The Historic Water Tower
In its early years, Milwaukee did not have a city-wide water system. Instead, residents had to get their water from wells, cisterns, or the rivers. By the second half of the 19th century, city officials began looking into a water system for Milwaukee. After years of delays, the first Milwaukee water works buildings were built from 1872-1874. This included a water intake crib in Lake Michigan, a pumping station, and a water tower.
The original North Point Pumping Station was located directly northwest of the current pumping station and housed the pumps which drew water from Lake Michigan and sent it to the city. The pumping station underwent a number of additions and expansions in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. It was finally replaced in the 1960s with the current North Point Pumping Station.
Though called a water tower, the North Point water tower is not what we may expect. Instead of holding a large quantity of water, the North Point water tower houses a standpipe. The pumps used in the original North Point Pumping Station operated with a piston-like motion. This created surges in the water pressure and therefore an inconsistent flow in the city's water mains. The standpipe inside the water tower served as a buffer between the pumping station and the water mains, eliminating the water pressure surges before the water entered the mains.
The water tower, designed in the Gothic style by Charles Gombert, was built in 1873 and stands 175 feet tall. It was chosen as a national landmark for the American Water Works Association in 1969 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The water tower is part of a much bigger water system that also includes Bradford Beach, the North Point Lighthouse, the North Point Area and the bluff leading down to the lake shore.
View BLC-Water Tower in a full screen map
- Elmer C. Becker, A Century of Milwaukee Water: An Historical Account of the Origin and Development of the Milwaukee Water Works, (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Water Works, 1974).
- U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Historic American Buildings Survey, Washington, D.C.