Regardless of their location, most of the earliest water towers and tanks were built to provide cities and towns fire protection. As towns and cities grew, infrastructure was built to meet the growing populations’ demands. Buildings were usually erected relatively close together, making it easier for a fire to engulf several buildings at once. Fire protection was limited and not always reliable in most cities and towns in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There simply wasn’t enough water stored to douse a fire and salvage buildings. At best, firefighters, whether they were paid professionals or volunteers, contained the blaze as much as they could with their limited water supply.
Water towers were built, often becoming the tallest structure in small cities and towns across America. Aside from cutting down on devastating fires, the looming structures became directional beacons and, often, symbols of their communities. So, it’s little wonder that many that these communities have taken the steps necessary to have their water towers placed on the NRHP.
The Dothan Dixie Standpipe is an archetype of Industrial Revolution engineering and construction methods, according to the National Park Service. The steel standpipe was constructed using thousands of riveted bolts. Built in 1897, the 150,000-gallon tank is still in operation.
The Old Florence Water Tower was built on the highest point in Florence, Alabama. Completed in 1890 during an industrial boom, the wrought-iron tank held 282,000 gallons of water until it was replaced by a newer standpipe in 1935.
For more than half a century, the Dallas Mill operated in Huntsville, Alabama. The textile mill was converted into a warehouse in 1955. The mill and its mill village were named to the NRHP in 1978. A 1991 fire destroyed everything except the riveted steel water tower.
Williams Airforce Base produced top-notch pilots during WWII and the Cold War. The base was added to the NRHP in 1995, two years after it closed. The land now houses Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus and Gilbert Community College. A water pump station and water tower on campus were originally part of Williams Airforce Base. Erected in the early 1940s, the elevated tower is now emblazoned with the university’s initials.
Arkansans seemingly revere their state’s water towers. There are at least 16 water tanks in “The Natural State” that are listed to the NRHP. All the Great Depression-era tanks listed were constructed between 1935 to 1937, according to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The riveted steel tanks were built by tower titans Pittsburg-Des Moines Steel Company or Chicago Bridge & Iron Works under the direction of the Public Works Administration.
Each tower has its own story and relevance to the town it served. For instance, the Cotter Water Tower in Cotter, Arkansas was the first water facility of any kind for the small town. Before the tower was built in 1935 by PDM people collected water from a spring or two wells, or, after it rained, would drink water straight from their rooftops, according to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.
The Arkansas towers on the NHP list are located in Cotter, Hampton, Green Forest, Waldo, Monette Water Tower, Mineral Springs, Tuckerman, Keiser, Bearden, Da Valls, Hughes, Hartford, Lockesburg, Mountain View and Cotton Plant.
Perhaps one of the most famous places on the NRHP is Alcatraz Island. “The Rock” was best known for housing the most dangerous American criminals. The prison shuttered in the late 1960s. It has since become of the National Park Service’s most popular tourist attractions, drawing one million people annually. The water tower on the island is preserved to look as it did circa 1976 when Alcatraz was named to the NRHP. Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group was contracted for repair work on the tower in 2012.
The University Heights Water Storage and Pumping Station Historic District in San Diego were named to the NRHP in 2013. The listing includes the only known example of a 12-legged full hemispherical bottom elevated metal water storage tank in Southern California, according to the National Park Service.
Chicago architect George Washington Maher drew inspiration from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 when he designed the sturdy Old Fresno Water Tower to hold 250,000 gallons of water. Erected in 1894, it ceased operation in 1963. The American Romanesque tower remains a visible part of the Fresno community, operating as a visitor’s center since 2001, according to Historicfresno.org.
The Rio Grande Southern Railroad Trout Lake Water Tank in Ophir, Colorado, was named to the NRHP in 2003. Trout Lake was an important water stop along the Rio Grande Southern Railroad Route, according to the Library of Congress. The wooden water tank is typical of the structures used by railroads in the American West from the 1880s to the 1920s.
The Bunnell Water Tower is one of the most recent additions to the NRHP, earning its spot in February 2019. The riveted “tin man” style tank began operations in December 1927 with the ability to contain up to 75,000 gallons.
The Ben Darrah Water Tank and Well House were erected in Shoshone, Idaho in 1916. Made of rock walls, the rounded tank is covered by a concrete-coated wood plank cover. According to the National Park Service, these structures are significant due to their association with the development of sheep farming in Lincoln County, Idaho and because of the lave rock craftsmanship.
