While walking the steep path that leads down to East Quad, you may have noticed a small, dilapidated house situated off to the side, between the path and the Usdan Student Center. Yet, it’s just as likely that you overlooked it—the structure appears ordinary and unimposing, tucked away in a small corner of upper campus and dwarfed by larger campus fixtures that are part of your daily routine like the Usen Castle and the Rabb steps. The house and a small parcel of land surrounding the house are not technically Brandeis University property but are instead owned by the city of Waltham. 

The house is a relic of what was once a functioning pump house, a structure in which the pumps of an irrigation system are stored and operated. During the time period when Middlesex University was located on what is now Brandeis’ campus, Waltham’s water supply came predominantly from wells near the Charles River. If you wanted to hit up Lower Usdan in 1950 for a panini, you’d be disappointed to find a small, open-air reservoir located where Usdan exists now. Water was pumped from these wells to the reservoir. 

The city still owns the seemingly arbitrary strip of land on which the pump house is built, probably because it’s part of their modern water supply infrastructure system. Large pipes run the length of the floor, and Supervisor of Grounds and Vehicles Dennis Finn speculates that at least one of these pumps is part of the current water system that includes the water tank behind Golding Judiac Center, which serves as the present-day reservoir. In fact, it’s no coincidence that Brandeis has been the source of water for the city throughout the years as it is one of the highest altitude locations in the city. In most water systems, water is either collected in high places or pumped up to high storage structures, such as water tanks or reservoirs, and then allowed to flow downhill through the pipes.

Although there are probably live pipes in the house, the derelict structure is in a state of decay with no one actively maintaining the house. That being said, most of the antique pump equipment is still preserved inside the house, including single-cylinder diesel engines and an old compressor that ran the air drive starters. “For those of us involved with mechanics and engines, this antique equipment is a great find,” Finn wrote in an email to the Justice.  

—“’Deis Discoveries” is a series that uncovers the stories behind the buildings, artwork and other features of our campus. Email Rose Gittell at features@thejustice.org if you have a quirky campus fixture you want the full story behind.