Ypsilanti’s Iconic Water Tower

Mar 27, 2018

Cities all over the world have important landmarks. They have titles ranging from “most important” to “must-see” or even to “greatest achievement”. Ypsilanti, Michigan has its own fair share of landmarks, and one has always stood out of the crowd as the most iconic – the Ypsilanti water tower. Known far and wide for its unique shape, the Ypsilanti water tower has made many lists of quirky and unusual landmarks both nationally and internationally. It has stood for over a hundred years, undergone two major renovations, and been given titles including American Water Landmark, Michigan historic site, and more. 

The water tower was conceived as part of a large-scale water works project that Ypsilanti undertook in the 1880s. This time would come to be known as America’s second industrial revolution. This was a time where Americans stopped to admire and revel in great man-made achievements, as well as pushed forward to create more. 

Architect W. R. Coats was chosen to create the design for the tower, and he chose the popular Queen Anne revival style of the time. This style was known for its unique use of shapes in the architecture as well as for rounded tower designs, both of which are used in the water tower itself. To best utilize the tower as well as compliment the architecture, Coats chose to place it at the city’s highest point, now the intersection of Summit and Cross streets.

It took nearly a year of labor, $21,435.63, and a large amount of Joliet limestone to complete, but in 1890, the job was done. Standing just short of 148 ft and over 85 ft wide, the tower was an impressive figure. It was just as impressive on the inside as on the outside – the reservoir could hold an astounding 250,000 gallons of water!  

It was only after construction that Coats would realize the workers who had assembled the tower had altered his design. While the alterations were small, they were enough to enrage the architect – the workers had inscribed several crosses into the tower itself to try and protect themselves from harm during construction. Whether the inscriptions worked or not is anyone’s guess, but the construction was certainly lucky in that there were no accidents. 

Still, to the people of Ypsilanti, the tower was a massive success. It provided an unprecedented access to clean water throughout Ypsilanti, serving a whopping 471 customers in its first year. Its customers got a deal on price as well – yearly water fees were as little as $5 a year.

Since being built, the Ypsilanti water tower has had an adventure of a life. Through its two renovations, the iconic shape and personality have been preserved. It has gathered a number of – often humorous – titles over the years. Most of all, it has remained a constant icon in Ypsilanti. What started out as a water tower for a small town in Michigan has now grown to become a beloved landmark.

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