20 September 2011

Compton Hill Water Tower

Before modern electrical production methods, steam-driven pumps were used to send water throughout the city.  The steam was powered in a 22 mile loop around downtown St. Louis originating in the Ashley Power Plant at the edge of the Mississippi River just north of Laclede's Landing.  The steam often caused large surges in pressure, often causing pipes to rattle and shake.  This pressure also caused multi-story buildings to have low, or no, water pressure in the higher floors.  These standpipes were erected to equalize the water pressure.  For aestetic purposes, towers were built to hide these standpipes.

At the peak of their use, nearly 500 of these towers dotted cities across the USA.  Most were torn down as their usefullness became outdated.  As of this writing, only 7 remain....three of which are in St. Louis, MO.  And, each has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since the early 1970s.  The Grand, The Bissel, and the Compton Hill Water Towers were built in respective order.
Yesterday, I drove to the base of the Compton Hill Water Tower, the city's "newest."  It was built in 1898 and stands 179 feet tall.  The cost, then, was $48,000.  The tower was taken out of service in 1929.  Up to 1984, you could climb a spiral staircase inside to the top and grab a 360 degree view of the city of St. Louis.  This standpipe was part of the equalization of water pressure process, but it was also necessary because of the Compton Hill Resevoir located very near the standpipe's location.

The Compton Hill Resevoir was built to provide an adequate supply of water to Tower Grove Park.  This park was built and donated by Henry Shaw, one of the city's most influential millionaires of the 19th century.  Like other areas of the city, follow this blog for long and you will learn about Tower Grove Park and Missouri Botanical Gardens, both Shaw creations.
In 1995, a project was started to renovate the tower and surrounding park.  The renovation was completed in 1999.  Occasionally, the tower is opened during neighborhood house tours so visitors can take in the views.  For scheduled tours, visit the Water Tower and Park Preservation Society's Calendar (calendar).

The above photo was taken from a puddle reflection in the resevoir area.  For further information check the Compton Heights Neighborhood page.