Census offers glimpse of life and work in 1860

By Jay Ferguson, Louisville Water Museum Education Specialist

The U.S. Constitution mandates a national census every ten years. This year marks the 24th time the U.S. Census has been taken since the first one in 1790.

One hundred and sixty years ago, the 1860 Census documented the men, women and children living on the grounds of the water works. This gives us a glimpse of what life was like at the Zorn Avenue pumping station as it was being constructed.

Louisville Water Tower 1860Nearly 150 people (71 single men and 18 families) lived and worked on the pumping station grounds. We can assume that the families, some housing a boarder, lived in close proximity with the single men, most of whom were unskilled day laborers.

The families ranged in size from a few young married couples up to seven people in a household. The oldest children were teenagers. The youngest was 6 months old.

The average family was a family of four—two parents, both born in Ireland, with two young children. The average father was 35 years old and worked as a day laborer. The average mother was 29 and had no listed occupation. The average oldest child was four and a half years old and was not born in Kentucky.

It was a difficult time for these immigrants. Families often had to move from state to state to look for work. A search of the 1865 Louisville directory showed that none of the families remained in the city. When the pumping station was finished, the families most likely packed up and moved on to look for another large construction job.

Today, Louisville Water works with many local construction contractors. They are expected to represent the company’s values — including our focus on safety, diversity, high quality, and earning our customers’ trust — as they work on the company’s projects in the community.