Elk River water tower named to National Register of Historic Places

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

A 92-year-old water tower in Elk River has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

This Elk River water tower is now on the National Register of Historic Places. (Star News file photo)

“It’s a great thing for the city,” Elk River Mayor John Dietz said. “… To me that tower is history. It’s been a landmark in this town since I was a kid. I think it is worth preserving and getting on the National Register helps us accomplish that preservation effort.”

Sherburne County Historical Society Executive Director Mike Brubaker is also excited about the designation.

“I think it’s just spectacular,” Brubaker said.

Located at Jackson Avenue and Fourth Street near downtown Elk River, 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.

Denis Gardner

Denis Gardner, National Register historian for the state of Minnesota, said properties go through three levels to be considered for the National Register.

The first review is by the State Historic Preservation Office, the second by the State Review Board in St. Paul and the third by the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C.

The designation is both honorary and carries a potential financial benefit, he said.

Properties in the National Register that are owned by a governmental unit can qualify for cultural grants for things like helping to rehabilitate a structure, Gardner said.

Rebecca Haug, staff liaison to the Elk River Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC), said the HPC will discuss the water tower at its next meeting on June 21.

The structure needs to be repainted, Haug said. What complicates that is the water tower would need to be sandblasted and because the paint on it is lead-based, the tower must be skirted to prevent the lead-based paint from going onto surrounding properties, she said.

Mayor Dietz believes the National Register designation will open up the opportunity to obtain grants to help fund the repainting of the tower.

Haug also sees potential for grant funding.

“It (the National Register designation) does open up a lot more doors for grants,” she said.

Water tower part of fire protection effort

The water tower was built in 1920 by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Co. as part of an effort to protect Elk River from fire.

Prior to the water tower being built, Brubaker said there was very limited fire protection in Elk River and several fires nearly wiped out the city’s business district. The water tower ushered in a greater level of fire protection and guaranteed the growth of business and industry.

“It’s a great monument to the city,” Brubaker said.

The water tower’s elevated tank is known as a hemispherical bottom, a name derived from its design which includes a half-globe-shaped bottom, according to Gardner. The design was common from the 1890s to about 1940.

There are five other water towers of this type in Minnesota in the National Register. All are on the Iron Range at Ironton, Trommald, Deerwood, Cuyuna and Crosby. No one knows how many others are left, he said.

“Elk River’s (water tower) is an example of that hemispherical bottom water tower, which is increasingly rare,” Gardner said.

Other National Register sites in Sherburne County

The National Register of Historic Places has existed since 1966 and can include districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects.

The other sites in Sherburne County listed in the National Register of Historic Places are:

•Elkhi Stadium, Elk River

•Herbert M. Fox House, Becker

•Oliver H. Kelley Homestead, Elk River,

•Minnesota State Reformatory for Men Historic District, St. Cloud

The old Sherburne County Courthouse at 326 Lowell Ave. in Elk River was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, but has since been demolished.