As a historic structure, the Raleigh Water Tower holds double significance. Its construction signaled the dawn of local municipal water service. Half a century later, its renovation became one of Raleigh’s first examples of adaptive reuse. The stone and brick structure was erected in 1887. Prior to the tower's construction, water in the city was primarily drawn from private wells and cisterns. Concern for water quality in the 1880s led to the decision to develop a municipal system
. A private company was contracted to draw water from Walnut Creek immediately south of the city. There, water was conveyed from a dam by pipes to a nearby pump house. Steam pumps forced the water through sand filters, and either into a large reservoir on site or through pipes to the water tower downtown. The tower’s upland location and 85-foot height assured constant pressure for subscribers. Originally, its octagonal tower supported a 100,000 gallon water tank. An attached two-story building facing Morgan Street housed offices, while a stand-alone building to the rear contained a maintenance shop.
| Historic view of Raleigh Water Tower
Photo from National Register collection, courtesy of
North Carolina Division of Archives and History
By the early 1900s the system was supplying the entire city. A subsequent burst of residential growth, however, stressed capacity. The city acquired the operation in 1913, and soon thereafter created a larger impoundment upstream, removing the 1887 dam. The downtown water tower was abandoned in 1924, its tank removed and a larger metal tower erected further west. The city long considered demolishing the earlier structure, but in 1938 sold the property to Raleigh architect William Henley Deitrick. Deitrick, who was garnering a regional reputation for modernist design
, chose to convert the aging tower into his architectural offices. Renovations included removing the nine 12x12 inch heart pine columns which once supported the tank, and creating four interior floors. The structure was linked to the rear building with a walled garden courtyard. “The Tower” became the proving ground for a generation of local architects; it was there the plans for Dorton Arena
were finalized. In 1963, Deitrick deeded the water tower to the North Carolina chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) with binding preservation covenants. The AIA undertook a significant renovation of the site in the 1990s and maintained it as their headquarters until 2011. The building continues to house office space.
The Raleigh Water Tower, a designated Raleigh Historic Landmark, is located at 115 W. Morgan St. It is open during the regular office hours.