The history of Nazareth’s water supply is rich with nearly two hundred years of detail. Regular requests are received by the Archival Center, from Sisters, employees, and visitors, regarding various aspects of this history. Several sources tell part of the story but no existing record details the history in its entirety. This document is the culmination of several months of research in an attempt to gather for future reference and use, the complete history of the efforts made by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth to maintain an adequate water supply for the Nazareth campus.
When the Sisters first moved to Nazareth on June 11, 1822, water was supplied primarily by two springs – one located under the present day church, approximately 200 ft. east of the Lapsley cabin (site of the present day Annunciation Grotto), and one to the east of the cemetery. In October of 1831, a spring house was constructed for the spring closest to the Lapsley cabin. (This spring house was torn down in 1923 when the church was enlarged.) Just over four years later, on January 11, 1836, Mother’s Council resolved that two cisterns be constructed to store water and provide more convenient access– “one for the Wash house and one for the School, the one for the school to be constructed between the rectory and the chapel”. (The chapel at this time was located at the site of the present day kitchen, and the rectory near the site of present day Village II).
Over the next several years, additional cisterns and wells were dug, constructed, and maintained. The original Nazareth property, purchased in 1822, included 237 acres. As the property grew to an estimated 1000 acres, the population increased, and with it, the demand for water. On September 24, 1840, Mr. George Tingley was paid $127.50 for building a cistern. In 1855, a Mr. R. Gaynn was paid $8.00 for plastering a cistern and in 1856, $36.50 was given to Mr. McNally for work completed on one of Nazareth’s wells.
After the new academy building was completed in 1855, tanks were placed in the attic. There were two wells behind the academy and a well near the kitchen used for drinking water. “The kitchen well and one well back of the academy were covered and water was drawn up with a windlass and bucket. The third well was used to supply water for filling the storage tanks in the attic by means of a force pump.” These tanks then used gravity to distribute the water where needed. Repairs were made to the tanks in 1864. A Mr. Williams was paid $425.50 for this and other work on May 8, 1864.
In 1867, the old serpentine road which led to the train depot was replaced with a straight turnpike. (The train depot at this time was located north of the existing road. It was replaced c. 1907 by a larger depot, located on the opposite side of the road). In the process of building this new road, a retaining wall was constructed, forming a pond – fed by a spring located across the road in Westcott Field. (This spring was known as “Sister Mary Anne [Earley]’s Spring” and may have been connected to a sink hole located at the end of the rose arbor, which began south of O’Connell Hall where the Lourdes Grotto stands today). On December 27, 1867, $575.00 was paid to Bell & Taylor for the retaining wall and other work. Over the years, this pond was given many names, among them the Depot Pond, the Depot Lake, the Station Pond, the Station Lake, the Railroad Pond, the Lily Pond, and Peter’s Puddle.
As technology advanced, existing features of the Nazareth water supply were remodeled and improved. A pump and cistern near the infirmary, located on the site of present day Carrico Hall, were remodeled in August of 1880. (At least two additional cisterns had been constructed by this time, one in 1840, and one in 1865.) Pavement was laid and curbstone put down near the pump and cistern to prevent water from running over the pavement. In 1884, a new, larger cistern was constructed. Repairs were made to the tanks in the academy attic twice more to prevent overflow – an understandable concern for water stored above work and living spaces.
The year 1889 witnessed a major advancement for the Nazareth campus. Work began in October on a boiler house (the present day Maintenance building) and steam apparatus for the use of steam heat at Nazareth. In 1890, steam heat was used for the first time in the academy and Motherhouse. Steam was more efficient and safer than the traditional fireplaces and coal burning stoves. The Sisters and students delighted in having warmer buildings during the cold winter months, and it was especially welcome for Sisters living in the Infirmary. As welcome as the steam heat was, it placed additional demands on the water supply. Despite the construction of a new cistern for the boiler house in June 1891, the steam heat had to be turned off during times of drought and water shortage.
In an effort to increase the water storage capacity on campus, a contract was secured on May 26, 1899, with Falls City Artificial Stone Company for the building of a reservoir. Research points to this being the above-ground reservoir which once stood near the train depot and Peter’s Puddle. The round, concrete reservoir stood several feet tall and was approximately seventy-five feet in diameter.
