Rare glimpse inside Mississippi River water intake towers

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ST. LOUIS – Curt Skouby is taking us on a journey into the history of the City of St. Louis.

‘‘It’s a statement about the prosperity of the city,” says Curt Skouby, Director of Public Utilities for the City of St. Louis.

On Friday we traveled the treacherous waters near the Chain of Rocks Bridge back to 1915, climbing up into water intake tower #2.

‘‘They wanted to do something just not functional but also a statement of how wonderful the city is,” says Skouby.

‘‘Henry Kiel was mayor at the time. These structures are intake towers that bring water into the plant,” he says. ‘‘They’re basically structured around a tube that drops water all the way down into a tunnel that flows into our low service wild water pump station that pumps water into our treatment plant.’

In the 19th century, St. Louisans were used to drinking and bathing in coffee colored water from the Mississippi River.

‘Yes, it’s cut into the rock approximately 70-feet down, slopped toward the pump station,” says Skouby.

Up until the 1920s, crews would camp out for days inside this four-story building, making sure the tubes in this intake tower were working properly.

‘‘When it was being built they had a paddlewheel hidden they sank,” says Skouby. ‘‘The upper decks were out of the water and they used that as storage area for material as they built the tower.”

Are Skouby’s friends envious of his job?

‘‘I don’t know about envy, but I’m popular if I could get them out here. I’ve had a number of them ask,” he says. ‘‘Typically we don’t bring people out here.’

And as we thirsted for info on this Friday the 13th, you could feel and touch the history in this 100-year-old structure.

‘‘It’s part of the city’s history, water division history,’’ says Skouby. ‘’The water division has been operating since 1835. I enjoy the history of it. It’s a good story.”

Sitting in the middle of the Mississippi, it’s a reminder of this city’s past and the progressive thinking for its future.

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