What are the moonlight towers?
Austin is a city rich in historical landmarks, but one sky-high piece of the past is often overlooked. While you may never have noticed the city’s 116-year-old moonlight towers, they are still in use.
According to the Austin History Center, the moonlight towers are 165-foot-tall metal giants located in various portions of the city; they are mainly clustered downtown. The towers were put up in 1895 to light the city and, according to local legend, protect residents from an unidentified serial killer known as the “Servant Girl Annihilator.”
Mike Miller with the Austin History Center said he has yet to see an official document stating a connection between the killer and the moonlight towers, though he has heard that connection made. He said his gut tells him it is a coincidence that the towers were constructed around the same time as the noteworthy killings, but who can know for certain?
The Austin History Center’s website states that 31 towers were erected and used carbon arc lamps that were lit “nightly by a worker who got to the top in an elevator that runs up the center of the framework.” In 1936, the towers were equipped with the mercury vapor lamps they still use today.
Seventeen of the moonlight towers are still in use, owned and maintained by Austin Energy. A replica of the famous towers gets attention each year when it is used as the center post for the Zilker Park Christmas tree of lights.
KUT News reports the towers were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, which “doesn't protect them outright, but it does deem them ‘worthy of protection’ and urges the city to prevent the moon towers from being altered or destroyed.”
Thanks to the towers’ preservation, Austin is believed to be the only city in the world that still has a functioning system of moonlight towers.
So the next time you are out and about, take a moment to simply look up and see one of these monuments to history:
View Austin's Moonlight Towers in a larger map