The Mark B. Whitaker Water Plant
Knoxville Utility Board (KUB) Water Pump Station and Filtration Plant
If you are ever lucky enough to take a tour of the Knoxville Utility Board Pump Station and Filtration Plant, you will step back to a period when buildings were built to stand the test of time and government employees were as valued as the services they provided. Jobs that served the whole community didn’t happen in the background, but rather in a big and bold way that echoed how necessary these positions were to a civilized life for everyone. Everyday offices were beautifully crafted, which instilled confidence in the local citizens about the services provided and the leadership of the local government.
From the security guard post at the entry gate, it is apparent that this is a special building, and if the filtration ponds and reservoirs weren’t visible from the road, then visitors would wonder if they were in the right place. Upon first glance, it would be easy for a visitor to think that the Knoxville Utility Board “saved”‘ an historic building. With the tremendous expense of rehab and maintenance associated with preservation, it is often the case that government steps in to rescues sites worth historic value.
But at the Knoxville Utility Board Mark B. Whitaker Water Plant building, that wasn’t the case. In 1926, this architecturally stunning building was intentionally built for the purpose of serving as a pump station and water filtration plant. Architect Victor Madison’s philosophy was that 75 percent of the operation takes places underground and will never be seen, so the 25 percent above ground should be an enjoyable place to work. The exterior of the building is definitely impressive and the entryway interior is clad from floor to ceiling with Tennessee Pink Marble. Tennessee Pink Marble would have been a popular building material at the time, but it was also practical in this application at the water filtration plant because the molecules of this stone are so tight that it does not absorb odor.
Located two miles downstream from the Holston River and the French Broad River, at the headwaters of the Tennessee River, the Knoxville Utility Board Pump Station and Filtration Plant has 43 online instruments. Modern lab equipment and the bank of computers for monitoring the equipment look out of place in the historic building, but one corner of the site is dedicated to the past. A small tucked-away collection of newspaper articles, tools and 1903 insurance maps serves as a museum dedicated to the long history of water treatment in Knoxville. (These maps are a treasure all by themselves because they show how many quarries were scattered across Knoxville, particularly along the Tennessee River.)
The Knoxville Utility Board Pump Station and Filtration Plant is designated as an American Water Landmark, Significant in the History of Public Water Supply, by the American Water Works Association.