Pumping Station House – Raleigh, North Carolina - Atlas Obscura
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Raleigh, North Carolina

Pumping Station House

A water pumping station disguised as a residential home to assuage concerned neighbors now tricks most passersby. 

Every neighborhood has that house where no one seems to live. Stories fly around about it, explanations get wilder and wilder. In a neighborhood 15 minutes from downtown Raleigh, the explanation for that house is quite simple: It’s actually pumping station for the city’s public water utilities.

In the late 1970s, the city determined that that location was the perfect place for a pumping station, the function of which would be to keep water moving uphill and forward so that showers and sinks in the area would work. There was a problem, though: The location was in a residential area, and quite close to a church.

Pumping stations, in their natural form, tend to be loud and ugly. This was a problem for the potential neighbors, and so after a meeting with the church’s congregation, the city decided to build there, but to make the station look like just another house in the neighborhood, with columns flanking the front door and shutters on the windows, and use cinder blocks to give the walls enough thickness that they would significantly dampen the noise of the pumps within.

It worked like a charm, and even more than that. Most people who go by the house don’t notice how many things are off about it. The porch lights go on at night, but no lights ever come from the windows, which are blocked from the inside. There is no mailbox, driveway, or walkway to the door out front, just trees and grass. The front door has a keyhole, but no key could make it very far into the hole, and if someone somehow managed to get through the front door, they would be greeted by a brick wall.

This disguise as a residential house also protects the pumping station from vandalism, which plagues more remote pumping stations that are obviously not someone’s home. It does not protect the station from the impact of major storms, which is why, after power was lost during a hurricane in 1996, a large transformer and generator was installed behind the house to keep it working in case another storm comes along and knocks out the power.

As for the station itself, inside the house, it consists of three large, sea foam green pumps that take turns pumping 45 million gallons of water per day. There are also, as might be imagined, a lot of pipes. HVAC vents are hidden on the side and in the front of the house. There are many pumping stations around Raleigh, but this is the only one that looks like a house.

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