A century ago, a new engineer made a big splash

By Jay Ferguson, Louisville Water Museum Specialist

One hundred years ago this month, two local decisions were made that still have a great impact in our lives: Daylight Savings Time was signed into law by Louisville Mayor Huston Quin and John Chambers became Louisville Water’s new Chief Engineer.

The resignation of Chief Engineer James B. Wilson on April 5, 1921 began a series of events that would forever impact Louisville Water. The heir apparent, City Engineer John Chambers, accepted the offer to fill Wilson’s vacated position, where he remained until his death on January 20, 1937.

Throughout his Louisville Water career, Louisville-born Chambers worked to strengthen and increase the water supply to the quickly growing city and its suburbs. New and larger water mains supplied more water and reached new areas. Pumping capacity increased. Facilities at the Crescent Hill Water Treatment Plant were enlarged. The Cardinal Hill Reservoir maintained constant water pressure in the distant southern section of Louisville. Chambers also pushed to finally accomplish universal metering and the modernization of the company’s accounting and billing system.

For over a decade, the underutilized 1860 Pumping Station and Louisville Water Tower were allowed to deteriorate; there was talk of razing the two. Louisville Water President John Smoltz and Chambers, who “fought with all his might” (according to a Courier-Journal article), came to the rescue to save the historic structures.

The Corinthian-style pumping station was rehabilitated into a warehouse, garage and workshop. Another Courier-Journal article called it “one of Louisville’s most beautiful buildings.” Chambers died 10 days after that article was published as a swollen Ohio River overflowed its banks. After the flood’s devastation, the pumping station was once again restored to remain a crowning jewel in Chambers’ legacy.