A Landmark in the Sky


The city tank of Rosenberg. Photo from Fort Bend Museum.

When the cities of Fort Bend County began to prosper, roads, lighting and water were top a priority. The city government began creating a clear path into and out of the community. Lights were tactically placed to welcome visitors into the downtown area. Equally imperative, a water source was implemented for the residents by the construction of a water tower.

Visible for miles and a common sight in every small city in the United States, the water tower was a source for distribution of potable water.  It provided emergency storage in case the town ran out of water, but it also offered fire protection. In some places, the term standpipe is used interchangeably to refer to a water tower, especially one with tall and narrow proportions.

Taken in the 1940s, Santa is seen on the Rosenberg water tower. Photo from Historic Downtown Rosenberg.

The earliest municipal water towers were built for the railroads. The tower was constructed from large wood tree trunks and were held together with steel cables or straps. Water would leak through the gaps when first added, but remarkably, as the water saturated the wood, it expanded, and the gaps closed, sealing the water in the wooden tank. When the water dropped, and the wood began to dry, leaking would occur, so more water was added.

Sometime around the Civil War, steel tanks replaced the wooden ones, which proved to be a more efficient means of water storage. Water towers supplied water to homes even without electricity. They relied on hydrostatic pressure produced by elevation of water, via gravity, to move the water into homes and business distribution centers. An electric pump was used to refill the tower with water. Because they were usually the tallest structure in the area, the community typically decorated the tower with the name of the city, the school mascot or the success of the high school or college team.

The water tower in Needville. Photo from Historic Fort Bend County.

Some of the oldest waters towers in Fort Bend County are in Rosenberg and Richmond. In 1914, the first 50,000-gallon water tower was completed in Rosenberg at a cost of $18,500 in bond funds. The city boasted that they had the largest and the best water works system of any city its size in Texas. Consumers were charged 50 cents cheaper then was charged in any other city in Texas as well.  This was made possible by placing the plant on a rent basis, thereby a greater amount was available for the installation of water mains.

Rosenberg still has three working towers strategically placed throughout the city. Through the years, they have been used as landmarks, to suspend Santa during the Christmas season and to proudly display the city’s name. Richmond has a water tower located in the downtown area. Patron’s look to the tower for guidance to the downtown shops and restaurants.

With advanced technology, the city water source moved away from water towers. Unfortunately, these historic structures were in danger of demolition. Built in the 1940s, the Needville water tower, located in downtown Needville, was in disarray and scheduled to be torn down until a group of caring citizens intervened. The city allowed a petition to save the water tower. Fundraisers were scheduled to raise from $200,000 to $250,000 to refurbish the water tower and make it a landmark. The tower is considered a beacon in the sky, guiding visitors to downtown Needville. With an overwhelming show of support from the community, the Needville water tower will continue to survive the test of time.

Today, some vintage water towers are repurposed and converted to apartments or exclusive penthouses. The historical significance will continue to motivate communities to save the memories of the past for the future.