The Chicago Water Tower is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it's the second oldest water tower in the United States after the Louisville Water Tower in Louisville, Kentucky. Built in 1867 to house the city's new water supply system, the tower gained notoriety as one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It then became a symbol for perseverance and rebuilding.
What Is the History of the Chicago Water Tower?
The Chicago Water Tower, completed in 1869, was built as a solution to the city's water scarcity. To solve this issue, Chief Engineer Ellis S. Chesbrough considered pumping lake water from the shore; however, it was too polluted to use because of run-off from the Chicago River. As an alternative, he designed a tunnel system that ran nearly two miles offshore and connected to an intake crib.
Renowned Chicago architect William W. Boyington designed the tunnel to channel lake water from Lake Michigan through a pumping station that sits on the other side of Michigan Avenue (then Pine Street). However, because the pumps generated pressure surges and pulsation in the water, Boyington designed a 135-foot iron standpipe system to regulate the water pressure, which was completed in 1869.
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Both structures were built using yellow Juliet limestone, a popular material of that era, and showcase Boyington’s preferred Gothic Revival style. The elaborate castellated design emphasizes the value placed on the city’s infrastructure and water supply during the late 19th century.
Fun Fact: Famed Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was not a fan of the building’s design. When he visited Chicago for a lecture in 1882, he referred to the Water Tower as a “monstrosity with pepper-boxes stuck all over it.”
City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower
Art buffs can view the work of local photographers and artists at the City Gallery in the Water Tower.
Hours of Operation
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Is there an Admission Fee?
No, it’s free!
Best Restaurants by the Chicago Water Tower
When you want to stop for a bite to eat, head to any of these nearby downtown Chicago restaurants:
Chicago Water Tower Public Transportation
Check out this list of stops closest to the Water Tower:
- Michigan & Pearson (South)
- Chicago & Michigan (West)
- Michigan & Chicago (North)
- Michigan/Superior; Pearson & Mies Van Der Rohe (West)
- Chicago-Red; Chicago (Brown/Purple)
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You can get to Water Tower Place by Bus, Chicago 'L' or Train. These are the lines and routes that have stops nearby:
Chicago Water Tower Parking
When it comes to parking near the Chicago Water Tower, it’s best to search for local parking garages. Some of the closest parking garages near the Water Tower include:
- Water Tower Place Garage on 175 E. Chestnut St
- John Hancock Center Garage on 172 E. Chestnut St
- Olympia Centre Garage on 161 E. Chicago Ave
- SPACES Parking on 750 N Rush St
Top Attraction Near the Chicago Water Tower
Water Tower Place
The Water Tower inspired the name for Water Tower Place, a nearby 74-story skyscraper and shopping mall.
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The Magnificent Mile boasts incredible shopping, dining, accommodations, and entertainment choices that fit any budget. Whether you’re searching for affordable fashion or designer boutiques, you can find it all strolling down North Michigan Avenue. This scenic district enables visitors to see attractions such as the Chicago Sports Museum, art galleries, theaters, bars, gourmet food, and beyond! At the end of the day, stroll along the Chicago River and grab a bite at any of the dozens of eateries nearby. Also, you can find more than 70 hotels on or near the district.
360 CHICAGO enables guests to gaze at the city from 1,000 feet up in the air. Located on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center, visitors can see stunning perspectives of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Take the 40-second ride in one of the country’s fastest elevators to the observation deck for the best views! You can also see four neighboring states in the distance, as well as ride TILT, a one-of-a-kind tilting ride with awe-inspiring views.
This gorgeous urban park features the Cloud Gate sculpture (“the Bean”), so if you want that iconic Chicago picture, you know where to go. Other sightseeing spots in the park include Pritzker Pavilion, the beautiful Lurie Garden, and glorious works of art like the Crown Fountain. Moreover, the park hosts numerous events throughout the year, so be on the lookout for concerts, free events like yoga practice, and food festivals.