Built St. Louis > > The Watertowers

Wondrous Anachronisms:
The standpipes and water intakes of the St. Louis water system

St. Louis's rapid expansion in the late 19th century required construction of a vast system to bring fresh water to the burgeoning population. Five remarkable structures from that time period survive today and bear witness to the wealth of the city in that era. They include three standpipe towers, and two water intake structures in the middle of the Mississippi River.

At the end of the 19th century, there were several hundred standpipe towers scattered across the United States. With many having vanished over the years, St. Louis is fortunate to have three survivors. (Chicago's Michigan Avenue water tower, located in downtown Chicago, is famed and revered as a cherished city landmark. Other survivors include Milwaukee's Yankee Point tower on the northern lakefront, and towers in New York City and Louisville.) Though they are less known than their Chicago cousin, St. Louis's Victorian-era standpipes are of a much larger scale. All are well-preserved and exquisitely beautiful.

The two intake towers stand at the northeast edge of the city, off shore from the Riverview neighborhood, in the center of the Mississippi River's churning waters. They are no longer in service, and in fact can no longer be reached by boat due to shifts in the river's currents and rapids.

* Note: there are dozens of Victorian-era water towers left in the United States. What appears to be more rare are dedicated standpipe towers, used not to store water but to control surges in pressure. True water towers are generally shorter and more massive, as opposed to the tall, thin profiles of the St. Louis towers.

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Center: the Compton Hill tower, on South Grand at Interstate 44. Flanking it are the White and Bissell Towers, both located near North Grand between I-70 and North Florissant Ave. Bottom: Intake Towers #2 (foreground) and #1 (background).