Thursday, August 11, 2016

historian David Rotenstein: "Public history and public activism at work: Washington’s McMillan Sand Filtration Site"

Click on the link to read the entire post by historian David Rotenstein:

Public history and public activism at work: Washington’s McMillan Sand Filtration Site

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On July 4, about 60 people attended a party thrown by Washington, DC activists trying to save a historic water filtration plant. The event was held in a row house in the city’s gentrifying Bloomingdale neighborhood, which I wrote about in a recent History@Work post. That post garnered me an invitation to the July gathering, which included barbecue brisket and pork with heaping sides of educational literature and conversations about the history of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site and the District of Columbia’s plans to redevelop the property, which is listed in the National Register. The party ended with a trek to the nearby McMillan site and an unauthorized tour, part of the advocates’ strategy to grow their numbers and expose wider groups of people to the site.
Completed in 1905, the McMillan Sand Filtration Site is a 25-acre portion of the 92-acre McMillan Reservoir. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the water filtration and storage facility to supplement the District of Columbia’s aging drinking water distribution system. The site includes a 38-acre, 100-million-gallon reservoir, pumping station, and the sand filtration facility where water was mechanically cleaned prior to being distributed to the expanding capital city.
The McMillan property was conceived as an industrial site that would appeal to the city’s residents as a recreational area. Noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. was hired to design the facility’s grounds, which included a substantial network of paths, trees, a fountain, and views of the city’s monuments. Until the grounds were closed in 1942, it was a heavily used public space.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you David for posting this and helping to raise awareness. I would like to note the following:

    1) The entire historical site (Reservoir+Filtration Plant) is 118 acres.

    2) The McMillan Filtration Plant straddles both sides of First Street NW and the 25 acre site that is currently threatened with demolition and development is a portion of the original facility and park.

    3) The plan for a landscaped public park encompassing the surface area of filtration plant and the grounds surrounding the reservoir started to take hold following the death of Senator James McMillan (1902). This plan for a park was formally announced by the Secretary of War, William Howard Taft (future president) in 1906 when he declared the grounds of the filtration plant, the reservoir and all approaches "McMillan Park" in honor of the late senator and in recognition for all the work he had done for the District of Columbia (Restoration of The Mall, Union Station, Supreme Court Building, etc, etc) and especially for his efforts in bringing to fruitition the filtration plant. Note, prior to the inauguration of the filtration plant, DC water was highly suspect and often described as the worst in the country since it was piped directly from the Potomac River without any kind of intermediary purification process. Homes, businesses, offices often required individual filters on faucets and taps and, still, was often 'muddy' and 'mirky'. Every year thousands of people in the District of Columbia either suffered severe illness or needlessly perished from water born diseases. It is to Senator James McMillan's leadership and credit that the log jam of bureaucracy was broken and the plan for the filtration plant was finally developed, funded and realized.