Carpenters' Hall

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Evan Peters, Pump Maker

Getting a drink of water in colonial Philadelphia was not easy. But neither were most of today's conveniences. No bottled water. No indoor plumbing to deliver hot or cold water at a finger's touch for cooking, showering or flushing toilets, the last of which didn't even exist. Some families could afford their own well, located in the rear yard but probably too close to the privy or outhouse to avoid contamination. Less prosperous families paid to share a neighbor's well or carried water from a public well. Sooner or later, however, wells required a pump maker who fabricated, installed and repaired the mechanism for lifting water to the surface.

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Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
At Center Square pump house, steam engines lifted water thirty feet to 16,000-gallon tanks for distribution through pipes made from hollow logs.

Such a man was Evan Peters. Although elected to the Company in 1763 as a master builder, his principal trade was building and maintaining pumps for wells. Fortunately, a well already existed on the Company's newly purchased lot; in 1770 Mr. Peters was asked to repair the well and build a pump with an iron chamber. Four years later, there is the following entry in the Wardens' Minutes: "The Company taking into consideration the state of our pump, it being used in general by the neighborhood, think it advisable that every family who are able, shall pay at the rate of 6 shillings per year and we further direct Isaac Lefever to collect the same for the benefit of the Company..."

Mr. Peters, according to the "Pennsylvania Gazette" lived on Vine St. between 2nd and 3rd Sts. In November,1772, he took as an apprentice John Brotherson "for two years and six months to be taught the pump making business, and the rough parts of the business of a house carpenter." Mr. Peters died seven years later, one year after the British occupation of Philadelphia. The inventory of his estate included "one pump shank and 7 boaring bitts (best)... 500 pounds."

Then as now, water supplies could be a source of contention. By 1811, as a convenience, logs hollowed to serve as pipes were laid from the Hall's pump to a cistern, a covered wooden container for storing water. This improvement, however, proved too successful. The next year the Company "resolved that a notice be put on the pump that no person except those occupying the Carpenters' building can be permitted to take water from the pump in buckets or tubs and that a chain and lock be put on at night."

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Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
Fairmount Waterworks, the nation's first municipal water supply and an engineering marvel, raised water from the Schuylkill river to a reservoir atop the hill now occupied by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Iron pipes carried water to a system of public hydrants.

Six years later, in 1818, the city's central water supply — powered by a steam pump at Center Square — extended eastward through pipes of hollowed logs as far as Carpenters' Hall, where a hydrant was installed. By 1824, a new municipal system — the nation's first — raised water from the Schuylkill river to a reservoir at Fairmount, the highest point in the city, where the Philadelphia Museum of Art now stands.

Remains of what was probably the well at Carpenters' Hall were found in the southeast corner of the yard in 1953. The late historian and Company member Charles Peterson reports that in the course of excavating for a steam utility manhole, a circular brick structure six feet in diameter and one brick thick, laid without mortar, was discovered. Unhappily, the dimensions and construction could apply either to the old well or a privy vault.

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Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
Brick-lined tunnel, discovered during excavation for the Broad St. subway, brought water from the Schuylkill river to a pump house at Center Square, where City Hall now stands.

C.G.K.

Carpenters' Hall, 320 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
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