The Lusk Water Tower represents the early development of rail transportation in Wyoming during the late nineteenth century, when three railroads—the Union Pacific, the Burlington Northern, and the Chicago and North Western—built rail lines across the state. Early steam locomotives required water approximately every 20 miles, and massive water towers and accompanying windmills were common features of the landscape in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Now, however, they are very rare; the Lusk Water Tower is the only remaining railroad water tower in Wyoming.
The Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad, a subsidiary of the Chicago and North Western Railroad (C&NW), built the tower in 1886 when it extended its line from Chadron, Nebraska, to the Wyoming towns of Lusk, Douglas, and Casper. The C&NW Railroad was responsible for establishment of Lusk and other towns in eastern Wyoming, and for bringing thousands of settlers into the area, ready to claim a homestead on public land and start up a small ranch or farm. The railroad also transported products such as grain, cattle, minerals, and oil to markets in the east. The tower was originally located in the center of Lusk, near the train depot. It was moved to its current location on the north side of the C&NW tracks in 1919 when the depot was rebuilt. It retained its historic function and was in use until after World War II diesel engines replaced steam engines.
The structure consists of a round water tank approximately 25 feet in diameter and 25 feet high, which sits 25 feet above ground level. It is supported by joists and beams held by 16 one-foot-square posts resting on concrete pedestals and a concrete base. A 6-foot-square central wood structure houses the standpipe. The outside walls of the tank are composed of vertical redwood staves, approximately 4 inches thick and in widths varying from 4 to 12 inches, held together by metal bands around the outside circumference of the tank. When the tank was filled with water, the staves would swell and become tightly sealed to each other, preventing leakage. When the tank is empty these wooden staves dry and contract. The metal bands provided external support when the tank was full and held the staves in place when the tank was dry. The tank was filled from a well by a windmill-powered pump, and water was discharged into steam locomotives via an overhead supply system next to the track, which swung out over the train. The conical-shaped, wood-shingle roof is topped by an ornamental finial. A sign on the tank’s southeast elevation reads, "Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley Railroad 1886–1986" with a drawing of a steam locomotive. The 0.2-acre site that the water tower stands on is now owned by the Niobrara County Historical Society.
Massey, Rheba, and Mike Johnson, “Lusk Water Tower,” Niobrara County, Wyoming. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1991. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.