Chicago’s Historic Water Tower

historic water tower downtown chicago

As one of the only buildings to survive the Chicago Fire, the Water Tower has become a historic symbol for the city. Built in 1869, the Gothic-style structure resembles an old castle with turrets and a high tower. Architect William Boyington designed the building in 1867 to hold an approximately 140-ft. standpipe, 3 feet in diameter, that would pressurize the water coming from the pumping station. The building was constructed out of Joliet limestone, contributing to its fireproof structure. It is said that the Water Tower stood as a guiding monument after the fire, giving residents an orientation as to where they were while searching through destroyed homes and offices.

In 1969, during its centennial anniversary, the Chicago Historic Water Tower became the first American Water Landmark. Shortly thereafter it was named a city landmark by the Chicago Landmark Commission. It is the second oldest water tower in the United States, the first being the Louisville Water Tower in Louisville, Kentucky.

The pumping station is now a Visitor Welcome Center where visitors can gather information about other city sites. The tower also houses the City Gallery, Chicago’s official photography gallery, hosted by the Department of Cultural Affairs.

As a long-time admirer of the tower as quintessential Chicago, I was surprised to hear that reportedly Oscar Wilde visited the tower in 1882 and said it looked like “a castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it.” I guess I can see it, but come on Oscar, check out how nice it looks disseminating from the towering buildings around it! Now go out and form your own opinion, do you agree with famous, accomplished author and playwright Oscar Wilde or your trusted UPchicago friend?

The Essentials:
Location: 806 N. Michigan Ave.
Phone: 312.742.0808

Getting There:
L: Red Line (Chicago Ave.)
Bus: #3, #145, #146, #147, or #151.


Tessa McLean

About Tessa McLean

There is just something about that feeling when you have been away — maybe for a weekend, a month, 6 months — and you’re driving into Chicago and that first glimpse of the city skyline appears. It just always makes me smile.

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