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Sauerkraut Tower’s elusive purpose unlocked

By Zach D'Amico

Sauerkraut Tower quietly celebrated its one hundred and twenty-fifth birthday this past year, but many current and former Bearcats only know of the mysterious structure because it’s visible from most places on campus.

Is it filled to the brim with sauerkraut? Are there monks who live there? Does it hold a passage to an underground lake? These are just a few of many rumors regarding what actually lays within Sauerkraut Tower.

The truth is that the tower was constructed in 1893 as a gravity-powered water distribution method for the campus. It was designed by Brother Wolfgang Traxler and was built with monk-made bricks. The tower once contained five tanks which carried up to 80,000 gallons of water.

Fr. Brian Boosel, O.S.B., is well-known amongst the Saint Vincent community for his vast knowledge of the college’s past. He graduated from Saint Vincent in 1996 and his curiosity with Sauerkraut Tower blossomed during his undergraduate years.

“Sauerkraut Tower was a big part of campus lore. It was always locked and nobody knew what was inside. It was just this very interesting piece of architecture,” he said.

Currently, according to Boosel, the tower is used for storage (roadwork equipment) and has been for roughly the past 90 years. So, sadly no…there aren’t monks living there or secret passageways to underground lakes.

“Anywhere on campus you can see Sauerkraut Tower, which is kind of neat. And I remember this little anecdote of finally getting to see what was inside and it was so disappointing,” Boosel said with a laugh as he recalled when he realized that tower was only used for storage.

During its functional years, Brother Innocent, the chief cook, found that the tower provided the ideal temperature and lighting to store cabbage and ferment sauerkraut beneath the water tanks. Students named it “Sauerkraut Tower” because they speculated that it housed large amounts of kraut that was served at mealtime.

Boosel, an assistant history professor at the college, described how he has come to know so much about Saint Vincent’s history.

“A lot of it is just living here. The longer you’re here the more you hear about things and you get to experience them,” he said.

When Boosel was a student, Sauerkraut tower was the highest structure on campus. It continued to be until 2000 when the front steeples of the Basilica were added as the new highest structure.

Now, he wishes that it served a more practical use for the Saint Vincent community.

“I wish we could somehow use it as a functional piece of architecture…. It’s just a matter of, ‘what do we do with it in the twenty-first century.’” he said.

Boosel said that he’s heard suggestions to convert the tower into an art gallery or coffee shop.

Looking ahead, Boosel said that Sauerkraut Tower isn’t going anywhere for the time being.

“It’s something unique that not many colleges have. A very beautiful, nineteenth-century brick water tower…It’s going to be here forever. It’s part of Saint Vincent,” he said.

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