Louisville Water Tower
Louisville Water Company Pumping Station
|Architectural style||Classical Revival|
|Governing body||Louisville Visual Arts Association|
|NRHP Reference #||71000348 |
|Added to NRHP||November 11, 1971|
The Water Tower of Louisville, Kentucky (1856), is the oldest ornamental water tower in the world, having been built before the more famous Chicago Water Tower. Both the actual water tower and its pumping station are on the National Register of Historic Places. As with the Fairmount Water Works of Philadelphia (designed 1812, built 1819-22), the industrial nature of its pumping station was disguised in the form of a Greek temple complex.
Unknown to residents at the time, the lack of a safe water supply presented a significant health risk to the city. After the arrival of the second cholera pandemic in the United States (1832), Louisville in the 1830s and 40s gained the nickname "graveyard of the west", due to the polluted local water giving Louisville residents cholera and typhoid at epidemic levels. This was because residents used the water of tainted private wells, but the linkage was not discovered until 1854 by the English physician John Snow, and not accepted as fact until decades later. Due to the water project's completion in 1866, Louisville was free of cholera during the epidemic of 1873. 
After several devastating fires in the 1850s, Louisvillians were convinced of the importance of the project. The decision was made by the Kentucky Legislature to form the Louisville Water Company on March 6, 1854. Private investors showed little interest and so after only 55 shares had been sold and the failure of a first attempt to secure voter approval to buy shares, the project was widely promoted. In 1856 voters approved purchase of 5500 shares in 1856, and another 2200 shares in 1859, transforming it into an almost completely government-owned corporation.
The inspiration for the architecture of Louisville's Water Tower came from the French architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux, who merged "architectural beauty with industrial efficiency". It was decided to render the water station an ornament to the city, to make skeptical Louisvillians more accepting of a water company. Theodore Scowden and his assistant Charles Hermany were the architects of the structures. They chose an area just outside of town, on a hill overlooking the Ohio River, which provided excellent elevation. The location also meant that coal boats could easily deliver the coal necessary to operate the station. The main column, of the Doric order, rises 183 feet (55.8 m) out of a Corinthian portico surrounding its base. The portico is surmounted by a wooden balustrade with ten pedestals also constructed of wood, originally supporting painted cast-zinc statues from J. W. Fiske & Company, ornamental cast-iron manufacturers of New York, which depicted Greco-Roman deities, the four seasons, and an Indian hunter with his dog. Even the reservoir's gatehouse on the riverfront invoked the castles along the Rhine.
The water tower began operations on October 16, 1860. The tower was not just pretty; it was effective. In 24 hours the station could produce 12 million US gallons (45,000 m³) of water. This water, in turn, flowed through 26 miles (42 km) of pipe.
A tornado on March 27, 1890 irreparably changed the Water Tower. The original water tower had an iron pipe protected by a wood-paneled shaft, but after the tornado destroyed it, it was replaced with cast iron. The tornado also destroyed all but two of the ten statues that were on the pedestals. Shortly thereafter, a new pumping station and reservoirs were built in Crescent Hill, and the original water tower ceased pumping operations in 1909. The pumping station was last renovated in 2010.
In 2013, the Louisville Water Company began an interior restoration of the pumping station, scheduled to be completed by Fall 2013. The renovated facility will be home to the WaterWorks Museum in the West Wing, an open Main Gallery, and an East Wing with a lobby, warming kitchen, gift shop, and new restrooms. The Louisville Water Company manages the space, and plans to utilize it to provide education to students, the community, and tourists, and will also continue to rent the facility and grounds for special events.
View of the tower from Duffy's Landing in Jeffersonville, Indiana
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- Baird, Nancy D. (2001), "Epidemics", in Klebe, John E., Encyclopedia of Louisville, University Press of Kentucky, p. 273
- Louisville Sweet Sixteen
- Morton pg.3
- Yater, George H. (2001), "Louisville Water Company", in Klebe, John E., Encyclopedia of Louisville, University Press of Kentucky, p. 567
- Morton III, W. Brown. Louisville Water Company Pumping Station NRHP Nomination Form (National Historic Surveys, 1971) pg.3
- Images of Water Company Pumping Station by Scowden in Louisville, Kentucky
- About Us History
- "Water Co. station getting new look Renovation affects some weddings", The Louisville Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY: The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times Company), January 24, 2010: B2
- KY:Historical Society - Historical Marker Database - Search for Markers