Filed Under Technology

Garrett A. Morgan Water Works

The Division Street Pumping Station was the originally planned site for the Cleveland Municipal Light Plant, when the first talks about where the theoretical plant would be placed arose in 1906. The plant has been around in various incarnations since 1850 although the City of Cleveland did not officially form a public water system until 1856. It was rededicated as the Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant in 1991, due to the rescue of several men trapped underneath Lake Erie in 1916 thanks to Morgan's invention of the gas mask.

The idea of having a complete single municipal plant that would provide water, heat, and electricity to the city had been around for some time before the plans for a pumping station were even discussed. The original plans for the small municipal electric plant in Glenville were initially considered to be built in this combined manner, though it never was considered practical. The idea for the design of the plant was claimed to be taken from a unique plant with this design already in operation in Berlin, Germany, by 1895.

The idea for this combination plant persisted into early 1912, just months before ground was broken on the Muny Light in October of that year. The plans for the plant were then changed into a filtration and pumping station shortly afterwards, and the final product was finished in 1918. Cleveland soon developed two additional pumping stations too meet the demand for fresh water. All of the stations ensured that there would be adequate water pressure throughout the nearly 1,000-mile system that had formed by 1920. This distance of piping nearly tripled by 1940, though no new pumping stations had been added. The Garrett A. Morgan Water Works was the forerunner for the Cleveland water system, which is currently the tenth largest in the United States. It has survived to this day, where it aids the city in serving some 68 municipalities throughout Northeast Ohio.


Morgan Water Works, 1978
Morgan Water Works, 1978 A view, looking west, of the Garrett Morgan Water Works in 1978. The long building is the water filtration plant, while the building with the smokestacks contains the pumping station. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Old Division Ave. Pumping Station
Old Division Ave. Pumping Station This undated photograph shows the old Division Avenue pumping station built in the late nineteenth-century. This entire plant was demolished to make way for the new pumping station and filtration plant constructed on the same site in the 1910s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Kentucky Street Reservoir
Kentucky Street Reservoir The Kentucky Street Reservoir provided drinking water to Clevelanders between 1856 and 1886. Water from Lake Erie was pumped to the reservoir from the Division Avenue pumping station, now the site of the Morgan Water Works. The 6 million gallon reservoir rose 35 feet above street level. Steps led to a walkway at the reservoir's top, which became a popular promenade affording scenic views of the entire city. The reservoir, however, soon became too small to meet the needs of the growing city. The site became a public park in 1890 and took on its current name -- Fairview Park -- in 1897. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Pumping Station, 1931
Pumping Station, 1931 Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Steam Engine, Ca. 1900-1920
Steam Engine, Ca. 1900-1920 Pictured is an Allis Chambers triple-expansion steam engine at the Division Avenue pumping station sometime between 1900 and 1920. This engine was eventually replaced by a more modern one. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Pumping Room, 1978
Pumping Room, 1978 The pumping room at the Garrett Morgan Water Works as seen from the building's second level. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Tunnel Construction, Ca. 1900
Tunnel Construction, Ca. 1900 As Cleveland and its industries grew larger, the lake water nearest to the city became increasingly polluted. As a result, drinking water taken from Lake Erie had to be collected further and further from the city's shore. Tunnels extending underneath the lake, such as the one seen under construction here around 1900, made this possible. Digging these tunnels was a dangerous endeavor, and 6 major accidents claimed 58 lives in the tunnels between 1898 and 1916. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Morgan Displays Mask, 1916
Morgan Displays Mask, 1916 Garrett Morgan displays his invention, an early form of a gas mask that he called a "breathing device," in 1916. On July 25, 1916 a devastating natural gas explosion in a water tunnel being constructed underneath Lake Erie left eleven workers dead. Ten more men attempting to rescue the survivors were overcome by gas fumes and also died. Morgan, his brother Frank, and two other men came to the rescue, descending into the gas-filled tunnel wearing Morgan's breathing device. The gas masks did their job, and the group managed to rescue two survivors from the tunnel. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Garrett Morgan, 1948
Garrett Morgan, 1948 Morgan, the son of two former slaves, came to Cleveland as a young man in 1895. He eventually became a successful business man, owning his own tailoring shop and creating a line of hair-care products, including a hair-straightening solution whose formula he came up with himself. In addition to his gas mask, Morgan invented an early version of the traffic light. Morgan also founded the Cleveland Call, a weekly African-American newspaper, and was involved in the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, an early civil rights organization. He died in 1963 and is buried in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections


1245 W 45th St, Cleveland, OH 44102


David Braunlich, “Garrett A. Morgan Water Works,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 24, 2024,