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Downtown Businesses, History Connection

Then & Now: The Waterworks Building Revisited

I remember when I first visited Waterworks Antiques, I fell in love with the building! The old brick walls, the beautiful windows, the sunlight – it all felt like magic. I was there for over an hour, exploring all nooks and crannies and snapping an occasional picture or two. That’s why when Nick Schultz, the winner of the first “Where in Washington?” game asked me to write some history on the Waterworks Building, I agreed with enthusiasm.

The owner of Waterworks Antiques, Sandy Bolte, was kind enough to share the history of the building with me, prepared by Margaret Rennick Niemeyer. I hope you enjoy it!

Then: Washington Waterworks building was first built in 1889.

Washington Waterworks building was first built in 1889, after many city meetings. The town of Washington had no active plumbing system until this time except for the neighbors of Henry Tibbe. Henry had set op an ornate water tank with a windmill to pump the water into the tank. In 1886 his tank also supplied water for other families in the Fourth and Cedar Streets area.

On July 10, 1888 the City passed an ordinance allowing lot 128 in block 25 to be used for the Waterworks building. In the same year, the Interstate Gas and Water Company constructed the Waterworks operation on the banks of the Missouri River in Washington, Missouri. Theodore Plate was the president of this private corporation which provided the water for the City of Washington. In later years, local businessmen and banking concerns in St. Louis bought out Interstate and formed the Washington Water and Light Company. Subsequently, the local business group bought out the St. Louis banking interests. In 1916, the City of Washington bought the water utility from the private company.

The open reservoir that used to hold water once upon a time, is now covered by soil in the park area.

Originally, water was pumped from the river into a large reservoir on the south side of Front Street (between Jefferson and Lafayette Streets). From this holding tank, the water flowed by gravity back to the Waterworks and into an open reservoir on the east side of the building (now covered by soil in the park area). The water was then pumped into the pipes serving the community. A stand-pipe, holding 125, 000 gallons of reserve water was located on Fifth Street (near the present-day parsonage of the Lutheran Church).

Pumps for those operations were located in a twenty ft. deep pit inside the Waterworks building. Steam to drive the pumps was produced by large, coal fueled boilers located on the ground level floor of the building, called the “boiler rooms”. Steam from the boilers also provided the pressure to operate a whistle used to alert the community and the Volunteer Fire Department to any Emergency. Consequently, The Independent Telephone Company assigned number “one” to the telephone located at the Waterworks.

Postcard perfect image of the Waterworks building and the Missouri river.

When the City of Washington took possession of the private water company in 1916, it continued to pump from the Missouri River for several more years. In the mid-1920s, the first of several deep wells was drilled on Lafayette Street (between Main and Front Streets). Electricity provided the energy source for pumping from the deep wells. The second deep well was drilled in the City Park near the swimming pool. Over the years additional deep wells have been drilled to accommodate a growing demand for water in the community.

In 1923, the City constructed an elevated tank on High Street which held 250,000 gallons of water. This tank was later removed. In 1954, a reservoir holding 2,600,000 gallons was constructed on Pottery Road and continues to be in service.

Tom Gilpin was the first superintendent of the water works, followed by Joseph Inter. Henry Mowwe was director of the operation at the time that the City acquired the utility in 1916. Mr. Mowwe continued in the capacity until his retirement in 1939. At that time, James W. Rennick assumed the position and moved his family into the living quarters of the building. The Rennick family remained there until April, 1972 when 24 hour monitoring of city services was available at a control center in the City Hall on Jefferson Street. Rennick served the City for 42 years. As a recognition for his service, the City of Washington developed a beautiful park around the building, called “James W. Rennick Riverfront Park”. As the water works building was phased out of the daily operation of the water department, new uses for the unique, old building were considered.

Although not in operation anymore, the Waterworks building remains a Washington landmark.

In 1985, artist larry Pogue developed a plan to renovate the building for studio and gallery activities. He worked on the remodeling for a couple of years, and the had his Sculpture Gallery in the Waterworks building for 5 years. When he moved in 1994, the building has been the home for Waterworks Antiques. The owner of the store, Sandy Bolte, says that because of its rich history the building lends itself to antiques easily. They seem to naturally fit between the brick walls, that have seen many a floods, being located so close to the Missouri river.

Waterworks Antiques is a perfect fit for the beautiful historic building.

The owner of the store, Sandy Bolte, loves her downtown location. She has been in the building for 17 years, making Waterworks Antiques the oldest antique shop in downtown Washington.

From exquisite antique furniture, to vintage clothing, you can find just about anything in Waterworks Antiques. The store spreads on 4 levels, 2 of them below ground.

Normally, this picture from an old calendar would be quite fitting for the January weather in Missouri, but not this year.

Remembering the snow: The Waterworks Building last winter.

Waterworks Antiques is located on #1 Elbert, Washington, MO. You can visit the store from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., or Sunday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. For additional information, call 636.390.2344.

About Slava

I am a twenty-something Bulgarian girl in the USA, re-discovering the world through the lens.


3 Responses to “Then & Now: The Waterworks Building Revisited”

  1. Very interesting story!! And a darling antique shop!

    Posted by Wendy Becker | February 9, 2012, 7:49 am
  2. I believe Theodore Link, the great architect behind St. Louis Union Station, designed this building, as well as the Power and Light building further west on Front Street.

    Posted by Molly B | June 28, 2012, 8:25 am


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