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Life Span: 1869-Present
Location: Pine and Chicago Streets
Architect: William W. Boyington
Chicago Illustrated, January 1866
Artist: Louis Kurz
Author: James W. Sheahan
Publisher: Jevne & Almini
Printer: Chicago Lithographing Co., 62-64 Clark Street
Chicago Daily Tribune, January 14, 1867
THE NEW WATER WORKS
Before the crib was sunk in the lake, before even the first spade full of earth thrown up from the western end of the proposed tunnel, it was a foregone conclusion that the old Water Works would, in due time, be thrown aside for the new; and when the completion of the tunnel was announced, a few weeks ago, some of our residents flattered themselves with the idea that nothing more remained to be accomplished; that water and little fishes would stop running through the old works; and that, possibly, pipes full of pure water would immediately make their appearance in every kitchen and bed room in the city. These ideas, in the main, will be realized in a few months, and probably after August next, those who have had small fish brought to their houses several times a day, gratis, will be obliged to patronize fish markets, and pay for all the fish they carry away – just as people who have not patronized the old works a couple of years have been in the habit of doing.
The old pumping house will be torn away during the coming summer, and a larger building erected on the site, directly opposite the new tower, which will be 150 feet high. The water pumped up in the old house, comes from two small wells, and flows into them from the lake. Under the old engines is a large well, 25 feet in diameter, 20 feet from each of the small wells – the tree being directly on a line. The large well is dug; but can be connected with the smaller ones with very little trouble. A temporary connection is being made from the old suction pipe to the tunnel, and the work is expected to be completed in a few days, more or less. Work on the new tower has been temporarily suspended, but will be resumed in time for the completion of the tower at the specified date. Surrounding the tower will be a handsome park, bounded by Chicago avenue, Pearson, the lake, and Rush streets. Handsome trees and fountains will be planted and located in this park, which, it is earnestly to be hoped, will be a “thing of beauty” and “a joy forever.”
Chicago Daily Tribune, March 25, 1867
The following official order, from the Chief Marshal of the procession, contains a summary of the proceedings which will be carried out to-day on the occasion of the formal inauguration of the great Lake Tunnel, and the laying of the cornerstone of the new Water Works on the lake shore at the foot of Chicago avenue in the North Division:
PROGRAMME OF ARRANGEMENTS for laying the corner stone of the new buildings for the Chicago Water Works, March 25, A.D. 1867 (A.L. 5867).
The procession will be formed in the following order:
Water Tower Dedication March 25, 1867
The laying of the cornerstone of the Water Tower.
Photographer: John Carbutt
Chicago Tribune, May 19, 1869
The south wing of the main Water Works building is now fully completed. This wing was designed for the reception of another plumbing engine, which the increasing needs of the city would require. Its external appearance corresponds precisely with that if the northern wing, so that the proportions of the structure are rendered complete, and its symmetry preserved. Several weeks ago the Board of Public Works submitted to the Common Council the property of taking steps towards the purchase of another pumping engine similar to the new one now in operation at the Water Works.It was then shown that the average daily consumption of water was, during the winter months, eighteen millions would be consumed. The capacity of the new engine is eighteen million gallons, and that of the two smaller engines jointly about twenty-one millions, or nearly forty millions in all. At present the accidental breakage of the little engine would necessitate the running of the remaining one or two ones to their fullest capacity, but, within two or three years, when the consumption of water should be largely increased, the present pumping power would be entirely insufficient to properly provide for the safety and health of the city against all contingencies. The special committee of the Common Council, to whom the sthe subject was referred, has not yet reported upon the matter, nor upon the project extending the tunnel and the construction of additional water works on some point in the vicinity of Twenty-second street and the river. In case the latter project should be adopted, it is probable that the new engine, or, perhaps, two small engines, will be placed in the new works. The fact that the Water Works are now fully completed and ready for the reception of another engine, will doubtless have the effect of settling the question of additional water supply.
Water Tower After Fire
Chicago Water Works Building,
After the 1871 Fire
Scientific American May 7, 1881
THE CHICAGO WATERWORKS.
The city of Chicago is justly noted for its business activity, its bold enterprises, its live way of doing things generally; and the history of the city water supply system, from its comparatively small beginning to its latest development, is cbaracteristic of the progressive spirit that pervades the great Northwest. Lying, as the city does, on a flat prairie with no natural elevation upon which to place a reservoir to insure a proper distribution of the water, and with no desible near source of supply, the engineers encountered exceptional difficulties in planning and executing the working insufficient, further improvements were instituted, inving a tunnel extending two miles into Lake Michigan. An accident having occurred which cut off the supply of water for a time, rendering a large area liable to the dangers of an uncombated conflagration, steps were taken to provide a water supply of such character and exteut as to render the possibility of even a temporary interruption very remote if not impossible. The first water works in Chicago were commenced in 1851, when the population of the city was about 35,000.
