A 170-foot water tower shaped and painted like a catsup bottle is now a legendary Collinsville roadside attraction.
“The Catsup Bottle is really an iconic piece of roadside architecture,” Mike Gassman, President/CEO and ‘Big Tomato’ of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Inc. says. “There’s a lot of nostalgia, history and design qualities all rolled in to one here.”
Built in 1949 by the W.E. Caldwell Company for the G. S. Suppigner catsup bottling plant in the city, the massive structure was a childhood landmark for Gassman, a Collinsville native.
“When we were kids, the catsup bottle was here and it was a part of our growing up. It was really awesome,” he remembers. Located right next to the plant that bottled Brooks old original rich & tangy catsup, the structure was really a touchstone for the city. Once the plant closed, the water tower began to show its age and lack of care.
When Judy Demoisy, known now as the Catsup Bottle Lady, first saw the rusty landmark in the early 1990’s she was struck by its architecture and, of course, its stature.
“It was kind of like looking at the Eiffel Tower and knowing where you are. When you see the Catsup Bottle, you know you are in Collinsville,” she says. “It is a riveted steel water tower and they don’t even make those anymore. The cap of the structure alone is 8-feet across.”
Demoisy learned the structure was going to be demolished and decided she couldn’t let that happen. She joined a group of 14 community volunteers who spent two years raising funds to save the landmark.
“I just couldn’t believe it was just sitting there. It was this piece of art in the middle of a two lane road,” she says.
The group raised $80,000 over a two year period, $5 at a time, Demoisy says and were then able to restore the structure. It became recognized as a local landmark and in 2002 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Since then, the Catsup Bottle has become a global phenomenon attracting travelers from around the U.S. and world.
“It really has taken on a life of its own,” Gassman says.
Nearly every Route 66 itinerary includes a stop at the Catsup Bottle, even though it’s location isn’t precisely on the Mother Road. It misses by about two blocks.
“All roads lead to Collinsville and the Catsup Bottle,” Gassman jokes. “Route 66, the National Road, and the Great River Road all go through the city.”