A landmark destroyed, only to be rebuilt — twice
Marion’s iconic water tower, looming over Central Park, is at least the third tower in that location, the first two having collapsed early in the town’s history.
Until 1880, Marion residents received water directly from rivers, cisterns, and private wells. In 1887, the city’s first standpipe was constructed by a private company that provided electricity and water to the city.
The standpipe, 10 feet in diameter and a whopping 140 feet high, was by far the tallest structure in the city. But it lasted only 12 years until it was felled by a violent thunderstorm, said to be the worst in the city’s history, in 1899.
“The wind was violent, but it was not of a cyclonic nature,” the Record reported at the time. “It was a straight, heavy wind, accompanied at first by rain and later by an awful bombardment of hail.
“Trees were denuded of foliage, many of them uprooted, and most of them robbed of branches. Wheat fields, corn fields, and alfalfa fields were shaved as with a scythe. Gardens were cleaned like a floor. Scarcely a house in the pathway of the storm escaped with a full set of window panes.”
The standpipe, filled with 80,000 gallons of water at the time, was blown straight south from its location near the historic Hill School and broke into sections scattered over nearly 250 feet.
For more than a year, residents did without the water pressure and stable water supply that the standpipe provided until a new, less spindly water tower, with a tank atop a 80-foot tall structure, was constructed.
That tower didn’t stand the test of time, however, collapsing shortly after the city decided to take the water system seven years later.
In 1909, the current, all-steel water tower was constructed on the same site despite objections from the city’s school board, which expressed concern about the danger to children from falling ice — to say nothing of the danger of the tower itself falling, as it twice before had.
Even with the old standpipe, parents also were concerned about children climbing the tower, which the Record, a strong supporter of the city not relying on a private company, had warned about as early as 1886, before the original standpipe was completed.
Still, the location offered more positives than negatives.
Its base was on high ground more than 30 feet above the majority of the central business district, and it was situated along the east bank of what at the time was Luta Creek, before the creek was straightened to no longer divide Central Park.
It also was adjacent to the Central Park springs, which along with Chingawasa Springs and other springs feeding Mud and Clear Creeks north of town, were the primary source for city water obtained from the creek.
The tower originally held 90,000 gallons, though its listed capacity over the years has been reduced to 70,000.
Its iconic value was cemented in 1911 by installation of a donated 500-watt light atop it. The light was reported to be visible from as far away as Tampa, nearly 20 miles to the northwest.
The tower continued to serve along with tanks and clear wells at the city waterworks as the city’s sole source of water storage until 1963, when construction of a much larger, 500,000-gallon water tower near Warrior Stadium on the east edge of town began.
In 1981, the city ceased using spring-fed Luta Creek as its primary source of water and began obtaining water via a 12-inch pipe from Marion Reservoir.
It briefly had to resume using Luta Creek water in 2003 after reservoir water was deemed unsafe because of a toxic algae outbreak. Changes made to the treatment plant afterward safely removed toxins from the algae, which annually infested the reservoir until mysteriously vanishing this year.