GREENFIELD — A historic water tower which sat along U.S. 40 in Greenfield for well over a century has found a new home in Rush County.
On Dec. 2, the Pioneer Engineers Club of Rushville spent hours carefully deconstructing the water tower before loading it into a flatbed trailer and hauling it to the club’s property — Caldwell Pioneer Acres — a living history museum in Rushville.
Club members plan to restore the structure to its near-original condition. Once the restoration is complete, the club will erect the tower alongside other historic rural structures, including a covered bridge, country store, machine shop, blacksmith shop and woodworking shop.
The water tower, which was located at 823 W. US 40 on the west side of Greenfield, has long been a local landmark for those traveling to and from Indianapolis.
Hancock County historian Brigette Cook Jones has a postcard dated 1906 that pictures a young boy smiling in front of the tower, which consists of a wooden tank with a sheet metal tin roof sitting atop metal legs.
Jones said she went down a “research rabbit hole” to discover the boy was the son of state representative George H. Cooper, who was known to frequently entertain alongside his wife at their farm known as The Sycamores west of Greenfield.
She learned the water tower in the photo was part of the family farmstead.
The original farmhouse burned down in 1940 but the water tower remained, and the property was sold to relatives who rebuilt there.
Jones said the water tower has been an iconic part of the Greenfield landscape for generations.
Mark Dieckmann, president of the Pioneer Engineers Club, said club members were thrilled to acquire the historic structure and give it a permanent home at their “living museum” in Rushville.
The club of antique steam engine, gas engine and tractor enthusiasts acquired the sprawling property in 2007 from founding member Luther Caldwell, turning it into an outdoor history museum to show what life was like in pioneer days.
Dieckmann said the water tower fits in perfectly among the property’s other historic structures.
Club members plan to spend the next several months restoring the water tower to get it erected in time for their annual reunion in August when roughly 800 antique tractors will be on display.
“We’re weekend warrior types,” said Dieckmann, who lives south of Greensburg.
The Greenfield property where the tower sat for over a century is now owned by the City of Greenfield, which plans to use the site for a future water treatment plant.
The city purchased the 20-acre property in May from the Indiana Bandits and Greenfield Youth Baseball Association (GYBA), which was gifted the land about six years ago through the William Weil Family Foundation.
The property had been in the Weil family ever since 1941 when Walter and Eloise Weil purchased it and rebuilt after the previous home burned down the year before.
The Sycamores property would remain in the Weil family for nearly 80 years until the foundation gifted it to the Greenfield Youth Baseball Association.
The club used the proceeds from the sale of the property earlier this year to pay a loan acquired to develop the baseball park behind Greenfield Central Junior High School, with enough left over to fund ongoing enhancements.
Greenfield’s water utility manager, Charles Gill said the land acquisition was a welcome addition to the city, which has been racing to keep up with demand for water and other utilities as the city continues to grow.
Gill said he appreciates the Pioneer Club giving the historic water tower a new lease on life.
“When we bought the property one of our key ideas was to try and save that key water tower as much as we could, but we didn’t have the resources to access it,” he said.
Thankfully a member of the club contacted Gill a few months ago inquiring about the future of the tower.
“It’s a pretty neat part of history for us, so it’s great they’re going to be able to share that with others,” he said.
Gill assumes the tower hadn’t been in use for at least 50 years. “At the time it would have been used for a working farmstead, and I don’t think the family had used it for quite some time,” he said.
Pioneer club members made seemingly light work of tearing down and transporting the water tower on the morning of December 2.
Gill said he talked to them about the possibility of putting a plaque on the tower once restored recognizing the Weil family and the ties the tower has to Hancock County history.
Meanwhile, the city is moving forward with developing the property where the tower once stood, with hopes of starting drilling and water testing within the first quarter of next year.
“Before all that happens we’ll be putting out an abundance of notice to the surrounding residents to let folks know what’s coming,” said Gill.
The only structure that remains on the property is a pool house, which Gill said could potentially be used as a future education center to teach about water cycles and watershed management.
“That’s my eventual hope,” he said.
Repurposing for the sake of education of what the Pioneer Engineers Club is all about.
To learn more, visit PioneerEngineers.com.
For a full story of the history of The Sycamores property and its iconic water tower, visit the Hancock County Historical Society’s page on Facebook.