By Harry Kane
Prospect Hill Tower needs some restoration. This has been the general consensus for some time now.
The tower is a 42-foot monument overlooking the Boston area, sitting above Union Square in Prospect Hill Park, where Munroe Street intersects with Bigelow Street.
Every year on Jan. 1, the city of Somerville holds an anniversary flag-raising event to commemorate our independence from the British Monarchy and the founding of our nation. And during the yearly event the public comes together and is entertained by the reenactment of George Washington and his colonial comrades in the raising of the first flag, now referred as the “Grand Union” flag.
While the tower did not exist back in 1776, it serves as a symbolic structure to remind us of the historical significance associated with our country’s birth.
“Prospect Hill Tower is an icon in the city,” says Brandon Wilson, executive director of the Somerville historic preservation commission.
Wilson says the tower has been deteriorating due to weather conditions and the passage of time. The city has done repairs on the tower to stabilize it, but it continues to deteriorate.
The tower was built out of granite back in 1903 for $8700, according to Steve Mulder at Muldermedia. To remedy the erosion issue, a concrete retaining wall was built around the base of the tower in 1955, according to Mulder.
Fast-forward to the present day, during the recent flag-raising event on Jan. 1, 2013; visitation into the tower was not permitted, as is usually the case.
“Apparently that day the ceiling from the upper level was starting to come down, so that makes it very unsafe to go inside,” says Wilson.
It was also icy due to the recent snowfall and cold conditions, so the DPW recommended against the annual one-day opening of Prospect Hill Tower.
Next year, if “sufficient work” is completed and the weather cooperates the tower may re-open for the Jan. 1 event.
Unfortunately, restoration on the decaying tower is going to cost a small fortune. “It’s over a million dollars worth of work just to stabilize,” says Wilson.
During the rest of the year, Prospect Hill Tower hasn’t been open to the public for a couple decades, according to Wilson who added that the Somerville Historical Preservation Commission has conducted a structural report through a state grant to determine the extent of the restoration needs.
But Wilson doesn’t just want the tower to be restored, she wants the entire park to be enhanced with “increased visibility and prominence.”
One way to do that, she says, is to actually put some displays out in the Prospect Park area. “The idea is not only improve and restore the structure, but also to create a historic interpretive park.”
The tower is a locally recognized historical structure, but it is not registered on the national level as a historical monument. If it were recognized on the national level, the city of Somerville would be eligible to apply for national grants; larger sums of money than they could get at the state level.
The difficulty is that the state has been resistant to that, says Wilson. They feel that the tower is not as nationally historic as the site is. “We are trying to make the case to the state, that, in-fact the structure should now have historical significance.”
The city of Somerville has recently passed the Community Preservation Act, creating one potential source of funding for the city to tap into, according to Wilson, to aid in the restoration work on the tower. “It’s conceivable that the one project that could be submitted for could be the Prospect Hill Tower, and its stabilization and restoration work,” she said.
“I do know that the Mayor considers it a high priority,” Wilson says, “he’s wanted to do something for several years, but it’s a funding issue.”
The Annual flag-raising event continues to grow since Wilson’s active role began in the year 2000. She’s enhanced the reenactment of George Washington’s famous ride onto the hill, year after year. Spectators watch as actors dressed in colonial clothing reenact the anniversary, forever marked in time as the pre-birthing moment of our nation.