It was then thought that the small quantity of water discharged from the river would not affect the quality of the water in the lake at a point 1½, miles south. The works were put in operation in February. 1854, and consisted of one reservoir, containing about a half million oi gallons, and eight and three·quarters miles of iron pipe, beside the pumping engine. The population at this time had increased to about seventy thousand, and the growth of the city, together with the introduction of sewerage and the establishment of packing houses, distilleries, etc., increased the quantity of filth flowing into the lake to such an extent that complaints of the impurity and offensiveness of the water were frequently made, and it was proposed to extend an iron pipe, five feet in diameter, one mile out into the lake, to obtain a supply beyond the effect of the sewage. Various other experiments were discnssed, but it was finally decided to extend a tunnel two miles into the lake. The work was commenced May 26, 1864, and the tunnel with all of its appurtenances was completed in March, 1867. In this tunnel provision was made for extension either lakeward or landward without interrupting the supply through it, except for a very short time; but it was not supposed that an extension wauld he required for many years. The breakage of a siphon under Chicago Avenue Bridge, August 18, 1869 deprived the west division of the city of w ater for about sixty hours greatly endangering a large portion of the city.
This circumstance led the City Council to direct the Board of Public Works to take immediate action with reference to the wants of tbe city in this respect.
NORTH SIDE WATERWORKS AND PUMPING ENGINE ROOM
May 7, 1881`
It was decided to build a new tuunel, seven feet in diameter, parallel with the old one, extending six miles into the lake. This great work was commenced July 12, 1872, and finished July 7, 1874. Great difficulty was experienced in sinking both shore and crib shafts, but the work was finally accomplished in the most satisfactory manner. In the construction of the new tunnel, as in the old provision was made for extending it lakeward should sewage contaminations hereafter make it necessary or desirable.
The crib is a substantial structure of solid masonry, the three lower courses of which are built of granite, on account of its superior frost resisting qualities. The upper courses are of limestone, the arches are of brick, the filling of rubber, and the deck is composed of ordinary concrete, on the top of which is placed a layer of asphalt concrete. The light-h ouse tower is of brick, w ith an iron stairway. Upon the deck is built a brick house, in which the family of the person in care of the crib resides. No more desolate and isolated place of residence could be illlagined than this is in winter. One might as well be on a desert island as far as human companionship is concerned, although there is a telephone line to the shore. But there are many days when the storms blow and the waves beat in their fury , and the broken, floating ice dashes against its sides, that no one goes out from the shore. It is said that some of those who have lived at the crib have found the isolation so iutolerable as to almost drive them insane. In the summer, however, boats constantly ply between the shore and the crib, carrying visitors, it being a favorite resort for boating and sailing parties.
Since the completion of the tunnel the immense growth of the city has so increased the sewerage flowing into the lake that it is believed that at times it extends as far as the crib and contaminates the water. Many plans have been suggested to remedy this, and on all hands it is confessed that the problem is a very grave one. It is probable that in ten years from now, with the present rate of increase, Chicago will have a million of inhabitants, and in that case no tunnel extending directly into the lake could insure pure water. The latest suggestion for procuring pure water for the city is that of Chicago’s eminent architect, Mr. W. W. Boyington, who proposes that the city shall purchase 100 acres of !and in Highlands, some 20 miles north of the city, where the ground is 130 feet higher than tbe city level. Here should be built an immense reservoir, into which water should be pumped from the lake, and thence conducted by a viaduct to the city.
The shore end of the tunnel is connected with the new North Side pumping works shown in our engraving, and extends to the West Side works. The building is a model of architectural beauty. Its style is castellated, and the tall water tower gives It a very imposing appearance.
(Left)The First Crib-Shoeing the Cast Iron Rings and Gate
(Right) Section of Tunnel
May 7, 1881`
The building contains four large pumping engines, two of which are in continual use, while the other two are held in reserve. The general appearance of these magnificent machines is seen in the upper view in the large engraving, the last one erected being shown in the foreground. This is a double engine, having a capacity of 36,000,000 gallons in twenty-four bours. The steam cylinder is 70 inches in diameter, stroke 10 feet. The working beams are each 28 feet long and weigh 20 tons. The fly wheel is 26 feet in diameter and weighs 40 tons.
