The Chicago Water Tower is located at the intersection of Chicago's Michigan and Chicago avenues. It and the adjacent Chicago Avenue Pumping Station are a few blocks from from the Lake Michigan shoreline. It was constructed in 1869, in what was then a largely residential area of Chicago's North Side.
The Water Tower was designed in 1867 by architect William W. Boyington in the style of a small gothic castle. Built of light yellow colored Joliet-Lemont limestone, the tower is an unexpected and pleasant change of pace from the office towers of downtown Chicago that surround it today. (A note of dissent: Oscar Wilde visited Chicago in 1882 and described the Tower as an offense against good taste and "a castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it.")
The Tower is arranged in five above-ground tiers. The lowest tier forms a square forty feet to a side, with a doorway centered in each. The corners are butressed with small towers and the walls topped with crenellated battlements. Two other, smaller square tiers rise in sequence above this first tier, each repeating the theme of walls and towers. Rising from the third section is an octagonal tower, which reaches a total height of 154 feet above ground level. At the very top is a cupola which can be reached by a circular stairway inside the tower.
The Tower was not designed for purely decorative reasons. Inside the Tower stood a three-foot diameter,
138-foot high standpipe. The standpipe served to equalize the water pressure in the water mains, which would otherwise fluctuate with the rhythm of the water pumps.
The Tower has a key part in the story of the great Chicago Fire of 1871. Almost every building in the neighborhood was totally destroyed by the Fire, but the limestone tower withstood the conflagration. People used the Tower as a landmark to find their way through the devastation and look for the remains of their homes. The Tower became a symbol of hope for the people of Chicago, standing defiantly in the face of disaster.
In 1969, the Water Tower was recognized by the American Water Works Association as the first American Water Landmark in the United States. Today the Tower is no longer in service, but the base of the Tower serves as an art gallery and visitor information centre. Note: A free downtown tourist trolley that runs along the Magnificent Mile has a stop at the plaza just outside the Tower.
Main source: A brochure from the tower, which has the same text as: http://www.wcwp.com/watertower.htm