The tower on the hill

On January 9, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

As anyone in the city can tell you, Prospect Hill Tower is in severe need of repair.

As anyone in the city can tell you, Prospect Hill Tower is in severe need of repair.

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.




11 Responses to “The tower on the hill”

  1. A. Moore says:

    Maybe a little less dancing in the streets and a little more taking care of business and we would not have these things not being taken care of.

  2. j. connelly says:

    As usual city funds including those milllions saved from benefits/salaries of many layoffs via cuts (Prop 2 & 1/2 etc.) over the past couple of decades. The money has been wasted for “pet projects & hack “welfare appointments, ( Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development, etc.)

    Instead of making needed repairs, etc. Historically a lot of our past mayors, like the present one, only know how to spend irresponsibly.
    When you cannot take care of what exists, you should not be wasting taxpayer $$$$ on future “LegoLand Development” projects, etc.

  3. Rob says:

    When and if the money is found to do the repairs, I sure hope they find a way to eliminate the concrete retaining wall, which makes it look like a bunker. I bet some smart folks could come up with a more attractive way to shore up erosion and stabilize the base.

  4. I would love to see CPA funds used for the renovation of this monument!

  5. A. Moore says:

    There is not need for this to have happened to this structure. The key is maintaining property. I work in the industry. It does not get fixed by ignoring and putting it off for years. We should learn how to maintain our property in the city so we can avoid having these problems.

  6. A. Moore, absolutely agree! Regular maintenance would have avoided this problem and preventative measures would have been ideal!

  7. MarketMan says:

    I agree with A. Moore: If you maintain, the costs are much less.

    Didn’t we vote something in to get funds to fix stuff like this? So now’s the real test. Was that money *really* for parks and historical structures, or just affordable housing?? hmm??

  8. A Moore says:

    I was in some talks a long time ago where the catholic church wanted to start maintaining their properties. The priest in charge new of things like maintaining things where most had no clue. Same here, we have polititions where we need people who have some idea of this. The idea was to have full time masons to keep up the outside stonework which most of their places are, much like this city. And keep up the pointing and flashing before it does all the damage. I may be a bit negative at times but I would not want these important pieces of history deteriorating. I would like to be proud of these and take care of them. As Courtney said the CPA funds are supposed to go for this but I don’t believe that has gotten started yet, they just voted it in. As how they spend the money when it starts, who knows.

  9. Joe Lynch says:

    Community Preservation Funds can be used for three main purposes. Open space and parks, historic preservation and affordable housing.

    The park and tower qualify in two of those categories. The Mayor and others have already stated that CPA funds will be the source for the restoration of the tower and the rehabilitation of the surrounding park.

    As with any new program, the funding of the CPA account will take some time. In the interim, the city needs to quickly identify some bucks to stabilize this city landmark.

  10. Ron Newman says:

    This and the West Branch Library are the principal reasons that I voted for the CPA. I’ll be very disappointed if the funds don’t initially go to one or both of these projects.

  11. A. Moore says:

    Should never have gotten to the point where we need this fund to do this. It already should have been maintained. They need someone in charge of this stuff with some expertise so it does not get out of hand. Like having a tiny cavity on a tooth and waiting 20 years to fix it. Get it fixed while it is a small job.

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