Metro-East Living

Save the Tower Autofest is Saturday in Millstadt

The Millstadt water tower over the Mertz Ford dealership in 1945.
The Millstadt water tower over the Mertz Ford dealership in 1945. Millstadt Enterprise

The Old Millstadt Water Tower, a landmark built in 1931, has seen better days.

Rusty and in need of sanding, paint and repairs, the tower was placed on Landmarks Illinois’ list of 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2014.

“We have an estimate that it would take $200,000 to repair it,” said Betty Keller Timmer, chairman of Friends of the Old Millstadt Water Tower. The group has just started fundraising efforts. “It’s really the only landmark in town and it means so much to a lot of people.”

That’s why the Friends, a core group of about a dozen people, want you to come to the Save the Tower Autofest from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the parking lot of the Mertz Ford dealership, 100 E. Washington in Millstadt.

Classic cars will be on display and you’re welcome to show off your wheels, too.

“There will be a people’s choice award,” Timmer said, “and you can vote for a dollar. The winner will get 50 percent.”

Bob and Sherry Habermehl’s Best Sounds Entertainment will provide the music, and there will be pulled pork sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs and desserts available for purchase.

“It’s one of only seven old water towers left in the state,” Timmer said. “And you can see it as far south as Waterloo.”

She can also tell you stories about people’s fondness for the tower. One woman who has been married 60 years remembers she and her husband had their first kiss under it. And it has always been a welcome site for people finding their way back to Millstadt, Timmer said.

The Friends have done their homework on the tower and provided the following facts and history.

The 100,000-gallon steel tower was built in 1931, following a five-year battle over the construction of a public sewer system. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of the sewer system.

Shortly after work began on the 25,000-gallon concrete reservoir behind the village, “an armed mob of more than 100 men” showed up, threatening workers and forcing them off the job, according to a Friends press release. The issue was that eight or nine local laborers had agreed to work for less than scale, which was 75 cents an hour. The Illinois Supreme Court again was involved, ruling the state wage agreement was unconstitutional.

Construction resumed and proceeded quickly, as the Weil-Kalter Rayon Factory would not begin production on the addition to their plant until the water system was finished, enabling a sprinkler system. In one day, more than 500 rivets were put in place on the water tower. The finished tower was painted red inside and aluminum outside, making it “one of the attractive points in St. Clair County.”

In 1939, with the help of WPA labor, a 500-watt light was placed on top of the tower, along with directional signs indicating the distance to Scott Field. It could be seen from the Municipal Bridge in St. Louis and as far south as Waterloo.

In 1954, the 300,000-gallon storage tank behind the Municipal Building was built and the tower was repainted and repaired. Deep wells continued to supply water to Millstadt until 1976. At that time, a water line was constructed from Belleville to Millstadt, replacing the wells.

The tower was painted blue in the 1960s and the color was changed to off-white in 1997 when the Millstadt logo was added.

Thanks to Scott O’Neill, a licensed structural engineer and owner of Ox2 Engineers, the Friends aquired an engineering report, at no cost to taxpayers, that states the tower is in good structural condition, Timmer said. Once the tower is repainted, it would be considered to be in excellent condition.