The first engine was erected at these works in 1853. It had a capacity 7,500,000 gallons in twenty·four hours. The second engine, erected in 1857, had a capacity of 13, 000,000 gallons in twenty-four hours, and the third had a capacity of 18,000,000 gallons daily. The first and second engines were single, the third and fourth double. These engines are supplied with steam from five boilers 12 feet in diameter and 20 feet long.
In 1871 Chicago had 271 miles of pipe, now it has 500 miles, and it has over 3,000 fire hydrants. This extensive system of water supply has been perfected at an expense of about $8,000,000.
Chicago Eagle, February 10, 1906
The proposition to remove the North Side water tower is the idea of an idiotic iconoclast. The water tower is one of the few beautiful landmarks in Chicago. It is a monument to old Chicago, the Chicago “before the fire,” and is worthy and a grand one. Long may it stand just where it is.
Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1910
AT least one John Smith was born in Chicago in 1832 and in 1842 his remembrance of boy life in his neighborhood, 500 feet north of the present Clark street bridge, was that he was a charter member of the Chicago Waterworks system, not incorporated.
John’s chief duty at that period, between 7 and 14 years old, was the bailing of water for domestic use in a big tin pail and carrying it up the uncertain and slippery north bank of the river to the family supply tank. But in that particular year of 1866 John took a mule team ride from the front of Chicago avenue through the new water tunnel, and a mile and a half out into the lake, where he saw Mayor J. B. Rice place the keystone in the arch of the bore and heard the mayor proclaim:
Now, gentlemen, in behalf of the City of Chicago, I place this last stone in this great tunnel—the wonder of America and of the civilized world!
In the building of this $465,000 tunnel, a water intake had been built of 675,000 feet of lumber, fastened together with 200 tons of bolts, iron bands, nails, and screws, and floated out and anchored a mile and a half as the water end of the tunnel approach. Ground had been broken for the tunnel March 17—otherwise known as St. Patrick’s day—and on July 4 (probably) of 1865 the intake was sunk in the lake. It was on Dec. 6, 1866 that our real hero, a real John Smith and former member of the platoon system of Chicago water working rode out behind the team of mules to see and hear what Mayor Rice was going to do and say about it. Not till 1869 were the building and tower and plumbing equipment of the Chicago avenue water plant in service as “The Chicago Waterworks,” the name emblazoned over the doorplate of the main entrance to the station.
Prize Engine in Service.
When the old Corliss engine, shown as a wonder at the Philadelphia centennial in 1876, had done with its exhibition stunt, it was purchased for the Chicago Water works station at Chicago avenue and up to five or six years ago it hadn’t missed a pumping stroke since the steam was turned into its cylinder. Bout two years ago, however, the city decided to put in a modern pumping equipment discovering that the floor uplift was insufficient. In all those years, under several kinds and brands of city administration, the flooring had to be jacked up. Then it was found that an office annex, built to the west of the main structure and of the same architecture, literally was so bolted and barred and cross-barred to the original building that it would loosen or rise with the force of the jack screw.
“Pull her down!” suggested the engineering bureau; “call up W. J. Jackson, Inc., and have the debris dumped and make a new building of her”—or words of that sinister intent.
But while they were wrecking the oldest of the city’s municipal buildings, Charles E. Carson, an architect, who admired a real bit of architecture, rode by the wrecking one fine morning and bumped into the thought of putting up the new building with the old stones. He consulted some friends and these, consulting some other friends who knew about the Chicago Historical society, put through the scheme of putting old stones into a new building, a process which now is going on rapidly.
Building Now Being Reassembled.
As each stone was removed intact, it was numbered and placed to one side. If the stone shattered, its remnants were preserved and a new stone shaped from the fragment pattern. In this way this best example of the unburned Chicago of 1871 is reassembling good as new. But there’s a problem confronting the builders. We have the habit in Chicago of putting marble tablets or bronzed plates into walls of public buildings, showing just who were the public officials having anything to do with the construction work of the municipal architecture. Several times in our history we’ve had to tell our country cousins that this and that chap, named on these scrolls, is staying at Joliet, but probably will be back in three or four years.
On a marble slab in the present tower of the old Chicago avenue plant they chiseled names this way. The tablet reads that the commissioners of the board of public works then superintending things were John G. Gindele, Frederick Letz, and Orrin J. Rose.A. W. Tinkham was the secretary; E. S. Chesbrough, city engineer; DeWitt C. Cregier, engineer in charge of pumping; William W. Boyington, architect; Dall & Gowab, tunnel builders, and Edward Wailbaum, contractors for the buildings.
