Drinking water in Baltimore before the turn of the 20th century was, to put it mildly, unsanitary. Unfiltered water from streams, wells and springs were funneled to reservoirs throughout the city. Outbreaks of disease from waterborne pathogens were common, as were complaints of odor and taste.
In 1881, the Gunpowder Falls was connected to Lake Montebello, a new reservoir that improved water conditions throughout the city. But it wasn’t until Sept. 13, 1915 — 100 years ago this week — that the city’s most significant water-related development occurred with the opening of the filtration plant at the lake. It was called one of the “biggest and most important undertakings in the history of the city” by Robert L. Clemmitt, the city’s acting water engineer and president of the water board.
On Saturday, the city will celebrate the Montebello Centennial with music, activities, historical exhibits and more.
“We want to show the importance of drinking water and what the city is doing to preserve the outstanding system that we have,” said Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the Baltimore City Department of Public Works.
The creation of the water filtration system at Lake Montebello was the turning point for healthy drinking water in the city. No longer would “fish, twigs, leaves and anything else that would be going through to the gatehouse” be distributed to the city, Kocher said. Three years later, a Johns Hopkins graduate and sanitary engineer named Abel Wolman developed a chlorination process that would change healthy drinking water forever.
At the Montebello Centennial, the history of the gatehouse and water filtration system will be on display through exhibits and tours of the facilities. There will be three musical acts, disc golf demonstrations, food trucks, a beer garden, giveaways, arts and crafts, a bounce house and more.
The event starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. For more information, click here.