Monday, August 1, 2016

Sulphur Springs Water Tower

This is one of our historic Tampa landmarks, the Sulphur Springs Water Tower. More than 200 feet high, it's easily visible from several of the main roadways through town, including the Interstate, so everyone knows it.

It's one of my earliest memories of the landscape of North Tampa. Although I've driven past the tower a million times, I'd never really stopped in to see it. When I was younger it was on private land, with a drive-in movie theater nearby, and it wasn't publicly accessible. (Plenty of people found their way in, based on the graffiti that covered it back then.)

It was built in 1927 atop an artesian well to bring drinking water to an adjacent hotel and commercial development. Sulphur Springs itself was a resort where Tampanians would come to swim and escape the city center.

Although the businesses it was built to serve went bust not too many years after its construction, the tower functioned as a water tower until the early 1970s. Since then it's been vacant. I once read that it provided habitat for bats, but I'm not sure that was an officially sanctioned use!

Yesterday, to take a break from our Dad-related tasks, I drove down to get a closer look. I found that the formerly private property is now a city park, River Tower Park. Turns out, Tampa bought it in 2005, cleaned up the tower and installed a walkway along the adjacent Hillsborough River. What an improvement!

It's even illuminated at night, and it's so locally famous that the McDonald's across the street has a little crenellated turret on its roof, mimicking the tower's crown.

You still can't climb the tower -- you can only walk around the base -- but a drone video on this web page (complete with cheesy music) shows what the view looks like from the top. Pretty cool!


  1. I liked your second picture - looking up to the sky from the base of the tower. The drone video goes on a bit doesn't it? But it does show what drone cameras can do... Now get back to sorting out your dad's stuff out.

  2. I'm sure I've seen it before but I can't remember it specifically. It's nice that they've made a park out of it. Nice shots, Steve.

  3. Great images of this place and I enjoyed the video. I'd be petrified to stand on the top though. Seeing these photos made me think of the tower I visited in Lake Wales years ago. It had a carillon in it and was surrounded by a park.

  4. It's those landmarks we remember from our youth that stick with us.
    I can still see the big gold horses on Memorial Bridge going into D.C. and we would pass them on the way to pick up Daddy from work.

  5. Just catching up on my blog reading and saw that your father had died. I'm so very sorry. What a lovely tribute you wrote; such an honest depiction of the man you knew.

    I always enjoy your Tampa photos. My own parents live nearby (Palm Harbor), and I often recognize so much in your stories.


  6. This is intriguing - the things that man can dream of and build, eh? I went to the drone link and then made the mistake of following the link about the cleanup of the tower and what was found in it when they opened it up ... I'm not a bug person so it was fairly creepy!

    A good break from your duties, I expect, and great photos as always.

  7. It looks great cleaned up...I remember when it was a bit of an eyesore...Best to everyone.

  8. very cool tower. a few years back while were commuting to Houston to work every week we watched a structure being built. we had no idea what it was going to be and the way they constructed it was pretty interesting. I was going to do a blog post about it but never got around to it. it turned out to be a water tower for the expanding edges of one of the suburbs of the city.

  9. I'm surprised that nobody has climbed the tower. They climb everything else.

  10. The tower looks very dramatic with its night lighting.


  11. YP: Yeah, that video is about twice as long as it needs to be!

    Ms Moon: If you've driven I-275 (what used to be I-75 before the bypass) through downtown Tampa you've undoubtedly seen it. It's a few miles north of downtown near Sligh Avenue.

    Sharon: Yes! You're talking about Bok Tower. Which is BEAUTIFUL. I haven't been there in years.

    Marty: I know those horses! They made an impact on me too, when we'd visit my grandparents in suburban DC. I also remember the lions on the bridge near the Lincoln Memorial.

    Elle: Thanks so much for your kind words. It's fun to photograph the old hometown!

    Jenny-O: Yeah, I read that story too. Bleah! You'd think the bats would be eating all those bugs, but maybe they've screened the tower to keep the bats out. Who knows.

    E: Yeah, it looks much better than it used to!

    Ellen: And to think that this one was built 90 years ago. Apparently it's poured concrete with a deep foundation -- quite strong.

    Red: Oh, they have. There used to be graffiti near the windows, where people leaned out and sprayed it on the outside. In fact you can see some in that video I linked. I have no idea what the staircase inside is like. I sure wouldn't try it myself.

    Alphie: Yeah, the nighttime illumination is one of the best changes that came with the city's purchase, I think. I'm not sure what the bats think of all that light!

  12. Showing my ignorance here but how does/did the tower supply water to surrounding businesses? Best to your family.

  13. Scariest place I've ever been to. I went there last night after the Bucs game to find the door to the tower open. Normally it is blocked by a huge piece of metal. I went in & saw huge spiders & roaches everywhere. There was clear water in the base of the tower. Water was dropping everywhere, it was pitch black, & there were weird noises. I assume from rats & birds. I went as high as the 2nd floor & freaked out. This place is spooky.
    Then I read articles about giant venomous water bugs & ceilings covered in thousands of roaches. My skin is still crawling.

  14. 37P: I think it functioned like most water towers, drawing water to a height and them using gravity to create pressure in the delivery lines. Just a guess!

    James: Wow, you were brave! I would not have gone inside myself, especially if I'd looked in and seen what you saw! I always heard it was a roost for bats, too. It's good for wildlife but apparently not for people!