Location: Bergen County, NJ
The Hackensack Water Works buildings were constructed between 1882 and 1931 on an artificial island in the middle of a New Jersey river. The completion dates of most of the buildings are displayed in terra-cotta reliefs above their entrances. The structures were a marriage of classical architecture and the cutting edge industrial technology of the day. On their exterior, the buildings feature Italianate and Romanesque Revival style details creating a neo-classical motif. Housed inside the buildings were mechanical systems designed to filter the county’s water.
Technology & Infrastructure
The water filtration systems developed for the plant represented new technological advances that enabled cities to grow by supplying safe drinking water on a large scale. In addition to providing Bergen County with potable water, the facility had a research and development team that would constantly analyze and monitor the water, as well as work to improve the filtration and purification processes. The last pumping station to be constructed (built in 1911) housed steam powered pumping engines that were 50 feet tall with two 32-ton flywheels that moved 607 gallons of water with each revolution. In 1915 new, more efficient pumps were installed in the 1886 structure. They were well maintained and operated for more than 70 years until the Water Works was decommissioned.
The plant’s infrastructure descends several stories below ground and includes a network of pipes, valves and reservoirs that were designed to be submerged in water. In fact, the bulk of the building’s remaining infrastructure is currently inundated and inaccessible with the exception of some of the large pumps. Unfortunately, I was unable to access the building that housed the largest water pumps since it had recently been re-sealed to keep people out and I wasn’t prepared to break in. Swimming under the buildings may be possible but I had left my diving gear at home, so I wasn’t going to attempt that. If you would like to see the very cool photos of that building’s interior and the giant water pumps they house go to the Hackensack Water Works blog post on Adventure Bible School.
Closure & Preservation
After operating for 108 years, the Hackensack Water Works ceased operations at the facility in May of 1990 and the site was turned over to Bergen County. Since its closure, preservationists have had to battle the county to protect the plant from demolition. The Hackensack Water Works buildings are now on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places, as well as the National Register of Historic Places. The latest plans for the site are to shore up and restore the buildings to a level that would allow the county to open the facility to the public.
- “History of the Hackensack Water Works” Interpretive Sign
- “Abandoned Waterworks: Hackensack Water Company” SometimesInteresting.com