Found in Philadelphia: 200-Year-Old Wooden Water Mains

Jay Landers, WEF Highlights on November 22, 2017

In a city as old as Philadelphia, construction crews are bound to occasionally stumble on something of historical interest when they begin digging. Such was the case in early May when workers replacing a water line along the 900 block of Spruce Street encountered what appeared to be buried tree trunks.

An alert passerby realized the true significance of the find and alerted the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD). More than mere tree trunks, the unearthed obstructions were a vestige of advanced urban infrastructure from the early nineteenth-century. The objects were wooden water mains the city had installed more than 200 years ago as part of its fledgling distribution system.

Each of the five or so sections of wooden main removed from the ground were approximately 1.8- to 3.6-m (6- to 12-ft) long with a diameter of 80 to 150 mm (3 to 6 in.) at an opening in their centers, said Adam Levine, a consultant for PWD. Each section featured a tapered end that was inserted into the larger, untapered end of the adjoining wooden pipe, and the two sections were held together in place by iron bands.

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