Building the Louisville Water Works

Earliest Known Image of the Louisville Water Works

The ornate architectural styling of Louisville Water’s original pumping station belies its purely utilitarian purpose to pump water from the Ohio River. Chief engineer, Theodore Scowden is credited with designing Louisville’s Water Works and he most likely used the classical designs of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Water Works, built in 1812, as his source of inspiration. Based on the Palladian style of architecture with a central main block (the pump house), flanked by two attached wings (boiler houses) and detached dependencies (coal houses) the exterior of the building, completed in 1860, is a fine example of the classical revival style. This “temple” was an attractive culminating point of a visitor’s travel from the industrial and crowded downtown Louisville to the healthful landscaped park-like setting of the grounds.

Local labor built the original Water Works. One of the contractors, Worden P. Hahn, advertised for over 600 workers to dig out the reservoir, quarry the stone and build the foundations for the station. The twin Cornish pumps were cast at the Roach and Long Foundry. Parts of the pump weighed 22-tons and required 80 horses to pull them to the site. The decorative terra cotta details were also made in town by the firm owned by Patrick Bannon.

The structures, long a source of pride to the company and community, have gone through many uses and physical changes. By the early 20th century, the pumping station was relegated to back-up status. The Cornish engines were removed in 1911 and a centrifugal pump installed that operated until 1928. There was talk of tearing down the old station and water tower. Less than a decade later, with the urging of Louisville Water president, Joseph Scholtz, the building was restored and the interior altered for a garage and warehouse. In the 1960s, Louisville Water rented the station to the University of Louisville for its Potamological Institute. The station was renovated again for gallery space for the Louisville Visual Art Association, which occupied the building until October 2012.

Now, Louisville Water will renovate the pump station once again, this time converting part of the space into the Louisville WaterWorks Museum, scheduled to open in the fall of 2013. The museum’s goal is to tell the story of Louisville Water and its innovative approach to providing safe and high quality water to its consumers.

Link to Building the Louisville Water Works digital image collection on Flickr.