Saving the Oskhosh water tower

Published: Apr. 30, 2020 at 4:48 PM CDT
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When residents found out the original water tower in Oshkosh needed to be torn town, the community acted together to find a way to keep it standing.

We caught up with Jo Lynn Petty Blackwell to talk about the project. She is the president of the Oshkosh Water Tower non-profit. "A couple of years ago, I was sitting at my house reading the Garden County newspaper, and found out the water tower was going to be torn down," Blackwell said. "This was the working water tower for the town until 2018. It turns out, the wells no longer met federal regulations, so new wells were needed. The city needed a federal grant. The grant stated that the city couldn't use any part of the old water delivery system, which included the water tower. The city thought the only option was to take it down, but a group of us decided we didn't want them to take it down."

Blackwell says she called some friends, and they jumped in to help. She also called History Nebraska to find out how to put something on the National Register of Historic Places. "I did some research, and started that application process," Blackwell said. "Meantime, we went to city council. The city council came up with an elegant solution. They sold it to us. So, we own it. And, on June 26th of last year, we were approved by the government to have it on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of our work, History Nebraska gave us one of two preservation awards that the state gives out."

The water tower has been painted, and flood lights have been installed. Those lights will illuminate a planned brick plaza underneath the water tower, and more lights will highlight the tower itself, and the lights can be changed to different colors depending on the season. "The local garden club has volunteered to plant gardens underneath the tower. We've also sold commemorative bricks for the plaza, where people will be able to have a gathering or party."

Blackwell says it was important for the community to save the water tower. "In 1910, Oshkosh was founded. In 1920, the water tower was built, and they brought Bethlehem steel down the railroad tracks," Blackwell said. "They built it with that steel. For us to retire it is a thank you to them for their courage and ingenuity. And to retire it with grace, and give it a new future, is a gift to the residents of the present, and a promise to the residents of the future that we don't forget where we came from. We honor it."

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