You may have seen it, but not really noticed it, as you motored along I-57 past Chicago’s Fernwood neighborhood. But that’s OK, because soon the giant chimney that rises high above the Chicago Department of Water’s Roseland Pumping Station will be gone.
The bad news is that the neighborhood will lose a navigational touchstone. The good news is that the Prairie-style public works castle that houses the actual water works will remain.
The chimney is no longer necessary because back when the station was designed by William G. Krieg and built in 1911 by the former Chicago Bureau of Public Efficiency, it used enormous boilers to generate steam to run the pumps. Twenty years ago the water department started spending $43 million to replace the steam-powered pumps with electrical pumps, fed from the new warehouse-looking transformer building to the south.
Now that the steam is gone, the chimney also needs to go. At 270 feet, it’s taller than the Palmer House hotel in The Loop, or even the old Lawson YMCA building in the Gold Cost, but without a forest of surrounding skyscrapers to mute its stature.
If you’re a shutterbug, it’s worth taking the trip down to 104th and Harvard (CTA buses 8A and/or 103) to get a picture of the pump house. It was built four-stories tall to handle the massive machines of a century ago. Today, though most of that volume is empty since modern pumps are much smaller.
But the mission of the building is no less vital than it was during the Taft administration. It slurps water from the Edward Dunne crib in Lake Michigan via the 68th Street Pumping Station and then squirts it out to a thirsty far-south side. This H2O hub is responsible for moistening most everyone south of 75th Street in Chicago, plus a few nearby suburbs.
The upgrade also added an extra 125 million gallons of capacity to the facility, so more water can be sold to the suburbs in the future.
And if you’re into Chicago history trivia, this building’s address used to be 104th and Stewart Avenue. The address was changed to 104th and Princeton when the railroad came through the neighborhood and erased Stewart. It’s an unusual case of a railroad not being there first.