This High Victorian Gothic water tower perched atop a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan is one of the nation’s finest surviving nineteenth-century water towers. It commemorates an era when civil engineering projects doubled as monuments to lavish design. The seventeen-story tower is built of rock-faced local limestone and dressed limestone trim. Each of the four steeply pitched gables in the base boasts a bold corbel table, and in between them a Gothic buttress culminates in a stone pinnacle. Above, a tapering cylindrical shaft supports an elaborate observation platform, bedecked with copper finials, gables, and windows.
The tower remains the most visually striking component of the city’s waterworks system, developed during the 1870s. Steam-powered pumps drew water from Lake Michigan, but their uneven pulsation stressed the water mains. City engineers enclosed a huge metal standpipe inside the tower to relieve the pressure. An iron staircase spirals around the pipe, leading to an observation deck 135 feet above the ground. Although the water tower became obsolete in 1963 with the completion of the Howard Street water purification plant, this picturesque and beloved landmark remains a monument to progressive nineteenth-century civil engineering.