Old River Station Is an Engineering Marvel

Most locals wouldn’t care to swim in the Ohio River today. But Cincinnatians were drinking raw river water up through 1906, when Cincinnati Water Works completed construction of the city’s first-ever treatment plant. The Kellogg Avenue facility, now known as Old River Station, is an engineering marvel even by today’s standards. Its status as the nation’s largest triple-expansion steam engine remains unchallenged, mainly because most systems, including Cincinnati’s, moved to electric later in the 20th century.

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

But its size offers more than bragging rights, counteracting the incredible weight of the river’s water pressure and literally holding the building down to this day. River Station is pretty, too—a testament to just how skeptical turn-of-the-century Cincinnatians were of water treatment, typhus be damned. Architect Gustave W. Drach went to great lengths to make the facility (with its satellite reservoirs and towers) feel like a structure fit for a great city, which was already home to such architectural beauties as Music Hall, Italianate row houses, and Over-the-Rhine breweries. Indeed, consider that most of OTR’s construction happened well before the treatment plant even existed. Maybe they were onto something with all that beer.

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