The residents of Osseo didn’t just hold a traditional ribbon cutting ceremony when water and electrical systems arrived in the village a century ago. They held an “Osseo Light and Water Carnival.”
The water tower they lauded then, perched 100 feet high, still stands downtown. It’s no longer in use, but it inspires enough pride to be emblazoned on the city logo. And now the tower has been nominated for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Denis Gardner of the State Historic Preservation Office said it will likely be listed in the first half of 2017, assuming it receives the needed approvals. That will open the door to a number of grant opportunities to keep it in prime shape as a landmark.
The nomination comes about three years after the city floated the idea of tearing it down after learning that restoring it to function as a water tower would cost $300,000 to $500,000.
The potential demolition spurred local resident Kathleen Gette into action. She successfully sought state funds to study the water tower and nominate it for listing on the register.
“There isn’t one other thing about Osseo that captures Osseo’s identity — a physical structure or building or anything — other than the tower,” said Gette, who launched a Facebook page that has garnered more than 2,100 supporters.
City Administrator Riley Grams said he expects the city will seek a grant this year to assess precisely what maintenance the tower needs and what that might cost.
“We’re just wanting to keep it as an icon of the city,” Grams said. “And just really keep it standing.”
A history compiled by Alexa McDowell for the nomination captures the early importance of the water tower in the development of the city, which today is home to about 2,600 residents.
Fewer than 400 people lived in Osseo in 1910, just before talk of building a water tower began. But the future looked bright as the town developed into a potato farming hub connect to the Great Northern Railroad. Yet there was no effective way to put out fires, and it was costing residents in fire insurance.
“People literally had … a bucket brigade to try and put out fires,” Gette said.
So the town voted in 1915 to borrow $14,000 to build a water works system. Soon the tower loomed over the town, and it was time to celebrate the future. An ad for the carnival described it as “The Greatest Municipal Prosperity and Improvement Celebration in the History of Northern Hennepin County” including magicians, live music, dancing and a carnival queen, who was crowned before leading “the biggest automobile parade ever held.”
The improvements continued with the establishment of a fire department. And it wasn’t long before the Jefferson Highway, stretching from Louisiana to Canada, passed through the city.
The tower functioned until 2003. (The city now buys its water from Maple Grove.) A whistle on the tower still sounds daily at noon and 6 p.m., a relic of an era when it called farmers back from the fields.
It is one of just seven historical towers of its kind — with a rounded bottom — still standing within 50 miles of Osseo, according to McDowell’s report. The others are in Elk River, Hampton, Milaca, Robbinsdale, Minnetonka Beach and Waconia.
“Once a commonplace feature on the Minnesota horizon, historic water towers of all types are quickly disappearing,” McDowell wrote.