The Waxhaw Watertower has been in the news recently, with debates over the naming of this historic landmark. According to the Charlotte Observer, “Town leaders in Waxhaw want to designate their water tank as a historic landmark, but the idea has ignited a bigger debate that is far from settled: Is it a water tower or a water tank?”
The Waxhaw Watertower is part of the Waxhaw Historic Walking Tour. According to the National Register of Historic Places, “The irregularly shaped, compact Waxhaw Historic District encompasses 122 resources: these include 116 buildings (residences, outbuildings, and commercial buildings), four structures (a water tower, pedestrian bridge, well and well house, and railroad tracks and right-of-way), and two objects (a large earthenware jug used as street furniture and a fence). The resources date from c. 1888 to the late 1980s.”
The water tower itself is formerly listed as a “Water Tower,” which is in the “center of block bounded by N. Main, Church, McDonald and Broom Streets.” There seems to be uncertainty about the date of construction. The document lists “1930” with a question mark beside it. That’s because the steel, 75,000-gallon water tank is not indicated on the 1925 Sanborn Map of Waxhaw. However, a 1941 aerial photo does show the tank. Waxhaw’s official town website safely places the date at 1940.
According to an article in the Union County Weekly from 2011, “Waxhaw originally owned the land where the water tower was built but deeded it over to the county for as long as the tower was in operation.” The switch back to Waxhaw ownership occurred on October 3rd, 2011. At the time, there were no solid plans for the tower beyond “preservation.”
Since then, the tower has been well kept. It sports a coat of fresh, silver paint, with the word “WAXHAW NC” in bold black letters. The sight is widely considered a “beacon” for residents. The grounds around the tank are open to the public. Flowering bushes are planted along the square. A black metal bench sits in the shade of the tower, displaying through cutouts the silhouette of the bridge and water tower, and proclaiming, “Welcome To Waxhaw.” A “Little Free Library” stands nearby. It’s a pleasant place to sit and relax.
So why the controversy? In 1991, the water tower was listed as part of the national historic district registry as a “water tower.” This only concerned its designation as a structure within the larger district. Now that the town is considering designating the tower itself as a national historic landmark, whatever they name it will become its official enshrinement. And to some people, that holds serious weight.