The Robert B. Morse Water Filtration Plant Site, Rt. 29 in Silver Spring

At the intersection of the Northwest Branch creek and Route 29 in Silver Spring stands what remains of the Robert B. Morse Water Filtration Plant, which was in service from 1936-1962.

The pumping stations are still standing, but most of the reservoir has been demolished, and today the site serves primarily as a parking area at the head of the Rachel Carson and Northwest Branch hiking trails. For those hiking along the trail toward the site, the sight of the concrete dam that remains marks the beginning of the transition from the tranquil nature trail to the hustle and bustle of the busy four-lane highway that separates the trail head from Starbuck’s and Trader Joe’s across the way.

According to a description of the site in the Historic American Buildings Survey, online at — the plant featured an innovative filtration system that combined the four major parts of the process (sedimentation, flocculation, filtration, and storage) in a single structure.  Though I had known of the site’s former use, I won’t claim to have had any inkling of its engineering significance before looking into it for this post. For me it was simply an interesting meeting point between between the city and the natural world, where hikers must navigate the heavy traffic of a major commuter artery, and where those seeking a temporary refuge from the modern world cross paths with those seeking a latte or a cake-pop.

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