The Washburn water tower sits on a hill in the heart of the Washburn Park (commonly known as Tangletown) neighborhood. It is surrounded by winding city streets and picturesque south Minneapolis homes. It is hardly forgotten – quite the opposite really. An online image search will load hundreds of images from numerous vantage points, photos from every season, black and white, color… it’s all there. However, for me, this is a perfect representation of something which is often forgotten – a beautifully designed municipal structure.
In the early 1930s the City of Minneapolis decided to replace the aging water tower originally on the hill with something larger to accommodate the growing population south of the city. Upon hearing this, three notable professionals from the neighborhood decided to lend their expertise in designing and engineering the new tower. Their idea was simple – if the community needed a larger water tower, and it was going to be in their backyard, why not make it a work of art? Why not take a functional public structure and turn it into into a community treasure?
With this idea architect Harry Wild Jones, sculptor John K. Daniels, and renowned engineer William S. Hewitt, built a 110-foot Medieval tower with a dome reminiscent of a warrior’s helmet. Eight vigilant knights surround the concrete tower to protect the city’s water supply while eight eagles keep watch from atop the pilasters.
During the construction of the new tower, artistic accoutrements were kept tightly under wraps. Residents and visitors hardly took notice of the looming tower being raised, but once Daniels’ plaster casts began arriving at the tower public interest was piqued. Local newspapers began speculating about how the finished tower would look and the meaning behind the armored, sword-wielding “guardians of health.” Neighbors watched as each eight-ton knight was removed from its cast in four pieces and then put together by City water crews. The eagles were each cast individually onsite and weighed a slight five tons.
When it was unveiled in the summer of 1932, the Washburn water tower was filled with 1,350,000 gallons of clean, fresh tasting water for the residents of south Minneapolis. Today, the tower is no longer used to supply water. Instead it is filled in the spring and drained each fall to provide extra water pressure throughout the area in the summer months. This magnificent piece of municipal art and engineering provides Tangletown residents with adequate water pressure for everyday tasks like watering the lawn, taking a shower, and running the dishwasher while bringing visitors from near and far to marvel at the 16-foot knights and commanding eagles that are still watching over their small piece of urban splendor.
On October 6, 1983 this landmark was selected to join an elite group of nationally significant structures as it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.