The Louisville Water Company will begin a $2.6 million renovation project this month to restore its original Pumping Station. The white building next to the iconic Water Tower on River Road, now on the National Historic Registry, was built in 1860 to house the city’s original water works steam engines that pumped water from the Ohio River.
The renovation will restore the building’s interior to closely resemble its original pre-Civil War condition. K. Norman Berry Architects designed the project, which will be carried out by Badgett Construction. A new Water Works Museum will also be installed in the west wing of Pumping Station No. 1 to showcase the Water Tower’s photographic archives and historic artifacts and help the Water Company carry out its mission of public education.
“We have hundreds of archival photographs that date back to the 1860s. We actually have a film the water company made in 1938. We have pieces of the original water system, old cast-iron mains,” says spokesperson Kelley Dearing Smith. “We have a lot of things we can use to tell not only our story, but how the city grew as well.”
Louisville’s Solid Light museum and exhibit design firm will design the space. The Water Company’s archives include more than 1,000 photographs and handwritten correspondence between the public and the water works, including the original tariffs for water usage.
“When the water company started, you didn’t get a water bill. You had someone who came to your house or your log cabin and said tell me about your log cabin. Do you want a faucet? Do you have a cow? Because that’s an extra dollar,” says Smith. “From a history perspective and an educational perspective, it’s great because it’s all first-person. So we have their words, their details.”
Smith says these materials show the Water Company is more than a public utility—its history mirrors the history of the city at large.
“I always like to say we’re a lifeline. Everything you do, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, it revolves around water,” says Smith, who wrote a book on the water company’s history in 2010. “So our story’s closely tied to the city’s story.”
The building is the former home of the Louisville Visual Art Association, which leased the facility from the Water Company for 32 years. LVAA moved to interim offices on West Main Street last year.
Smith says the Water Company will still lease space on the site for weddings and other special events.