Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Tankhouses are outbuildings constructed to provide water storage for domestic consumption and to insure dependable water pressure. The basic design is simple and straightforward– a large water tank (2,000 to 3,000 gallons) sits on an elevated platform some twenty to forty feet in height. Usually both the tank and the tower structure are enclosed. The area inside the tower is used for a workshop or storage or occasionally as a dwelling area. Wood is used most frequently in the construction of a tankhouse, although in some areas stone, brick, masonry block, or a combination of these materials is employed. Square, straight tower construction is most common in the Great Plains, but tapered towers are found occasionally, and in Nebraska circular towers occur in some counties.

In the Great Plains the construction of tankhouses dates from the 1880s and 1890s, although it occurred earlier in eastern Corn Belt states and in California. Notable, although modest, concentrations of tankhouses are in western Kansas and eastern Colorado, in Nebraska, and in central Texas. Initially, windmills provided the power needed to pump well water into the tanks, and both freestanding and attached windmills were constructed. Later, the availability of internal combustion engines and electric power from rural electrification projects provided alternative power sources, and windmills fell increasingly into disuse. The development of the hydropneumatic pump ended tankhouse construction by allowing water to be pumped directly from wells into homes under pressure. Some tankhouses are still used for their original purpose, but most have either fallen into disuse, been razed, or been converted to other uses.

Robert B. Kent University of Akron

Boucher, Aaron S., and Robert B. Kent. "Tankhouses in Nebraska: Distribution, Construction Styles, and Use." Material Culture 24 (1992): 43–58.

Kent, Robert B. "Tankhouses on the High Plains of Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado." Material Culture 24 (1992): 33–41.

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