Between the years 1892 and 1905, Nazareth built a lake for additional water storage. While no record exists of the decision to build this lake, or the date it was constructed, sources provide a rough timeframe. Sister Mary de Lourdes Macklin’s 1883 reminiscences of Nazareth and a letter written by Mother Helena Tormey during a drought in 1892 both state that there were no lakes on the property – the only body of water mentioned being a pond (Peter’s Puddle). In a letter dated April 16, 1905, Mother Alphonsa Kerr mentions that a Sister walked out to the, “new lake”. Thus, the lake was part of the Nazareth landscape by that time. Mother Alphonsa oversaw work to construct the new Motherhouse between 1904 and 1906. Evidence indicates that the lake was built circa 1904 in response to additional water demand as a result of modern plumbing being installed in the new Motherhouse. There is no record of payment for the construction of the lake in the Board of Trustees Minutes, the Council Minutes, or any extant Nazareth Cash Book or Ledger. This, combined with the fact that the lake’s original dam was an earthen dam (later replaced by a concrete dam), indicates that the lake was likely built by the Nazareth farm hands already employed by the Sisters. Initially known as “the lake” at Nazareth or Nazareth Lake, this first lake was later referred to as “the Old Lake”, “the Mud Lake”, and “Lower St. Joseph Lake” and is located northeast of the Motherhouse.
Another sizeable water storage project was also undertaken in the early 1900s. In 1908, a 50,000 gallon water tower was constructed near the Depot Pond, just north of the concrete reservoir. This water tower allowed Nazareth to store additional water and replaced the attic storage tanks formerly located in the academy building, “which are leaking and will ruin the building.”
In 1911, while he was planning the construction of the concrete dam for Nazareth’s lake, the architect D.X. Murphy drafted plans for a water filtration plant and a sewage disposal system at Nazareth. Mother Eutropia and her Council approved the plans and directed that the work begin as soon as possible. Sister Joseph Anthony Stull (withdrew 1972) described the filter house as, “an inconspicuous building with odd-looking red domes surrounding it.” She went on to describe exactly how the water plant functioned in the mid-1900s:
“…the lake water is piped to an underground bed in back of the filter house, where it remains until most of the mud and clay has settled to the bottom. Then the water runs into two large tanks inside the filter house, where it is filtered through a net work [sic] of pipes which contain a small amount of chlorine gas. After it has run through these pipes for a certain length of time, it is drained out into a large reservoir which lies underground in the side yard. Above the tank are dome-shaped ventilators which permit air to pass into the water. They are very important, because water without oxygen is flat and tasteless, like distilled water. When pressure in the water tower by the railroad station becomes low, water is pumped from the underground reservoir to the tower and then to the various places where it is used.”
In 1918, Nazareth suffered a severe drought and water shortage. A monetary agreement was made with Mr. J. B. Beam, overseer of a nearby distillery, to lay pipes to the four-and-one-half-acre lake on the Beam Distillery property from which water was pumped to Nazareth. Water still had to be used sparingly, but the Beam lake provided relief to the dry Nazareth campus. Just two years later, at the end of 1920, Nazareth again experienced severe water shortage due to drought. Relief from the Beam property lake was not so easily secured during this drought. Mr. J. B. Beam announced plans to sell the pipes used to pump water from the distillery lake to Nazareth in 1918 and offered the Sisters the chance to purchase them for $1,000.00. Mr. Park Beam, owner of the Beam distillery property, likewise offered to sell the Sisters land – which included the four-and-one-half-acre lake – for $10,000.00. Neither offer was ideal. The Sisters were already paying a considerable amount of money to Mr. J. B. Beam for the right to pump water from the lake. With the exception of the lake, the property offered by Mr. Park Beam was useless, since the land was barren and did not directly adjoin existing Nazareth property. On December 14, 1920, Mother Rose Meagher wrote to Mr. J.B. Beam declining both proposals. Ultimately, Mr. J. B. Beam abandoned his plans to sell the pipes and agreed to allow the Sisters to continue to pump water for Nazareth from the distillery lake for a fee.
Proposals were made to alleviate the routine water shortage at Nazareth. In December of 1920, bids for cleaning out the lake – referred to as the Old Lake or the Mud Lake – on Nazareth’s property, northeast of the Motherhouse, were rejected as the project was considered too expensive. Three bids were made in January of 1921 by Messrs. Wilson and Woodward to construct a dam, and thus a new lake. These bids were also rejected. Building a new lake was also deemed too expensive an undertaking.
By April of 1921, the decision that a new lake was too expensive had been reversed. Mr. C. A. Curtin presented bids to the SCNs made by Messrs. Bickel and Eady. Mr. Bickel’s bid was favored. Sister Emiliana Murray, at the request of Mother Rose Meagher, accepted the responsibility of overseeing the work on the new lake to the best of her abilities. She walked the site for the proposed lake – southeast of the “Mud Lake” and north of today’s Roadside Lake – composed a list of questions, and met with Mr. Curtin in Louisville to discuss details of the project. On May 10, 1921, the agreement and bond for construction of a second dam and lake at Nazareth were accepted. Work began on the new lake on May 17, 1921, and was completed in August of the same year.
