Monday, July 17, 2017

Syracuse High Points 2: Thornden Park Water Tower (Elon P. Stewart Reservoir)

Syracuse, NY. Luna leads he way up to the Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. The Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. The Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Syracuse High Points 2: Thornden Park Water Tower (Elon P. Stewart Reservoir)
by Samuel D. Gruber 

Ascending any of the roads of Thornden Park, or coming up the hill from Clarendon Street to Ackerman Ave., one makes for the highest point where sits a massive round tower. Or, like Luna and me yesterday, you can skip the road and just climb the very steep hill rising opposite the Thornden swimming pool.

The tower is actually the Elon P. Stewart Reservoir, which holds 2 million gallons of water and is a key part of the city's water system. It is gravity fed by Skaneateles Lake (860 feet), which is higher than Thornden (732 feet). The reservoir (or standpipe) buitl in 1925-26,  rests 372 feet above the level of Onondaga Lake.

It was originally just called the Thornden Standpipe, is now named after a former city water engineer. The steel tank, which is enclosed in a masonry building, is 77 feet across, 60 feet high, and open at the top.  When it was constructed, engineers boasted that if every house in the neighborhood flushed their toilets at the same time, there would be no drop in pressure.  don't know if there was an architect involved - even for the exterior decoration - but the superb masonry work was done by Hueber Bros., Inc. (now Hueber-Breuer).

Syracuse, NY. Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Entrance portal. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.

The simplicity of the building - the pristine geometry of its great cylinder - is what makes the structure striking yet calming. The roots of this design go back to the Pantheon in Rome. These water reservoirs have always reminded me of the Martello Towers in Ireland, too. For more contemporary architectural use of the cylinder see the works of Louis Kahn and Mario Botta.

Rome, Italy. The Pantheon, 2nd century. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber ca 1985.
Rome, Italy. The Pantheon, etching by DuPerac, ca 1575.

https://elcafetindelas5.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/bangladeshkahn.jpg
Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh National Assembly, Louis Kahn, arch, 1982. photo: web.

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√Čvry (Essonne), France. Cathedral of the Resurrection, Mario Botta, arch., 1995 Photo:web.


In keeping with the Pantheon, this brick cylinder has a classical "front" - that is, a flat decorated portal stuck into the curved body of the building.  The main portion of this entrance  is the frieze dominated by a carved head of Neptune, god of the seas, who is surrounded by shells and tridents, his watery attributes.



Syracuse, NY. Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Entrance portal. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017











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Syracuse, NY. Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Entrance portal. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.

Syracuse's water system was first organized in 1841, using hollowed out logs to move water from spring fed reservoirs to the center of town. This technology had already been perfected in the salt industry, where hollowed logs were a regular feature to move water. By the 1880's the need for water had greatly increased as the population boomed, and a more reliable source was needed. and logs were no longer used - since most local forests had been clear cut for farmland. Iron and lead pipes became the favorite conduits of the water - no one considering the now-obvious contamination problems.

From The Leaf: A Publication of the Thornden Park Association, Syracuse, NY (March 2015), Vol 2:1:
After much debate, Skaneateles Lake was chosen as the city's new water source. Two side by side cast iron pipes were laid over a 19-mile route between the lake and Syracuse. Although laying pipe through solid rock, across ravines, and through quicksand was a difficult task, in 1894, after 5 years of construction, the pipeline was complete. City water was stored in Syracuse Reservoir  now called Woodland. In the 1920's, two “above tanks” called standpipes, were built one at Woodland and one at Thornden.
In 1992 the water tower was repaired. Exterior renovation included replacement of the  roof, repair of masonry, removal of graffiti, application of sealer to the masonry, and installation of both security lighting and a wrought iron fence around the tower to protect it from future vandalism. In 2014, $2.9 million was spent culminating in a new, 11 ton aluminum roof (pictures of it going up here; and video here). The work was needed because of severe roof deterioration and of 16 concrete columns inside the structure that support the roof.

Syracuse, NY. Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, during repairs.. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014


The views west and especially north from the sprawling grassy lawn around the tower are spectacular. These photos do not do them justice. On July 4th it is traditional for neighborhood families to gather on the great lawn and watch the fireworks from the fairgrounds or the stadium to the north, as little - and not so little - children delight themselves rolling down the green hill.

Syracuse, NY. View looking north from Thornden Park water reservoir. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017

Syracuse, NY. View looking north from Thornden Park water reservoir. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017

Syracuse, NY. View looking northwest from Thornden Park water reservoir. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. Luna at the Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017

[source: The Leaf: A Publication of the Thornden Park Association, Syracuse, NY (March 2015), Vol 2:1


6 comments:

  1. This is fascinating. What a great piece. Thanks, Sam, for writing it!

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  2. Interesting! Anything about the history of the Morningside water towers? They are caked with graffiti but have a gorgeous staircase leading up to them...

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  3. I loved reading this. Thank you! I always enjoyed seeing the Water Tower from the backyard at my parents house and now I enjoy the different perspective of looking up at it from our front yard on Victoria!

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  4. Thank you, very interesting. Kingston Ontario has several Martello towers as a part of the 19th century defensive system. One is an excellent museum https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murney_Tower

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  5. Very interesting article. Thank you Sam

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  6. Name a municipality that today would cover an unsightly metal water tank with a Pantheon-like brick skin.
    Not even Syracuse in the 21st century has that kind of pride (or financial resources).

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