From the moment the Fairmount Park Water Works opened in the early 1800’s, it was hailed as an engineering marvel and an architectural masterpiece. The Water Works’ South Garden was considered one of Philadelphia’s most beautiful places and formed the basis for what would be become the Philadelphia parks system. The original Cliffside Paths, carved into the stone face of “Faire Mount,” ascended from the Water Works to an elevated reservoir, offering visitors breathtaking views of the Schuylkill River and the surrounding area.
Unfortunately, the decommissioning of the Water Works in 1911 reduced the popularity of the South Garden, and the entire site subsequently fell into disrepair. The Women for the Water Works continued the important work that was started by the Junior League of Philadelphia in 1974, when it began raising the funds needed to restore the neoclassical buildings of the Water Works. Ernesta Ballard, a founding member of the Fairmount Park Conservancy and a former Park Commissioner, began working with the Junior League to continue the necessary fundraising for the restoration and helped raise $23 million over the course of a decade.
In 2008, the Women for the Water Works reached their goal of $5 million dollars raised to complete the South Garden and Cliffside renovations, bringing the total monies collected to more than $28 million since renovations first began thirty years ago. A maintenance fund currently restores the site and also ensures that generations to come will be able to enjoy the restored Water Works through establishment of a maintenance fund for the site. The final phase of the project was the restoration of the North and South Cliff Paths, the Mercury Pavilion and the Rustic Pavilion. Just as in the 19th century, pavilions, paths, statuary, and a dazzling fountain again attract visitors to this National Historic Landmark.
In 2017 and early 2018, a team of conservators replicated and installed two original sculptures by William Rush: The Allegory of the Schuylkill River (Nymph and Bittern) and the Mercury. Working with the Conservancy, Mark B. Thompson Associates LLC, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Stratton Sculpture Studios carefully made replicas of the two historic sculptures using materials like silicon bronze and resin, ensuring that the new sculptures were made to last and withstand weather. The Allegory of the Schuylkill River (Nymph and Bittern) and the Mercury have been installed at their original locations at the South Garden’s Central Marble Fountain and the Mercury Pavilion, respectively.