In a park off of River Road, nearly hidden by scrubby grass is a mystery: an about 50-foot wide stone circle marking long-ago infrastructure.
This ring intrigued Curious Louisville listener Jim Turner, and he asked about it.
“I heard [the circle] was a wading pool administered by the Louisville Water Company in the late 1800’s. Is that true?” he wrote.
Turner grew up in Louisville, not far from the stone circle. He remembers riding his bike from Field Elementary to the waterworks on Zorn Avenue.
“The waterworks was my playground because I grew up very close to it. I rode along and through the waterworks property going places I probably shouldn’t sometimes. But when you’re a kid, an indestructible kid, adventurous, that’s what you do.”
So when one day Turner saw an old picture, taken from the distance that appeared to show a body of water — he thought maybe a pool — at the site of the stone circle, it made him curious.
Turns out, this stone ring in that’s now in a fairly inauspicious place — the Champions Park dog run — was actually part of a lofty nineteenth century vision of a genteel Louisville lifestyle, made possible by pumped household water:
“The grounds will furnish our citizens with a delightful place of public resort where the man of business can find recreation from toil and oblivion of care, women and children obtain unrestricted exercise and amusement in the open air and the infirm consult heaven’s pure atmosphere and the genial sunlight as their medical advisors.”
That’s from around 1860, when the Louisville Water Company began pumping water. And it’s a description of the park around the stone circle. Louisville Water spokeswoman Kelley Dearing Smith said she believes it was written by Charles Hermony, the company’s chief engineer and superintendent.
In 1860, the water company’s major infrastructure was all located near the intersection of Zorn Avenue and River Road. There was the water tower and pump station; those are still standing. There was the city’s original reservoir, which was on a bluff where the Veterans’ Hospital is located today. And across the street, at the current site of the Champions Park dog run, was Water Works Park.
A central attraction of the park was this fountain. And in 1860, it was an engineering marvel.
“So what they did is, they took the pressure that was coming off of the water in the reservoir — because it’s on a bluff right behind us,” Dearing Smith said. “And that pressure helped the water to shoot up into the air from the fountain.”
Unfortunately, Hermony’s vision was never really fully realized. Dearing Smith said the park was damaged shortly after it was built, by soldiers walking through on their way to fight in the Civil War. There were also possibly some other problems with upkeep, and with the park not being the attraction it was expected to be. By 1879, Louisville Water had built its current Crescent Hill reservoir, and the original reservoir wasn’t needed.
That stone circle is what’s still visible of the fountain. If you go into the dog park today, it’s hard to miss: it’s the site where all the little plastic wading pools are gathered, to help small dogs cool off in the summer.
And Jim Turner wasn’t the only person to wonder about it. We’ve gotten a few questions at Curious Louisville, and Dearing Smith has fielded some at Louisville Water, too. Sometime this spring, Louisville Water and Metro Parks plan to put a sign at the site, so everyone who comes to the Champions Park dog run will know the history of Water Works Park.
Have a question of your own? Type it in the form below, or at CuriousLouisville.org.