Waldo Water Tower (Frank T. Riley Memorial)

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Dr. David Waldo, water tower, Waldo castle, Frank T. Riley memorial, Dodson Cable Car Line 



Courtesy of Tom Nelson photography
Courtesy of Tom Nelson photography


Oh Waldo – the little town that almost officially was – until it became part of Kansas City, Mo. in 1909. Named for one Dr. David Waldo, who owned the land it sat upon, along with the Dodson cable car line, the Waldo neighborhood today is integrated, yet with its very own distinct sense of self.


Dodson Line Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections
Dodson Line
Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections


One of the most impressive sights in the neighborhood is, surprisingly… a water tower.


But this is not your average, run-of-the-mill giant orb tank emblazoned with the name of the town, as is more often than not the case. No, the Waldo Water Tower is a grand, ornate castle pillar, standing tall at an impressive 134 feet. The balcony parapet would be a prime spot for archers defending their keep, the height an advantage in case of attack. But it’s not a castle, and this isn’t the medieval times – imagination aside, it’s a defunct water tower — only slightly less impressive.




It sits on the National Register of Historic Places under the name of the Frank T. Riley Memorial. That’s who the city purchased the land from, Riley, an accomplished mason of the 32nd Degree and owner of a local publishing company producing mostly law briefs and the like. And upon this land the tall white tower arose, twelve-sided with 18-inch thick reinforced concrete walls. The design included ornamental arched windows – 12 of them, one for each side – opening onto a balcony. For whom was meant to enjoy the balcony is uncertain. Steep ladders and staircases offer an avenue to the tip-top, if one were courageous enough.




These days, though, civilians aren’t permitted to pass through the barbed wire and chain-link tangle of a modern-day moat. Not after 1962, at least, when a body was found in the water tower’s (empty, whew) depths. Luckily for Waldo’s water-drinkers, the supply had not come from the tower since 1957. But from 1920 to 1957, the year it was removed from service, the Waldo Water Tower/Frank T. Riley Memorial’s capacity was a staggering 1,000,000 gallons. Just think about that for a moment. It provided the good citizens of Waldo and surrounding areas with clean drinking water for 37 years.


The tower remains as a landmark, currently under restoration, an enduring and grand sight to behold.