Chicago Water Tower

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Chicago Avenue Water Tower and Pumping Station
The Chicago Water Tower.jpg
The Chicago Water Tower
Chicago Water Tower is located in Near North Side, Chicago
Chicago Water Tower
Location806 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois
United States
Coordinates41°53′49.82″N 87°37′27.92″W / 41.8971722°N 87.6244222°W / 41.8971722; -87.6244222Coordinates: 41°53′49.82″N 87°37′27.92″W / 41.8971722°N 87.6244222°W / 41.8971722; -87.6244222
NRHP reference No.75000644 [1]
Added to NRHPApril 23, 1975

The Chicago Water Tower is a contributing property and landmark in the Old Chicago Water Tower District in Chicago, Illinois, United States, that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[1] Built to enclose the tall machinery of a powerful water pump in 1869, it became particularly well known when it survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 -- although the area around it was burnt to the ground.


The tower is located at 806 North Michigan Avenue along the Magnificent Mile shopping district in the Near North Side community area of Chicago, Illinois in a small park, the Jane M. Byrne Plaza. The tower was constructed to house a large water pump, intended to draw water from Lake Michigan. Built in 1869, it is the second-oldest water tower in the United States, after the Louisville Water Tower in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Chicago Water Tower now serves as a Chicago Office of Tourism as a small art gallery known as the City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower. It features the work of local photographers and artists, and filmmakers.


Chicago Water Tower and Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, circa 1886
The tower in comparison to other high rises in the area, September 2013

The tower, built in 1869 by architect William W. Boyington from yellowing Lemont limestone,[2] is 182.5 feet (55 m) tall.[3] Inside was a 138-foot (42 m) high standpipe to hold water. In addition to being used for firefighting, the pressure in the pipe could be regulated to control water surges in the area.[4] Together with the adjacent Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, it drew clean water from water cribs in Lake Michigan.

The tower gained prominence after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. While some incorrectly believe that the tower was the only building to survive the fire, a few other buildings in the burned district survived along with the tower.[5][6] The tower was the only public building in the burned zone to survive, and is one of just a few of the surviving structures still standing. In the years since the fire, the tower has become a symbol of old Chicago and of the city's recovery from the fire. In 1918, when Pine Street was widened, the plans were altered in order to give the Water Tower a featured location.[4]

Water Tower after the Chicago Fire

The tower has undergone two renovations. The first took place during a three-year period, 1913–1916. At that time many of the limestone blocks were replaced. The second renovation occurred in 1978. This renovation consisted mostly of interior changes with only minor changes made to the exterior of the building.[7] In 2014, the small park the tower is sited in was named for former Chicago mayor Jane Byrne.[8]

The structure has not been universally admired. Oscar Wilde said it looked like "a castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it," although he did admire the arrangement and movement of the pumping machinery inside.[9] The Water Tower's castle-like style inspired the design of some White Castle restaurant buildings.[10][11] The Tower was named an American Water Landmark in 1969. In 2004 and 2017, the tower was featured in the finales of The Amazing Race 6 and The Amazing Race 29 respectively.[12][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 15, 2006.
  2. ^ WTTW Archived from the original on 2012-01-11. Missing or empty |title= (help)CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ "Throwback Thursday: Chicago Water Tower Edition". 5 March 2015. Retrieved 28 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b Gerald Wolfe. Chicago In and Around the Loop. McGraw-Hill, 1996. pp.233-236
  5. ^ A.T. Andreas (1885), History of Chicago, Vol. 2, pp. 752 (picture of E.B. McCagg's Greenhouse), 759 (discussing survival of the Lind Block and 2 houses), Chicago: A.T. Andreas Co.
  6. ^ Cf. The Couch Tomb. Bannos, Pamela (2012). "The Couch Tomb — Hidden truths: Visualizing the City Cemetery". The Chicago Cemetery & Lincoln Park. [Northwestern in ]]. Retrieved November 15, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ [http:l// The Historic Water Tower: Chicago's Gem] Archived 2014-10-25 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ "Remembering Jane Byrne". Retrieved 28 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ Siegel, Arthur. Chicago's Famous Buildings. University of Chicago Press, 1969. pp. 48.; Oscar Wilde. February 13, 1882. See also Oscar Wilde and The Chicago Water Tower Archived 2014-03-10 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Ask Geoffrey: White Castle Inspired by Chicago Water Tower?". Retrieved 28 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Gardner, Denis P. (2004). Minnesota Treasures: Stories Behind the State's Historic Places. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society. ISBN 978-0-87351-471-2.
  12. ^ "Freddy & Kendra Win Amazing Race". WLTX. February 9, 2005. Retrieved December 31, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ Ray, Lincee (June 1, 2007). "The Amazing Race finale recap: 'We're Going to Victory Lane'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 31, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]