New York City’s last remaining wooden water tower builders are like the "Hatfields and the McCoys – and we’re the real McCoy," according to Andy Rosenwach, owner of the Rosenwach Tank Company. In that analogy, his rival would be Isseks Brothers, founded in 1890. The Rosenwach company officially formed in 1896, when Andy’s ancestor Harris Rosenwach, a Polish immigrant, bought the business from the widow of his deceased boss, barrel maker William Dalton.

Indoor plumbing began replacing well-drawn water in the 1840s, and when a post-Civil War housing boom led to higher buildings, water towers became necessary to keep up the pressure. Wooden water towers are still preferred over steel by most building owners because they’re cheaper ($30,000 as opposed to $120,000) and can be built in a day. Approximately 10,000 currently dot the city’s skyline.

Isseks ships the wood for their towers from Philadelphia, while the Rosenwach company mills their cedar wood in Williamsburg, which Rosenwach says gives him the edge because he “can turn around an emergency in 24 hours.” They crank out 200 to 300 wooden tanks a year, generating $6 million of Rosenwach’s total $18 million in revenue (the company also builds cooling towers for air conditioning systems). Scott Hochhauser, vice president of Isseks Brothers, tells the Times his company builds between one and five towers per week. For now, there seems to be enough wooden tower work to go around, since they need to be replaced every 35 years.

Photograph of Rosenwach water tanks by edEx on Flickr