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Prospect Park Water Tower, Minneapolis

Contributor: 
Minnesota Historical Society Press
Prospect Park water tower, Minneapolis

Prospect Park Water Tower, Minneapolis, 1914–1915. Photographer: Charles J. Hibbard.

Useful structures do not always have to look utilitarian. Case in point: the Prospect Park Water Tower. Familiarly known as "The Witch's Hat," it has become the neighborhood's architectural mascot not for its function but for its singularity. More than once over the years it has also galvanized neighborhood pride and determination on its own behalf.

Erected in 1913 on Tower Hill, one of the highest elevations in Minneapolis, the tower was built to increase water pressure in the area and thereby enhance firefighting efforts. The functional structure, however, was given a whimsical appearance by city engineer Frederick William Cappelen. To the delight of generations of Minnesotans to come, he topped the building with a fanciful brimmed "hat" of green ceramic tile, and hence its nickname was born.

The Witch's Hat and the Prospect Park neighborhood have enjoyed a love affair of sorts over the years. From the beginning, the tower and surrounding parkland attracted neighbors, young and old, who picnicked under shade trees in summer and sledded down the hill's icy slopes in winter. The tower's observation deck provided spectacular views of the Minneapolis and St. Paul skylines, and the building itself inspired many artists who captured its one-of-a-kind profile in charcoal and watercolor.

The Witch's Hat ceased to function as a water tower in 1952, but it remained an esteemed neighborhood symbol, worthy of defense. In 1955 when the city announced plans to demolish the tower following a lightning strike, the community mobilized. "Spurred on by eleven members of the Prospect Park Blue Birds (a junior organization of the Campfire Girls)," neighbors fought city hall and saved their tower.

Since the late twentieth century, the observation deck is open only one day a year, which is celebrated with an ice-cream social. The rest of the time, The Witch's Hat quietly communes with the dog walkers, strolling lovers, and frolicking children who come to visit, just like any other resident of the neighborhood.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Curran, Christine A., and Charlene K. Roise. "Prospect Park Water Tower and Tower Hill Park." National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 1997. State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

Prospect Park History Committee. Under the Witch's Hat: A Prospect Park East River Road History. Minneapolis: Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association, 2003.

Related Images

Prospect Park water tower, Minneapolis
Prospect Park water tower, Minneapolis
Prospect Park tower
Prospect Park tower
Skyline from Prospect Park Tower
Skyline from Prospect Park Tower

Turning Point

In 1955, neighborhood groups fight successfully to save this popular Prospect Park landmark from demolition, preserving it for future generations.

Chronology

1913

The Prospect Park Water Tower, designed by city engineer Frederick William Cappelen, is built on Tower Hill, Minneapolis, to enhance water pressure for local firefighting efforts.

1952

Due to technological advancements, the tower is no longer needed as a functioning water tower and is decommissioned.

1955

Threatened with demolition after a lightning strike, the Prospect Park Water Tower is saved as a neighborhood landmark by the action of local citizen groups.

1984

The Prospect Park Water Tower is officially designated as a local landmark by the City of Minneapolis.

1986

The tower undergoes significant renovation to better preserve it.

1997

The Prospect Park Water Tower is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.









  

Comments

I once saw a tee shirt with the specs/blueprints for the tower...are they still for sale (xl)??

Hi June, I think you are referring to this Tower Hill blueprint design?
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/477599/LowQualityTowerHillBluePrint.jpg
I'm not sure, but those T-shirts might have been sold at;

Schneider Drug
3400 University Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, MN 55414
(612) 379-7232

If you find anything out, please post the info up, I'm sure a lot of
people would be interested in learning more about those T-shirts :) .
If I find anything out, I'll be sure to post the info up here.

Thanks!