The name Immaculate Conception Lake was chosen for the new body of water, sometimes referred to as a reservoir, and a pedestal for a statue of the Blessed Mother was built to water height in the center of the new lake. The Carrara marble statue arrived at Nazareth on the 24th of March, 1922. Immaculate Conception Lake filled more rapidly than expected, leading to uncertainty regarding the means of installation for the statue. Many were approached with the request of devising some way of placing the 2500 lb. statue on the pedestal in the middle of the lake. It was suggested that the Blessed Mother’s statue be placed elsewhere, on the bank, etc., rather than risk the statue’s falling into the water during installation and sinking to the bottom of the new lake. Finally, C. A. Curtin, architect of the Immaculate Conception Lake dam, devised a way to get the Blessed Mother to her pedestal. He suggested finding the tallest tree on the north bank and attaching a 7/8” wire rope near the top of the tree. Then, securely placing an “upright timber” in the ground on the south bank and attaching the other end of the wire rope to the timber. A trolley with a chain block attached could be placed on the rope and the statue hooked to the trolley. With this apparatus in place, the statue could – in theory – be swung on the wire out to the pedestal.
Mr. K. E. Robinson, Curtin’s superintendent, agreed to attempt Curtin’s plan for placing the statue on the pedestal in the center of the lake. Sister Emiliana Murray watched from the spillway and recorded the proceedings:
“Two holes 18 inches wide, 6 ft. long, 3” deep were dug on each side of [sic] lake then a log 10 inches in diameter and 6 ft. long was buried in each hole, as anchors for the cable, which was to be stretched across the water.
High in the hickory tree the men fastened the end of the cable. On the opposite side of the lake, a tall tree had been planted, and braced: the cable was carried across, fastened and the first trip of Our Lady taken. Slowly, carefully she was swung forward. The labor of days was tested and found wanting. Our Lady returned to her first position on the bank wrapped as she was in the comforts [comforters] and sacks, which were used as precautions against injury or marring.
Another day went by finding the men tying lines higher, strengthening supports and making all things sure for a second trial.
Again Our Lady swung out over the water slowly, cautiously they sent her forward. The statue neared the pedestal, but was a foot below its destined place.
To shore again dear Lady, and now it is the 13th of August, and we had planned the uncovering on the 15th, “Our Lady’s Day”. The night of the 13th the men went into the woods and searched diligently for a taller, stronger tree which could swing the cable higher, and bring the statue up to the proper level. They finished this task that night and early the next morning Our Lady made the third trip and before the Adoration Bell rang out [9:40 a.m.] she was on the pedestal. From the bridge over the Spillway I watched her and gave directions as to her position.”
With the statue in place, the Immaculate Conception Lake was blessed on August 15, 1922. Father Richard Davis, Nazareth Chaplain, blessed the statue and lake – giving an address from a boat decorated for the occasion.
At the end of 1930, despite the addition of Immaculate Conception Lake, the Sisters again faced drought and water shortage at Nazareth. Water levels were so low that the stone retaining wall of the Depot Pond was exposed, revealing a leak. While work progressed to replace the old stone retaining wall with one made of concrete, the stone wall collapsed. The collapse occurred at night; so, no one was injured. Miraculously, the falling wall missed the completed section of the new concrete wall. The workers made the most of the challenging drought, not only replacing the leaking retaining wall, but enlarging the pond as well.
As a stopgap measure, water was carried to campus by railcar. On October 27, 1930, a tank car containing 10,000 gallons of water arrived at the Nazareth train depot. The City of Louisville donated the water to Nazareth, the Standard Oil Company provided the tank car, and the L&N railroad delivered the water at a steep discount – just $17.00, half of their usual freight rate. The water was pumped through pipes to the filter house and reservoir and from there distributed to the areas of greatest need across campus. Nazareth continued to receive water in this way for nearly a month, at which time a more reasonable solution was put in place.
The lake property initially owned by the Beams, was sold to Joe Downs on December 30, 1924. Downs, in turn, sold the property to W.O. Stiles on October 9, 1926. It was with Mr. Stiles that the Sisters made arrangements for piped water during the 1930 drought. After considerable discussion back and forth, arrangements were made for the Sisters to pump water from the lake on Mr. W. O. Stiles’ property. Mr. Stiles was given an acre of land in exchange for the use of the water in the lake. Once the arrangements were made, approximately one mile of new pipe had to be laid and much of the old, 1918 pipe had to be replaced. A gasoline powered pump was installed and a man hired to operate it in order to pump water from the Stiles lake to Nazareth. The pipe line from the Stiles property was completed on November 15, 1930, but the Sisters faced a new water supply challenge two days later. On November 17th, a leak was found in the old pipe near the Our Lady Seat of Wisdom statue, which bore water from the Depot Pond to the main campus. The broken pipe had been installed more than twenty-six years prior. Two months later, on January 7, 1931, another leak was found near the train depot which had to be repaired.
