Appreciating Buildings – Mcmillan Reservoir (Re-PoP)

The McMillan Reservoir is located by Howard University and this building is at 5th St, NW near Howard Pl. Anyone know why the building was built so tall? What the function is?

I’m also still not sure ‘what the helen of troy’ the structure below in the reservoir is supposed to do:

9 Comment

  • My guess is the part in the water serves for overflow god forbid it rain that much… as for the height, maybe just to impress.

    Was this the first / only water source in the city when it was built?

  • The tall one is the pump-house, yeh?
    And you’re lucky you didn’t get hassled by some bored fascist fruitcake for taking photos of it. She comes running out of that little office waving her hands around like some spastic chicken all hopped up on goofballs.

    but it’s a great building…

    • Frankie James – it was actually not the first water source in the city. Water comes into the city via the Washington Aqueduct from Great Falls. However, water supply and pressure dropped off by the time that the supply got to the beyond Georgetown and upper NW. This reservoir was added to alleviate water shortages and pressure problems outside of the NW. There was a fascinating display on the Aqueduct at the Building Museum a few years back where I learned all this as I had always wondered why there was a reservoir right there.

  • I think that little building thing in the reservoir covers the original spring. I could be wrong or thinking of something else. Info on the history of water supply below.

    There’s a whole book on the aqueduct by Harry C. Ways, if you can find it. Or try this:

    Start with p. 39 here:

    And p. 170 here:

    (Both found at:

  • Yes, I believe the spring comes up in the smaller building in the water. That spring water must get piped out into the sewer. (Is that the water that was piped to the Capitol Grounds at one time?) That spring was the main source of Goose/Tiber Creek, which is now under Constitution Avenue.

    The building with the tower is where the aqueduct comes up to feed the reservoir. Water from up the Potomac sits at Dalecarlia, de-silting, then at the reservoir along MacArthur Blvd. From there it is pumped up to McMillan Reservoir through a tunnel under Rock Creek. After filtration/treatment it sits in the adjacent covered clearwater reservoir which directly supplies everything to the south (at a lower elevation).

    The Bryant Street Pumping Station pumps from that clearwater reservoir to others at higher elevations, like the one at Fort Reno, which hydrate their communities by gravity.

    • When I was a kid my Dad used to tell me, “That’s the house of the man who washes the water.”

    • This is just a technical question, not being obnoxious, but why would you pipe spring water into the sewer? It’s probably much cleaner than the water sitting in the reservoir. Also there is a creek in the soldier’s home that would naturally drain into the reservoir and was once the upper reaches if Tiber Creek, might still drain into the reservoir.

      • I’m assuming the Corps wants to control the water, which seems like the point. Perhaps that is not right, but if it is, they cannot control a spring. The Boschke map (1861) does indeed show two branches extending further north, but if a stream flowed into the reservoir today it would be visually apparent.

  • Fascinating!

    Thanks for the great info djdc – printed and can’t wait to read it this weekend.

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