Highland Park’s water tower was designed by the country’s first black town architect

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Highland Park Water Tower

Completed in 1928, the octagonal tower sits on the corner of Snelling Avenue and Highland Parkway, adjacent to Highland Park National Golf Course and the Charles M. Schulz Ice Rink. Although it stopped supplying water in 2017, it is the only water tower of architectural significance in the city and a major landmark of the neighborhood.

The plaque at the west entrance lists Frank X. Tewes, who oversaw Wigington, as the tower’s architect. Wigington’s initials on the project drawings, however, prove that he was the designer. By 1928, he had already designed several local schools, as well as the exterior of St. Paul’s Auditorium. The tower is Mediterranean Revival, an unusual architectural style for a water tower. It was one of many revival styles favored by proponents of the City Beautiful movement (1890s-1900s), as it emphasized the construction of beautiful public buildings and structures.

At 134 feet tall, the Highland Park Water Tower contains three sections: a base, a well, and a viewing platform. The base is made of a random, smooth cut stone Kasota stone and has two entrances: one from the north side of the structure and one from the west side. The shaft is made of pressed-faced bronzed brick and the viewing platform is made of Bedford cut stone laid in course. The roof is decorated with terracotta tiles and a small cupola. Notable design elements include stone dentils, shields, downspouts, and lion head relief carvings adorning the eight sides of the viewing level exterior.

Work began on the structure in 1927, with the tower costing $69,483 to build. It was built by the Feyen Construction Company and William Selby. The Wilcox Cut Stone Company provided the stone and the St. Paul Foundry Company provided the steel for the tank. A 151-step circular staircase leading to the observation deck surrounds a riveted sheet steel tank with a capacity of 200,000 gallons.

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Until it was decommissioned in 2017, the tower served the western part of the city north of West Seventh Street. Water was pumped from a reservoir in the tower and flowed by gravity to approximately 9,000 homes in its service area. As the city grew, the demand for water also increased, and two underground reservoirs with a combined capacity of 28 million gallons were built to the north and south of the tower. The Highland Water Tanks, two new steel water towers built in 1959 and 1989, are located just northeast of the tower. They have a combined capacity of 2.5 million gallons. In 2014, the South Reservoir was decommissioned and it was demolished in 2021.

The tower was designated an American Water Monument by the American Water Works Association in 1981, and it is one of more than 150 such landmarks in North America. In 1986 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as significant to the history of architecture and engineering.

Around World War II, the Highland Park Water Tower was closed to the public and remained so until 1976. Today it is maintained by the St. Paul Regional Water Services and is open to the public on two special neighborhood occasions: the annual Highland Fest in the summer and viewing the fall foliage in October. Virtual views from the observation deck offering panoramic views of the Twin Cities are available online.

For more information on this topic, see the original entry on MNopedia.


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