By September 1936, Nazareth was adding a third lake to the property. Above the Old Lake (the “Mud Lake”), nearly due east, a dam which was to be 150 feet long and fifteen feet high, was under construction. It was, “…sufficiently wide for a truck to pass over with ease”. The lake formed by this new dam, Nazareth’s third lake, was named St. Joseph Lake and had a capacity of nine million gallons.
Tragedy, in the form of a flood, struck the Ohio River Valley in January 1937. Nazareth escaped the devastation experienced by cities located near the Ohio River such as Louisville and Covington. The combination of a too-high spillway and the unprecedented amount of rain, however, caused the new dam of St. Joseph Lake to burst. A six-foot-wide section of the dam collapsed. Water surged from the break for hours; the roar so loud that it was heard as far away as the girls’ infirmary in the academy building (O’Connell Hall). Miraculously, Nazareth’s buildings and people escaped damage from the rushing waters of St. Joseph Lake because the water flowed to Froman’s Creek, which runs between St. Joseph Lake and the heart of campus, and ran downstream. The dam was repaired in July of the same year. Two years later, intense April rains resulted in another dam break at Nazareth, likely the Immaculate Conception Lake dam as the annalist who recorded this news refers to the lake in question as “the large lake” at a later date. This dam breakage greatly reduced the storage capacity for water at Nazareth. Fortunately, a wet spring and summer prevented the Sisters from truly feeling the loss before the dam was repaired in October 1939.
In 1941, five years after the construction of St. Joseph Lake, a cross made of wood from a tree on the property was placed on the new dam. On April 10, a corpus, reclaimed from the Motherhouse attic, was placed on the cross. Soon after, a statue of St. Joseph was placed on the bank and blessed on April 30th. In September, work was begun to clean out and enlarge the Old Lake, also known as the Mud Lake for its tendency to fill with silt. Work to clean out the lake was completed at the end of the month. The newly cleaned “Mud Lake” was renamed Lower St Joseph Lake. “The old, old lake — the first which served the entire plant for many years has been restored; thus we have an upper and lower St. Joseph Lake.” On September 29, 1941, Sister Emiliana was authorized to spend an additional $2,000 to clean and enlarge Immaculate Conception Lake and to build a dam in the ravine above the silo – creating a lake for Nazareth’s Holstein herd to supplement the numerous watering holes spread across the farm. The project to build the dam in the ravine was delayed until 1944, but work on Immaculate Conception Lake commenced a few days later on October 6th.
The 1941 Immaculate Conception Lake project dramatically altered Nazareth’s landscape. In addition to cleaning and enlarging the Immaculate Conception Lake, on October 13th, work was completed to build an earthen dam, “across about 200 ft. east of Our Lady of Grace Statue. This dam measures 15 ft. in height and has fifty acres water shed.” At its construction, the new Upper Immaculate Conception Lake, also referred to as the ‘storage lake’ or the ‘back lake’ and later known as SCN Lake or SCN Center Lake, had a capacity of nine million gallons which matched the nine million gallon capacity of the original Immaculate Conception Lake.
With the new lake, Nazareth’s water supply now boasted wells, cisterns, a pond, reservoir, water tower, and an impressive, four lakes. Sister Emiliana recorded in her Treasurer’s Notebook, “as someone remarked, ‘You have not seen anything until you see the “Great Lakes”’. Despite the newly expanded capacity for water storage at Nazareth, the Sisters and students once again faced water shortage in November of 1941. Again, arrangements were made to pump water to Nazareth from the nearby lake which had supplied much needed water three times before. By 1941, the property and its lake, once owned by the Beams, were owned by the National Distillery. Two years later, the Sisters were able to repay the favor when the National Distillery was allowed to pump water from the Depot Pond to make industrial alcohol for use in World War II.
In October of 1943, the Council authorized Sister Emiliana to spend $3,000 on two projects related to the Nazareth water supply: repairs on the Old Lake (Lower St. Joseph Lake) and enlarging of the Depot Pond. The repairs to the Old Lake consisted of work done on the dam, which was built up three feet higher and fifteen feet broader. The spillway was also cleaned at this time. In the same month, work was done to enlarge the Depot Pond. Soil removed from the Depot Pond was used to level ground for the southern expansion of the Nazareth cemetery.
May 1944 brought new technology to Nazareth with the installation of a Skinner Irrigation System – a system of pipes, nozzles, and oscillators supported by wooden poles, that delivered water directly to crops. The year 1944 also witnessed the long-awaited creation of the dam in the ravine for the Holstein herd. The project had been approved by the Council in 1941, but several delays prevented the construction of the dam for three years. Initially, Nazareth’s farm hands were to do the work, but the challenges of World War II left Nazareth with a shortage of labor. As the war dragged on, Mr. Ray Parrish was given the contract to build the dam. The project was again delayed by a scarcity of the materials needed for construction – another repercussion of war. Nazareth’s newest dam was finally completed in September of 1944.