The most famous of all water towers, historical or otherwise, in Illinois, is probably the Chicago Water Tower in Chicago. Erected in 1869, the ornate standpipe is the second oldest water tower in the United States. It was the only public structure in its district to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It currently serves as the Chicago Office of Tourism art gallery. It was added to the NRHP in 1975.
Like the Chicago Water Tower, the Western Spring Water Tower has held many things besides water. Built in 1893, the tower once housed the police, department, jail, and municipal offices. It was turned into a village museum in 1970. Lightning struck the tower in 1991, destroying the water tank. The museum reopened after renovations.
Built in 1928, the West Water Tower and Ground Storage Tank in Orion, Illinois, is made of redwood and can hold 30,000 gallons. It was added to the NRHP in 2003.
Constructed of stone and brick, the Fort Sheridan Water Tower has been standing since 1891. The tower was lowered 58 feet in 1949 to help shore up its structural weaknesses.
Billed as the world’s largest catsup bottle, the Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower in Collinsville, Illinois has been a roadside oddity since 1949. This example of novelty architecture was built to supply water to the Brooks catsup plant. The catsup bottle was in bad shape in the early ‘90s but volunteers raised money to complete a restoration project in 1995.
The Illinois Central Railroad Water Tower and Pump House are symbols of a bygone era. The wooden tower and the pump house were built in 1885.
Still in use today, the Havana Water Tower was Havana, Illinois’ only water supply until 1962. That is an impressive feat for a tower built in 1889. Not only has the Havana Water Tower been on the NRHP since 1993, but it has also been one of AWWA’s American Water Landmarks since 1982.
Limestone and red brick encase a 50,000-gallon stainless steel water tank inside the Lena Water Tower in Lena, Illinois. The original tank was wooden when the tower was constructed in 1896, built to provide relief to a village that had been plagued by decades of bad fires. Like the Havana tower, the Lena tower has been in continuous service since it was erected.
Remington Water Tower in Remington, Indiana, is a wooden tank atop a brick tower that was built in 1897. Its original tan was replaced in 1924, helping it continue service for another 60 years until a new tower was built.
Erected in 1903, the Manning Water Tower in Manning, Iowa is topped off by a pagoda-shaped steel roof. The 60,000-gallon steel tank is a prime example of a riveted elevated water tower prevalent before WWII.
An example of Neoclassical architecture with nods to Ancient Rome, the Allen Hazen Water Tower in Des Moines, Iowa was completed in 1931 with the capability of holding 1.7 million gallons of water. The concrete and steel water tower once had had a large arrow painted on it to guide pilots to the Des Moines airport.
The first elevated steel water tank west of the Mississippi was built in 1897 on Iowa State University’s campus in Ames, Iowa. There was a severe water shortage two years earlier that forced the university to cancel classes. The 162,000-gallon tower was constructed in response. The tower was disconnected in 1978.
Made from sawcut and milled cypress staves, the Beaumont St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad Water Tank has been standing since 1875. The Beaumont, Kansas-based tank served the St. Louis, Wichita and Western Railway.
The Harper Standpipe in Harper, Kansas was completed in 1897 and is still in use. It has a fish wind direction indicator that still moves, according to the Kansas Historical Society.
Built in 1927, the Hillsboro Water Tower in Hillsboro, Kansas was still in operation as of 2011, according to the Hillsboro Star-Journal.
Fire destroyed the post office, opera house and grocery store in Florence, Kansas by the mid-1880s, according to the National Park Service. To provide needed protection, the Florence Water Tower was constructed of limestone in 1887. The tank has retained the same appearance since 1929 when an outer layer of cement was added.
The Paradise Water Tower was built in 1938 as a Works Progress Administration project. The art-deco limestone tower can hold 58,000 gallons of water.
The Collyer Downtown District in Collyer, Kansas includes two historic water towers.
Built in 1860, the Louisville Water Tower is the world’s oldest ornamental water tower. The decorative tower features 10 unique zinc statues. The property has undergone extensive renovations in the last decade, including the opening of the Louisville Waterworks Museum in 2014.
Opened in 1792, Buffalo Trace Distillery is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the U.S. A riveted water tower is located on the distillery’s property in Frankfort and was included in its historical designation.
The Baton Rouge Waterworks Company Standpipe stands tall in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, though it hasn’t been in use for more than a half century. Built in 1888, it was named to the NRHP in 1973.
