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Sleep in a water tower | Bartell's Backroads

The coastal town of Mendocino is loaded with water towers. Find out why they have so many and how you can spend the night in one.

MENDOCINO, Calif. — When the fog clears from the Mendocino coastline and retreats to the redwood forest, you can see water towers. They are everywhere. 

Some are tall, some are short, and some look like they are falling apart. They are why the little coastal village of Mendocino is affectionately known as "The Town of Water Towers."

Anne Semans, historian and director of the Kelley House Museum, gives walking tours of the towers. She says records show at one point the town had more than 100 of them. 

“Today, we have somewhere between 24 and 30 left,” Semans said. 

Mendocino does not have a municipal water system, so every one of the 1,000 or so residents gets their water from personal wells. 

“The whole reason we have water towers is because we didn’t have water to the houses, and the way you got that is through this gravity fed system,” Semans said. “People use them as storage. Mendocino gets 40 to 60 inches of rain, but we have a really shallow water table.”

Before the invention of electric pumps, windmills were used to pump water out of the wells and into water towers, but there was just one problem. 

“Before they had self-oiling windmills, they made such a racket. Just imagine 100 of these things going off. It was quite the noise,” Semans said.

Other than being known for its water towers, Mendocino was once a logging town. Redwood trees were discovered by accident after a cargo ship wrecked off the coast. The first sawmill was built in 1852, and the town prospered until the 1930s. 

“The mill closes down, the Great Depression happens, the town goes into disrepair, then what happens is the artists move here,” Semans said.

Those artists revitalized the town, and Mendocino became a tourist destination. And where do the tourists stay you might ask? The water towers, of course. 

Mendocino is full of renovated water towers that people can sleep in. Adrien Harris and Dian Snell have been renting out their water tower to tourists for a few years now. For safety reasons, the water tank was relocated, but the tower is intact. Inside, the rooms are small but really comfy.  

There is a lot of steep stairs, but the view is worth it. 

“Oh, the views are wonderful, but it’s really cozy. That’s just a euphemism for not much space,” Harris said laughing.

If you are looking for an elegant night's sleep, you might try the water tower room at the MacCallum House. Built in 1882, the three-story water tower features much of the original wood craftsmanship. On the bottom floor, you can see the underground well, on the second floor there is a sauna, and the third has just enough room for a bed.

A trip to Mendocino would not be complete without a visit to Blair House, which is where they filmed many scenes of the TV drama "Murder, She Wrote," which was technically supposed to be set in New England. 

“Mendocino was often used as a filming substitute for New England, because we were on the coast,” Semans said. 

The movie "Dying Young," starring Julia Roberts, was also filmed in Mendocino. 

“They actually built a house for Julia Roberts,” Semans said.

Windstorms and natural decay are the biggest threat to the water towers. So, whether you are sleeping in one or just viewing them from the street, enjoy them while they last. 

“Yes, there are pictures of them coming down, and it’s a big mess. You don’t want to be near it when it happens obviously,” Semans said.


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