There are many hidden gems all along the banks of the Thames River in London Ontario, some are obvious and some are more subtle and you have to look carefully. Today’s exploration destination was an old abandoned dam ruins along the Thames known as the Waterworks dam located in Springbank Park.
London was in need of a heathier and stable water infrastructure and it was decided that a natural spring along the Thames River banks (hence the parks name Springbank) would be perfect to provide clean water to its residents. The water from the springs was stored in small collection ponds, one of which still exists behind Story Book Gardens. The London Water Works Dam and Pumphouse was built in 1878 to harness the hydraulic power of the Thames and pump water from these small collection ponds up to a reservoir located at the top of the hill high above the pumphouse and dam. From this point natural gravity would distribute water to key points within London
This was the Start of Springbank Park as we know today and it soon became a popular destination point for Londoners to picnic and spend their leisure time, back then it was referred to as Chestnut Park. In 1881 a second building was built behind the first building to house a steam powered pump for backup. In 1894 a third building was added to connect the two original structures and make one large building.
This pumphouse was in use right until 1967 when water from the great lakes became available, the pumphouse building was abandoned shortly thereafter. Over the years due to flooding and neglect, the abandoned Waterworks Dam has fallen into ruin. However you can see much of the original dam structure on both the north and south shores of the Thames River.
In 1978 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Springbank water works pumphouse and Dam, the building was restore and a commemorative plaque was added. Only a small portion of the building is used today for public washrooms the rest is abandoned.
Here are a couple of other historical facts about the Springbank dam ruins that are very interesting. In 1883 only 2 years after the steam ferry disaster that claimed the lives of 182 people just up the river, flooding from heavy rain swept the Princess Louise Ferry over the dam killing 7 people. In 1899 the propeller boat “Thames” caught on fire and sank just feet in front of the Waterworks Dam. In 1897 Joseph Saunby, who owned the Blackfriars mill upstream from the dam, filed a successful lawsuit against the London Water Commission for raising the water level too high and interfering with his mills water wheel.
Here is an old photograph dated 1880 of London’s Waterworks pumphouse and dam taken from the North Shore. To the left, you can see the Northern Hotel and ferry dock, both of which no longer exist.
The exact location of the abandoned Waterworks Dam and Pumphouse can be found on our abandoned locations database page.