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Landmarked 19th Century Fire Watchtower To Undergo $4 Million Facelift

Harlem Structure Is Last Remaining Fire Watchtower In New York City
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer announces restoration of Harlem fire watchtower, August 28, 2013. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer announces restoration of Harlem fire watchtower, August 28, 2013. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – An historic fire watchtower in Harlem will be restored.

The 47-foot-tall cast iron watchtower at the top of Marcus Garvey Park has stood watch over the city for more than 150 years.

As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, the city needed a way to spot fires and spread the word after much of lower Manhattan burned in 1835.

“Ultimately, you have the fire watchtowers built throughout the city,” said John Krawchuk, Director of Historic Preservation with the city parks department.

In the middle of the 19th century, the city had eight fire districts, each with their own tower.

The cast iron Mount Morris Fire Watchtower went up in 1857 and was designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission as a city landmark in 1967. It is  also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

19th century fire watchtower in Marcus Garvey Park will be renovated. (credit: Glenn Schuck/1010 WINS)

19th century fire watchtower in Marcus Garvey Park will be renovated. (credit: Glenn Schuck/1010 WINS)

“Volunteers would climb those stairs and ring a 10,000-pound bell,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said.

The fire watchtower was only in use for about 20 years before call boxes replaced them.

“It’s the only one of its kind in New York City that remains – there used to be 11 of these fire watchtowers in New York City – and it’s the only cast iron watchtower in the United States,” Bill Castro with the New York City parks department said.

The cast iron is crumbling and pieces of the structure have crashed down, officials said.

The borough president’s office has committed $1 million to help restore the watchtower, 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reported.

“I live for the day when our watchtower bell rings,” Frances Mastrota with Community Board 11 said.

Bell of 19th century fire watchtower in Marcus Garvey Park (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

Bell of 19th century fire watchtower in Marcus Garvey Park (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

“For 157 years, the tower has watched over Harlem and now it’s our job to protect it,” Stringer said.

Castro said the tower was potentially just months away from collapsing, but will be saved by the renovation project.

Councilwoman Inez Dickens has pledged $1.75 million to the project and the parks department will spend more than $1 million to renovate the watchtower.

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