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The Chicago Water Tower

Updated on September 3, 2014

Chicago's Historic Water Tower

One of my favorite landmarks in Chicago is without doubt the fairy-tale castle located on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, also known as the Magnificent Mile. Magnificent doesn't even begin to describe the Gothic structure which stands as a place out of time...... and depicts an era never seen within the borders of the Windy City. The Chicago Water Tower is a testament to the rich history of its European citizens, a monument filled with imagination and dreams; a citadel standing strong. Surrounded by massive edifices of concrete, glass, and steel, some might believe the Water Tower outdated and out of place, but they would be wrong.

The Water Tower, designed by William W. Boyington, a Chicago architect, was built using enormous limestone blocks quarried in nearby Joliet, Illinois. Construction began in 1867 and was completed in 1869. When finished, the Water Tower boasted an octagonal minaret, beautifully placed arched windows, numerous balconies, and an elaborate sleeping room in the main turret, topped off by a roof of copper and steel, like icing on a cake. Who wouldn't want to want to call this romantic wonderland home?

Treasured by Chicagoans, this historic landmark was not built as a monument or as an abode for some rich and famous Chicago resident, but rather to conceal and house the 138 foot standpipe that regulated the city's water pressure. Upon completion, it stood 154 feet tall and was ranked one of the tallest buildings in the world.

The Great Chicago Fire

Over the years, the tower would face troubled times. It witnessed the destruction of the city during the Great Chicago Fire (1871) and stood proud as the flames tested its endurance. In the midst of Chicago's charred and blackened landscape, the Water Tower became a symbol of hope and endurance to the people, a symbol of their invincible character.


Shockingly, the Water Tower was slated for demolition by the city on more than one occasion; the public outcry was loud, angry, and adamant. As a result, major renovations were made. The first restoration was a three-year project (1913-1916), in which every limestone block was replaced. This overhaul garnered so much support that it was completed by a ten man construction crew and a team of five-hundred volunteers. Amazing......

In 1969, during the Water Tower's centennial celebration, the American Water Works Association deemed it America's first official water landmark. This honored historical status guaranteed the tower's safety. The accompanying publicity would make it the third most popular attraction in the city.

A second renovation of the structure took place in 1978, which included the removal of the standpipe, a complete remodeling of the interior, and a minor face-lift of the aging beauty's exterior.

The Chicago Water Tower Today

Today, though long relieved of its original purpose, the Water Tower now serves as both a tourist center for visitors and art gallery showcasing the work of local artists. It also ranks among Chicago's top five haunts...... according to legend, rather than taking flight, one of the tower's workers stayed behind during the Great Chicago Fire in an attempt to keep the pumps running and was trapped when the fire encapsulated the area. Rather than die in the flames, he hung himself in the tower. Many witnesses claim to have seen the shadow of this man hanging through the tower window.

The Chicago Water Tower is open year round, seven days a week, from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Admission is free for all.

© 2014 Awdur


Chicago Water Tower, Chicago. Courtesy Of The, Illinois State Historical Library, Mary Michals,, and Iconographer. The Historic Water Tower: Chicago's Gem (n.d.): n. pag. Web.



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    • awdur profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Chicago

      Sandy- You'll definitely need to make a return trip just for sightseeing, Chicago is a beautiful city! :-D A

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      4 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Very interesting about the Chicago Water Tower. I have been through Chicago but did not get a chance to sightsee.


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