Except for history buffs, architecture geeks and water-services types, not too many Nashvillians ever gave much antediluvian thought to the Omohundro Water Treatment Plant.
The flood — and subsequent water crisis — changed that.
When the 32-year-old K.R. Harrington Water Plant in Donelson went, ironically, underwater, the city was forced to rely on an old friend in a
time of need.
The Omohundro plant opened as the George Reyer Pumping Station in 1889, but it’s actually a successor
to pumps located on the riverbank from the 1870s. Some of those still pull water out of the Cumberland.
Filtration was added in 1929, and the whole operation ran on steam until it was electrified in 1953.
More than 120 years after its birth, the Omohundro became the stoic, unlikely hero of post-flood Music City. Protected by a ring of sandbags placed by Davidson County jail inmates, the Omohundro came within 8 inches of being breached. Hanging tight, encircled by the sandbags and the suddenly dangerous Cumberland River, the Omohundro did its job and the job of its much-younger brother, which remains out of commission.
Like an elder statesman pressed into service at a time of crisis — think Adlai Stevenson at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis telling the Soviet United Nations ambassador he’d wait for an answer “until hell freezes over” — the Omohundro was up to the task.
And like that elder statesman, the Omohundro has a dignity a new building simply can’t match. It’s considered an architectural treasure, a relic of a bygone time when civic buildings were palaces. It’s all red brick and tile and panes of glorious glass recalling a church. In a 1996 edition of the Nashville Scene, one architect called it a “basilican shrine to the water god.”
Now the shrine is savior to a city at the same time wet and thirsty.