Having water supplied directly to your home or business was once a newsworthy novelty.
Back in October of 1860, the Louisville Daily Journal announced the arrival of water to the city: “We received yesterday through our hydrants the first aquatic installment and from this writing date the success and practical operation of the Louisville Water Works.”
Even after its first full year of operation, Louisville Water had only 562 subscribers. That was miniscule compared to the city’s then-population of more than 68,000 people! But there was a reason people weren’t flocking to the state’s first public waterworks. Not only was the concept of water being supplied directly to your home or business foreign to many people, the Civil War had just begun. People were anxious about the country’s state of affairs and were hesitant to invest in buying water.
So who were the first customers to embrace “aquatic installments” back in 1860?
The City of Louisville, including its fire department, should also be included as one of our earliest customers. Louisville Water was founded in part to supply water to help fight fires. The Court House, now Metro Hall, had a water connection.
Company records are vague and no listing of individual customers exists. However, the 1861 Annual Report includes a “List of Water Consumers” detailing the types of customers supplied. We know from this that 293 residences had water from the Water Works, but we do not know the names or addresses of these subscribers. The list also includes nearly 30 different types of businesses, including stores, bakeries, breweries, boarding houses, pork houses and even banks. Not surprisingly, water-intensive industries were early adopters of the Water Works. These include breweries, dye houses, hospitals, livery stables, restaurants and tobacco factories. Perhaps more surprising: A high proportion of banks and stores also connected to the distribution system. This might represent business leaders and owners wanting to be progressive and offering a new service that sets them apart.
Only a handful of actual early users can be identified, but some of them are still around today. Louisville Gas, which became LG&E, is one. They needed a tremendous amount of water to condense the hot gas. The Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization, is another. Others include Louisville City Hospital, which eventually morphed into University Hospital, and the Louisville Daily Journal, which eventually became a part of The Courier-Journal
Even though they may be at different addresses and some companies have been melded into new entities, these organizations and businesses can be considered our longest standing customers with more than 155 years of support!
As for the rest of Louisville in 1860, they embraced the water works in time. After the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, the business climate greatly improved. Water became a much sought after commodity and the company slowly and steadily grew from a pumping capacity of 12 million gallons and 26 miles of pipe to the regional company you recognize today.
Louisville Water currently has more than 4,100 miles of pipe and our service area includes retail and wholesale delivery to all or parts of Jefferson, Oldham, Shelby, Franklin, Meade, Bullitt, Spencer, Hardin and Nelson counties.
What's that photo of? It's a driven ferrule from 1860. It connected the distribution main and the service line to the customer’s house or business.