Board will consider water tower for historic list

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

A state board will meet March 27 to consider whether a 92-year-old Elk River water tower belongs on the National Register of Historic Places.

The 92-year-old water tower on Jackson Avenue was built in 1920.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s State Review Board meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the Minnesota History Center, 345 Kellogg Blvd. W., St. Paul.

The water tower, located on Jackson Avenue near downtown, is one of several nominations that will be considered that night.

The board will hear a brief presentation on the history of the water tower, correspondence will be entered into the record, and the board will entertain comments from people in the audience who wish to speak. Following discussion, the board will act on the nomination, rendering an opinion of whether the property meets National Register criteria.

“If the State Review Board agrees with the argument (of the nominee) and says, ‘We believe this is eligible for the National Register,’ then it goes on to the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C.,” said Denis Gardner, National Register historian for the state of Minnesota.

The Keeper is the final determination.

“Usually the Keeper will agree with what the Review Board has said,” Gardner said.

The water tower is owned by the city of Elk River and was nominated for the National Register by the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission.

Here’s more about the water tower’s history, according to the National Register nomination.

The steel water tower was built in 1920 by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company and no significant alterations have been made to it. It has a capacity of 100,000 gallons. The water tower was a component of the Village of Elk River’s first waterworks system, built for the purpose of supporting fire protection.

Before being repainted its current color scheme, the water tower featured a palette typical of water towers of its era: a silver tower and tank, red roof and Elk River in black letters on the tank.

Water towers like the one on Jackson Avenue were the standard of the industry from the late 1890s to about 1940.

“Once a common landmark on the Minnesota landscape, this particular form of the water tower is quickly vanishing as the requirements of communities grow beyond the capacity of the early tower and are thus replaced by larger capacity structures,” according to the nomination.

Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company built water towers across Minnesota and the Midwest, but it is not known how many were built in Minnesota or how many remain.

Five water towers in Minnesota like the one in Elk River are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They are all located on the Iron Range in Ironton, Trommald, Deerwood, Cuyuna and Crosby.

This photo of a 1959 train wreck in Elk River shows the water tower in the background, painted in its original scheme of silver with a red roof. Photo courtesy of the Sherburne County Historical Society.

About the National Register of Historic Places

•The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of America’s historic places.

•It can include districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects. These places must meet criteria in order to be listed in the National Register.

•Since its inception in 1966, more than 80,000 properties have been listed in the National Register.

•Elk River has two sites on the National Register: The Oliver Kelley Farm and Elkhi Stadium (also known as the Handke Stadium or Handke Pit). The old Sherburne County Courthouse in Elk River was also on the National Register but it was demolished by the county.

Source: State Historic Preservation Office, National Register of Historic Places