COVID restrictions are loosening, and summer is beckoning! I have my immunizations and it is time to hit the road! The Natchitoches Parish Journal is on the hunt for family-friendly destinations. “Kevin Hits the Road” will feature free or inexpensive places in our state you can travel to with a tank of gas or less. If you and your family are suffering from pandemic induced cabin fever, this occasional feature is the cure! (Besides, quite a few of my readers would love to tell me where I could go-well here is your chance.)
The Shreveport Waterworks Museum and Railway Museum
142 North Common St, Shreveport, LA
Built in 1887, the Shreveport Water Works Museum is a little-known delight in North Shreveport. The museum is a rare example of a steam powered water works and is both a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. All of the plant’s original equipment is still in place, from the 1917 era boilers to the pumps that drew water up 47 feet from Cross Bayou and sent it throughout the city. Tools and oil cans sit on workbenches as if the workers will take up where they left off. The biggest wrench in the museum’s collection is made from cast iron and weighs 180 lbs. It took two workers to hold it in place as a third moved it by hitting the handle with a sledgehammer.
At one point in its history, Shreveport boasted of some of the best quality water of any municipal system in the country, all the more noteworthy since the water originated from Cross Bayou and had a lot of sediment. The Shreveport water works began using chlorine to disinfect the water in 1911, years ahead of most of America. The Heine boilers you see were installed in 1917 when the plant went from coal to gas power and were used continuously until 1980 when electrical power was used until the plant’s closing in 1992. The plant’s five pumps were capable of sending 10 million gallons of pure water into Shreveport.
My tour guide for the morning was Christopher Tonnies, a 2019 alumnus of the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts, who is working at the museum while on break from his studies in Aeronautical Engineering, a field a bit more modern than the steam powered world of his summer job. Nonetheless, an engineer’s love of machinery and problem solving is evident in Mr. Tonnies’ extensive knowledge of the plant, its machinery and history. His knowledge and enthusiasm made a tour of this fascinating place all the better.
The Shreveport Railway Museum is housed in a building next to the water works. The museum hosts an eclectic collection of railway memorabilia and is an educational and fun stop for railway fans and history buffs alike.
Both of these superb destinations don’t cost a dime to visit. The museums provide a glimpse into a world of steam power from an earlier era, not all that far removed from our own.