Even in 1882, the people of Chillicothe enjoyed this part of the city. Citizens came to Yoctangee Park in their carriages and had picnics. The park was becoming an integral part of the city’s cultural life. Due to a series of fires it was deemed necessary to build a pumping station in the park, City Officials decided to have the building be both functional and an architectural addition to the park. Architects were retained from Pittsburgh, PA and their design reflected the flower gardens, ornamental bridges, and gazebos that occupied the park. The Pump House and Water Works, built in 1883 by the Chillicothe Gas, Light, and Water Works, once housed large, powerful, brass pumps that were housed in the North Gallery and used to fight fire that periodically destroyed parts of the city during Chillicothe’s early history.
Engaged through a deep well (25’ in diameter and 12’ deep), located next to the pump house, the water was pumped from the Teays Aquifer beneath Yoctangee Park and propelled through 16’ cast iron pipes to a reservoir on Carlisle Hill. When needed, the water was released through pipes back down the hill to 100 fire hydrants placed throughout the city. The spring from the ancient Teays that fed the aquifer was so powerful that the engines could pump over six thousand gallons of water per minute. Today, these same case iron water pipes still carry water through the city.
As the city grew, inside water taps became the norm and The Pumping Station was deemed insufficient for the growing population. For a number of years the building was used by the city service department. Road equipment was stored in the building, as was salt for use on icy roads. By the mid-1970’s, the building was in a state of disrepair. At this point, the city government felt that it should be torn down. Preservationists and the Jaycees of Chillicothe pleaded with the city to try to keep the building from being torn down, the Jaycees used the Pump House as a haunted house to try to raise money for restoration. In March 1977, the Pump House was placed on the Ohio Historic Inventory with a survey done by Catherine W. Sheets. November 15, 1979 saw the Pump House listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1984, the building was condemned due to holes in roof and floor.
A group of artists lead by Ted Fickisen, preservationists, and attorney, Jim Barrington formed a coalition to restore and preserve the building. The old pump house was leased to a board of trustees in 1986 as a historic center for the arts. Only then did the daunting task of turning an old pump house into an art gallery fully begin. The roof was so rotted that major portions had to be rebuilt, the limestone foundation had crumbled, all the windows and doors were bricked in and nailed shut, and there was no permanent floor, no electricity or water.
This founding group, along with other interested residents, established a Board of Trustees and the raised the $160,000 needed for the restoration part of the project. A philanthropist and builder, Wilbur Poole, took on the incredible task of restoring the building as it is today. Over 6 years, as funds were raised, the coursework was replaced, bricks repaired, floors poured, electricity and water installed, and walls rebuilt. Slowly the rooms were transformed into a place where exhibits could be hung and viewed by the Citizens of Chillicothe, and on August 3, 1991 the Pump House opened as a gallery.
The Pump House is a fine example of Victorian Gothic architecture. The building features a large central tower colorfully patterned with glazed ceramic tiles, eight Palladian windows, common-bond brick patterns, and a low pitched, hipped slate roof. The unique brick work on the interior has piano key dentil work around the windows. The two cathedral galleries are ornately paneled in vaulted, dark, tongue and groove oak construction, similar to the treatment on a ship’s interior. The Pump House’s age and history is reflected in the white deposits left by salt on the brick walls from its days as a storage building and in the 1913 High Water Mark that identifies flood levels that submerged all but the tower and top 4 feet of the second floor.
The Pump House remains vibrate and active in Chillicothe, housing a gift gallery and multi-level exhibit space, as well as being rented for various events. Workshops for adults and children are available to promote art awareness and education.