The iconic North Point Tower on the bluff above Lake Michigan is symbolic of 144 years of service by Milwaukee’s water utility. It was part of the first Milwaukee Water Works in 1874 that began pumping lake water and later provided treated drinking water. The tower is actually a decorative cover over an open standpipe that absorbed pulsations of water from steam engines in the pumping station below the hill. Electricity replaced steam in 1963 and the standpipe was no longer used.
The tower is located on the city's east side at 2288 N. Lake Dr. at North Avenue.
The fanciful and charming Victorian Gothic style structure was designed by architect Charles A. Gombert. The design is similar to the Chicago Water Tower, but the Milwaukee tower is four years younger and 21 feet taller at 175 feet. The tower is executed in cream-colored Wauwatosa cut limestone, its rock-faced walls backed with Milwaukee Cream City Brick and trimmed with dressed limestone. A three-year exterior and interior restoration was completed in June 2018. Read more about the project to the right on this page.
Our most-asked question about the tower is "Can we climb the stairway inside?" Using 1874 specifications, the 213-step steel staircase was not designed to support heavy traffic, but only large enough for one person performing any necessary maintenance. As John Gurda notes in his book "A City Built on Water," Milwaukeeans worked six-day weeks in the 1870s. They had little time for tower climbing. You can "climb the stairway" through a series of photos below.
The tower has been recognized with several historic designations:
- Official Landmark of the City of Milwaukee; designated by the the Milwaukee Landmark Commission on September 11, 1968
- American Water Landmark Award from the American Water Works Association on May 19, 1969
- In 1969, the North Point Water Tower was selected as an important example of our architectural heritage by the Historic American Building Survey conducted by the National Park Service in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects. In recognition of its value, a record was placed in the Library of Congress.
- Residents formed a Water Tower Landmark Trust, Inc., “Dedicated to the preservation of our unique residential area” and held a recognition ceremony at the tower on October 20, 1973.
- National Register of Historic Places designation in 1973
- Wisconsin State Historical Site; designated by the Board of Curators of the Wisconsin State Historical Society in collaboration with the Milwaukee County Historical Society on October 24, 1973. A marker was set in place at the tower on December 22, 1973.
- City of Milwaukee Historic Designation in 1986
"By virtue of its appearance and its historical association, it is symbolic of Milwaukee’s traditionally bountiful water supply. This structure possesses the integrity of original location, original workmanship, and many intangible elements of feeling and association extending back into the history of the City of Milwaukee."
-- Former MWW Superintendent Elmer W. Becker, 1974
These are photos taken by retired MWW Water Plant Maintenance Supervisor John Schmidt. The 213-step steel staircase is not large enough or strong enough to hold and support heavy traffic. We hope you enjoy the view from the top.