Ballston Spa Life
History Lesson: Milton Stone Tower had Unusual Function
Ballston Spa Life
BALLSTON SPA — Remnants of Milton’s past are scattered throughout the town. Some landmarks are easy to decipher, while others are a bit more mysterious.
Travelers along Middle Line Road may wonder about a two-story, enclosed stone tower near the intersection with County Farm Road. To the uninitiated, it could be a smokehouse, pottery kiln, or even an Indian burial ground.
The answers to the questions of what it was and how it got there date back to the early 1800s, when prominent Ballston Spa judge James Thompson built a farm near his office in the then-thriving hamlet of Milton Center. The sprawling property later became known as Rose Hill.
Thompson served as first judge of the county courts and as a Regent of the New York State University, living at Rose Hill until his death in 1845. Other family members resided at the farm into the 1930s.
Although nearly all early houses were built near creeks or springs, there was a need for storing large amounts of water to get through the coldest winter months or a drought. Some of the town’s more prominent families built water towers to collect and distribute water when it was needed.
The Rose Hill water tower was built in 1917 about one-quarter of a mile to the north of the homestead, at the high point of the property. In an age before widespread electricity, water was pushed into the tower by an ingenious “water ram,” which used the force of water running downstream to pump water upwards. For every few feet that the water dropped, the ram pushed it almost 100 feet. Water was pumped from a spring near Plummer Road nearly a mile to the tower.
Few people have seen the inside of the tower, which contains copious amounts of stone surrounding a brick wall cylinder that was designed to withstand the large pressure within when it was full of water. The bricks are coated in cement and bounded by one inch iron rods.
The structure remained operational until 1977, mainly providing water to the animal troughs of surrounding farms. However, after several decades of neglect, the tower began to deteriorate.
In 2001, the town of Milton purchased the tower and the small parcel of land that it sits on and stabilized it against collapse. It is hoped that the remainder of the restoration will be completed in the future so that it will stand for at least another hundred years.
Starr’s book “Lost Industries of Saratoga County” is scheduled to be published by The History Press in time for the holiday season. For more information, see www.HistoryOfSaratoga.com.