From a few miles away, you know it’s Mineral Point when you spot the water tower.
“A martini glass,” some say. Others will give you less fanciful descriptions of the white cone-shaped tank that sits high atop a narrow steel tube. Everyone agrees the shape is unusual; but it could have been something much more – it could have been one of the Midwest’s most unlikely structures!
If plans drawn up thirty-five years ago had gathered enough votes in the city council, and if the townspeople had allowed it, Mineral Point’s small-town water tower would be topped off with an observation deck and a spinning restaurant.
The engineering firm of Strand Associates, of Madison, took the measure of an architectural renaissance under way in this art-loving town in the mid-1970s, and the firm came up with something bold: a full-service storage vessel designed to hold 400,000 gallons of water, with an elevator in the central cylinder to carry passengers to a 4,800 square feet walk-about deck where visitors could enjoy a birds-eye view of the city and surrounding hills and farms. And, visitors at the tank’s top could also dine in a revolving café that seated 250 patrons at its tables.
When Strand unveiled the plans on a winter night in 1977, the first question was “How much will it cost?” That figure went up and up as the controversy erupted and flamed for several years, but it was initially pegged at $725,000, to be funded by an increase in municipal water rates and a hike in property taxes. But, the sponsors argued, the spinning restaurant and a $1 fee for the 80-second elevator ride would produce as much as $45,000 per year in payoff revenue.
It all came down to an estimated per-household cost of about $60 per year. Some residents said it would be worth the tab. Many said, “No way!”
The discussion about the fancy tower carried into the mid-80s before construction finally got under way. A Blue Ribbon Commission on Water Resources ended the stormy debate, and the steel was brought to the building site.
Today, some folks grumble about the steel used for the tower’s pedestal, which rusts on purpose, and the odd shape of the big white tank. And, to tell the truth, only a few Pointers ever express sorrow over the loss of an architectural adventure, or even remember what our water tower might have been.