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Chicago Water Tower facts for kids

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Chicago Avenue Water Tower and Pumping Station
U.S. Historic district
Contributing property
Chicago Water Tower by night.JPG
The Chicago Water Tower
Chicago Water Tower is located in Near North Side, Chicago
Chicago Water Tower
Location in Near North Side, Chicago
Location 806 N Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Built 1869
NRHP reference No. 75000644
Added to NRHP April 23, 1975

The Chicago Water Tower is a contributing property and landmark in the Old Chicago Water Tower District. It 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. 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 art gallery known as the City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower. It features the work of local photographers and artists.


Chicago Water Tower & Pumping Station, published 1886
Chicago Water Tower and Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, circa 1886

The tower, built in 1869 by architect William W. Boyington from yellowing Joliet limestone, is 154 feet (47 m) tall. 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. 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. 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.

Waterworks, by Ely, Cook, 1847-
Water Tower after the Chicago Fire

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. The Water Tower's castle-like style inspired the design of many White Castle restaurant buildings. The Tower was named an American Water Landmark in 1969. In 2004, the tower was featured in the finale of The Amazing Race 6.

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