WaterWorks Museum of science and history; exhibits and programming explore the scientific and engineering innovations of the pumping industry in Louisville, public health, and the architectural and historical significance of the building.
The city of Louisville has been very supportive of the Water Works Museum project, which has been conceived and funded by the Louisville Water Company, the owners of the site. “Louisville Water’s history is Louisville’s history and it is rich with scientific and engineering innovation and architectural achievement,” said Louisville Water President & CEO Greg Heitzman in 2012, “This project is part of our longstanding commitment to preserve the infrastructure and stories about the people who have guided us to where we are today.”
Are there examples of successful restoration, rehabilitation and reuse of such industrial structures in your community? What has worked? What are the challenges?
Brody, David. Steelworkers in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960.