Steeped in history and standing 185 feet tall, the Louisville Water Tower is an iconic landmark along the Ohio River. Though no longer operational for today’s water production, the tower was built in 1860 for the original water works. The tower encloses a standpipe that helped control the force of giant steam engines that pulled water from the Ohio River for Louisville Water’s operations.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971, the Louisville Water Tower will undergo a large restoration this year. Crews are installing scaffolding to enclose the tower for an eight-month project that includes:
- Replacing metal portions on the exterior with zinc to prevent the metals from destroying one another
- Fixing moisture buildup inside the tower with a ventilation system
- Removing decayed wood on the balustrade and recreating it to match its appearance
- Repainting the tower
The project follows an investigation by Louisville firm K. Norman Berry Associates Architects that included lab analysis of the tower’s materials and archival research. Restoring the tower is the second phase of this project. The first part was removing the 10 statues that sit on the balustrade. The statues were removed in late 2020 and are being restored at an architectural entity in Washington, D.C.
Maintaining a national landmark and a source of pride
The Louisville Water Tower is the oldest standing water tower of its kind in the United States. Designed by engineer Theodore Scowden and his assistant Charles Hermany, the tower and the accompanying pumping station are Classical Revival style. Hermany wrote the tower would be “the principal of order and beauty, inseparable from the utility.” In 1860, the site was a landmark for those traveling on the Ohio River and that source of pride continues today.
Louisville Water used the tower and pumping station as part of production until 1910. The facilities were named National Historic Landmarks in 1971 and in 2014 Louisville Water opened the WaterWorks Museum inside the pumping station. This project includes repainting the outside of the pumping station, configuring the landscaping to address drainage issues, and updating windows and doors. Inside, new panels will create a sound buffer for optimal acoustics. Louisville Water will also update the exhibits in the WaterWorks Museum that tell the story of Louisville’s drinking water.
This is not the Water Tower’s first major overhaul. A tornado in 1890 toppled the shaft of the then-wooden structure. It crushed much of the brick base of the balustrade. Only two of the statues survived. The tower was rebuilt with cast iron inside to withstand nature’s wrath should it strike again.
In the early 90s, the Water Tower and its 10 statues endured their first major restoration. Workers rebuilt the tower shaft, replaced ribbing, repainted the entire tower, and placed a new dome on top. A smaller restoration followed in 2008.
Timeline to Completion
Louisville Water expects to complete the restoration by the spring of 2023. At that time, the statues will return to the tower, the WaterWorks Museum reopens to the public, and rental events resume.
Louisville Water has budgeted $6.2 million for the restoration for the Louisville Water Tower along with the work at Pumping Station No. 1. Corbett Construction will oversee the project along with K. Norman Berry Associates.
Louisville Water is committed to preserving this National Historic Landmark as it symbolizes the quality and innovation the company has embodied for more than 160 years. We look forward to welcoming you back to Louisville Water Tower Park for events when we reopen.