Where clean water comes from: Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant open for tours May 12 (photos)

May 6, 2018 GMT

Where clean water comes from: Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant open for tours May 12 (photos)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Drinking water is easy to take for granted in most American communities. Actually seeing how Lake Erie water ends up purified in your glass is a revelation.

On Saturday, May 12, the Cleveland Water Department is holding an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its Garrett A. Morgan Treatment Plant, 1245 West 45th St.

Visitors can register in advance at the department’s website, or show up starting at 10 a.m. The last tour leaves at 3 p.m.

Accessible via West 49th Street north of Detroit Avenue, the plant is an accumulation of structures built over the past century that nestle among sculpted grassy hillsides just north of the West Shoreway and south of the old channel of the Cuyahoga River.


The 48-acre plant centers on a monumental, four-story filter building that went live on March 18, 1918.

This year, the Water Department is opening most of the 48-acre Morgan facility for tours to celebrate the building’s centennial and to observe Drinking Water Week, a yearly event promoted by the American Waterworks Association, the national trade association for drinking water facilities.

For decades prior to the advent of the filter building, formerly known as the Division Avenue facility, Cleveland pumped untreated lake water into homes, producing outbreaks of cholera and typhoid in the last 19th century, said Alex Margevicius, appointed water commissioner in 2016.

“This is our 100th anniversary of true water treatment in Cleveland, when we started to create true high quality potable water,” he said during a recent interview.

The Morgan plant is named for Garrett A. Morgan, the trail-blazing African-American inventor who designed an improved sewing machine, the three-position traffic signal, and a “Breathing Device” used to rescue workers and retrieve bodies after the July 24, 1916 explosion after workmen digging a tunnel for the water facility hit a pocket of natural gas.

An example of the breathing apparatus is on view in a conference room at the filter building, along with a photo of the inventor himself.

Oddly enough, the peaked form of the device, which arose out of strictly functional considerations, resembles that of a Ku Kux Klan hood.

The Morgan plant is one of four main facilities including the Crown Water Treatment Plant in Westlake, the Nottingham plant in Collinwood and the Baldwin plant just south of University Circle.


The Kirtland Pump Station, just south of the Shoreway east of downtown, pumps lake water to Baldwin for treatment.

Collectively, the four main plants push fresh water as far south of the lake as Hudson, Richfield and Brunswick.

The filter building at the Morgan plant resembles a Renaissance palace with a cathedral-like interior and a gabled, terra cotta tile rooftops.

The structure has 14 filter basins flanking a 750-foot-long gallery that rises 50 feet high to the top of a gable supported by lacy, elegantly proportioned steel trusses.

One level below the filter basins, giant, color-coded pipes that pump water into and out of the facility. In the winter, they chill the air temperature to that of the lake, which hovers in the high 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the summer, when the ambient air warms up, the lake water makes the pipes sweat.

The Morgan plant, which also includes chemical treatment structures, a sedimentation basin and other facilities, pumps 45 million gallons of treated water a day, although it has the capacity to pump 150 million gallons, Margevicius said.

Readily accessible public records fail to indicate the name of the architect or engineers involved in designing the Morgan filter building.

Building permits for the project identify the Filtration Commission for the City of Cleveland as the author of plans, according to the city’s Landmarks Commission.

Regardless, a visit to the plant is a reminder that a century ago, American cities believed that urban infrastructure could be both beautiful and functional.