The Riverside Water Tower was a technological marvel of steam-driven pumps providing a safe, reliable water supply to village residents. The water tower served as a beautifully-designed advertising piece, calling attention to the passengers on the trains stopping at the station, that something special and different was growing here along the Des Plaines River.
The design and construction of a central water tower would ensure a clean, adequate water supply for the new community. Prior to construction of the tower, the community had depended on a central wooden water tank, the water piped through wooden mains from a well in the northern part of the village, and water was carried by residents from the tank to their home. The new water tower was built “to ensure an abundant supply of water to every dwelling in this elegant suburb”.
The water tower was designed by William LeBaron Jenney in a Swiss Gothic style, a style shared in part by the Riverside Hotel (built in 1871) and by many of the original 1870s homes. Jenney, a noted Chicago architect whose work includes the Home Insurance Building (the first steel-supported skyscraper) and the Manhattan Building (431 S. Dearborn, Chicago, Illinois), also supervised the overall construction of the Olmsted and Vaux plan for Riverside and designed many of the first Riverside homes. The tower was built on a sloping stone base, and clad with red and cream brick up to a wooden Swiss Gothic decorative treatment capped by a cone shaped slate roof to a peak lightning rod iron finial. Surrounding the original wooden water tank was an iron observation balcony nearly 70 feet high, a popular place for residents to view downtown Chicago, nine miles away.
Through the years, the water complex has been put to different uses. In 1901, the Chicago Telephone Company rented the east well house as a telephone station. In 1969, the Riverside Historical Society moved in the east well house, and the Recreation Office moved into the pump house in 1999. In 1990, a fire in the pump house resulted in extensive repairs, including the removal of the engineer’s attic apartment to provide additional office space and the redesign of the front entrance.
In 2005, work started on a major construction project to restore the water tower to its 1913 appearance. The offices in the pump house were relocated to the Public Works Facility across the Des Plaines River in Riverside Lawn. The work include digging a moat around the tower to contain the lead based paint that was removed. The work crews had to construct a scaffold that completely surrounded the tower structure all the way up to the lower roof line. The extensive work included removing all the paint from the brick and masonry of the tower and pump house. Tuck pointing, then sealing the brick surfaces, repairing the roof, windows and painting the metal tank at the top of the tower. The slate roof on the west well house was redone in new slate to place the large holes in the roof that had materialized in years past. It was difficult to find craftsmen capable of doing the work because of the unique pointed cap shape of the roof profile. The total project including repairs to both flanking well houses ended up costing $1.37 million. The renovation garnered a 2006 Design Excellence Distinguished Award from the American Institute of Architects.
In June 2006, the Riverside Board of Trustees voted to proceed with an interior remodeling of the base of the tower and attached pump house. Although originally envisioned to be re-purposed as museum exhibit space and an archival library where visiting scholars could research urban planning, the decision was made to move the Riverside Recreation Department into this centrally located building. When the work had been completed, new offices and programming space had been created for the Riverside Recreation Department.
Standing at the center of the village since 1869, the water tower has become the symbol of Riverside. It is used as a logo for the village government, and its image has been reproduced as a piggy bank, Christmas ornament, and on athletic gear.
Photo captured March 29, 2013.
New photos posted on most Mondays through Thursdays.
All photos are copyrighted and may not be reproduced or distributed without my expressed, written consent.