09 August 2016 – David Rotenstein
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.