The Florence Water Works and Minne Lusa Station

The Florence Water Works was once home to one of the most magnificent buildings in the entire city of Omaha. Despite being obliterated in the 1950s, the water around it keeps wetting the whistle…

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Florence Water Works Minne Lusa Pumping Station in North Omaha, Nebraska
The Florence Water Works was once home to one of the most magnificent buildings in the entire city of Omaha. Despite being obliterated in the 1950s, the water around it keeps wetting the whistle…

Among the landmarks that were stripped from North Omaha’s history was the Minne Lusa Station.In the 1950s, the City of Omaha was on a rampage. Demolishing historical building after historical building, the City wrecked the Old Post Office and the Old City Hall, razed housing throughout the older parts of the city, and especially, ripped through North Omaha.

 

The Florence Water Works in the early 1880s.
The Florence Water Works in the 1890s.
The Florence Water Works in the 1900s.
The settling basins in the Florence Water Works in the early 1900s. 
The worker houses at immediately north of the Minne Lusa Station and the Florence Water Works.
The backside of the workers’ houses.

Florence Water Works

Omaha needed water. Originally pulling water from the Missouri River in downtown Omaha or pumping water from wells in their backyards, residents wanted cleaner, more consistent water for drinking, cleaning, and plumbing. Entrepreneurs stepped in.

 

The fountain in front of the Minne Lusa Pumping Station was beautiful. In the 1970s it was removed, and in the 1990s it was placed in the lake at the Heartland of America Park.

The City Water Works Company, a private local company, was established in the late 1870s. Starting construction on a massive new water filtering system along John J. Pershing Drive in Florence, the facility was about seven miles north of downtown. finished in 1880, the Florence Water Works was seen as a marvel. With millions of gallons of capacity, the system drew water up a hundred foot cliff from the Missouri and filtered it through several large pools. Living so far from Omaha, several employees lived in company-owned houses on the grounds of the water works.

A closeup of the archway over the entrance to the Minne Lusa Pumping Station. Scroll down to see the entire building.

In 1887, the City Water Works Company defaulted on the loans that allowed them to build the Water Works. The company and its facilities were purchased by the American Water Works Company that year.

American operated private water companies in many cities, including South Omaha and Denver, and on the East Coast. They had ambitious plans.

The Minne Lusa Station soon after construction finished  in the 1880s.


The Minne Lusa Station in the late 1890s.
 
The Minne Lusa Station in the 1890s.


The Minne Lusa Station in 1907.


The Minne Lusa Station in the 1920s.

 

Minne Lusa Pumping Station

Looking south over the Florence Water Works and the roof of the Minne Lusa Pumping Station in 1915.

When they bought the system, the American Water Works Company started construction on the Minne Lusa Pumping Station immediately. They hired Mendelssohn, Fisher and Lawrie, an important architecture firm in Omaha in the late 19th century. They designed the building and it was built between 1888 and 1889.

The backside of the Minne Lusa Station in the 1930s. It was located at the very north end of the Florence Water Works.

The station was named for a local creek that was later rerouted to the Missouri River at the north end of Minne Lusa Boulevard. A beautiful, massive building made of Warrensburg sandstone, the Minne Lusa Station sat on five acres of landscaped park-like areas. The building had a central tower rising four stories over an arched entrance, and housed a high service pump and huge boilers that filtered water flowed to the city water mains. Jim Dahlman, Omaha’s cowboy mayor, opened the station in a grand ceremony in August 1889.

In 1895, the facility was sold to a local operator called the Omaha Water Works. The company contracted with several others to provide ice and distribute it throughout the region.

In 1912, the Florence Water Works and its Minne Lusa Station were acquired by the City of Omaha and operate by the Metropolitan Utilities District (MUD).

According to the Omaha World-Herald, the MUD “remodeled” the Minne Lusa Station on April 11, 1970.

 

Missouri River Intakes

Originally built in the 1910s, the Missouri River Intakes were designed to draw water from the river and into the settling ponds at the Florence Water Works. Designed in a park-like fashion, they were as regal at the City’s popular Walnut Hill Reservoir originally. Today, although they’re fenced in and off-limits to the public, they still serve the same purpose for the Metropolitan Utilities District.

The Missouri River Intakes as they appeared in 1919.

Demolition

The Minne Lusa Station was obliterated in 1970.

Rampaging across the city starting in the 1950s, the City of Omaha demolished the Old Post Office and the Old City Hall, razed a lot of old houses throughout the older parts of the city and especially ripped through North Omaha.

With little consideration for the building’s historical value and architectural beauty, in 1970, the Metropolitan Utility District, a defacto city agency, ripped the front of the building off. They replaced it with a plain industrial front, removed the beautiful fountain that graced the entryway, and went on operating the water works.

The entirety of the Florence Water Works, including the Minne Lusa Pumping Station at the top left, in 1939. Photo courtesy of Durham Museum.

In 1988, the Minne Lusa Water Works was designated an American Water Landmark by a national association.

Today, the Florence Water Works continues to filter water for the city as part of MUD. The remainder of the old Minne Lusa Station still stand near J.J. Pershing Drive, a ghost of itself, and is the site of MUD’s water treatment plant museum.

 

Related Articles

 

Elsewhere Online

 

Bonus Pics!

A pic from a 1958 magazine shows a sterilizing basin at the Florence Water Works.

 

These are presedimentation basins where sand and larger silt particles are filtered out, from a 1958 magazine feature.

 

Florence Water Works, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is one of the other buildings at Florence Water Works.

 

 

Author: Adam Fletcher

I'm a writer and speaker who teaches people about engaging people. I specialize in youth engagement in communities, at home and through education. Learn more at adamfletcher.net

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