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Ethan’s 100-year-old water tower transformed into gazebo

On top of the frame of a gazebo, the lid of Ethan's old water tower’s tank now rests nearer to the ground. (Chris Mueller/The Republic)1 / 2
Pictured from left, Colette Van Hecke, Darlene Hoffman and Nancy Schoenfelder.2 / 2

ETHAN -- The town of Ethan’s water tower stands tall above a flat horizon, distinguishable from a distance.

It’s been only a few years since the town’s old water tower, which was built in 1912, was torn down and a new, modern water tower with a capacity of 200,000 gallons -- four times the capacity of the old water tower -- was built in its place.

But not far from where the old water tower’s riveted steel tank once stood high up in the air, the town’s residents have made a tribute to the old water tower. On top of the frame of a gazebo, the lid of the old water tower’s tank now rests nearer to the ground.

Nancy Schoenfelder, president of the Ethan Historical Society, said she and other Ethan residents felt the town’s old water tower deserved more than to be demolished and thrown into a scrap pile.

“It was your beacon of home to see your tower sitting there with the name Ethan,” Schoenfelder said in a recent interview with The Daily Republic. “What more can you be proud of than to have your name in the sky?”

Brett Scott, the town’s maintenance supervisor, watched as a contractor and his team lifted the lid off the old water tower, when the demolition began in 2012.

“When he started lifting the lid, he noticed it was actually in pretty good condition,” Scott said.

That’s unusual, he said, as the lids of old water towers typically collapse after being lifted off the rest of the structure.

“We were fortunate that ours was in good condition and we had a good idea of what to do with it,” Scott said.

There was talk prior to the demolition of possibly preserving the entire old water tower, but the costs involved in maintaining such a large, aging structure proved to be too much. After learning the lid was salvageable, Scott quickly contacted Schoenfelder to see if it should be saved.

“We only had a really short time, within minutes, to make a decision,” Scott said.

The Ethan Historical Society took control of the project after that, first selecting the location for the gazebo, and then arranging and organizing the work, much of which was done by volunteers.

Randy Schoenfelder, Nancy’s husband and a retired welder, did much of the welding, along with a few other relatives, needed to assemble the gazebo. Despite the uniqueness of the project, Schoenfelder said the welding involved was relatively simple.

“As far as welding metal, unless there is rust, it’s pretty easy,” he said.

Lifting the lid of the old water tower back off the ground, where it had been left, and onto the frame of gazebo was, Scott said, the most precarious part of the project. It was done using a payloader equipped with a boom and a chain.

“It wasn’t a crane by any means,” Scott said. “When we went to lift it, I was keeping my fingers crossed because I had seen it come down the first time.”

Had the lid crashed to the ground or been torn apart as it was lifted up, Scott said, all the work done to pour the foundation and assemble the frame would have been wasted. But, the lid of the old water tower was lifted onto the frame of the gazebo without incident.

“It finally made it,” Scott said. “We really didn’t know if it would or not, even after all that work.”

The entire project, which is nearly complete, is expected to cost approximately $3,000, and will be paid for largely by private donations and a series of fundraisers already held by the Ethan Historical Society, Schoenfelder said. A ceremony to dedicate the gazebo will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

“It’s definitely unique,” Scott said. “I think it’s fair to say it’s the only one in South Dakota.”

Schoenfelder said the process of raising money for the project has been long and often tedious. But Colette Van Hecke, the historical group’s treasurer, said the result is more than satisfying.

“Now, we see what’s up there and it’s worth it,” Van Hecke said.

Darlene Hoffman, the historical group’s secretary, said the project should benefit all of the town’s residents, but especially its young people.

“I think it’s something for the younger generation to look at to see what can be done with something if it’s preserved,” Hoffman said.

Schoenfelder said the gazebo should serve for generations as a reminder of an important piece of the town’s history.

“When you know your history, you take pride in it,” she said. “We want our young people to know our history and to be proud of their community.”