By Mary A. van Balgooy
Built in 1897, the Pump House is a significant historical landmark. Once known as the “Rockville Electric Lights & Water Works,” the building was the City’s first public water system and supplier of electricity for street lights and private homes.
In October 1896, the Mayor and Council approved plans and specifications for a waterworks and electric light plant. They asked the General Assembly for bonds totaling $20,000 and purchased two lots from Mayor Joseph Reading for $600 where the Pump House stands today. A 225-foot well was dug and construction began on the plant. In April 1897, the Mayor and Council adopted a schedule of water and electric rates and in August, they hired James Adams as engineer and superintendent of the plant at a salary of $60 per month. During the following year, Rockville opened the waterworks and pumping station. It determined that electric current would be supplied “from one half hour before sunset until 1 o’clock A.M.”
In November 1909, the Potomac Electric Power Company was granted franchise to provide electric power and thus the City went out of the electric power business. Then tradegy struck in the winter of 1913-1914. Townspeople reported 28 cases of typhoid in less than a month and three people died. The U.S. Public Health Service dispatched investigators to Rockville and quickly determined the cause of the epidemic. A typhus-infected guest using the unsanitary privy at 308 Baltimore Road had polluted the well and the infection had been distributed through the public water supply. Within days, measures were taken to stem the tide of the outbreak and the Mayor and Council moved to construct a state-of-the-art sewerage system to prevent another outbreak.
By 1957 a new water treatment facility was opened, drawing water from the Potomac River. With the new plant, the City stopped the use of the wells at the Pump House and renovated the building for the Public Works Department. They remained there until 1962 when the building was slated for demolition. The Director of Recreation, Neil Ofthsun proposed using the building as a community center and for many years, the Pump House also served as the City’s first Senior Center.
By 2009, the facility was in dire need of a significant upgrade for use. The City of Rockville completed a full interior and partial exterior renovation of the Pump House and on January 9, 2011, the City rededicated the building. For their outstanding renovation work and good stewardship of a historic property, the City received a 2011 Peerless Rockville Preservation Award.