Saturday, December 3, 2016

The History of the Chicago Water Tower - One of Six Structures That Survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The Chicago Water Tower was 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, to balance the water flow.
In addition to firefighting, the pressure in the pipe was 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 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 Avenue) shortly after the Chicago Fire. 1871
The octagonal tower is centered and set back from the top of the third section, rising 154 feet above ground level. The standpipe was removed in 1911 when it was no longer needed. However, the spiral staircase that encircled the standpipe is still intact and 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 the tower was the only building to survive the fire, a few other buildings in the burnt district survived along with the tower. The Water Tower was the only public building in the burnt zone to survive and is one of just a few surviving structures still standing today.
Chicago Water Tower, 1890.
Looking south along Pine Street (now North Michigan Avenue) from Pearson, Chicago, 1892.
Since the great Chicago fire, the tower has become a symbol of old Chicago and the city's recovery from the conflagration of 1871. 
Water Tower and Pumping Station looking northwest from the corner of Pine Street (Now North Michigan Avenue) and Chicago Avenue, Circa 1890
In 1918, when Pine Street (now North Michigan Avenue) was widened, the plans were altered to give the Water Tower a featured location.
Looking North on Michigan Avenue, Chicago. 1926
Water Tower, Kaufman & Fabry, 1929
The intersection is at Michigan Avenue and Pearson Street, Chicago. 1940s
Double-decker Chicago Motor Coach Company bus in front of the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue, Chicago. 1941
The Water Tower has undergone two renovations. The first took place over three years, from 1913 through 1916. At that time, many of the limestone blocks were replaced. The second renovation occurred in 1978, mainly consisting 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 a Chicago Landmark in 1971. Chicago Avenue Water Tower and Pumping Station were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as "Old Chicago Water Tower District" in 1975.

In 2014, Water Tower Park was renamed "Jane Byrne Park" to honor the 50th Mayor of Chicago (1979-1983) and the first female mayor of the City of Chicago. 

These six structures are the only structures from the burnt district to survive the fire:
  • 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 North Hudson, Chicago.
  • Ironically, O'Leary's House, located at 137 DeKoven Street, was spared from the fire.  O'Leary's Post Fire House Photographs.

Claims of Surviving Structures:
  • Old St. Patrick's Church was located at 121 Adams Street (700 West Adams Street, today) it was a survivor of the 1871 Chicago Fire because the church was not in the burnt district. The Church was a few blocks farther west than the fire reached.
  • St. James Cathedral at 65 East Huron Street, Chicago, was totally gutted when the Great Chicago Fire erupted. Nothing was left but the stone walls, the Civil War Memorial, and the bell tower, whose bells rang for as long as possible, warning the neighborhood of the encroaching fire.
NOTE: Addresses are before the City of Chicago's Renaming and Renumbering in 1909. Use the documents below to get today's street names and current address numbers.


  1. I read about this subject a few years ago - Now again, thanks for the Read...!

  2. I love this article about the water tower and all of it's pictures, wish more could have been saved, especially old documents.

  3. I love reading about this Chicago is quite a city. I lived there for a little while. I never forgot it interesting place


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