Dams for the various lakes were repaired and reconditioned in the years 1948 and 1951. The year 1952 saw Sister Emiliana hard at work overseeing routine maintenance and repairs for the campus water supply. In June of that year, the Henderson Hite Company cleaned and deepened St. Joseph Lake. One month later, on July 30, the water tower, in the woods near the Depot Pond (built in 1908) sprang a leak. Two days after the leak was discovered, men inspected the water tower and repairs were scheduled for the following week. Construction on St. Joseph Lake continued on August 7th when bulldozers started work on the dam and the deepening of the lake. Finally, in December of 1952, improvements and repairs were made to an unspecified lake and dam.
In 1955, the dam between Upper and Lower Immaculate Conception Lake was in need of repairs. The valve to control the flow of water from the Upper Lake to the Lower had loosened over time. As a result, some water was being lost over the dam’s spillway. The valve’s underwater location necessitated that, Mr. Wimsatt, a diver, be hired. Mr. Wimsatt dove and successfully completed the valve repairs under twenty feet of water.
In February 1959, the water tower was again repaired, this time by Cleveland Welding Company. Pipes for a new water system were laid in the front of the campus (likely the area in front of the Motherhouse and O’Connell Hall) in May of 1959, and the decision was made to replace the fifty-one-old year water tower. Work began to erect the new water tower in July of that year. It remained in service at Nazareth until the summer of 2019 and, for the time being, remains on the property, in the woods near Peter’s Puddle.
At the end of 1963, water in Upper Immaculate Conception Lake was allowed to empty into the lower lake so that the upper lake could be cleaned and deepened. Arrangements were made with Mr. Sam Nally in October of 1963 to complete the work on the lake. With a bulldozer, Mr. Nally deepened the lake and used the soil from the lake bed to raise the earthen dam between Upper and Lower Immaculate Conception Lakes. Work on this project was completed on November 7, 1963.
In 1965, the construction of the new novitiate building, across the road and southeast of the Our Lady Seat of Wisdom statue, increased Nazareth’s demand for water. This building was later known as the King Center and Russell Hall. On May 23, 1965, Mother Lucille was authorized to spend $500,000 on the expansion of the filter plant, enlargement of Immaculate Conception Lake and other projects related to the new novitiate building. Immaculate Conception Lake was drained, and, on May 26, work began to deepen the lake and install larger pipes to meet the higher demand for water. Part of the soil taken from the bottom of the lake was placed against the lake’s concrete dam (built in 1921) to provide reinforcement. The rest of the soil removed from the bottom and sides of Immaculate Conception Lake was used to increase the height of the earthen dam on the eastern bank of the lake, originally built in 1941 and raised in 1963. Pipes were also laid at this time from the Immaculate Conception Lake to the cow barn and hog pens to the west of the lake to enable the use of unfiltered water in those areas. Work on deepening the Immaculate Conception Lake and raising the height of the upper dam was completed on June 8, 1965. Construction on the addition to the filter plant began on September 15 of that year and continued for several months. In November of 1965, work was completed on, “a new stretch of road from a new entrance to Nazareth’s property on Bardstown Road to the old road inside the gate”. The new road, which was built to meet an existing road, stretches from Bardstown Road to the Our Lady Seat of Wisdom statue, where it meets the road winding from the original entrance.
In 1968, construction began on the new SCN administration building (often referred to as the Generalate Building in early years). This building is located near the entrance to the Nazareth campus, on the south-eastern bank of Upper Immaculate Conception Lake. Earth excavated to make way for the foundation of the new building was used to raise the height of the dam in the field by the road – formerly a pond for the Holstein herd and later known as the Roadside Lake.
In 1969, the water line from Nazareth’s oldest lake, Lower St. Joseph Lake (formerly known as the “Mud Lake”), was in need of repairs. On March 27, 1969, Sister Charles Joseph Hill was authorized to spend approximately $800 to replace the lower part of the water main leading from Lower St. Joseph Lake” to the filter plant. By May 1 of that year, men were working to lay the new line to the filter plant. Also in 1969, construction was completed on the new administration building, SCN Center. Over the years, the building lent its name to the nearby lake, and what had been known as the Storage Lake and Upper Immaculate Conception Lake became SCN Center Lake.