It is only fair to say that so far as the writer knows, the only person named on this scroll who may have got into hot water was DeWitt C. Cregier, who afterward became mayor of Chicago. This is a mere generalization, too, based on the presumption that Chicago never has had a mayor who didn’t get into superheated aqua pura.
Hard Problem in Names.
As to that problem referred to, what names are to be inscribed in the new-old structure? Where does Architect Charles E. CArson, who suggested yje exact rebuilding, come in? How about Health Commissioner Evans, President McCormick of the sanitary district, and the manufacturers of “Bubbly Creek?”
If these must be named on any kind of slab, shall the slab be taken out of the old water tower and replaced there? Or shall the list be posted in the pumping station itself?
It may be suggested that the reason for putting the list of the old builders of “The Chicago Water Works” in the rower was that people climbing the tower to get a bird’s-eye view of things, had to pass the marble slab. Now, people don’t climb the tower to see anything; there are apartments in the neighborhood a head taller than the tower and running express elevators to their roofs.
What’s the use? Today the old “water tower” is a city laboratory where they test concrete, steel, asphalt, and its adulterants.
Chicago Tribune Editorial, June 21, 1911
Commissioner McGann has reported to the council that the Chicago avenue water tower must be thoroughly repaired or torn down.
It is said that the tower is no longer useful and that money should not be spent on it.
That all depends upon what is meant by useful. In this generation we are getting a broader conception of that term. We are leaving the crude standards of the frontier town and beginning to think of Chicago as a great world city, ambitious to be honored and admired as a center iof civilization, a community where men have other aims than money making, a community where the arts may spring and flourish, where human life means more than eating, and sleeping, and digging.
The Chicago avenue water tower is the most distinctive and the most venerable landmark remaining in the city. It looked down upon the engulfing flames of ’71, amd barely escaped that epoch making trial. For many years it was one of the show places of the city, and many an indefatigable tourist before the days of the skyscraper and the elevator toiled up the winding stairway to view the brave young city spread below. About this tower have clustered many associations, humorous, and sentimental, and tragic, and it has become a part, a most sightly and honorable feature of the physiognomy of Chicago.
Shall we grudge a few dollars, nay, thousands of dollars to preserve it? We are awakening to a finer ideal of Chicago as a personality among cities, as a place to be cherished and beautified. The old water tower is picturesque, esthetically worthy, and associated strikingly in our memories with our thought of home. Both the towwr and the little square in which it stands are in every way worth preserving as they have been so many years. The Chicago Historical society, the Musical Art league, the friends of the City Pln, and every one who wishes to conserve and extend what is sightly and significant in Chicago ought to some come promptly to their rescue.
Chicago Tribune, October 15, 1911
Workmen yesterday began tearing down twenty-five feet of the old tower on the city water works at the foot of East Chicago avenue, which is to be converted to a public observation tower next spring. The tower is 150 feet high and was erected in 1867.
The top of the tower had become dilapidated. Thomas J. Burns, the chief engineer recommended the change, as he believed there was danger of the tower collapsing.
Said Engineer Burns:
After the twenty-feet of the top of tower has been torn down the remainder of it will be remodeled and the tower is to be converted into an observation tower next spring.
It is good for no other purpose. A stairway is to be built inside the tower, which affords a good view if the lake.
Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1918
The finance committee turned down a proposition from M. J. Faherty, president of the board of local improvements, for a $20,000 appropriation to move the Chicago avenue water tower, one of the city’s landmarks. The tower will be in the center of North Michigan avenue when the project is completed.
Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1919
The Chicago Historical society has protested against the “removal or destruction” of the Chicago avenue water works tower, “a land mark for fifty years,” to make way for the boulevard link extension.”
Chicago Tribune, October 10, 1926
An inferno of flame, running with the speed of a swift horse, leaping from block to block, belching clouds of smoke and cinders. A stiff wind carrying millions of firerbrands and hundreds of burning boards from houses and lumber yards, to set scores of new fires. Streets choked with panic-stricken people, abandoning their home. Death near, and destructiin everywhere.
Thus many of the survivors of the great Chicago fire of 1871 attempted yesterday afternoon, st the Chicago Historical Society’s observance of the fiftty-fifth anniversary of the conflagration, to descrive the catastrophe.
Each Tells What He Saw.
Many and various were the conversational chapters added to the historical tale. None of the speakers during the afternoon had a more vivid story to tell than had Wallace Rice, son of the former proprietors of the Sherman house, who was a schoolboy at the time of the fire. Mr. Rice gave his auditors some idea of the rapidity with which the fire advanced, when he related that the old Sherman house was ignited by flames from the old home of The Chicago Tribune, in the Ashley block, and that in just eight minutes, it had been destroyed.
