The city of Louisville may have never seen clean, sparkling water had it not been for the work of Charles Hermany, perhaps the most influential chief engineer ever hired by Louisville Water Company. He was born on October 9, 1830, in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. With a knack for mathematics and an interest in civil engineering, Hermany, standing to the left in the photo, set off for Minerva Seminary in Easton, Pennsylvania; but when his struggling family needed help back on the farm, he headed home, continuing his studies on his own. At age twenty-three, Hermany moved to Cleveland, Ohio. He received an engineering job with the city and was hired by Theodore Scowden.
Scowden came to Louisville in 1857 to help design and build the waterworks, and Hermany tagged along as his personal assistant. Once construction was completed, Scowden resigned from his post, and Hermany was promoted to Chief Engineer in 1861. He personally initiated Louisville Water’s “quest for pure water” in 1866, proposing a filter system that used a combination of a subsiding reservoir and filter beds.
The company recognized the need for large-scale filtration, but funding wasn’t available to finance Hermany’s proposal. Capital was eventually raised to build a subsiding reservoir and gatehouse at Crescent Hill, which were completed in 1879. The design of the gatehouse is said to have been inspired by a building which Hermany had seen along the Rhine River on a trip to Germany. He also built the company’s second pumping station and had a hand in designing the Leavitt-Hermany steam-pumping engine inside, which can still be seen at the Smithsonian Institution today.
In 1880, President Charles Long formally backed Hermany’s efforts and pledged $4,000 towards filtration research. Hermany began his own experiments four years later, testing the “slow” sand filters which he had seen on his European tour. These filters proved to be so slow and to clog so quickly that they could not meet the city’s increasing water use. The pursuit then began towards creating a “rapid” sand filter. These experiments by Hermany were followed by the arrival of George Warren Fuller, who was contracted to research this filter technology.
After his departure, Hermany used Fuller’s findings as a spring board to develop and design a filtration plant for Louisville Water that had a clear water basin and filter house. Once construction started, Hermany was quickly closing in on the fulfillment of his life’s work here in Louisville. The Crescent Hill Filtration Plant was completed and began testing in January 1908, featuring a unique filtration system which removed all sediment and 99% of bacteria from the water. Its construction cost $1,889,000. Ironically, Hermany failed to see his hard work come to fruition; he caught a cold at a friend’s funeral, contracted pneumonia, and died on the very day that the first test of the plant was to be made.
Hermany was employed at Louisville Water for over forty-seven years, but his many other achievements were outside of the Louisville waterworks; he helped design utilities in Frankfort, Bowling Green, and Evansville. He founded the Louisville Engineers and Architects Club and was president for five consecutive terms. Hermany was also set to become president of the American Society of Civil Engineers before he passed, a high honor considering his self-taught schooling.