In November of 1973, Nazareth was again experiencing the familiar routine associated with drought. Water conservation methods were in full force. Prayers for rain were offered daily. At a point between July 1972 and April 10, 1974, the reservoir near Peter’s Puddle, built by Falls City Artificial Stone Company at the turn of the century, was removed – leaving Nazareth with one less option for water storage. “All the water of the two smaller lakes has been pumped into the larger lake [likely Immaculate Conception Lake] which controls the water system. And the large lake is going down at a critical speed. At this time, mid-November, we have about a three weeks’ supply,” Sister Agathena Kemper wrote in an SCN News article. Expensive options for securing water for the campus were being considered in the event that no rain fell. Sister Agathena explained that the reason for the shortage – despite the many lakes, the water tower, etc. – was, “the fact that so much more water is being used on the campus with all its facilities operating at a higher speed than ever. We are consuming 210,000 to 240,000 gallons of water a day.” In answer to the Sisters’ prayers, rain fell at Nazareth during the second half of November, relieving the drought.
The year 1977 was one of great change for Nazareth. On June 27, 1977, over 424 acres of Nazareth farmland, which included both Upper and Lower St. Joseph Lakes, was sold to Dr. Eli George along with Nazareth’s dairy operation. A total of 405 acres remained in the Nazareth tract after this sale. This land included SCN Center Lake, Immaculate Conception Lake, Peter’s Puddle, Roadside Lake, and the water tower. The decision to sell the farm was in part a response to the teachings of Vatican II and the call to live the vow of poverty. Naturally, there were some who objected to the sale outright. A greater number of Sisters, including Sister Emiliana Cryan, expressed serious apprehension over the decision to include two of the community’s lakes in the sale. Sister Emiliana expressed her concern in a letter to Superior General, Sister Barbara Thomas. “At the time of our Board meeting it did not occur to me that two of our lakes were included within the land outlined for sale. This fact disturbs me greatly as I know we assured HUD [United States Department of Housing and Urban Development] that we would have sufficient water for the residents of Nazareth Village and if we have two lakes less than at the time of our commitment to them are we going to be able to live up to it? Also, where will we get the water for our Campus needs?” Despite this concern over the loss of water sources, the sale – including Upper and Lower St. Joseph Lakes – was finalized. Two days later, SCN Center Lake was drained, the water emptied into Immaculate Conception Lake, presumably so that the lake could be cleaned and possibly deepened.
At different periods throughout Nazareth Academy’s history, students used the lakes and ponds on campus for wading, rafting, rowing, fishing, and swimming. In the mid-twentieth century, a diving board had been placed in the center of the retaining wall at Peter’s Puddle for the enjoyment of all swimmers. The day after the farm was sold in 1977, Sister Thekla Keller proposed that Peter’s Puddle once more be developed as a recreational swimming area. Her proposal was accepted.
The following year, Nazareth saw another historic change. On April 4, 1978, a contract was signed to purchase water from the city of Bardstown. Plans were made to lay new pipes, “from Highway E 61 [sic] to the base of the dam at the Immaculate Conception Lake, thence to the existing line, at the filter plant, from which the filtered water will be distributed.” It was several months before work began to make the switch to city water a reality; but on September 28, 1978, the connection with the Bardstown water system was completed, thus ending Nazareth’s 156 year reliance on the increasingly intricate system of springs, wells, cisterns, reservoirs, ponds, lakes, water tower, and filter plant.
The sale of the farm and switch to city water did not mark the end of Nazareth’s water supply history. Immaculate Conception Lake, SCN Center Lake, the Roadside Lake (the pond originally created for the Holstein herd in 1944), Peter’s Puddle, the water tower, and at least three cisterns remained on campus. The water tower was utilized in the connection to the City of Bardstown water supply. In 1979, HUD financed the construction of an additional water tower, located just south of Nazareth, off of Bardstown Road, specifically to provide water for Nazareth Village.
By 1979, Peter’s Puddle was made safe and welcoming for recreational swimming according to Sister Thekla’s proposal. Sand was brought in to form a beach on the eastern bank of the pond, a floating dock was secured in the middle of the water, and a diving board was once again placed on the retaining wall. Passes for swimming in Peter’s Puddle were given to those permitted to swim to ensure the area stayed private. Many Sisters recall fond memories of this period.
Despite the switch to city water, Nazareth, along with the city of Bardstown, again faced a water shortage in February 1981. The city ordered all city water customers to reduce water usage by 30%. With their years of experience with water shortage, the Sisters reduced their water usage by 32% in the first week of mandated conservation.
In 1981, land was leased for farming to Mr. Bill Peterson, and he was given permission to use, when necessary, the water from Immaculate Conception Lake for irrigation. Unfortunately, by 1984, Mr. Peterson had fallen behind on his payments for the use of the water in Immaculate Conception Lake. Efforts, including letters to Mr. Peterson from Nazareth’s Central Accounting department, had to be made to acquire the money owed to the Sisters. Mr. Peterson’s lease was not renewed.
