Restoring water tower saves history, money

Staff writer

After three years of attempting, the city of Hillsboro will be able to preserve a piece of its history.

When the smaller of two water towers in town, located on Ash St. behind the Lumberyard, was placed on the National Historic Register, the city began searching for grants and eventually was awarded the Heritage Trust Fund grant, worth $90,000.

“There are some issues with the maintenance with the condition of the water tower,” city administrator Larry Paine said. “In order for us to continue to use it as a viable water storage facility, we had to do some upgrading. The grant gives us the ability to do that.”

The grant allows the city to paint the interior of the tank, replace and refurbish the steel on the tower, and replace missing bolts.

Marler said it would have cost more to tear the tower down rather than to rehabilitate it.

“(The second tower) allows us to have some versatility, so if we need to have one tower shut down for maintenance or for repairs, we have a second one that we can use,” she said. “From a historical perspective it’s cool, because we’re water nerds.”

Marler said the smaller tower might have been the original waterworks project in the city in 1927, and one of the first bond projects Hillsboro went into debt for.

“It was a really big stepping stone for them at the time,” she said. “Kind of visionary for them.”

Water plant operator Dan Mount said keeping the tower helped save the 1920s artisanship, which is all but a lost art now.

“It’s all riveted,” he said. “They had to have it forged and put each one in, bounded it together, and sealed it in.”

Structurally, Mount said a riveted tower is actually better than the stress-cast bolted towers of today because rivets completely sealed water in. The change was made to bolted towers because they allow pressure testing, which tells how many pounds per square inch a tower can hold, while rivets cannot allow such tests.

“Otherwise, the old rivets are just awesome,” Mount said. “The manpower that went into building that is a heck of a deal.”

Mount said in 1927, workers probably had to build a wood scaffolding to raise the metal so high, in addition to having a group of blacksmiths and craftsmen to seal the rivets.

“If we would have tore it down all that would have been lost,” he said. “Throughout the state of Kansas, little towns like us have done away with them.”

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