In the winding Tangletown neighborhood of Minneapolis, you might stumble upon an imposing cement structure, bedecked with eagles and sword-wielding knights. This 110-foot-tall dome, easily visible from the air, often serves as an unofficial beacon for planes coming in for landing. This is no fortress or bunker; it’s a water tower.
The Washburn Park Water Tower was built in 1932 to replace a much older water tower. Three prominent Minneapolis businessmen were tasked with the job: architect Harry Wild Jones, sculptor John K. Daniels, and engineer William S. Hewett. Because the water tower was to be in a developing neighborhood, they wanted it to be beautiful.
The design began with eight pilasters and a domed top, all made from reinforced concrete. These didn’t draw much attention, but when the plaster casts were trucked in, people gathered to watch.
As the story goes, some years earlier Harry Wild Jones was clearing brush to build his home in Tangletown when he was attacked by an eagle. After a struggle the eagle was injured. The architect brought it into town, where its wingspan was measured at a whopping 7 feet. Possibly as an homage to that bird, the Washburn Water Tower is topped with eight eagles, looking over the homes of the surrounding neighborhood.
Perhaps more noticeable are the eight hooded knights adorning the buttresses of the tower. They are known as the “Guardians of Health,” and are symbolic protectors of the water supply. Minnesota was experiencing a deathly typhoid outbreak at the time of construction. The eight-ton sculptures were affixed to the tower to assure residents of its cleanliness.
Washburn Water Tower still stands on its hilltop, though more as a Minneapolis landmark than as a municipal service. It no longer provides water, though it does help to maintain the city’s water pressure. The tower was placed on the Register of National Historic Places in 1983.