The Immaculate Conception Lake dam was in need of repairs in June of 1985. Parts of the dam’s spillway were crumbling, and this damage threatened to weaken the entire structure. By 1987, both the Immaculate Conception Lake and Roadside Lake dams were leaking badly. Plans were made to lower the water level in both lakes and attempt repairs in the fall of 1987. The state of the Immaculate Conception Lake dam was so abysmal that it was feared repairs would be too costly. Fortunately, repairs were authorized and, by June of that year, the cost for repairing the dams was added to the 1987-1988 fiscal year budget. It was noted at the June meeting of the Nazareth Campus Service Board that a significant amount of the damage to the dams was caused by a serious problem with muskrats in the lake area. Because muskrats burrow into the ground near bodies of water to create dens with underwater openings, they can cause extensive damage to earthen dams like the Roadside Lake dam and to those reinforced with earth like the Immaculate Conception Lake dam. The muskrats were removed by a trapper before dam repairs were attempted.
By 1988, the upkeep required for Peter’s Puddle to be utilized as a swimming area had become excessive. A previous decision by the Nazareth Campus Service Board meant that sand was no longer being purchased to replace that washed away from the beach. Problems such as, “…algae build-up in the water and the numerous reptiles, amphibians and other species of wildlife that have taken up residence in or around the area,” made the pond somewhat hazardous for swimmers. At the recommendation of an attorney, the diving board and ladders had been removed at the end of the 1985 season. Liability for injury was a pressing concern as an accident at Peter’s Puddle, while likely to be covered by existing insurance, “could jeapordize [sic] future insurance coverage for the entire community.” Because many Sisters were so fond of swimming in Peter’s Puddle, Sister Theresa Knabel and Sister Charlene Jacobs volunteered to form an ad hoc committee to investigate what it would take to maintain the pond as a functional swimming area.
By the next Nazareth Campus Service Board meeting on June 2, 1988, the ad hoc committee reported that it would be no small challenge to remove the various wildlife from Peter’s Puddle and recommended that no additional money be spent to maintain the swimming area. “The Committee further recommended that all materials which refer to Peter’s Puddle as a swimming area be removed from the record. The Board agreed with this recommendation.” While Peter’s Puddle was no longer an official swimming area on the Nazareth property, some Sisters continued to enjoy swimming there years after this decision was made. In April 1989, the proposal was made and accepted to restock Peter’s Puddle with fish (type of fish unspecified) in order to restore the pond’s ecological balance. This meant that the Sisters still swimming in Peter’s Puddle were able to enjoy it for three more years but, at the end of the full three years, the pond became ready for fishing and unsuitable for swimming. For years before this, fishing permits for Nazareth’s lakes were sold first to Sisters and Nazareth employees only and later to the public. Peter’s Puddle was now added to the list of approved fishing sites on Nazareth’s campus. Though Peter’s Puddle is once again off limits for fishing, permits continue to be available for the three Nazareth lakes during the fishing season (November 2019).
Click here for map key: Nazareth Map 2020 Key
During the years 1997 through 2001, replacement of the Infirmary with Carrico Hall and extensive renovations of the Motherhouse and O’Connell Hall led to a multitude of changes in plumbing around the three buildings. New underground plumbing was laid, as well as new sanitary sewer lines. Backfill soil from near Immaculate Conception Lake was used to provide a solid foundation for Carrico Hall, and land near the Immaculate Conception Lake dam was utilized as a landfill (later covered with top soil and grass seed) for broken bricks and concrete from the demolished Infirmary. In 1999, during the process of renovating the Motherhouse and O’Connell Hall, new pipes were laid in the Motherhouse front lawn. When trenches were dug for these new pipes, “near the east end of the dining room, an old stone pathway was discovered, probably dating back to the early 1800’s.” Many who witnessed this archaeological excavation theorized that the pathway led from the Lapsley house – which stood on the property when the Sisters arrived in 1822 – to the spring over which the church was later built.
The new millennium brought more changes to, and uses for, Nazareth’s water supply. In the year 2000, one year after air conditioning was installed in St. Vincent Church, engineers were brought to campus to inspect the effects of the underground spring in the church basement. Concern for the wooden underpinnings and humidity levels in the basement resulted in recommendations to reroute the spring so that it flowed, not into the church basement, but into the creek behind the laundry building. Other recommendations included filling in the spring’s pool with rock and concrete and establishing an emergency drainage system in the basement. In an effort to preserve the integrity of the church, all three recommendations were carried out, and all work was completed by October 2000.
In December 2002, exterior repairs were made on the water plant and fresh paint was applied. Rainwater stored in the large cistern near the water plant, when available, is now utilized to water trees, shrubs, and flowers on campus during the summer. In the summer of 2005, 75,000 gallons were pumped from this cistern to care for the plants on Nazareth’s grounds.
