The Old Water Tower
A Look Back at the Former Jeffersontown Landmark
Writer / Beth Wilder, Director
Jeffersontown Historical Museum
Remember the good old days, when water towers served as community landmarks? They were always the tallest thing around, so from a distance, directions could easily be given in relation to wherever the water tower stood. And people seemed to love them, as if they were part of the family – everyone was broken-hearted whenever news arrived that “the old water tower” would be torn down. It happened everywhere that a water tower became outdated. In Jeffersontown, it happened in 1975, and residents still bemoan the fact that the old water tower is no longer there.
Jeffersontown’s first water tower was erected in 1937 at a cost of $20,000. As of 1934, the local town council was still debating whether to have a public waterworks, even though they had apparently passed an ordinance in 1933 to create one. When Jeffersontown postman Lud M. Bryan retired in 1938, it was remarked upon that he “seemed a bit glad to be rid of the accumulation now that water works in the town calls for an additional sheaf of monthly statements.”
Obviously, the construction of the water tower must have coincided with the decision to have a local waterworks. A 1940 Jeffersonian newspaper article explained how the Louisville Water Company thought it would be wise for all the communities in Jefferson County to obtain an adequate water supply and modern facilities, but it would be the responsibility of the inhabitants of each town to decide to invest in their own systems, since it would take a great deal of organization to solve any problems and needs that each individual community would face, as well as a financial investment in the initial construction of each local water system. Jeffersontown created its first water commission in 1940, and a 1947 news article noted that it was a good example of a city that bought water from Louisville, but handled all its own bookkeeping and meter reading. The water company only had to present a single bill and was “relieved of all the details.”
Jeffersontown even maintained its own tank tower that supplied the local water supply distribution. In 1951, a building was constructed at the foot of the water tower on Taylorsville Road to house the local Water Commission.
Of course, as the boundaries of Jeffersontown expanded, and its population grew, the need for more available water increased. In 1956, Jeffersontown installed a second 100,000-gallon water tank at Watterson Trail and Locust Avenue. The new tank operated in conjunction with the old one near the town square and connected to the existing water mains. Two years later, city leaders were already noting the fact that Jeffersontown needed an even larger water supply, and in 1967, plans were underway to place a new 500,000-gallon water tank in the Bluegrass Industrial Park at a cost of $100,000.
By 1975, Jeffersontown’s first water tower – that beloved green metal giant that dominated the town square since 1937 – had rusted and sprung a leak. It was not considered worth the effort to repair, so piece by piece, it was torn down and the controls diverted to the 500,000-gallon tank at Watterson Trail and Bluegrass Parkway. Commissioners agreed that the old water tower was a “landmark” in Jeffersontown, and they even suggested that portions of the tower could be donated to local historical societies. That, in fact, did happen, and the Jeffersontown Historical Museum is the proud custodian of not only the first piece of metal cut from the tower, but its water gauge and Caldwell Company installation plaque from 1937.
The old water tower has been gone for more than four decades now, but it remains a fixture in the minds of residents who grew up with it as a centerpiece to their memories of the town square. The giant metal tank that towered 100 feet over the city not only held the town’s water, but its sentiment as well. Some things, you just never forget, and Jeffersontown’s old water tower will always be one of them.