Raymond Water Tower
Named Mississippi Landmark 

By
Rebecca Blackwell Drake


A rare photograph shows Raymond as it appeared in 1917 with the water tank in the background. For almost a century, the water tank has symbolized the center of Raymond and remains as a silent witness to the past.

During the 1940s and 1950s, as Americans were busy doing away with the old and bringing in the new, the town of Raymond remained immune to the wave of modernization spreading across the countryside. During this time, as towns and cities demolished many of their antiquated railroad depots and water tanks, Raymond clung steadfast to its landmarks.

Today, much of Raymond's charm results from its preservation of the past, including the Raymond Depot, circa 1889, and the water tank and tower, erected in 1905. Both are considered significant landmarks because they are so closely entwined with the history of the town.

Recognizing the importance of preserving all facets of Raymond's history, Mayor Isla Tullos and the Board of Aldermen applied for a Mississippi Landmark status for the water tank and town in the center of Town Square. Mississippi Landmark status was awarded by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History on October 8, 2003.

Tullos detailed the historic and architectural significance of the structure: "The tank has been a visual landmark and reference point for citizens of Raymond since it was built in 1905, almost a century ago. The crossing of Main Street and Port Gibson Street at the water tank is a clear example of how an important town structure is experienced both day-to-day as part of a person's ordinary, practical life as well as being remembered in a more eventful, symbolic way. The tank is important architecturally because others of its kind are being steadily removed from small town and city centers because of the demand for increased water storage capacity and increased distribution needs."

Mississippi Landmark status designation allowed the city to proceed with an application for a Community Heritage Preservation Grant to repair and preserve the tank. The grant would, "ensure its continued use and preservation as an important community landmark and as an increasingly rare surviving example of a riveted steel water tank with a hemispherical bottom and latticed legs."

In the Community Heritage Preservation Grant, to further define the significance of the site, Tullos stated: "In 1829, by order of President Andrew Jackson, surveyors were sent out to select a site near the center of Hinds County to be the county seat. The survey led to the establishment of the town of Raymond. The town was laid out with all streets extending from the center of Town Square, or Public Square as it was called. The first Hinds County Courthouse was built in the center of this Public Square in 1829. In 1844, George Harper, editor and publisher of the Hinds County Gazette, referred to the courthouse as an 'an old brick structure, strangely constructed, with a bright tin roof.' Also in 1844, a Vicksburg newspaper reported that a Whig pole bearing the American Flag inscribed with the name of Henry Clay stood in front of this courthouse. Many other historically significant events took place in the county seat of Raymond, and, no doubt, were witnessed by the citizens in the Square. One of the most notable events was the 1863 occupation of the town by Union forces that were bent on capturing Vicksburg." The fate of the original courthouse that occupied the present site of the water tank is unknown but many think the old structure was torn down after the new courthouse was completed in 1859.

Raymond's water tank was erected in 1905 on the site once occupied by the original courthouse. Quoting further from the grant application: "The tank stood testament to the life and times of the citizens of the town. Several old photographs tell the story of economic and social activity. An early 1917 photograph of a little boy and girl kissing in the middle of the street shows the tank in the background along with wagons and evidence of other activity. Other old photographs reveal the commercial activity of the town. During the 20's 30's and early 40's county residents came regularly by horse and wagon to trade and visit on Saturday. That era has passed, but the tank remains a silent witness to the past."

While applying for the Community Heritage Grant, Mayor Tullos explored the history of the Raymond water tank and town. Research revealed that as early as 1893, health officials established that the nation's public water supply was the source of many dreaded diseases. The answer to the problem came with the invention of the water tank, a storage facility built to stand high above ground level. By the turn-of-the-century, construction of water tanks could be seen in every city and town across America. Raymond's tank was erected by Chicago Bridge and Iron Works (CB&I), a company credited with building most of the water tanks in America. By the start of the 20th Century, CB&I had contracted for 85 tanks in 23 states from New Jersey to Mississippi and Louisiana. The water tower at Raymond represents an example of one of the early-riveted steel tanks with a full hemispherical bottom and lattice legs.

"Discovering the history of Raymond's Water Tower has been a fascinating experience," states Tullos. "Assistance through a Community Heritage Grant will enable Raymond to save the tank as a structure that symbolizes the center of Raymond. For decades, citizens of Raymond have identified with the water tank as a sense of place and as a landmark with historic significance." Mayor Tullos commented on the naming of Raymond's water tank a historic landmark: "Preservation of the tank will help insure that the elusive 'sense of place' that is Raymond's will survive. The removal of the tank would very obviously leave a hole in the sky - there would be a vacancy where none should be."

The Raymond Water Tower will celebrate its 100th birthday in the year 2005.

 

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