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E. B. Bain Water Treatment Plant
Photo by Jerry Blow, courtesy of Raleigh Historic Development Commission

The Raleigh Water Works and E. B. Bain Water Treatment Plant complex was built for a single, basic task--to supply Raleigh's water needs. Yet the complex also provides a ready gauge of the city's historical growth and community pride. In 1938, Raleigh was faced with a choice. It could reduce growing demand for city water by limiting access from unincorporated areas, or it could build a new plant. City leaders looked into the future and decided to build. The city obtained federal public works funding and floated a bond issue to get the $700,000 needed to build a new plant, and work started in mid-1939. Dedicated in mid-1940, the plant was named after longtime city water superintendent Ernest Battle Bain.

While strictly utilitarian in concept, the Bain plant, as built, is perhaps the foremost Art Deco style building in Raleigh, displaying a surprising level of architectural detail. The brick building includes a full basement, and parts are four stories high. The two-story entrance lobby features a mezzanine circling the upper level and soaring stairways rising up both sides. The stairs have ornamental wrought and cast-iron railings and oak handrails, and the lobby ceiling is adorned with ornamented plaster beams. The original light fixtures remain, as does the original red quarry floor tile. The operations floors, located in a 13-bay, two-and-a-half story wing, flank an extended arcade of molded plaster arches, with pilasters marking the bays. Above both sides of the arcade are square clerestory windows.

[photo] Raleigh Water Works
Photo by Charles Hall, courtesy of Raleigh City Museum

At construction, the facility was considered a major engineering feat, since it was built on the same site as the city’s existing water plant. The earlier plant dated from 1887, pumping water from adjacent Walnut Creek to a stone-based water tower near the center of town. The new plant was built while the old one continued to operate--so the water supply remained uninterrupted. With four electric pumps and a gas-powered one in reserve, the new facility could put out up to 10 million gallons of treated water a day, and was built to allow expansion to double that amount. Raleigh’s rapid postwar growth, however, eventually pushed local needs beyond the plant’s capacity. In the 1960s, the city built a new treatment plant miles away on the Neuse River. The old Bain plant remained in use until 1987, working in tandem with the newer plant. After the plant was closed, the city continued to use the storage tanks for backup storage of treated water.

By the 1990s, however, the building was reduced to being a storage facility. A new era began in 1999, when the Raleigh City Council accepted an offer from Capital Area Preservation, Inc. and Historic Preservation Advisors, LLC to rehabilitate and manage the property. Sold to Empire Properties in 2006, the site remains in pre-development. The E B. Bain Water Treatment Plant is a designated Raleigh Historic Landmark.

The Raleigh Water Works and E. B. Bain Water Treatment Plant complex is located at 1810 Fayetteville Rd. The facility is closed pending rehabilitation work.

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