Only in Louisville:
Louisville Water Company


Profile by Angela Weisser

If the words “Louisville Water Tower” invoke the image of an ornate, stark-white structure piercing a cerulean sky, it’s for a good reason.  It’s a superstar among the city’s historic icons--an image that’s been ingrained in the collective unconscious of many Louisvillians since it was built on the banks of the Ohio in 1860.  And well, if you’ve ever driven down Zorn Avenue, it’s hard to miss.

That eye-catching tower isn’t just a handsome design. Even though the architect, Theodore Scowden, did envision it as a welcoming landmark easily spotted by Ohio River travelers, it was constructed with a purpose.  Inside the tower is a pipe that served as an outlet--a surge protector of sorts--so the steam engines that powered the water pumps wouldn’t implode the building.  The pumps were removed in 1910, leaving a space that was used as storage for the company in the 1930s, a river institute for the University of Louisville in the 1960s, and was most recently home to a local arts organization.  The brown buildings just to the left of the original structures now house the two active pumping stations. Combined, they can pull up to 200 million gallons of river water per day.

Louisville Water completed an exterior renovation that restored Scowden's purposeful design in 2010 and then in 2012, reclaimed the interior and began a second restoration to create the WaterWorks Museum.  Tied into the renovation is a re-branding effort to turn the Louisville Water Tower into a community destination--the Louisville Water Tower Park.

The museum, which celebrated its grand opening on March 1, 2014 is open for tours, school field trips, private outings and weddings, and highlights Louisville Water’s extensive archive of historic photographs, films and memorabilia. The museum also showcases the company’s contributions to water delivery through its innovations in science, engineering and architecture. The purpose of the exhibit is to help the public understand how water works in the community, and how it’s worked for 153 years.

One notable exhibit is a piece of original water main from 1860.  Only part of it will be on display, however, since a portion of it--laid when Abraham Lincoln was president--is still in the ground along Story Avenue.  It’s been cleaned over the years and lined with cement, but it is still delivering clean water to the public. 

Through the museum, Louisville Water also aims to show the public that their community involvement goes beyond what comes out of the faucet; that they are entwined in the community in a lot of different ways.  They are a lifeline--water makes it possible for schools to open, for hospitals and firefighters to save lives, even for the public to swim in a pool during the summer.   Louisville Water also offers a place for the community to gather--consider the Crescent Hill Reservoir that attracts visitors and exercise enthusiasts year-round.

The Louisville pure tap® promotion will also have a display in the museum.  In 1996, Louisville Water became first utility to trademark tap water, and it did so because they wanted a platform to talk about the value and quality of their product.  What began as a marketing tool is now a full-fledged program that offers reusable bottles, cups and mobile water stations to events such as the Kentucky Derby Festival, schools hosting walk-a-thons, and sports teams.  Even the general public can benefit from this promotion.  Supplies for any event you wish to host can be provided at no cost.

The Louisville Water company has served as a model since its inception over 150 years ago.  Not only did Louisville pioneer the filters that water utilities use today back in 1896, but they continue to innovate their product and re-create themselves as more than a utility. From an all-encompassing museum to showcase the history, science and architecture of the company, to a truly local product that has consistently been voted “The Best-Tasting Tap Water in North America,” and their efforts to educate the public on what they provide beyond the tap, all serve to make sure their customers will never look at a glass of water the same way again.

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