Historic Salisbury Standpipe slated for renovation

Historic Standpipe

These days, a pervasive rusty brown color has allowed the Roman column topped with a crown-like cresting to blend more easily into the Salisbury cityscape. Now, the Lemmon Hill Standpipe isn’t quite the eyesore it was a decade ago.

But the 16-story structure that was once the dominant feature in Salisbury’s skyline remains in obvious need of maintenance attention. What to do about it has been an on-again, off-again debate.

The historical significance of the standpipe isn’t much of a debate: It was the first thing crewmen moving boats up the Wicomico could see to let them know Salisbury was near, the first thing tourists passing through on the way to Ocean City would see to mark Salisbury’s presence; it was a turn-of-the century marker that demonstrated Salisbury was a progressive with a modern water-system infrastructure.

Just seven years ago, the standpipe became a City Council election issue as the council couldn’t agree on the structure’s plight. No one wanted to either finance the projected $146,000 to fix it or pay the estimated $47,000 to tear it down.

For a few weeks in 2009, it looked like the standpipe might be doomed. But, as sometimes happens in city politics, officials moved on to other matters, and the 100,000-gallon water tower kept browning against the Salisbury skyline.

For Salisbury Mayor Jake Day, however,. Whether to demolish or restore the standpipe has never been a difficult choice. Day sees the structure as a community symbol that should both be branded and cherished.

Therefore, Day has placed $178,000 in his capital budget plan to restore the landmark. The city repaired some of the concrete work around the base last year.

The new mayor has lots of ideas about how it might look and what improvements are possible to the park-like Lemmon Hill setting.

The mayor has a committee looking at ideas with the hope some plans could be unveiled in time for work to begin this summer.

There is even talk of lighting the standpipe, so it will truly serve as a beacon for the city,

“Cleaning this faded beacon on Lemmon Hill will create a renewed landmark for Salisbury,” said Day. “It offers an opportunity to define the city.”

Salisbury’s now-defunct standpipe, erected in 1888 after the devastating town fire of 1886, was built as part of a new water system installed by a New York firm, J.A. Cloude & Co., according to an historic Salisbury city document dated 1888.

It will be preserved and brightened, because anything less would be disrespectful to a tower that historical document poetically describes as “rising from the crest of Lemmon Hill.”

“It once had stairs wrapping around the outside. It was privately built by the Salisbury Water Co.,” Day said.

The word “standpipe” can be traced back to 1840, a simple two-syllable name for a “high vertical pipe used to secure uniform pressure in a water-supply system.”

When he was still serving last year as City Council President, Day contacted the Art Department at Salisbury University and organized a spring 2015 competition for students to enter ideas for painting it, or wrapping it in a logo.

“We want to make it more attractive. This was something I talked about doing in my campaign and now we’re going to do it. We’d like them to come up  with some kind of design that defines downtown Salisbury, or we might select a logo of some form. A lot of people want to see it rehabilitated,” Day said.

In comparison with today’s water towers, the Salisbury Standpipe is indeed an antique. The new water tower by Salisbury University contains 2 million gallons and has much more space at the top. Two more, by Wor-Wic Community College and on Edgemore Drive, hold 500,000 gallons each. The city’s water system has 3 million gallons “in the air,” plus ground reservoirs.

The historic city document describes the top of the tower the way a critic admires a work of art, stating it’s “finished …  with an iron cresting executed in a latticework design that also features a series of finials topped by stylized iron crowns.”

The standpipe was erected using Sweedish steel and the Lemmon Hill site was selected because of its elevation.

Easton has a nearly identical standpipe that it refurbished in recent years. Erected in 1886 by the Easton Water Co., like Salisbury’s standpipe it is made of riveted wrought-iron plates. A distinguishing feature is that it possesses a Doric column crown-like cresting on the top.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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