I recently had the opportunity to visit the Fairmount Water Works and I can’t believe I’ve never gone before. I’m sure you know the building to see it, it’s the one right at the end of Boathouse Row near the Art Museum. I knew that there is a nice restaurant in there overlooking the river, but I did not know that they also have Environmental Education in the same building. The view is just spectacular.
Getting to the Fairmount Water Works
You can drive and there is 2-hour free parking nearby. We took the train. It is about a 1-mile walk from 30th street, but it’s a really nice walk along the Schuylkill River Trail. When I return with my other son, I would bring the stroller on to the train and walk again. SEPTA also goes there by bus.
History of Fairmount Water Works
I loved learning about the history. It opened in 1815 as our nation’s first urban public water supply system. You can read much more here: Facts about Fairmount Water Works My son was interested in some of the educational programming, but not the history. He also loved walking around the building, said he felt like a real Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle walking through the sewers (except these are not sewers, it’s clean, I promise).
The Fairmount Water Works is open six days a week and is free to the public. That’s right, FREE! If you are a teacher or have another group (scouts, etc.) they also host groups for educational programming. They had several interns there the day we visited and they really kept my son’s interest, I was afraid he would be bored but he wasn’t.
My son also enjoyed just walking around looking at the big gears and machinery, from when this was a working water system.
Another lesson that he took that day was learning about what fish live in what kind of water. I guess I never really thought about it, but….ick. Who wants fish that live in polluted water? I assumed that most fish would avoid it, not live in it.
It’s a really nice mix of activities–lots of education about pollution and the environment and water supply…and my son really learned from it and still talks about it. Fun enough that they don’t get bored while they are there. And it’s for kids, but as an adult I enjoyed it too. And nothing makes kids snicker more than a bunch of toilets! Because with 5-year-old boys, all conversations eventually end up being about toilets.
Next weekend is a great time to visit the FWW if you’re thinking about it. It’s their FLOW Festival–FLOW stands for For Love Of Water. It’s FREE, which is always good. And it looks like lots of fun. The festival is free and open to all ages and will feature performers, art installations, and hands-on activities, including: Drip Drums, Sonic State of the Schuylkill, a Splash Organ, a Fishway, River Net, Flood Stories, and for the finale, a dramatic lighting show illuminating the Water Works exterior.
Visiting with a child with special needs
The building is fairly newly renovated so it is accessible. I found the lighting and the noise level to be good–not too bright or too noisy for those who are sensitive. If your child is visually impaired, some of it is a little dark and due to the age of the building, some parts have uneven floors, so they may need help navigating. It was nothing major and nothing that would deter me from taking my child with visual impairments. There were benches in every room I was in, if someone needs to rest. The temperature inside was fine even though it was a warm, humid day outside. The bathrooms were fine and spacious. I did not see a family restroom.
I did not go to the restaurant–the restaurant and the environmental education center are separate. It is my understanding that it is a bit more upscale and not a place you’d necessarily want to take kids anyway, but you’d have to check their menu for allergy information and carb information for T1. It’s not a venue that you’d necessarily visit for an extended period of time, which can be a good thing. You may want to pair it with a walk along Boathouse Row or the Art Museum or something. There is no food available for purchase here, so you’d need to bring your own if you want snacks.