Dr. Homer Thomas told of the privations endured by Chicagoans as the result of the burning of the water-works, and of the generosity if those who escaped, mainly west side residents, in caring for the victims. William Thomas and Mrs. Charles Dana were among others who recounted their experiences in fleeing from their homes. It was Obediah Sands who likened the pace of a racehorse to the onrush of the flames.
Wants Water Tower Preserved.
Dr. Otto L. Schmidt, president of the Historical society, introduced Harvey Frost, who in a letter to the Voice of the People column, in The Tribune, had suggested the preservation of the old water tower at Chicago avenue and Michigan as a memorial of the fire. The audience was unanimous in favor of carrying out the plan.
A comment that Michigan avenue should be widened at that point to accommodate traffic was meyt with the declaration that the widening should come on the east side of the street, so as not to disturb the original location of the water tower, the only building in that district to survive the fire.
Wallace Rice advanced the suggestion that the old Chicago courthouse, erected on the site of the present city hall, should be reproduced on the McKinlock campus, as a new home for the Historical society. Both the architecture and the size of the building would lend themselves admirably to the purpose, he declared.
Two “creations” of Worth of Paris, designed in 1871, were worn by Mrs. Mariam Pleak and Mrs. Leroy Kellogg, who impersonated the former owners of the gowns, Mrs. August Harris Burley, mother of Clarence Burley, a former president of the Historical society, and Mrs. T. B. Carter. Dwight Hubbart impersonated Clarence Eddy, a famous organist of that period.
The completion of the Michigan Avenue Bridge in 1920 joined Michigan Avenue below the river and Pine Street above it into a single street.
Chicago Tribune, June 13, 1933
PLAQUES INSTALLED IN WATER TOWER HONOR FORMER CITY ENGINEERS.
Ceremony yesterday at the old water tower at Chicago and Michigan avenues when plaques installed in honor of former city engineers were dedicated. Photo shows George W. Pracy, president of American Waterworks association, speaking. The plaque honors Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough, DeWitt C. Cregier, and Jogn Ernst Ericson.
Chicago Tribune, January 23, 1934
Scaffolding around the old Chicago water tower at Chicago and Michigan avenues. The landmark is being repaired with federal funds.
Chicago Tribune, January 28, 1934
View of Lake Shore Drive from the Water Tower in 1889 and 1934.
Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1934
A force of 73 CWA workmen was engaged yesterday in tuckpointing the old Chicago avenue water tower, near north side landmark, and the adjoining city pumping station at Chicago and Michigan avenues. The men will be at work another two months, it was estimated by Commissioner of Public Works Hewitt, working 24 hours a week. The project will cost $35,000.
Chicago Tribune, March 28, 1967
Mayor Daley and more than 400 guests joined in a sentimental rendition of “Happy Birthday, Dear Water Tower” yesterday in celebration of the building’s 100th birthday.
The birthday party was held in the Sheraton-Chicago hotel. It was sponsored by the Greater North Michigan Avenue association.
The event opened what Mayor Daley has proclaimed to be “Water Tower week in Chicago.” The tower cornerstone was dedicated March 25, 1867.
Hides the Standpipe
The building that has become almost a symbol of Chicago was designed as a coverup—the 138-foot standpipe it hides was regarded as an eyesore by the residents of stately homes nearby.
The mayor, “on behalf of the people of Chicago and in the true spirit of the water tower,” presented a piece of surface stone from the tower to Robert E. Slater, president of the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance compaqny.
Slater said the stone will be implanted into the 100-story John Hancock center, which is being constructed at Delaware place and Michigan avenue.
Photographs of the tower thru its 100 years were shown at the party. Clement M. Silvestro, director of the Chicago Historical society, pointed out that the castle-like building resisted the flames of the Chicago fire of 1871, which destroyed its neighbors.
Becomes “Ugly” Eyesore
Architect William W. Boyington had been commissioned to design a building “with more than usual architectural beauty,” but by the turn of the century it was regarded as ugly by owners of some of the nearby mansions, who campaigned unsuccessfully to have it torn down.
In 1918 plans to tear down the tower to straighten Michigan avenue were changed when a flood of protest was heard by residents.
The tower served no useful purpose for many years, Silvestri said, but Chicagoans look upon it today with affection. “The tower is quaint,” he said. “Even whimsical.”
In a tribute to the tower, Mayor Daley said, “Only by reading the past can we walk properly into the future.”
He called the tower a symbol of Chicago’s great past and predicted that Chicago will be the first city to find the solutions to the problems of health, employment, housing, and education.
Chicago Water Tower
National Parks Service Survey
Robinson Fire Map