A Lighthouse, a Tower, and a Landmark

This story appeared in last month’s issue of the virtual Frazier History Museum newsletter to their subscribers. It was written by Kelley Dearing Smith, Vice President of Communciations and Marketing at Louisville Water. To see the water tower replica in person, plus lots of other cool iconic items from the state, visit the Cool Kentucky exhibit.

It’s easy to spot the oldest ornamental water tower in the United States. There’s a replica in the Frazier’s Cool Kentucky exhibition, and the real tower stands on the banks of the Ohio River, the same place it’s stood since 1860.

The Louisville Water Tower was part of Louisville Water Company’s original operations to deliver drinking water to our city. But why such a grand structure with columns, statues, and decorative details for water? That’s because in 1860, Louisville Water was marketing a product that no one really used.

You could get water for free from a well and most people only took a bath once a week; so, who needed a faucet in their house? The water from Louisville Water was cleaner than the well water but the founders knew they’d need to convince residents to buy it. So Theodore Scowden, who designed the Louisville Water Tower, wrote that the city’s facilities would be “the most elegant for water works in the country.” And, with such grand structures, the citizens of Louisville would come to love the water!

The tower’s design complimented the adjacent pumping station with its Classical Revival style. (The pumping station resembles the White House.) Besides being an ornamental 170-foot structure, the tower did have a purpose. Inside was a large pipe to control the pressure from the steam engines that pulled water from the Ohio River. The tower also served as a lighthouse for travelers coming to Louisville by boat. Upon seeing the tower, travelers knew the city as just minutes away.

The Louisville Water Tower may no longer be part of the production of our drinking water, but it’s still a testament to the engineering and quality that’s in every glass of water. The tower and the pumping station are National Historic Landmarks and home to the WaterWorks Museum, which tells the story of our drinking water. And, you could say the tower is still a lighthouse — a light at the top shines a beam towards the river. And yes, Louisville Water employees occasionally have to climb to the top to change the bulb!

You can see the details of the Louisville Water Tower up close with the model in the Cool Kentucky exhibition. You can also enjoy Louisville Water’s product with our new bottle filling stations. Of course, if you live in Louisville, you also have the tasty water at your house. Louisville Water is known for high-quality and great-tasting drinking water. In addition to the oldest water tower, Louisville is the only place where you’ll find a branded name for drinking water — it’s called Louisville pure tap®. Cheers!