Saturday, December 3, 2016

Chicago Water Tower History.

The Chicago Water Tower, completed in 1869 by architect William W. Boyington from yellowing Joliet limestone, is 154 feet tall. Inside was a 138-foot high standpipe, three feet in diameter, to hold water.

In addition to being used for firefighting, the pressure in the pipe could be regulated to control water surges in the area. The foundation of the Water Tower consists of 168 piles filled with concrete and capped with 12-inch oak timbers. Massive stones laid in cement complete the base up to six feet below the grade. 
Looking northeast on Chicago Avenue at the Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station in 1869.
The Water Tower rises in five sections from the square ground-level base with battlement pillars at each of its four corners. Each of the 40-foot-wide sides has a stately doorway and two grand windows. The second and third sections are similar in design as they rise in diminishing size.
Looking north on Pine Street (Michigan Avenue) shortly after the Great Chicago Fire. 1871
The octagonal tower is centered and set back from the top of the third section. It rises 154 feet above the ground level. The standpipe was removed in 1911 when it was no longer needed. The spiral staircase which encircled the standpipe, however, is still intact and is used to reach the tower cupola. Together with the adjacent Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, it drew clean water from water cribs in Lake Michigan.
The Water Tower gained prominence after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. While some incorrectly believe that the tower was the only building to survive the fire, a few other buildings in the burnt district survived along with the tower [1]. The tower was the only public building in the burned zone to survive, and is one of just a few of the surviving structures still standing. 
Looking south along Pine Street (now North Michigan Avenue) from Pearson, Chicago, 1892.
In the years since the great Chicago fire, the tower has become a symbol of old Chicago and of the city's recovery from the conflagration of 1871. In 1918, when Pine Street (now Michigan Avenue) was widened, the plans were altered in order to give the Water Tower a featured location.
Looking south on down Michigan Avenue at Chicago Avenue. 1930
The Water Tower has undergone two renovations. The first took place during a three-year period, 1913 through 1916. At that time many of the limestone blocks were replaced. The second renovation occurred in 1978 which consisted mostly of interior changes with only minor changes made to the exterior of the building.

The Water Tower is functionally obsolete and serves as a visitor information center, where the public can obtain literature about Chicago attractions. The Tower is also home to City Gallery, Chicago's official photography gallery. 
The Chicago Water Tower was designated the first American Water Landmark in 1969 and was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1971. Chicago Avenue Water Tower and Pumping Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as: "Old Chicago Water Tower District" in 1975.

In 2014, the Water Tower Park was renamed the Jane Byrne Park in honor of the former Chicago mayor.

[1] The following structures are the only structures from the burnt district still standing:

St. Ignatius College Prep.

St. Michael's Church, Old Town, Chicago.
Chicago Water Tower.
Chicago Avenue Pumping Station.
Police Constable Bellinger's cottage at 2121 N. Hudson, Chicago

Click the "COMMENTS" link below for an explanation of other "claims" to surviving buildings. 


  1. Even though Old St. Patrick’s Church at 700 W Adams Street, Chicago, website claims to be a survivor of the 1871 Chicago Fire, they were not in the burn district. The Church was a few blocks farther west than the fire reached. They also claim to be the oldest public building in the City of Chicago, but the church is not owned by the city of Chicago. (Click the 'burnt district' link in the story.

  2. St. James Cathedral at 65 E Huron St., Chicago was gutted. When the Great Chicago Fire erupted it left nothing but the stone walls, the Civil War Memorial, and the bell tower, whose bells gave warning to the neighborhood of the fire.


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