5. It Not Only Resembles a Medieval Tower, It Is Built Like One Too

closeup of the exterior of the Highbridge Water Tower

Although built for a functional purpose, the Highbridge Water Tower is an ornamental building often likened to medieval minarets and campaniles (Italian bell towers) and the comparisons have considerable merit, both stylistically and structurally. The architectural connections are obvious, but the physical similarity is not as readily apparent until one ventures inside or looks at architectural drawings.

Built more than a decade before the first steel frame skyscrapers of the 1880s, the Water Tower has load bearing walls designed to support the weight of the building above, including a full water tank. Much like a historic church, it has thick walls at the bottom and thinner ones at upper levels.

transition from shaft to tank room inside the Highbridge Water Tower
Transition from shaft to tank room (now observation level)

Both Buck’s paper and Dearborn’s plans show that at the base the octagonal structure has an outer diameter of 29 feet and walls 5.5 feet thick, leaving only 18 feet inside. Above the base, the main shaft tapers slightly so that the walls are 4 feet thick but the interior space remains 18 feet across. The few windows in the base and shaft are narrow and vertical to maintain the structural integrity.

exterior of the tank room
Exterior of the tank room, now observation level

In contrast, the walls of the tank room, which is now the observation level, only support the weight of the cupola above. They are a much slimmer 1 feet, 4 inches thick and have expansive windows, two on each of the eight sides. As a result, this part of the tower has a more spacious, light-filled interior of 25 feet, 8 inches in diameter.