Harlem’s historic Mount Morris Fire Watchtower returns to Marcus Garvey Park after a $7.9M restoration

October 31, 2019

Photo credit: Daniel Avila / NYC Parks.

The Harlem Fire Watchtower, also known as the Mount Morris Fire Watchtower, is the last structure of its kind in New York City. The 47-foot-tall tower was erected in 1856, the third of 11 fire towers built in Manhattan. Fire watchtowers were discontinued after 1878, but the bell in its tower continued to ring at 9am and noon for years after. The historic cast-iron tower has been restored and reunited with its original surroundings in Marcus Garvey park after having been in storage since 2015.

Mount morris fire watchtower, harlem fire watchtower, renovation, restoration, city landmarks, parks

As the New York Times explained, “Men used [the watchtowers] to scan the surroundings for smoke or flames and let firefighters know where to go by the number of times they rang their bells.” The Harlem watchtower, which was designated a New York City landmark in 1967 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, had fallen into disrepair by 2015. It was taken apart and packed into storage in Queens; neighborhood residents and preservationists were concerned that it wouldn’t survive and be able to be reassembled in the Mount Morris neighborhood.

The Fire Watchtower’s reconstruction was completed in two phases. The first, a $2.6 million dismantling project, was completed in 2015, followed by the $7.9 million restoration project, which retained many of the original components and brought the watchtower up to present-day engineering standards. It was then reunited with its original landscape in Marcus Garvey Park. As the Times tells us, the work included sending the 5,000-pound bronze bell to a foundry in the Netherlands, shipping the cast-iron pieces to a foundry in Alabama where they were repainted their original color, and adding new tension rods.

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer said in a statement, “The Mount Morris Fire Watchtower is the only one that remains in New York City, and is a much beloved landmark. I am so thrilled to see it stand tall and watch over our City again, and I congratulate the Parks Department for this beautifully done restoration.”


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