Mount Morris Fire Watchtower Restoration Complete

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated Mount Morris Park Fire Watchtower, October 26, 2019. Image Credit: Daniel Avila / NYC Parks

The Fire Watchtower is the only one remaining of its kind in New York City. On October 28, 2019, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver was joined by elected officials and members of the community to cut the ribbon on the renovated Mount Morris Fire Watchtower at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. Comptroller Scott Stringer, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Inez Dickens, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, New York City Council Member Bill Perkins, Community Board 11 Chair Nilsa Orama, Marcus Garvey Park Alliance President Connie Lee, Mt. Morris Park Community Improvement Association Former President Syderia Asberry-Chresfield were present.

The Mount Morris Fire Watchtower is the only one of its kind remaining in New York City and is an important landmark for the Harlem community. The Mount Morris Fire Watchtower was erected in 1856 after Harlem residents petitioned for its construction. It was the third fire tower erected in Manhattan. While the fire watchtowers were discontinued after 1878, the bell in the Mount Morris tower was still functional. The watchtower was designated a New York City landmark in 1967 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The Fire Watchtower project is one of 648 capital projects completed since 2014. The project restored the historic cast-iron structure and the surrounding landscape. The watchtower was brought up to current engineering standards while many of the original components were retained.

The structure was reinforced with internal cross-bracing and new stainless steel components. The roof was restored to its original configuration based on archival photographs. The watchtower and surrounding area now also feature code-compliant guardrails, reconstructed stairs on the southwest end of the site, a reconstructed retaining wall on the northwest side and restored bluestone pavement on the upper level of the Acropolis, the plaza on top of the hill in the middle of the park where the Fire Watchtower stands.

The Fire Watchtower’s reconstruction was completed in two phases. The first phase was a dismantling project that cost $2.6 million and was completed in 2015. The dismantling project was funded by a $1.6 million allocation from Assembly Member Inez Dickens; $1 million from Comptroller Scott Stringer, and $75,000 from the Harlem Community Development Corporation.

The second phase of the project was a $7.9 million restoration of the tower. The restoration was funded by a $6.6 million allocation from Mayor Bill de Blasio; $660,000 from Assembly Member Inez Dickens; $500,000 from Council Member Bill Perkins, and $200,000 from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Additional private funders include the Central Park Conservancy.

Commissioner Silver said, “The Mount Morris Fire Watchtower stands at the pinnacle of Harlem’s rich culture and serves as a monument to the neighborhood’s storied history…By restoring the cast-iron structure and adjoining landscape, we have ensured the continued survival of this significant landmark and gathering space for years to come.”

Mt. Morris Park Community Improvement Association Former President Syderia Asberry-Chresfield said, “The return of Harlem’s Mount Morris Fire Watchtower in Marcus Garvey Park is the culmination of a sustained community effort to restore a historic landmark that once saved lives and will now be enjoyed for generations to come. This is a gathering place for the future and a reminder of how a united community can create change.”

By: Laine Vitkevich (Laine is a CityLaw Intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2020.)

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