Durham Water Works / Reservoir

36.020687, -78.937225

Year built
Year(s) modified
Architectural style
Construction type
Local historic district
National Register
Building Type
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Under construction, 1917

W. M. Piatt and Company, (whose principal, William Piatt, I've referenced as the mid-20th century owner of Lochmoor) constructed the plant. Piatt had come to Winston-Salem from Pennsylvania before establishing his engineering firm in Durham in 1910.

Durham Water Works, early 1920s.
(Courtesy Durham County Library - North Carolina Collection)

The original filtration plant is a three-story brick Romanesque Revival style building with a one-story wing. The valve house with its miniature tiled roof and elaborate windows was built in the ~center of the reservoir.

The West Durham trolley line of the Durham Traction Co., which had been extended up Broad Street to Watts Hospital after its construction in 1907, was extended westward on Club Boulevard in 1912. Construction began on the large reservoir and water treatment plant immediately across Hillandale Road, which proffered an impressive vista to Hillandale Country Club visitors sitting on the terrace, as well as boating opportunities to other visitors. In this way, Durham Traction company worked with other interests to create a trolley terminus destination for recreational users, much as they had with the East Durham ballpark, and much as they would with Lakewood Park

Beatrice & Graham Maynard, "Romance Nuts," boating on the Durham reservoir with the Hillandale clubhouse in the background.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

The plant expanded in 1927 with a two-story brick wing to the west of the original structure, built to receive the underground aqueducts coming from the new city reservoir at Lake Michie, a reservoir and dam system that was also designed by W. M. Piatt & Company, as well as an expanded filtration system.

Construction of the west wing, 1926.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Construction, 1926.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Construction, 1926.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

William Piatt atop the completed structure, 1927.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

By the late 1920s, the transportation dynamics of Durham had changed dramatically with rapid adoption of the automobile in the mid 1920s. The trolley line on Club Boulevard was discontinued in 1930. Presumably, boating on the reservoir was discontinued during this period as well.

Below, Hillsborough Road in 1947, I believe at the Hillandale intersection, with footage of the reservoir. (Courtesy Ronald Bryant, digitized by Phillip Barron ):

The building was doubled in size with a stuccoed Art Moderne addition to the western end of the previous wing in 1949-50.

Construction of the 1949-50 addition
(Courtesy Barry Norman)

Construction of the 1949-50 addition
(Courtesy Barry Norman)

Construction of the 1949-50 addition
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

Completed 1949-50 addition
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

Aerial of the water treatment plant and reservoir, 1950s
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

The original buildings of the plant underwent some less-than-historically-optimal renovations during the 1960s-1990s period, and by 1990s, the city contemplated taking these buildings down for a new facility. However, kudos goes to them for deciding to restore the original buildings. The windows and original brick of the treatment plant were completed renovated and restored, for which the city won a preservation award from Preservation Durham. The Williams Treatment Plant, as it is now known, continues to be operational today.

1917, 1927, and 1950 portions of the treatment plant, 04.04.09 (G. Kueber)


Reservoir from near Hillsborough Road, looking north, with the valve house and treatment plant in the background, 04.04.09 (G. Kueber)


All this infrastructure and capacity is probably why the City was so willing to extend water service to the then distant Hope Valley in 1927.


Gary, you say the water works were located by the Eno River, I'm confused, I thought the Eno was a fair bit north of there. Or did the water get piped some distance to the reservoir?

I will say that up until a few years ago that place was a real eyesore, until the city stepped in an renovated it. Piatt and Davis were also responsible (in part anyway) for Lake Michie and Piatt & Co were responsible for the Brown plant off Infinity Rd.

I'm only 30, but I remember playing in that park. The reservoir out there had always been fenced though.

Britt -- the original Pump Station, now part of the Eno River State Park, is due north of the water works. There's a trail that goes out to the ruins of it, and is worth the trip. Before Lake Michie was built, the pump station off the Eno brought the water into the works there along Hillsborough Rd., where it was processed.

where can this pump station trail be accessed?

Several years ago, my wife and I purchased some rusty old flat files and other stuff when Mr. Piatt's office on Rigsbee Street closed. The flat files were chock full of old USGS topo maps as well as the original construction plans (ink on starched linen) for the water works. The drawings are really incredible, especially the immaculately drawn details for the mechanical systems and the ornate little intake structure that sits in the lagoon. We gave the drawings to the Durham County Library which has them somewhere in the NC collection.

Those construction shots from the 1920s are amazing. I love the Fred Flintstone style steam powered excavator next to the horse drawn carts.

I remember hearing from someone years ago that a bad accident occurred on New Years Eve, 1946. A carload full of people travelling west on Club Boulevard failed to stop at the intersection of Club and Hillandale Rd, and drove straight into the reservoir.

The Pump Station and Laurel Bluffs Trail in the Pump Station Section of the Eno River State Park are a part of Section 25 of the North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail.

Here's the map with the detail.

Pending administrative approval, the plan is to begin construction of the trail on the south bank of the Eno westbound to connect the Pump Station Section with the Cabe Lands Section.

What is now Eno River State Park had been slated to become a man-made dammed lake on the Eno River with the intention of being a water supply for Durham and for flood control serving the same purpose for Durham as Falls Lake on the Neuse serves for Raleigh.

Local opposition halted the project. Upside: really nice state park. Downside: Durham is extremely vulnerable to drought and downstream places like Kinston get flooded during hurricanes.

RWE, I am trying to hunt down the plans to the Durham Water Works building, and also the plans to the Gastonia Water Works building. I have found some of his records at Duke's library and I have searched at the Durham County Library, but I have not found either of these items. Could you provide any information as to when you donated and if you have a contact? Thanks.

Around 2000, we moved the Rigsbee Ave office to Garner. I gave all of the Drawings to the City. They were all there from the 1910 additions to the Water Plant when Grandpa started working for the City through 2000. They included all water and sewer infrastructure including the Lake Michi Dam. There was a Hydro powered raw water pump which at last I heard was still in use. I believe the one who picked up the drawings was Earl Harward who worked in the city engineering office I believe on Mist Lake Drive. The main number there is 560-4388. I worked for W. M. Piatt and Company, successor to Piatt and Davis, during the 70's and worked on most every plant they had. The ex-director of Utilities Terry Rolan is a history buff and would be an excellent recource if he is interested .

Spent MANY late summer nights with my friends, wading and swimming in the reservoir. As well as, keeping a sharp eye out for passing police patrols.

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