Work to preserve Englewood, Tennessee's New Deal-era water tower finally going to bid

Work to preserve the iconic Englewood, Tennessee, water tower - added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2020 - is finally going to bid, and supporters say local folks will see work begin soon.

Friends of the Water Tower, members of the Englewood Water Tower Preservation Committee and Englewood city commissioners met Monday to approve opening bids for the project, two years in the making, according to Beth Sizemore, president of the preservation committee.

"I felt like we moved at a snail's pace on this," Sizemore said Friday in a phone interview, "but we're like the tortoise against the hare, we're just going to keep plodding on."

Sizemore said a South Carolina contractor visited and climbed the 85-year-old tower recently to evaluate it for an estimate.

"When he came in with a proposal with his price, it just floored us," she said.

That's because earlier estimates were unexpectedly within range of the new estimate, she said.

(READ MORE: Englewood water tower gets nod from Tennessee Historical Commission for National Register)

That contractor and now others have submitted bids that will be opened next Friday, she said, and prep work and painting will begin soon after.

The tower - a 71,000-gallon-capacity steel tank constructed in 1937 from Works Project Administration program funding under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal - looms 144 feet over the town of fewer than 2,000 people, according to Sizemore. Englewood used the tower for its drinking water until 2018, when the town was linked to nearby Etowah's water system.

Since the water tower isn't used anymore, the water utility couldn't continue to maintain it, so a preservation committee was formed to seek funding. Permission to pursue the idea was given by the City Commission, according to Sizemore.

How to help

The Englewood Water Tower Preservation Committee is collecting donations to put toward the preservation of the town’s icon. Donations can made online or dropped off at the Englewood Textile Museum or the Tellico Junction Cafe across the street. Checks should be made payable to East Tennessee Foundation with a memo line stating: “Water Tower Preservation.”Donations can be mailed to:East Tennessee Foundation520 W. Summit Hill Drive, Suite 1101Knoxville, TN 37902For more information, call 423-829-5331.

When it was named to the national register, Englewood's town centerpiece became Tennessee's first water tower to be added to the list, officials said.

Englewood residents are fond enough of the tower that a tiny replica of it was erected next to the Englewood Textile Museum just down the street.

Preservation committee member Catherine May said Friday in a phone interview she tracked down the first contractor for the estimate en route to letting the project for bids and was happily surprised to find there was a way to avoid all the labor-intensive removal of the tower and tank's original 1937 lead-based paint.

"That had really created an extra expense because of the lead," May said of original concerns.

The original preservation cost estimate after the tower was nominated to the national register in 2020 was $400,000, and since then another method to deal with the lead problem allowed a change of scope in the project that has held increases at bay, May said.

"We did change the scope because we later realized we were allowed to pressure-wash the tower and the legs and then put on two types of paint," she said. "It's an epoxy paint that will cover the lead, and it will not allow bleed-through."

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Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson celebrates after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 15-10. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

She said pressure washing will remove any flagging lead but won't involve expensive sandblasting and containment initially believed to be necessary.

The tank won't be able to hold water again, and that was never a goal, but it will be filled with sand to provide ballast against storms and strong winds, May said.

"We're excited about it, and we appreciate all the grants we were eligible for, but we are facing a deadline on some of our grants, and that's why we are trying to get the city to move on," she said.

Officials said local contributions covered fund-matching requirements of the grants that require it.

The first grant deadline is coming Oct. 1, according to May and Sizemore, so the project needs to get underway.

"We're still taking donations because there's additional things we would like to do in the little pocket park - it's not quite a pocket park yet - but we'd like to put some picnic tables in there and do something with the 100-year-old cistern," Sizemore said. "We're sponsored by the East Tennessee Foundation out of Knoxville."

The foundation is handling the project's funding, she said.

Water tower stories abound over the structure's eight-plus decades including a local girl who in recent years had some interesting ideas about the tank's contents, Sizemore recalled during a 2020 interview at a local cafe in town.

"When she was 5 years old she was convinced King Kong and the 'squiggles' lived in there," she said, referring to the British television children's series, "Get Squiggling," which aired in the late-2000s.

May and Sizemore said some of Englewood residents' best memories are associated with the tower.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.