Ornaments bridge Brainerd's past, present, future

Historic water tower ornaments commemorate its beginning and offer ways to support the effort to keep the landmark on Brainerd’s horizon. The ornaments are available at Visit Brainerd or through Brainerd Community Action.

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

As holiday decorations start to appear in windows, those gearing up to decorate their Christmas trees might want to consider a Brainerd water tower ornament for some local flare.

The citizen group working to save and restore Brainerd’s historic water tower now has Christmas tree ornaments for sale to both raise funds for the restoration and pay tribute to the tower’s 100th birthday.

The bright blue bulbs feature a white image of the tower, along with the words “Brainerd Water Tower and “Centennial 1920-2020.” They’re $15 each and available at Visit Brainerd on Laurel Street in downtown Brainerd or by contacting Dave Badeaux through Brainerd Community Action at 218-829-5278. Only 150 ornaments are available.

“They’ll be wonderful for yourself or for gifts,” Committee Chair Mary Koep said as a message to the community during the committee’s meeting Wednesday, Nov. 18.

The group also hopes to do a small event to celebrate the tower closer to its actual birthday but has not yet decided on any specifics.


After a successful drive-thru dinner and silent auction that raised more than $8,000 in September, the water tower wants to keep the momentum going but knows the COVID-19 pandemic creates a difficult fundraising atmosphere. But as soon as the virus gets under control — hopefully by next summer — committee member Paul Skogen said the group needs to be ready with something.

RELATED: Brainerd council extends deadline for saving the water tower The council will revisit the issue in June 2021, when estimates on the cost of a new roof should be available.

“It’s a birthday. How do we celebrate birthdays? We have a birthday party,” Skogen said, noting they should be proactive rather than reactive and can always reschedule an event for later if need be.

With 2021 marking the 150th anniversary of Brainerd’s founding, Mayor Dave Badeaux — council liaison to the committee — suggested joining forces with the team planning that celebration to incorporate the water tower’s 100th birthday as well. Koep directed all committee members to brainstorm ideas for the next meeting.

Grants and nonprofit status

The water tower committee has raised just under $31,000 since its formation two years ago and also received a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to fund designs for the first stage of repairing the tower — a new roof. The city kicked in $12,500 in matching funds, while the historical society’s sum came to $23,700. The committee is now working with LHB in Minneapolis on the designs. Once those are completed — hopefully in spring 2021 — the group can scope out cost estimates for the project.

Engineering reports over the last few years have shown no structural damage to the tower — despite pieces of stucco falling off — but predict the bowl is likely to crack from excessive water damage if it doesn’t have a roof. The original roof on the tower was removed in the 1970s after it was believed to have been putting too much pressure on the bowl at the top. With its removal, the plan was for rainwater to go down through a gutter system and drain out of the tower. That plan, however, did not prove successful.

With one grant under its belt, the committee is working to secure more and believes its pending 501(c)(3) status will help. Badeaux said he has heard from at least one donor that would like to contribute funds to the cause but can only do so to a nonprofit. And if one person has restrictions, there may be others as well. With the paperwork filed, the group should be able to start operating as a nonprofit in the new year.


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

Get involved

Direct donations to the save the water tower can be made via debit and credit card by clicking the “Donate Now” button at ; and cash or checks can be sent to Brainerd Community Action, 321 S. Seventh St. Suite 105, Brainerd, MN, 56401. Checks should be made out to Brainerd Community Action, and all donations should include a note earmarking the funds for the water tower. A GoFundMe is available at .

Check donations of $250 or more will be eligible for refunds in the event the tower cannot be saved. The rest of the donations would go to Brainerd Restoration.

Water tower paraphernalia is available for purchase at Visit Brainerd, with all proceeds going directly to the cause.

Those interested in joining the water committee can apply at . The committee meets at 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month, with the next meeting scheduled for Dec. 16, at city hall. Meetings are open to the public.

For more information on the committee, or to pitch fundraising ideas contact the members:


THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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