In continuous use since it was completed in 1897, the Thomas Bill Standpipe in Bangor, Maine, is an imposing structure. The standpipe is said to be the inspiration for the haunted water tower in Stephen King’s “It.” With a riveted wrought iron tank and a wood frame jacket, it was built to hold 1,750,000 gallons of water. It’s open to the public four times a year for historic tours, according to Bangor Water’s website.
The Cathance Water Tower in Topsham, Maine, is a rare example of a surviving residential wooden water tower that was built for a single residence. The town of Topsham now owns the tower, which was built in the late 1800s on a family farm, according to a Bangor Daily News article. The tower now faces a subdivision.
Fall River Waterworks in Fall River, Massachusetts contains the original pumping station and a standpipe water tower. It was built in the early 1870s and is still used as a waterworks for the city.
Built in Romanesque style, the standpipe that’s part of the historic High Service Water Tower and Reservoir opened in 1896. The tower’s steel tank is surrounded by red brick.
The Arlington Reservoir standpipe was built in 1895 and renovated in 1923, according to Arlington2020.org. The stone façade built in the Classical Revival Style houses a two-million-gallon tank in Arlington, Massachusetts.
The New England Confectionary Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts was named to the NRHP in 2005, about 80 years after it first opened. The site includes a riveted tank that was painted to resemble a roll of Necco Wafers candy.
Easily visible from the grounds of the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital is a stone water tower built in 1895. Inside the tower are three water storage tanks, including one that can hold 200,000 gallons of water. It was slated for demolition in 1974 but people rallied public funds to preserve the tower, according to the Kalamazoo Public Library.
The butt of frequent jokes for its phallic shape, the Ypsilanti Water Tower was erected in 1890. Though the structure’s shape has inspired many puns, the well-built stone tower has remained in continuous use in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
The Manistique Pumping Station in Manistique, Michigan was built circa 1922 and in use until 1954. It now serves as the Schoolcraft County Museum, but it once housed a steel tank.
The Brainerd Water Tower in Brainerd, Minnesota, was the first all-concrete elevated tank used by a U.S. municipality. It was constructed in 1918. As of 2019, a water tower committee had been formed to help save the deteriorating tower, according to the Brainerd Dispatch. The committee had plans to apply for Minnesota Historical Society grants to help pay for the roughly $3 million in repairs necessary to keep the water tower standing.
Crow Wing County, Minnesota is the home of five water towers in the Cuyana Range that were placed on the NRHP in 1980. The five riveted tanks are in Crosby (circa 1912-1918), Cuyuna (1912), Deerwood (1914), Ironton (1913), and Trommald (1918).
The Kasson Water Tower in Dodge County, Minnesota has a 50,000-gallon tank that rests on a limestone base. The tower remains unaltered from when it was built in 1895, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.
The Osseo Water Tower is a recent addition to the NRHP, added in 2017. Built in 1915, the tower features a hemispherical-bottom design.
Often called the Witch’s Hat, the Prospect Water Tower in Minneapolis, Minnesota was built in 1913. The tower has a holding capacity of 150,000 gallons but hasn’t been used to house water since 1952, according to Minneaoplismn.gov. It now houses first responder telecommunication equipment on its roof for the City of Minneapolis.
Also located in Minneapolis is the Washburn Park Water Tower, which was built to hold 1,350,000 gallons in 1931. It supplied water until the 1990s. It’s an unofficial beacon for incoming planes landing in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
A rare surviving example of Minnesota’s earliest reinforced concrete water towers, the Ogilvie Water Tower in Ogilvie, Minnesota was constructed in 1918. It was decommissioned in 2011.
The Pipestone Water Tower is the main attraction of the Water Tower Festival held in late June in Pipestone, Minnesota. The concrete water tower was built in 1921.
The Highland Water Tower has the distinction of being designed by the United State’s first African-American municipal architect, Clarence W. Wiginton. Built in 1928, the brick and stone structure could hold 200,000 gallons of water.
A “Tin Man” elevated tank, the Elk River Water Tower in Elk River, Minnesota was built in 1920. It has a hemispherical bottom, according to the city of Elk River’s website.
The Hernando Water Tower in Hernando, Mississippi was built in 1925, according to the National Park Service. The all-steel elevated tank has a hemispherical design. The tower was in use until 2009 when a new one was constructed.
Though its colloquially known as the Waldo Water Tower, the standpipe tower is actually named the Frank T. Riley Memorial Tower. Built in 1920, the white, castle-like tower in Kansas City, Missouri provided water to locals for nearly 40 years before it was decommissioned. The tower is an early example of reinforced concrete.
