The Harlem Fire Watchtower that sits atop Mount Morris in Marcus Garvey Park was historically known as the Mount Morris Fire Watchtower. Both names are in use today. The tower was built between 1855 and 1857. In 2015 the NYC Parks Department began the process of dismantling the tower piece by piece to be fully restored. The contract to restore the tower was awarded earlier this year (2017) and the tower is expected to return to it’s original site in the Spring of 2018.
The Landscape Master Plan detailing the return of the Fire Watchtower to it’s original site.
Engineer Julius H. Kroehl built the tower based on a design by James Bogardus who is recognized for his architectural designs utilizing Cast Iron. Similar cast iron fire watchtowers were built through out New York City but Harlem’s tower is the last one standing because of its remote location and also because the community has repeatedly fought to save it. The watchtower was designated a landmark in 1967 and was photographed in 1975 for the HAER Study (Harlem Architecture Engineering Report) image above showing the tower and the acropolis prior to being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The tower is 47′ tall and sits atop the rocky outcropping of Manhattan Schist (Mt. Morris) that is approximately 70′ above street level.
Preservationist Angel Ayon, AIA LEED AP has led the effort to save the fire watchtower since 2000 and currently serves on the board of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance . Angel is pictured above with Marcus Garvey Park Alliance co founder Valerie Jo Bradley, Then Manhattan Borough President and candidate for City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Council Member Inez Dickens and Senator Bill Perkins during a press conference in August of 2013. 13 years after Angel set out to save the tower it was announced that 4 million dollars had been allocated for the restoration. $1.75 Million came from the office of Inez Dickens, $1 Million from Scott Stringers office and $1 Million from Mayor Bloomberg. The additional $250,000 came from Bill Perkins and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Skip ahead to 2015 and additional funds for updated design drawings were allocated through Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the Central Park Conservancy. An additional $2 Million has been promised by Commissioner Silver to assure the safe return of the Fire Watchtower to the original site.
Looking up into the tower you can see the ongoing deterioration caused by extreme weather and also neglect.
The Red Tail Hawk perched on the roof of the Harlem Fire Watchtower looking down on a crowd of tourists. The tower is a favorite spot.
A close up shot of the bell inside the Harlem Fire Watchtower. The bell was rung at certain times of the day at the request of the community even after the tower was no longer used as a warning system for fires. Wether or not to use the bell and how often it should be rung once the tower is restored is still undecided and one of the questions proposed to the community in a series of meeting and visioning sessions being hosted by the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance.
The bell weighing approximately 10,000 lbs being lowered into a crate during the dismantling.
Click to learn more about the historic 19th Century Fire Watchtower