Water Works Museum

Constructed in 1887 as the city’s first water pumping plant, mostly to supply Shreveport’s fire hydrants (most of the houses had their own cisterns to collect rainwater). In 1890 a filtration system was added, and in 1911 Shreveport became one of the first municipal water systems to use chlorine as a disinfectant. In 1980, the water plant was closed down, except for a few pumps that continue to transfer water to nearby Barksdale Air Force Base. The old plant is now a museum and is a National Historic Landmark..

I did a story about the history of chlorinated water at my “Hidden History” blog, here:

https://lflank.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/how-john-leal-put-poison-in-our-drinking-water-and-saved-us-all/

Here are some photos from a visit.

The museum

The machine shop. Originally, this was a wooden coal bunker to store fuel for the boilers. In 1911 it was rebuilt using brick and converted to a machine shop, to make repair parts for all the machinery.

These chutes, also in the machine shop, were used to add chemicals such as lime and alum to the water before it went into the settling tanks.This was done to clarify the water or to adjust the pH.

The boiler. Coal-fired, it produced the high-pressure steam needed by all of the various pumps and equipment.These boilers came from St Louis, and replaced the originals in 1917. They remained in use until 1980.

The main pump room. There were two large steam pumps here, with a third backup in the next room. The original pump room was rebuilt in 1921, using one of the 1898 pumps and a newer pump that was obtained from the city water plant in Tulsa OK.

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Our tour guide points to a conduit used for servicing. Working in here was dirty, loud, hot, cramped, and dangerous.

The service pump room, where the backup pump, made in 1900, was kept.

The settling tanks. Here the water was allowed to flow very slowly downhill, so sediments and solids would settle to the bottom. In the original 1887 plant, these tanks were made of brick, and allowing the water to settle here was the only “treatment” that the city’s water received. These cement tanks were installed in 1926.

The filter room. The metal tanks on the left were added to the plant in the 1890s. Water was pumped in and allowed to percolate down through a filter bed containing gravel and sand. The concrete tanks on the right were added in 1904.

The laboratory. Built on top of the external storage tank (called a “clearwell”), it was used to test the filtered water before it was pumped out to the city.

Inside the lab. In 1911, Shreveport began chlorinating its water using bleach powder, and in 1914 installed one of the country’s first liquid chlorine water treatment machines here inside the lab.

Cross Bayou, which runs into the Red River. This pumping station originally fed water from the Bayou into the treatment plant. In 1911, problems with silting caused the plant to extend a feed pipeline to the Red River.

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3 thoughts on “Water Works Museum

  1. Very interesting stuff. There’s always something sort of — to borrow Lovecraft’s now-overused word — ineffable about infrastructure. All this stuff going on out-of-sight, right under our feet or out at the edge of town, that we take for granted every moment until it breaks, all while knowing next to nothing about it.

  2. The only other water treatment plant I’ve been in was the old one in Clearwater FL, which was converted into the Clearwater Aquarium. All the old settling tanks there were converted into tanks for rescued sea animals (the most famous resident being Winter the Dolphin).

  3. I even got a chance to plug my itty bitty hometown of Pen Argyl PA (population around maybe a thousand). The original 1887 building had a slate roof, and I noted that back then most of the commercial slate in the US came from the Slate Belt in PA, which includes Pen Argyl.

    (Disclaimer, though–although Pen Argyl is my legal residence and is where the van is registered, I am still a Floridian at heart and “Florida” is still my “home”.)

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