39. The Omohundro Water Treatment Plant is a working piece of Nashville history and a clue to the city’s good character.

Men at dawn on the Cumberland River. Above, film strip from left: Ricky Lopez fishing at sunrise on the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville, September 2017. Exterior and underground at the Omohundro station. Glen Doss, Water Superintendent at the Omohundro water pumping station, inspects a service passage deep beneath the Cumberland River, February 2018.

From the journal: October 2019

The infrastructure of a city is mostly invisible: The pipes pumping millions of gallons of water from the depths of the Cumberland into water purification stations around Nashville, the deep foundations for skyscrapers, and the layers of engineering carrying strips of streets and highways. The people guiding these infrastructures are also often hidden from view. The same goes for those guiding the protections of a city—its charities and its social and environmental champions.

The expanding city strains to accommodate not only the physical but the historic. It’s the new city that is built on the old rules of sharing and protecting what will survive. 

Nashville still is “small” enough to care. Just look at how Glenn Doss and his crew manage and maintain water treatment in the city. Glenn and his crew–though out of sight to the general public–are as careful and caring as the people serving the homeless on Layfayette or any number of people in Nashville working not just to maintain status quo but to improve life quality and protect it.

What all these foundations in Nashville have in common is a deep sense of values. Nashville is built not on bedrock so much as good character and caring.


It is easy to take things for granted that you never see: Foundations of a house, foundations of a city: the underpinnings of a bridge, the machines and mechanisms that make electricity, the tunnels and pumps and pools that give us clean water. And the people who control them.

Glenn Doss walks us into an underground world of pipes and passages and pumps as large as cars and houses. Every lever and valve monitored and maintained by a team of technicians and mechanics.

The water comes from the Cumberland River through a series of pipes coming from the bottom of the river. Parts of the Omohundro plant are visible and above ground. But a whole world of passages and transfers are deep beneath the earth and beneath the river.

Here Glenn walks beneath the bottom of the river.

Above ground and among the pumps and machines the plant is like a museum. Glenn says the goal for spotless cleanliness guides them. And by the looks of the place you might be able to drop your lunch on the floor and feel pretty good about picking it up and finishing it. Even the brass is kept polished Doss says. He says the place must actually be clean because the plant represents what it does: provide truly clean water.

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