Charlotte Water Adds Uplights to Our Historical Vest Water Tower in Collaboration with McCrorey Neighborhood
Considered a hallmark of water facilities of the 20th century and lauded for ingenuity in function and design, the Vest Water Station symbolizes over 100 years of water and urban development history in Charlotte. In 1990, Vest Water Station received designation as American Water Works Association Landmark and is also designated by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission as a Historic Landmark.
Historic Drought Threatened Charlotte
In 1911, Charlotte’s main water sources were private wells and local creeks. When a devastating drought dried up the creeks, Charlotte was forced to pay neighboring cities to haul water to the city. The drought was so significant that the city’s police were confiscating garden hoses from people’s yards. Newspapers as far north as New York City warned people to stay away from Charlotte and neighboring cities and placed ads in Charlotte newspapers talking about their clean, fresh water. While the drought eventually ended, it brought to light an area of concern for planners if Charlotte was to continue to develop into a larger city.
As a result, city officials rapidly pursued pumping water from the Catawba River and an extensive, state-of-the-art water treatment and storage facility at Vest Water Station. Around this time, Charlotte was the most populous city in North Carolina (around 50,000 people) and growing. If Charlotte didn’t have a secure water source, the city would not last not grow. This facility was the start of an extensive and innovative water system that continues to win awards today.
An Innovative Water Treatment Facility
The main facility held laboratories, coagulation basins, filters, a capacity of 8.3 million gallons a day, and an elevated storage tank of 1 million gallons. By the late 1930s, capacity was reached, and expansions were completed after 1939. This expansion enabled the water treatment facility to meet the needs of Charlotte’s population of over 130,000.
Without this forethought into water supply and distribution, Charlotte would not have experienced the same degree of population and industrial growth throughout the early 20th century. A commitment to clean, drinkable water and state-of-the-art water infrastructure allowed Charlotte to boom throughout the following decades. The fire department worked closely with Charlotte Water to ensure the water infrastructure supported efficient firefighting. This led to a decrease in fire-related losses in Charlotte.
Due to its innovative design, the Vest Water Treatment Plant runs efficiently and is a major water source in the area. In evaluating locations for the new water plant, the Beatties Ford Road corridor location was chosen for several reasons. The land was at a higher elevation and close to existing water mains. It also was at a prime location to collect water from existing water sources. It was also, at the time, undeveloped. Rev. H.L. McCrorey owned the land and had planned to use it for future African-American-owned development. After a legal process, the City of Charlotte acquired the land from McCrorey Heights.
The McCrorey Heights Influence
While the history has been complex, the McCrorey Heights neighborhood has since been designated a historic district to protect it from other projects in the future. This allows the neighborhood to have more control over what happens within McCrorey Heights and helps protect against gentrification and other changes that threaten the integrity of its neighborhood.
Due to the work of McCrorey Heights, their neighborhood has stayed well-preserved and intact. It looks remarkably like how it was in the 1950s when it became fully developed. Many civil rights leaders lived in the McCrorey Heights neighborhood and some of their descendants and family live there today. This neighborhood was and still is an influential hub of Black culture and leadership.
Vest Water Tower Lighting Ceremony
It is in collaboration with the McCrorey Heights neighborhood that Charlotte Water added lights to the Vest Station water tower earlier this month. With the community’s input, more than 70 LED lights were strategically installed and positioned across the tank walls and underbody to illuminate the tower for decades. Other improvements to the area will include an electric vehicle charging area and a bench seating and placemaking location.
Charlotte Water recognizes both the historic nature of the innovative Vest Station water tower and what it meant to the growth and development of Charlotte and this historic neighborhood that has been influential in Charlotte becoming what it is today.
In recognition of our past, we better understand the work that needs to be done in the future. It is only through collaboration that Charlotte can progress. We are grateful for the leadership of the McCrorey Heights neighborhood and their participation in this project.