Updated at 3:30 p.m. Friday with workers appearing to begin disassembling the tower.
For more than 120 years, the red brick water tower on the Lindenwood University campus has stood as a symbol of St. Charles.
But it won’t be standing much longer.
This week, school officials announced their intention to demolish the landmark, though they declined to give a specific time for its destruction.
In a statement Wednesday, school President John R. Porter said the tower’s physical condition has deteriorated and the structure has become unsafe.
“It’s a sad time, especially for those who attended Lindenwood and fondly recall the tower as part of their experience,” Porter said.
“But we are at an unfortunate crossroads where we must decide between preserving a piece of the past and safeguarding the physical well-being of our future,” the statement said.
And it appears that nothing short of legal action, which is not on the horizon, stands in the way of the tower falling after St. Charles city granted the school a demolition permit last week.
That is the worst news for preservationists, who last year began a St. Charles Water Tower page on Facebook to try to save the tower.
“It’s an icon, something treasured by longtime St. Charles residents,“ said Dorris Keeven-Franke, an author and local historian. “It means something to those of us who’ve been here a long time.”
“It’s part of the city’s history,” she added, “because there’s more history to St. Charles than just Main Street.”
The school itself is steeped in history. It was founded in 1827 by Mary Easton Sibley as a school for women.
Some years later, Sibley and her husband, George Sibley, bought 500 acres of land to expand the school. In 1856, construction began on Sibley Hall, which was expanded in 1886.
St. Charles first built a water tower on the site in 1887, but it was destroyed by a tornado in 1896. Two years later St. Charles built the existing tower that remained in use until 1955.
One interesting pop-culture fact: From the 1920s through the 1950s, the wrought-iron railing at the top of the tower held a neon sign that read “Lindenwood College.”
The tower originally was not on campus grounds, but simply adjacent to it on city-owned property.
Keeven-Franke said the school’s expansion of its boundaries brought the tower onto the campus. And in 1971 the school officially bought the tower from the city — for $1 — with the intent to preserve it.
Then in 1980 the tower was officially designated as a St. Charles historic landmark. This normally means that special approval would be needed from the city’s Landmarks Board to demolish it.
But an exception to that rule exists.
Bruce Evans, St. Charles’ community development director, said the school hired a licensed, professional engineer who determined the tower was structurally unsafe.
And because of that assessment, the school does not need the Landmarks Board’s approval, Evans said.
The engineer’s report was filed early last week with Evans’ office, which granted the demolition permit on May 7.
So according to both Evans and Keeven-Franke, the wrecking ball now is solely in the school’s court.
The school’s statement provided no details on when the work would take place and access to the site was restricted Friday. But workers could be seen beginning the process by removing bricks from the tower.
The school did make efforts to preserve the tower. According to school publications, it spent about $66,000 in 1997 to renovate it. But four years ago, the school had to put a fence around the tower to keep people safe from falling bricks.
According to its statement, the school will use salvaged materials to build a monument on the site. A public dedication and the installation of a commemorative plaque are planned.
Also planned is a bit of fundraising. The school said it will save 100 of the tower’s bricks and sell them to the public.