When I first came to New York City, I expected to see tall buildings when looking up but I didn’t expect to see so many water towers sitting on top of almost every building. This caused me to wonder- why does NYC have so many water towers ? And, how do they work?
The Water S’wells
Little did I know that the story of NYC water towers that dot our skyline starts way back in the 1800’s, as the NYC population dramatically increased and housing/apartment buildings started to grow higher. To prevent excessively high water pressure (which could burst pipes) when trying to reach these higher floors , the city then (and now) required buildings higher than six stories to be equipped with a rooftop water tower. The original water tower builders were barrel makers who expanded their craft to meet these new building requirements. As then, no sealant is used with these wooden structures to hold the water in. Wooden walls, which are not painted or chemically treated so as not to taint the water flavor, are held together with cables. At first, the walls leak until water saturates the wood that swells to close the gaps which then become impermeable.
To learn more about the history behind these towers and to know how they work, this 2009 article by Sean Joseph from AM New York provides an engaging overview of these skyline icons and relics of the past (and our present). http://www.amny.com/urbanite-1.812039/water-towers-nyc-s-misunderstood-icons-1.1143133
Water Towers and the NYC Skyline
Skyline icons and relics of the past they are. Andy Rosenwach of Rosenwach Tank Co. (one of two family businesses in operation since the late-1800s that continue to build water towers in NYC) has said "Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Pisa has the Leaning Tower and New York has the water tower." So next time you’re out and about in NYC, look up to see the variety of water tanks that adorn NYC rooftops. There are wood tanks and steel tanks, large tanks and small tanks, round tanks and square tanks. Some are in plain sight and some have been enclosed in ornate or decorative structures. How many different tanks can you count?