Until 1832, when the City's first pumping station was built, residents drew their water by hand from the Mississippi River. Although greatly expanded in the 1850's, the City's water system was constantly straining to keep up with increasing demands for water. Finally in 1871, a bond issue made possible the construction of the St. Louis Water Works, which included settling tanks at Bissell's Point north of the City; the Compton Hill Reservoir; and the Grand Avenue Water Tower.
Three standpipes or water towers were built in St. Louis, all within a period of thirty years. The Grand Avenue (or White) Water Tower was constructed in 1871. Standing 175 feet above Market Street, it used gravity to provide pressure to water mains throughout the City. The brick structure is a giant Corinthian column, with cast iron capital. It was taken out of service in 1912.
Two other water towers were constructed during the Victorian period. The Compton Hill Tower was the last to be built, in 1898, from a design by Harvey Ellis. Another Victorian fantasy, the column's base is of rusticated stone; the tower itself rises to 180 feet, and is topped with a high bell-cast roof.