The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Adam Levine
Historical Consultant

An Informal Resume
Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
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After doing historical research for PWD and others for more than a decade, I have become the local expert on the history of Philadelphia's rivers, streams, and drainage systems. If you have looked at other areas of PhillyH2O, you know I am obsessed by the subject of urban sewers, urban watersheds, and the unfortunate intersection between the two. I am also passionate about sharing my work and my research with the world.

LECTURES: One of the most exciting aspects of this work is presenting it to an unsuspecting public. Lifelong residents of Philadelphia have said that after hearing my general historical lecture they can never look at the city in quite the same way again. I have given this program (see the "Creek to Sewer" link above for a synopsis) to a variety of university, high school, and neighborhood groups, and at several conferences. Recent venues include the Morris Arboretum, Villanova University, and the American Philosophical Society Museum. In addition to this general sewer and watershed lecture, I have specific historical programs about the major Philadelphia-area watersheds, among them Frankford Creek, Cobbs Creek, Pennypack Creek, and Poquessing Creek. Contact me to schedule a presentation to your group or class.

CONSULTING and RESEARCH: Besides lecturing on the subject of sewers, city drainage systems, and historical changes in urban watersheds, I am available for consulting and research. I am well-versed in historical research (especially with Philadelphia area institutions and their resources) as well as an award-winning writer, with an extensive background in newspaper, book and magazine work. Please contact me to discuss specific projects.

ARCHIVES MANAGEMENT: Part of my work with PWD has been managing the department's Historical Collection, samples of which appear elsewhere on this site. In the course of cataloguing the collection, I have become familiar with PastPerfect© Museum Software, which combines a powerful searchable database with a user-friendly interface. With the help of several paid interns and a handful of dedicated volunteers, we have managed to catalogue more than 16,000 items, mostly photographs and books, including a collection of hundreds of PWD annual and special reports which date back to 1799. The core of the photograph collection is a collection of 3,276 8x10 glass plate negatives which document the work of PWD in the years 1894-1909. All the glass plates have been scanned (thanks mainly to the nonstop work of intern Natalia Broz in 2004) and catalogued (thanks to the work of volunteers Joe Shapiro, and Dan and Pauline Greene). In 2008 more than 1,500 of these photographs were contributed to the PhillyHistory web catalogue of the City Department of Records. The work of cataloguing the Historical Collection is about three-quarters complete, and we are always looking for interested volunteers (especially those with computer skills) to help with the effort. Contact me for more information.

HISTORICAL EXHIBITS: My research provided much of the background information used in the drainage and sewerage sections of the historic exhibits at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center. Located in the historic Fairmount Water Works complex along the Schuylkill River, behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Interpretive Center features exhibits of all levels, from interactive displays for children to illustrated historical panels with enough depth and detail to interest even an ardent history buff. In 2001, I also helped mount an exhibit--"Clean

Suited up for a sewer tour with reporters, 2008

Water for Life"--which celebrates the 200th anniversary of PWD. This exhibit is still on display in the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building, Mezzanine Level, 401 JFK Boulevard. Smaller exhibits for which I helped provide images and information include a Black History Month display in 2006, which featured Afircan-American employees of PWD in vintage photographs; and an exhibit on Combined Sewer Overflows, mounted by the PWD Office of Watersheds in fall 2008.

BOOKS and MAGAZINE WORK: In work that accounts for about half of my time, I write articles and books about gardens and gardening. I am the author of Gale Nurseries: Four Generations of garden Excellence (2008), and A Guide to the Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region (2007), a comprehensive and user-friendly guidebook to more than 90 Delaware Valley gardens illustrated by nearly 200 of Rob Cardillo's beautiful photographs. You can read more about this book at my other website, www.phillygardenguide.com. In 2003 I co-authored two books, The Passion for Gardening, with Ken Druse, and The Philadelphia Flower Show: Celebrating 175 Years, with Ray Rogers. I have also written for many major gardening magazines, including Martha Stewart Living. A number of my articles, including several related to stormwater and watersheds, are included on PhillyH2O. You can read them by going to the ARCHIVES page and scrolling to the "Articles" section at the bottom.

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Photographs of Adam Levine by Rob Cardillo (headshot) and C. Drew Brown (hardhat)
Website by Panacea Design and Adam Levine
Page last modified June 21, 2009