Water towers are small town sentinels

 Groveport’s "Tin Man" water tower.

Maybe it’s just the Midwesterner in me, but I like water towers.

The big, bulbous structures boldly rise up on the landscape standing watch over communities. In the small towns of Ohio, and much of the Midwest, the water tower is often the tallest structure in a community and is the first thing one sees from a distance when approaching a town, especially in areas where the farmland is table top flat.

The towers are vital because in their sky perch they hold a precious commodity – water – the fluid of life.

So, why are the water towers so tall? The height of the tower couples with gravity to provide water pressure to propel the water to the homes, schools, businesses, and fire hydrants of a community.

Groveport’s "Tin Man" water tower can hold 100,000 gallons of water and the town’s other tower with a round tank can hold 200,000 gallons. Both water towers are well over 100 feet tall.

The big tanks can usually hold up to a day’s worth of water.

"It depends on the time of year," said Groveport Public Works Supervisor Dennis Moore. "Our tanks can go about 12 hours before we have to pump more water into them."

Moore said the large volume of the tanks not only aids in creating water pressure, it also serves as storage so water is on hand in case of an emergency, such as a water line break or a fire.

But, besides this its watery function, the towers also have another role. The water tower stands there against the elements with the town’s name emblazoned in big letters on its tank proclaiming to all for miles around that, "We are here. This is our town."

Some towns go further in establishing their sense of identity on the water tower by painting it to look like some notable aspect or famous festival of their community. It could be painted like a pumpkin or a tomato or it could feature the town’s logo. All are attempts to reinforce the community’s identity.

But the towers don’t need a fancy paint job to be a work of art. The water towers themselves grace the landscape as practical art  with the large tank "heads" perched on long spindly legs – a balancing act of form and function.

The towers also attract another kind of  so called "art" as vandals see the wide, blank face of a water tower and view it as a canvas for their graffiti. The vandals mistakenly see their act as self-expression when it really is just a way to document their foolhardiness in scaling the tower’s height do to their scrawling.

Water tower tanks come in various shapes and sizes. Groveport, as mentioned earlier, has two water towers – one with a round tank and another, older tower, that resembles the "Tin Man" from the "Wizard of Oz." Canal Winchester once had a similar silvery "Tin Man" water tower, but that old tower was taken down a few years ago and the village has now gone with the round style.

I like the "Tin Man" style because I can envision the tower doffing its pointy hat in a "hello there" fashion and then stiffly stepping off on its steel girdered legs to follow the red brick road of Blacklick Street.

Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger.

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