SCHWENKFELDER LIBRARY & HERITAGE CENTER
105 Seminary Street, Pennsburg, PA 18073
Phone: 215–679–3103; Fax: 215–679–8175
October 25, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: David W. Luz
Panel Discussion on the Building of the Green Lane Dam
The Friends of the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center invites the public to a panel discussion at 2:00 pm on Sunday, November 7, at the Heritage Center, 105 Seminary Street, Pennsburg, on the building of the Suburban Water Company dam in Green Lane. The panel of speakers — Robert Wood, Ed Hildenbrand, John Katrinak, and Donald Moll— will show slides, maps, and discuss the history of what is perhaps the most significant event in the history of the Upper Perkiomen Valley.
Folks driving around Pennsburg might assume that the reservoir has always been here. However, its construction is relatively recent having been started in 1955 and finished in 1957, but its history goes back to the 19th century.
Briefly, in the late 1800s Philadelphia (like most other cities) had a problem with polluted water sources. Most of the Schuylkill's upstream cities and towns from Conshohochen to Port Clinton more or less disposed of the sewage directly into the river. Also, coal, after it was cracked into small pieces, was covered in a fine coal dust which tended to billow up into a cloud as it was sent down chutes in people's homes. Consequently, coal was washed at the source which sent the dust as a cloudy silt-like pollutant into the Schuylkill and Lehigh Rivers, both of which made their way to Philadelphia. The solution for the city fathers was a plan to gather water from the same source as Philadelphia's ice - the Perkiomen Creek and its tributaries. The plan was never realized, but it never entirely went away.
A 1924 clipping from the Ambler Gazette headlines "Philadelphia's water commission have recommended to the mayor the Perkiomen-Tohicken Creek plan...will cost more than $100,000,000." Employing six dams, the general idea was to use aqueducts and pipes to carry 500,000,000 gallons per day from the Perkiomen watershed to the city. The city at that time used 320,000,000 gallons daily. "The Schuylkill would be abandoned as a source of supply as soon as the new plants on the Perkiomen and the aqueducts, tunnels, new service reservoir...can be built." This plan, too, never came to pass as the Torresdale plant was apparently enlarged, and the project went into hibernation.
At the end of World War II, as the Philadelphia suburbs mushroomed out into all of lower Montgomery County the issue of water supply re-emerged and planners again cast an eye to the Perkiomen Creek. This time there was to be no reprieve. The plan was simpler: erect one high dam on the Perkiomen and release water into the creek during dry spells — the water would be extracted downstream. Using no public money, but only private venture capital and armed with eminent domain powers, the Philadelphia Suburban Water Company was formed. The site selected was an old ice dam just above Green Lane. The owners of scores of beautiful and historic farms and homes were anguished to learn that their ancestral valley was to be destroyed, and they were powerless to stop it. The historic Knight Road covered bridge and Markley's Mill were doomed.
After the reservoir basin was finished in 1957 many residents thought the Perkiomen Creek would never fill it. But fill it did — with 4.4 billion gallons. The surface area is 814 acres and the maximum depth is 66 feet. It has 19 miles of shore line. The Philadelphia Suburban Water Company became Aqua Pennsylvania, and in 1983 sold 1087 acres of land around the reservoir to Montgomery County for a public park.
A special showing of documents related to the planning and building of the dam will be offered. This program is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.
The Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center was founded in 1884 as an informal collection in a private home to assure the preservation of the Schwenkfelders' cultural identity. Today the Heritage Center, a not-for-profit organization, is still preserving, interpreting, and documenting the history of this German Protestant group along with the history of the Upper Perkiomen Valley. The Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm; Thursdays 9:00 am to 8:00 pm; Saturdays 10:00 am to 3:00 pm; and Sundays 1:00 to 4:00 pm. The Heritage Center is closed to the public on Mondays. For additional information call 215–679–3103 or visit our website www.schwenkfelder.com.
David W. Luz
Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center
105 Seminary Street
Pennsburg, PA 18073