Crusader Staff Report
Demolition has begun on Gary’s historic, 111-year-old water tower. Clad in scaffolding from top to bottom, the wrecking ball will soon demolish the high rise where for more than a century it towered over Gary and could be seen for miles.
The 133-foot tower was built in 1909, three years after Gary was founded. One of the city’s oldest structures, the tower is a crumbling Indiana landmark whose days are numbered.
The Indiana-American Water Company has cleared the way for the structure to be demolished.
Indiana-American Water spokes- man Joe Loughmiller says the white steel storage tank “is beyond its useful life and can no longer be used.” Loughmiller says the structure has been maintained, but inspections have found “significant … deficiencies” that could jeopardize safety if it is not demolished.
In January, 2020, Indiana-American Water began building a new 500,000-gallon elevated water tank to replace the existing 290,000-gallon filter backwash tank.
Loughmiller said the historic water tower is beyond its useful life and would be too expensive to save. He said in one news report that it would cost $1 million to rehabilitate the foundation, while it would cost $900,000 to demolish the structure. Falling debris and a crumbling foundation are reportedly safety concerns.
Loughmiller said inspection reports found “significant safety and operational deficiencies in the structures that would require extensive amounts of time and funds to correct.”
According to Indiana Landmarks, shortly after the city’s founding by U.S. Steel in 1906, the Gary Heat, Light, and Water Company constructed the utilities necessary for tens of thousands of new residents and businesses.
The company hired civil engineer John W. Alvord of Chicago. “He drew on his experiences observing waterworks around the world and supplying water for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to capture the fresh water of Lake Michigan nearly three miles away.”
“The centerpiece of the waterworks was a Beaux-Arts pump house that no longer stands, and the 133-foot water tower on Gary’s west side that still stands. Completed in 1909, the tower’s tank measured 30 feet in diameter and sat on eight 90-foot steel columns. Rather than settling for an exposed steel skeleton, the Gary Heat, Light, and Water Company added a concrete block shell that transformed the utilitarian tower into an octagonal landmark, complete with decorative cornice and parapet wall.”
According to Indiana Landmarks, in 1911, the city “lit a fire atop the tower in the hour leading up to the July 4 fireworks, signaling the radically transformed landscape. Indiana American Water Company continues to use the site and tower, now one of the earliest structures on the city’s skyline.”
Wood from the masons’ scaffolding was repurposed to create the narrow wood staircase inside Gary’s water tower, and a large bell hangs inside — once used to signal fires and other emergencies in town.