New Book Features Memphis Light, Gas & Water Pumping Stations

Photo courtesy James K. Ingram

You probably drive by these massive structures on North Parkway, Southern, Summer, and elsewhere in the city without even thinking about them, and that's a shame, because they play a critical role in our city.

No, I'm not talking about the buildings on the grounds of the Lauderdale Estate. Instead, I'm referring to the complex of Memphis Light, Gas and Water pumping stations, which supply a clean and steady source of water to every home, business, factory, and every place else in Memphis.

James Ingram, a longtime MLGW employee, has just published a very handsome book that takes a close look at these stations, inside and out, and it's packed with really wonderful information. The book has a lengthy title, which gives you a good idea of what it covers: Memphis Water Works Pumping Stations: The Story of Memphis, Tennessee's Artesian Water Supply and the MLGW Division in the Era of Steam Machinery.

Though just 74 pages, it's filled cover-to-cover with terrific images: beautiful architectural renderings of the various plants around town, such as the Sheahan Pumping Station just east of the University of Memphis campus (shown here), photos of the buildings under construction, details of the machinery and equipment, along with letters, records, charts, and other documents.

If you've never paid much attention to these buildings before, Ingram's book will certainly give you a better appreciation of them. If nothing else, you can't help but admire the architectural features and overall design of structures that, in the hands of lesser architects, would look rather utilitarian. Instead, some of the plants come across as majestic "temples to water," and Ingram helps convey that with the photographs he uncovered while researching this book.

So why would someone focus on such a specific subject? Well, Ingram and his father devoted most of their lives to working in and around these stations. He tells me, "My dad worked at both the North Parkway station and the Sheahan Station over by the U of M. He started in 1938 and retired in 1973. As for me, I graduated from Messick, went to Memphis State, and worked for the City of Memphis at the North (Maynard Stiles) Wastewater Treatment Plant."

Ingram is now retired and living in Fort Myers, Florida. About the book, he says, "I was always fascinated with the Sheahan and Parkway stations — how the water was obtained from compressed-air-powered air-lift artesian wells, how the steam machinery worked, and as I got into my teenage years, they would let me explore the old stations. I was always pestering my dad with questions — how this worked and that worked — and I even pestered them for photos, which they were happy to give me."

Many of the answers to those questions, along with the old photos, ended up in the book. It's clearly a labor of love, and definitely worth a read for anyone interested in Memphis history. To order a book, or for more information, go to the publisher's website, Blurb Books.

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and Inside Memphis Business. Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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