If a resident of today’s Arvada could travel back in time to see the town in the final months of 1910, they would surely find it mostly unrecognizable. After all, Arvada’s population was just 810 …
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If a resident of today’s Arvada could travel back in time to see the town in the final months of 1910, they would surely find it mostly unrecognizable.
After all, Arvada’s population was just 810 according to that year’s census and the town didn’t even yet have a stop light. One thing that resident surely would recognize, however, is the newly completed water tower, which the city would’ve just celebrated with a grand opening party on Oct. 12.
Originally installed as a means of providing water to a growing city that had previously depended on wells dug by hand from Clear Creek, the water tower stored Arvada’s water (up to 150,000 gallons at a time) until 1977.
But even as it has not been used for its intended purpose for over four decades, the Arvada community’s love for the water tower has only seemed to grow since as it has remained an iconic symbol of the city, and serving as a focal point for celebration.
But what makes an old water tower that hasn’t functioned in decades such a fitting symbol for an expanding suburban community?
Ben Irwin, who frequently includes the water tower in the communications materials he produces in his job as Arvada’s chief communication officer said the tower resonates because of what it says about the city’s past, present and future.
“I think we care about the water tower because it hearkens back to a proud history,” said Irwin. “Building a water tower in 1910, that was an exercise in foresight and planning for the future.”
Nancy Young, a local historian who wrote a book about the water tower’s history, said the tower’s place in the hearts and minds of both those who live in and visit Arvada is rooted in the practical role it played in the city for decades.
In addition to being the only source of water for 67 years, the tower also served as a landmark that could be used to identify Arvada from miles around, she said.
“Folks in Denver used to come to Arvada for picnics because it was so rural,” said Young. “And they found it by following the water tower because they could see it.”
Young wrote in her book that the tower still plays a similar role for Arvada-bound travelers who often know to exit I-70 when they see the tower.
Or perhaps it’s just the fact that the tower has seemingly always been there — and was still being used in the 1950s and 1960s when the city’s population increased twenty-fold, she said.
“Everyone grew up with the tower right in from of them,” Young said.
Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the tower has a history nearly as colorful as the city it overlooks.
A fun history
According to Young’s book, “The Arvada Water Tower: Celebrating 100 years,” the tower got off to a lively start when the town held a celebration of the new tower that was attended by the mayors of all the surrounding towns, including Denver’s mayor.
During the celebration, the firemen staged a water fight using water from the tower to find that the pressure was so great it knocked the firemen from their feet.
More hi-jinks ensued in the 1950s when Arvada High School’s 1955 graduating class decided to leave their mark on the town by climbing the tower and painting “Class of 1955” on the tank. The stunt was repeated the next year but the class of 1957 was not so lucky as they found the town authorities waiting for them at the tower ready to put a stop to the budding tradition.
However, the tower also provided a great service to the town in May 16, 1960 when it provided the only source of water to fight a blaze at the Metz Lumber Company, located in the middle of town. The tower can also be seen in the background of photos of the Armistice Parade the town held to celebrate the end of World War I.
While the tower no longer holds water, it has recently found another purpose as the city periodically lights it up in different colors to honor special events like high school graduations. Earlier this year, the tower once again became a nexus of hope, healing and resilience when it was lit up in red on Fridays as a tribute to first responders. Even more recently, it was lit up in rainbow colors in celebration of its own birthday.
But while newer residents only know the tower as a gleaming icon in Olde Town, that wasn’t always the case. According to the city website, the tower long sat behind a chain linked fence topped with barbed wire surrounded by trash and weeds after it was decommissioned. That changed in 1998 when the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority temporarily took possession of the tower to restore and repaint it, and also added the current park and plaza that lies beneath it.
As someone who grew up with the tower in Arvada, Young can probably speak for many former residents when she says she appreciates the efforts to keep the tower as an icon of Arvada.
“I’m glad it’s still standing,” she said. “It’s been a beacon since forever.”
However, she does have one wish for the tower’s future.
“I would rather that they painted just the word ‘Arvada’ on it,” she said. “Because that is what was painted on their for decades. It marked the spot.”
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