There’s a “party at the moontower,” and you’re invited. While there might not be a literal party, we’re getting into the history of moonlight towers and how these structures make Austin unique.
Did you know Austin’s moonlight towers are the only surviving examples of these tower lighting systems, which were common across the country in the late 1800s? The towers originally used electricity from the city’s first power plant on the Colorado River.
The definition of a moonlight tower is exactly how it sounds: towers that provide light.
The technical definition is “a type of public area lighting, which is a high tower fitted with arclights. They were formerly common in 19th century cities with electricity. These towers are similar to some forms of modern highway lighting at interchanges.”
These 165-ft tall structures originally used carbon arc lamps and were lit every night by a person who used an elevator to get to the top of the tower. These lamps were later replaced in the 1920s by incandescent lamps, followed by mercury vapor lamps in 1936.
Here’s what else we learned about Austin’s moonlight towers:
- Parts were shipped in pieces to Austin in the lates 1800s
- 31 towers were erected from 1894-1895
- Designated official state archeological landmarks in 1970
- Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976
- Zilker Park Holiday Tree is a moonlight tower replica, according to the Austin History Center
By the early 1990s, 17 of the 31 original moonlight towers still existed, and many of them were located in neighborhoods near downtown. Around this time, the City of Austin restored the towers, which included sandblasting, repairing, and repainting the structures. After the restoration process, the towers were placed back in their original locations.
Want to see a moonlight tower for yourself? Check out the map below to visit existing moonlight towers in Austin.
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