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Metro Newsroom

Louisville Water Plans Interior Restoration of Historic Pumping Station

Friday August 24, 2012

More than 150 years of Louisville Water Company history will be preserved, renovated and put on display as part of an interior restoration of the company’s original Pumping Station, a National Historic Landmark. The facility, at Zorn Avenue and River Road, opened in 1860, as part of the original Water Works. The U.S. Government declared the station and the Louisville Water Tower National Historic Landmarks in 1971.

This restoration will restore Pumping Station No. 1 to closely resemble its original condition when it was constructed between 1858 and 1860. The project includes structural repairs and upgrades to electrical, fire protection and lighting systems. The restoration work includes removing layers of paint to the original material and then re-painting. The cast-iron spiral staircase, which is original to the building, will also be restored.

Exterior renovation projects on both the Water Tower and Pumping Station were completed in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

“Louisville Water’s history is Louisville’s history and it is rich with scientific and engineering innovation and architectural achievement,” said Louisville Water President & CEO Greg Heitzman. “This project is part of our longstanding commitment to preserve the infrastructure and stories about the people who have guided us to where we are today.”

Along with the restoration, Louisville Water will develop the Louisville Water Works Museum within the Pumping Station. The museum will include photographs, film and interactive displays that tell the story of how Louisville Water has helped shaped the city’s past and present.

Positive response to a 2010-11 anniversary exhibit at the Frazier History Museum entitled “Water Works: 150 Years of Louisville Water Company” fueled the idea of incorporating a museum into the preservation plans. Many of the elements of that exhibit will be incorporated into the Water Works Museum.

“Each year thousands of people tour the historic structures as part of strong collaborations we’ve developed with local schools and community organizations,” said Louisville Water Strategic Communications Manager Kelley Dearing Smith. “We see the Water Works Museum as natural and positive extensions of the education work we already do within our community.”

Louisville Water will begin construction in early 2013 with a project opening date of mid-September, 2013.

Work on the Pumping Station is scheduled to begin this fall and is projected for completion by the summer of 2013. The “Water Works” Museum is planned to open in October of 2013. The budget for the project is $2.4 million.

The Louisville Visual Art Association, which has been a tenant at Pumping Station No. 1 since the 1970s will vacate the property by the end of 2012. Louisville Water intends to continue leasing the historic structure for indoor and outdoor events. To better accommodate rentals, the renovation project includes the installation of a catering kitchen. 

Louisville Water’s original Pumping Station and Water Tower have stood on the banks of the Ohio River for 150 years, serving as a visual landmark for the city of Louisville and the water utility that bears its name. Designed by Theodore Scowden and his assistant Charles Hermany, the Pumping Station housed the Cornish steam engines that were part of the water company’s operations when it began in October 1860. Scowden designed the station in Classical Revival to resemble a two-story temple with wings on either side. The structure includes a slate roof and terra-cotta and cast iron decorative elements.

The Cornish engines operated almost daily in the Pumping Station until 1912. Once retired from service, the station was a garage and warehouse and housed a University of Louisville River Institute. The Louisville Visual Art Association began leasing the space in the 1970s.

In 1971, the U.S. Government designated the Pumping Station and Water Tower National Historic Landmarks. The Secretary of the Interior at the time called the tower “one of the finest examples of industrial architecture in the world.”