The blog about what we experience in our everyday runs

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What lies beneath? DC's silos lead to an innovative past

 52 Days — 

Missing from the Tourmobile bus route is a 25 acre plot of land in D.C.'s Bloomingdale neighborhood. The open space with silos, manholes and a lake resembles something closer to Stonehenge than any type of structure that would belong in NW D.C.

The plot on the corner of Michigan Ave NW and North Capitol St NW is what's left of the McMillian Reservoir Sand Filtration system. The Army Corps of Engineers originally constructed the system in 1905 as a means to provide clean drinking water to a burgeoning population.

What was once considered a public health milestone, now stands in a state of disrepair, with the District  and community groups unsure of its future. But during it's near 90 years of service, the facility provided chemical free, clean drinking water to the District.

Beneath the silos and the manhole covers are large cells with sand which filtered water from the Potomac River. Much of the sand came from Michigan, in honor of Sen. James McMillian of Michigan who brought the sanitation system to the area.

While water was purified underground, the open space on the surface contained a park, complete with carriage paths, benches and fountains — certainly something that would rival the National Mall.

Shortly after WWII the area was fenced off and the park closed as the government had concerns with people tampering the entire water system.

In 1986 the Army Corps sold the property to the District and closed the facilities. Since it's sale, there have been numerous attempts to commercialize the land with plans including housing units, a hotel, shopping mall and limited green space. Community groups and other organizations have suggested turning the area into a museum, park, library or some other form of public mixed-use property.

There even has been a recommendation for a dog memorial to all dogs who have died in the district.

The property was designated a DC Historical Landmark in 1991 and has been listed on most endangered lists in 2000 and 2005.

Since the silos and near 5,000 manhole covers caught my attention on today's run, it only seemed proper to give this historical, strange looking and somewhat out-of-place plot of land a little salute in Sights in My Nights.

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