Washburn Park Water Tower, 401 Prospect Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Washburn Park Water Tower

Image of Washburn Park Water Tower taken in October, 2014.
Address: 401 Prospect Avenue
Neighborhood/s: Tangletown, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1931
Primary Style: Art Deco/Art Moderne
Architect or source of design: Harry Wild Jones
Historic Function: Water Tower
Current Function of Structure: Water Tower

Tangletown Minneapolis Hennepin

Washburn Park Water Tower, 401 Prospect Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota
(44.910748° N, 93.28434° WLatitude: 44°54′38.693″N
Longitude: 93°17′3.624″W
National Register of Historic Places Information
Reference Number: 83003663
Certification date: October 6, 1983
Primary Style: Moderne
Constructed in 1931 to replace an older water tower that could not provide the necessary water pressure to the surrounding community, the Washburn Park Water Tower represents a stage of architectural and technological advancements. Art Deco motifs and symbolic sculptures give a unique character to the water tower, while the pre-stressed reinforced concrete structure displays the impact of technological achievements on civic architecture. Additionally, the water tower played an important role in the development of the neighborhood now called Tangletown and its continued use to provide water during the summer months sustains the historic landmark's relevance to its community.



Washburn Park & The Water Tower

In 1886 the plan of the Washburn Park suburban development was designed by H.W.S Cleveland. Considered a retreat from the city, the plan was funded by William D. Washburn and twenty-five other wealthy landowners. The 200 acre development surrounded the Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum, which opened that year. The orphanage was design by E.T. Mix, an architect from Milwaukee, in honor of Cadwallader C. Washburn. A few years earlier in 1882 C.C. Washburn, the former Governor of Wisconsin and the flour mill industrialist, had left $375,000 in his will for the creation of the orphanage under the supervision of a board of trustees and his brother W.D. Washburn. This orphanage was built at the corner of West 50th Street and Nicollet Avenue, which would determine the placement of the Washburn Park Water Tower a few years later ("The Washburn Water Tower").

Only a year after its design Washburn Park was incorporated into the City of Minneapolis and a streetcar line was constructed down Nicollet Avenue to the intersection with West 50th Street. In 1893 the city approved the construction of water mains from Minnehaha Creek and the creation of the water tower, due to ongoing concerns over the quality of water supplied by the Mississippi River and the clean water requirements of the orphanage. The water tower was constructed on a hill approximately a half mile from the orphanage. This original water tower was 45 feet high, composed of a metal tank surrounded by reinforced concrete. A covering of stone and brick over the tower's exterior provided a degree of aesthetic appeal ("The Washburn Water Tower").

Rapid development took place in the neighborhood in the early twentieth century. In 1903 there were only 30 houses in Washburn Park but by 1914 there were 150. The increasing need for water pressure in the area led the city to purchase the Washburn Park Water Tower. This same era saw the construction of the Columbia Heights reservoir, the Prospect Park Water Tower, and the Kenwood Water Tower. In 1916 the city extended the Washburn Park Water Tower 25 feet but it was unable to keep up with demand, causing the city to disconnect it from the water system in 1927. In 1931 the original water tower was razed for a larger new water tower to be built at the same site ("The Washburn Water Tower" & "'Drouth' Hits Many" & "A Tale of Two Towers").

The new tower at 110 feet high holds 1.35 million gallons of water. The architectural and technological importance of the water tower was recognized by its community soon after its construction and it has remained a landmark of the community, high on a hill overlooking the twisting streets and picturesque homes of the neighborhood now called Tangletown ("Beauty, Utility Combined"). This water tower is still in use, boosting the community's water pressure during the summer months. It is drained in the fall and refilled in the spring, existing as one of the three water towers that still stands in the City of Minneapolis. It is a reminder of the original settlement pattern of Southwest Minneapolis and of the importance of access to natural resources when building a community ("The Washburn Water Tower" & Altrowitz).

Architectural & Technological Innovation

Built in 1931, the Washburn Park Water Tower represented the coming together of three renowned Minneapolis designers – William S. Hewett, Harry Wild Jones, and John Karl Daniels. The water tower is built with reinforced concrete and includes popular Art Deco elements of the 1930s. In fact, the water tower has been called a representative piece of "Public Works Moderne." The key features of this style include the vertical and horizontal banding, as well as the use of chevrons along the bottom of the dome. The most noticeable element is the sculpture cast in concrete that decorates the tower ("The Guardians of Health" & "The Washburn Water Tower").

