The two-year deadline given to raise funds to save Brainerd’s historic water tower came and went in 2020, but the century-old structure got an extension.

Efforts to save the tower — which celebrated its 100th anniversary of completion Dec. 10 — began in late 2018 after falling stucco prompted concerns. Faced with a likely hefty bill to repair the tower and keep it standing, the Brainerd City Council allowed the creation of a citizen’s water tower committee and gave the group two years from October 2018 to raise the necessary funds.

The alternative? Destruction, estimated at around $300,000.

The committee has developed a plan and worked diligently in that time to collect enough money to put a roof on the tower and prevent further water damage inside the bowl at the top.

Melissa Yeager (left) and Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux talk after taking a selfie  Thursday, Dec. 10, on the 100th anniversary of the Brainerd City Council finalizing the completion of construction of the historic water tower. To commemorate the event, Badeaux handed out 100 free cupcakes to people in downtown Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Melissa Yeager (left) and Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux talk after taking a selfie Thursday, Dec. 10, on the 100th anniversary of the Brainerd City Council finalizing the completion of construction of the historic water tower. To commemorate the event, Badeaux handed out 100 free cupcakes to people in downtown Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

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While a drive-thru fundraising dinner, online silent auction and Christmas ornament sale helped edge the group closer to its goal, the COVID-19 pandemic hindered efforts over the past 10 months. With the cancellation of events like Arts in the Park and the Crow Wing County Fair, committee members did not reach the heights they had hoped for, though the 150 custom-made tree ornaments sold out in less than two weeks garnering $1,350.

Christmas tree ornaments celebrating the 100th anniversary of Brainerd's historic water tower are available for $15 at Visit Brainerd or through Brainerd Community Action. Proceeds will be dedicated to restoring the tower. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
Christmas tree ornaments celebrating the 100th anniversary of Brainerd's historic water tower are available for $15 at Visit Brainerd or through Brainerd Community Action. Proceeds will be dedicated to restoring the tower. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Armed with about $30,000 in donations and a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to fund designs for the new roof, Paul Skogen and Mayor Dave Badeaux asked the city council on behalf of the committee in October to consider extending the deadline.

The request was granted, and the council agreed to revisit the issue in June 2021. By that time, the committee — which will soon begin operating as a nonprofit — hopes to have its roof designs back from LHB, along with a better idea of how much the project will cost.

As the pandemic rages on and limits fundraising avenues, the citizens group continues to meet the third Wednesday of every month to keep track of its progress and brainstorm more ideas. Grant applications are in the works, and the newfound 501(c)(3) nonprofit status will hopefully open up new methods of funding.

Even in the middle of winter, group members are thinking of warmer weather and a mask-free community able to congregate and band together to save one of its iconic pieces of history.

People line up for the Brainerd Water Tower fundraising dinner Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Brainerd American Legion within sight of the historic water tower the fundraiser is trying to preserve.  Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch
People line up for the Brainerd Water Tower fundraising dinner Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Brainerd American Legion within sight of the historic water tower the fundraiser is trying to preserve. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Though the structure has not operated as a functional water tower for 60 years, it still stands as a “beacon of the north,” as Mayor Badeaux likes to call it, and resides on the city’s seal. And while it may not hold water, the tower does light up colorfully as of 2020. Multi-colored LED lights were added this year to celebrate special occasions. It shone bright blue in May to celebrate the 2020 Brainerd High School graduates and glowed red and green later in the year for Christmas.

Brainerd's Historic Water Tower is lit up in blue Saturday, May 23, to honor the Brainerd class of 2020. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd's Historic Water Tower is lit up in blue Saturday, May 23, to honor the Brainerd class of 2020. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

While the effort to preserve the structure continues, water tower paraphernalia — like T-shirts, keychains and cribbage boards — can be purchased at Visit Brainerd on Laurel Street. Direct donations can be made through GoFundMe at https://bit.ly/2MLJWRV, brainerdwatertower.com or through Brainerd Community Action.

“This isn’t just a water tower that showed up out of nowhere,” Badeaux told the city council in October. “It is a water tower with significance throughout the state and throughout the country.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.