A COMMON REFRAIN IN OLD AUSTIN echoed the guarantee of the Fort Wayne Electric Company: that you could read your watch at midnight—without squinting—if you were within 1,500 feet of a Moonlight Tower.
WE LOVE AUSTIN'S MOONLIGHT TOWERS because their light is romantic. And the towers are historic. And they’re weird and fun and yet another reason Austin is the greatest city on Earth.
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EACH TOWER is just shy of 156 feet tall. Typically, they are reported to be 165 feet tall. Their heights vary slightly due to differing foundations and restoration.
MANY DRUNK AUSTINITES have climbed the 80 rungs to the top. Never a good idea.
MYTH: AUSTINITES FEARED THE 24-HOUR LIGHT would cause chickens to lay eggs around the clock
Fact: This is true! (The fear, not the egg-laying.)
Myth: The moonlight towers were arranged in the shape of a giant star (as in the Lone Star State).
Myth: The center post of the ZILKER PARK CHRISTMAS TREE is just a replica Moonlight Tower.
Fact: This used to be true, but now it is a restored original.
A FIRST-KISS ZONE extends hundreds of feet in all directions from each tower. Many Austin romances began under the towers in artificial yet equally romantic moonlight.
EACH TOWER BALANCES on a single iron pedestal anchored in concrete. Guy wires keep the towers erect and vertical.
AN INGENIOUS SYSTEM that illuminated the nights of the capital of Texas in the early days of electricity.
17 OF THE ORIGINAL 31 moonlight towers remain. Each is more than a century old.
YOU REALLY CAN just walk up to the base of any of the Moonlight Towers in friendly Austin, Texas.
SIX 6,400-WATT LAMPS at the top of each tower create the famous moonlight glow. They've gone from carbon-arc to incandescent to mercury vapor over the years. The technology has changed, but the romance of the moonlight glow has stayed the same.
AUSTIN, TEXAS IS THE ONLY CITY IN THE WORLD WITH MOONLIGHT TOWERS.
You Should Know About Them.
They Keep Austin Weird.
SOME PEOPLE call the Moonlight Towers "Moontowers." We're cool with that.
THE HISTORICAL MARKER PLAQUE on one Moonlight Tower is almost a poem:
"This is one of 27 that remain out of 31 towers erected 1894-95 and in continuous use since. Their carbon arc lights then illuminated entire city. Now mercury vapor lamps provide beacons for many miles on roads and airway, from dusk to dawn. Austin is said to be unique in the dramatic method of lighting."
CLICK AND HOLD
to the turn the Moonlight Tower on.
WHY MOONLIGHT TOWERS? They were a cost-effective way to quickly light broad areas. Each tower would illuminate about a quarter of a square mile. Many cities installed them in the 1880s and 90s—Austin was the only one weird enough to keep them.
ANYTHING with an "Upper Catwalk" has got to be cool.
A KNEEBRACE IS a diagonal support placed between two right-angle planes to strengthen their connection.
"LOWER CATWALK." Just as cool as the "Upper Catwalk."
NOT SO EASY in the early days. Carbon-arc lamps had to be tended to individually, daily. A central on/off switch for all of the Moonlight Towers wasn't incorporated until the 1940s, when the technology made it possible—and the threat of air raids during World War II made it advisable.
A HAND-OPERATED ELEVATOR in the center of each tower carried maintenance workers to the top.Today, workers are lifted by BUCKET TRUCK.
CAUTION BY WORKERS is warranted. One man fell to his death from the tower at 9th and Guadalupe.
WEIGHT OF EACH TOWER: about 5,000 pounds—they are iron.
WIN AUSTIN TRIVIA by knowing that the six lamps on each Moonlight Tower form a hexagon.
"PARTY AT THE MOONTOWER!”
—Matthew McConaughey as David Wooderson, DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993). Austin awesome.
ERECTED, according to the City of Austin, "for the safety and convenience of its citizens." Citizens of Austin then: 18,400. POPULATION OF AUSTIN now: 842,750. Do the math—50 times bigger!
IN FACT, the towers were purpose-designed to appear "spindly." The idea was to discourage would-be climbers who would think their weight would collapse the tower.
INSTALLED IN 1894 AND 1895, they were manufactured by the Fort Wayne Electric Company in Indiana and assembled onsite in Detroit, Michigan. The City of Austin purchased the towers used. For more history, SEE THE TIMELINE.