Compton Hill Water Tower – St. Louis, Missouri - Atlas Obscura

Compton Hill Water Tower

One of few surviving standpipe water towers in the U.S. 


In the early 1900s there were at least 400 standpipe water towers in the U.S., but the number has dwindled down to two dozen or fewer. St. Louis has three standpipes remaining today, which are cylindrical water tanks set directly in the ground rather than raised up by legs or a pole. 

The Compton Hill Water Tower is the youngest of the Missouri city’s decorative water towers. Built in 1898, the $48,000, 179-foot tower, made of rusticated limestone, brick, and terracotta, was designed by architect Harvey Ellis. The walls are adorned with leaves and mythical creatures.

Visitors are allowed inside to walk the 198 iron steps spiral steps to the top of the tower, where an observation deck under a bell-shaped roof of terracotta tiles offers a magnificent 360-degree view of St. Louis. It was a popular destination during the 1904 World’s Fair, when over 5,000 visitors climbed those stairs.

The tower was enjoyed and in service for 31 years; in 1929 its job was replaced by the larger, more efficient Stacy Park Reservoir. By 1984 it was deemed too dangerous to enter due to increasing deterioration. The tower fell into further disrepair over the next 10 years until the city undertook a $19 million restoration project from 1995 to 1999. It has since closed again—since the winter of 2016, debris and rocks have continued to fall off of the tower.

The Water Tower Park & Preservation Society is leading an effort to gain funding for its restoration.

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