Saturday, December 3, 2016

The History of the Chicago Water Tower - One of Five Structures Surviving the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The Chicago Water Tower, completed in 1869 by architect William W. Boyington. It is 154 feet high and made from yellowing Joliet limestone. Inside was a 138-foot high standpipe, three feet in diameter used to balance the water flow.

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 (now Michigan Ave.) shortly after the 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 Water 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 North on Michigan Avenue, Chicago. 1926
Intersection at Michigan Ave and Pearson,Chicago. 1930
Double decker bus in front of the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue, Chicago. 1941
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.
Looking east at the Chicago Water Tower, circa 1975.
That's Water Tower Place - Shopping Center & Condominiums under construction.
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 5 structures are the only structures from the burnt district to survive:
  • 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.


False Claims of Other Buildings that Survived the Great Chicago Fire. 
  • 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).
  • St. James Cathedral at 65 E Huron St., Chicago was totally gutted when the Great Chicago Fire erupted. There was nothing left but the stone walls, the Civil War Memorial, and the bell tower, whose bells rang for as long as possible, gave warning to the neighborhood of the encroaching fire.
NOTE: Addresses are before the City of Chicago Renaming and Renumbering of 1909. These documents are in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History®

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