The Engineer

William S. Hewett was the engineer for the water tower. Hewett moved to Minneapolis in 1887 to join the family business in steel bridge construction but an interest in reinforced concrete led him to experiment with the possible forms it could be utilized to create. He invented a new method for pre-stressed concrete towers and domes that could be used for high-pressure functions like water towers. He tested this method when constructing a water tower in Brainerd Minnesota and perfected its application for the Washburn Park Water Tower. The success of this technique led to its utilization across the nation for water towers with up to a two million gallon capacities (Hewett).

The Architect

Harry Wild Jones, the designer of the water tower, was an internationally practicing architect and a resident of Washburn Park. Known for his diversity of buildings and styles, Jones completed over 300 built designs during his lifetime. Many of his buildings are located in Minneapolis and they are particularly prolific in the Tangletown neighborhood. After studying architecture at MIT and training under HH Richardson, Jones moved to Minneapolis and was running a successful practice by 1887. During the early years of his work in Minneapolis, Jones invested in Washburn Park by purchasing ten acres of the development. He subdivided his land and designed most of the houses within it, including his own at West 51st Street and Nicollet Avenue. He is best known locally for his designs of Butler Square and the Lakewood Cemetery Chapel; however, his contributions to the community went beyond architectural designs. Jones was the Park Board Commissioner who brought H.W.S. Cleveland to Minneapolis to design the Grand Rounds park system for the city. Additionally, he was the first architecture professor at the University of Minnesota and created the curriculum for the first undergraduate degree in architecture offered there. The water tower is a significant design for Jones as it shows the diversity of projects he took on and the variety of styles he worked with, especially when the austere Art Deco form is compared to the multitude of Victorian homes he designed in the neighborhood. Moreover, the Washburn Park Water Tower displays his strong connection to the Tangletown neighborhood and is one of the last projects he completed before his retirement in 1932 (Vandam).

The Sculptor

John Karl Daniels, a Minneapolis based sculptor, designed the cast concrete eagles and guardians of health that decorate the water tower. Carved in clay than transferred to plaster molds, the final sculptures were cast on site in concrete. The eight 16 foot tall guardians were created from four pieces, each weighing 8 tons, and the eagles along the bottom edge of the dome weigh 5 tons each. Daniels is best known for his "Pioneers" at 434 Min Street NE, the granite Bison at the North American Life and Casualty building (now housed in Golden Valley), and the multiple pieces he created for the Minnesota State Capitol - including the Knute Nelson, Leif Erickson, and Earthbound sculptures. For an artist whose most famous pieces are of bronze or granite, the Washburn Park Water Tower sculptures represent a different media and project type for Daniels and provides important symbolism for the community about the safety of their water supply (Cass & "Daniels" & "Sculptor" & "The Washburn Water Tower").

Current State

The 1931 water tower remains in good condition. The concrete is a bit stained from age but this patina seems to suit the historic landmark. Nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 the water tower continues to provide fresh water to the surrounding residents during the summer months, when demand is high. The Washburn Park Water Tower is significant because of the role in played in the Tangletown neighborhood's history and development, as well as for the technological and architectural stage it represents. Its continued use for the same purpose it was created for, and in the same location as the original water tower from 1893, shows the sustained cultural significance of this historic landmark.


Altrowitz, Abe. "Basin Nearly Ready: City Water Towers May Be Washed Up." Star Tribune 8 June 1950. Print.

Balcom, Tom. "A Tale of Two Towers: Washburn Park and Its Water Supply." Minnesota History Spring 1984: 19-28. Available online from the Minnesota History Center.

Balcom, Tom. The Washburn Water Tower: its historic, functional, and aesthetic significance to the City of Minneapolis and the Washburn Park - Tangletown Neighborhood. 1981. Print.

"Beauty, Utility Combined in New City Water Tower." Minneapolis Tribune 7 August, 1932.

Cass, Regina. "The Guardians of Health - standing vigil over our tap water." Southwest Journal November 1991: 32. Print.

"Daniels, famous sculptor, dies at 103." Minneapolis Tribune 10 March 1978. Print.

"'Drouth' Hits Many Homes in Washburn Park." Minneapolis Journal 7 June 1929. Print.

Hewett, Maurice W. William Sherman Hewett: A biography. Saint Paul: n.p., 1956. Print.

"Sculptor Daniels dies at age 102." Minneapolis Journal 10 March 1978. Print.

Vandam, Elizabeth A. Harry Wild Jones: American Architect. Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 2008. Print.

Memories and stories

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