Called the Lighthouse, the Caruthersville Water Tower in Caruthersville, Missouri was constructed in 1903. The stucco brick water tower has a Gothic style design that conceals a steel plated 40,000-gallon tank. The tower was decommissioned in the late 1950s.
The West Yellowstone Oregon Shortline Terminus District includes a steel water tower that was built circa 1910.
The Omaha Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant was built in 1916. This historical property includes a water tower. The facility now serves as a residential and commercial building space.
The Gerlach Water Tower in Gerlach, Nevada, was constructed in 1909. The 44,000-gallon redwood tank served the Western Pacific Railroad Company.
The Hackensack Water Company Complex in Weehawken, New Jersey includes a water tower that was built in 1883. The standpipe could hold 165,000 gallons of water.
The Morristown and Erie Whippany Water Tank was built in 1904 for the Morristown and Erie Railroad. The water tank is located in Hanover Township, New Jersey.
Embudo Station was built in 1880 in Embudo, New Mexico. The historical site includes an old railroad water tank.
While North Carolina doesn’t have any municipal water towers on the NRHP, it does have a handful of industrial use tanks.
The Tomlinson Chair Manufacturing Company, built in 1902, includes an old riveted water tower. The historical site is located in High Point, North Carolina. The former Nebel Knitting Mill also includes an old riveted tower. Located in Charlotte, the mill was built in 1927. Likewise, the Bellevue Manufacturing company in Hillsboro featured a water tower. The Southern Railway Spencer Shops in Spencer, North Carolina included a water tank on its property. The facility dates back to 1896.
Burke County World War Memorial Hall in Flaxton, North Dakota includes a riveted water tower.
The Old Elyria Water Tower in Elyria, Ohio was added to the NHRP in 1979, exactly a century after the water tower was built. Its original wooden tank was replaced by a steel one.
The Belton Standpipe in Belton, South Carolina, is a 155-foot concrete water tower that was completed in 1909. The reinforced concrete tower could hold 165,000 gallons. The annual Belton Standpipe Festival helps raise funds to pay for renovations and maintenance.
The Apalache Mill in Greer, South Carolina was built in 1888. The facility included a water tower. Likewise, the Converse Mill in Spartanburg, South Carolina, was built in 1903, and also included a water tower.
The Dell Rapids Water Tower in Dell Rapids is the only stone water tower remaining in South Dakota. Built in 1894, it provided water until 1960.
Built in 1911, the Belton Standpipe is located on one of the highest points in Belton, Texas.
Made from clay found around Milwaukee, Cream City bricks were used to build several historical water towers in Wisconsin. The oldest is the North Point Water Tower. Constructed in 1874 as part of Milwaukee’s first waterworks system, this Victorian Gothic style tower houses an iron standpipe, according to the City of Milwaukee’s website. Restoration of the tower was completed in 2018.
Described as an “Astylistic Utilitarian Building,” the Monroe Water Tower was built in 1899, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. A steel tank that can hold 100,000 gallons sits atop a limestone foundation and tower made of cream-colored bricks. The tower served the community of Monroe, Wisconsin until 1993.
The Sun Prairie Water Tower is also a stone tower with a metal tank on top. Built in 1899, with an addition was made in 1912, the tower has remained a fixture in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin for more than a century.
Cream-colored bricks were also used for the Fort Atkinson Water Tower that was built in 1901. A brick tower supports an out-of-service steel tank.
The Benton Stone Water Tower is a 67-foot water tower built in 1900, a year after the town of Benton, Wisconsin, suffered through a destructive fire. Originally the tower was topped off by a wooden tank, but a 30,000-gallon steel tank replaced the wooden one in 1923.
Made of limestone, the Clinton Water Tower in Clinton, Wisconsin was built in 1895, according to the Village of Clinton, Wisconsin’s website. The Evansville Standpipe was built in 1901 following a devastating fire that destroyed much of downtown Evansville a few years earlier.
Added to the NRHP in 2016, the Delevan Water Tower Park Historic District in Delavan, Wisconsin, includes a steel elevated water tower.
“The Tin Man” in the village of Oregon, Wisconsin, was restored in 2017. The 30,000-gallon steel tank was built in 1921, replacing a wooden tank that had been there for six years, according to an article in Wisconsin’s State Journal. The tower was drained of water in 1981, but still remains an important symbol in the village.
The Lusk Water Tower in Lusk, Wyoming was constructed for the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad in 1919. The water tower features a redwood tank while the structure itself is Douglas fir. It is the only surviving tank of its kind in Wyoming.