August of 2006 brought biologist Kerry Prather, M.S., to Nazareth. He evaluated the ponds and lakes on campus and recommended stocking SCN Center Lake and Immaculate Conception Lake with Hybrid Bluegill. Mr. Prather diagnosed the Roadside Lake with a familiar problem – a serious muskrat infestation causing damage to the dam. Too much digging by the muskrats would weaken the earthen dam and place it at risk of leaking or breaking. A licensed trapper trapped seventeen muskrats.
One year later, the muskrats returned, and again, a licensed trapper was called to remedy the situation before the dam was irreparably damaged. After several delays, work to trap and relocate the muskrats at the Roadside Lake was completed in December of 2007. To prevent future muskrats from digging and threatening the integrity of the dam, a landscaping project was undertaken. All existing holes were filled. A chain-link fence was then placed flush with the ground and covered with additional soil to function as a barrier against any further digging. While these efforts have helped, muskrats are a recurring concern for the dams on the property today.
In 2019, the City of Bardstown Water Company removed the Nazareth water tower from the water system. Nazareth’s water now comes from a water tower in the Bardstown Industrial Park and the city is responsible for maintaining water pressure. A twelve-inch main line enters campus from Highway 332. The piping runs in a wide loop, which includes a backup water tower (the tower just south of Nazareth, originally commissioned by HUD to provide water for Nazareth Villages) to ensure the campus is not without water in the event that repairs are needed on the primary tower. The transfer to the new line occurred on June 25, 2019. In August of 2019, the water line in the Nazareth water plant was reconfigured to accommodate the changes to the system.
There are many benefits to this change. Less maintenance on pumps at the water plant is required. Use of the cistern at the water plant is no longer necessary. The city will also be able to better coordinate inspections of fire hydrants on campus. For the time being, the Nazareth water tower is being retained as a backup water storage option. Work to separate the domestic water line from the fire line is ongoing. This will further increase the water pressure on campus.
Today, in 2020, the SCN family is including the bodies of water on campus in their goals to live more sustainably. Carolyn Cromer, SCN Director of Environmental Sustainability, shares the following:
“The SCNs and Nazareth Campus Service (NCS) are looking at the water bodies on campus with a new eye to managing them for optimal ecosystem health and wildlife habitat. Efforts to restore important habitat along banks and creeks have begun, and we are seeing good progress. In the past, vegetation around Roadside Lake had been mown to the water’s edge, a common practice which does not provide the cool, shaded habitat that fish and other aquatic wildlife need. Last year, NCS allowed the vegetation around Roadside Lake to grow up and begin to reestablish a buffer of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. In addition to shade, the vegetation filters out any pollutants carried by stormwater runoff, helps to hold the bank and prevent erosion, and provides habitat niches for aquatic wildlife. In a few years, vegetation around Roadside Lake will resemble the healthy vegetative buffers found around the SCN Center Lake and the lower lake [Immaculate Conception Lake].
Froman Creek runs across campus, unobtrusively providing ecosystem services and carrying away stormwater runoff. Froman Creek is part of the Salt River Watershed, one of the largest watersheds in the state, and flows downstream to meet other waters in Bullitt and Jefferson Counties. The quality of the creek varies depending on where it is on campus. Watershed Watch volunteers Sister Rosemarie Kirwan and [Sister] Kelly O’Mahony test the water quality three times a year behind the Motherhouse and have determined that it is good overall, although there are elevated levels of E. coli. NCS is exploring the opportunities available to restore the creek to a healthier more balanced ecosystem.”
Over the course of two hundred years, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have added wells, cisterns, water towers, a reservoir, dams, ponds, and five lakes to the Nazareth property. Creeks and natural springs have been rerouted. Dams have broken and been repaired. Miles of pipes were placed to carry water to the heart of campus. In times of drought, water was carried to campus via railcar and pipes laid to neighboring lakes. As the community and school grew, the Sisters adapted the landscape to ensure life-giving water could be offered to all those who lived at and visited Nazareth. In the first days the Sisters occupied the land now known as Nazareth, the natural springs sustained them. Today, the SCNs repay the favor, working to sustain the water systems and all the creatures that rely on them.
Written by: Kelly McDaniels, Archivist
Reviewed and Proofread by: Mary Medley Bonn; Maria Vincent Brocato, SCN; Debbie Dietrich; Kathy Hertel-Baker, Archivist; Jerry Hurst, Grounds Department Director; Josef James Jareczek, PhD. Candidate; Frances Krumpelman, SCN.
To view the full document with footnotes, click here: History of the Nazareth Water Supply
Note on sources: All sources used in this history, with the exception of the Nelson County Courthouse Records and Sam K. Cecil’s book, can be located in the Nazareth Archival Center.