The Chicago Water Tower is a welcome, Gothic Revival surprise amidst the towering glass skyscrapers of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. The building was completed in 1869 and has the appearance of a sandcastle with its yellow-toned, turreted design. The Water Tower and accompanying pumping station located across Michigan Avenue are not only unique physically but have a storied history. Here, the best of the Water Tower, in five quick facts:
- The Chicago Water Tower and pumping station were built with the locally-sourced Joliet limestone, which supplies the distinctive yellow-toned look of the buildings.
- The Water Tower buildings survived the Great Fire of 1871. According to local lore, Water Tower’s visibility and familiarity for Chicagoans quickly made it a rallying point after the fire.
- Oscar Wilde visited Chicago in 1882 and referred to the Water Tower as a, “castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it.”
- The tower itself is a 182-foot ornate covering for a 138-foot standpipe, built to assist with pressure in the neighboring pumping station.
- The Water Tower used water from Lake Michigan, retrieved via a tunnel system designed by Ellis S. Chesbrough that pulled water at a location two miles offshore to avoid the pollution on the shoreline.
Sources and Further Reading:
This ca. 1871 stereograph provides a dramatic view of Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871, taken from the Water Tower.
There is a beautiful 1929 photo of the Water Tower that gives a glimpse of the Magnificent Mile’s earlier years.
The Chicago Architecture Foundation on the Water Tower (includes a history of the building as well as associated tours).
The Magnificent Mile has a list of some of the notable buildings on and near Michigan Avenue, including the Water Tower.
For more information about the Great Chicago Fire, I recommend this site, a collaboration between the Chicago History Museum and Northwestern University.