Climb up Roxbury’s Fort Hill on a spring day, and a sweeping view of all of Boston unfurls beneath you. Or at least it will soon — when the city allows visitors to the top of the hill’s whimsical, 19th-century brick tower that has been locked to the outside world for too long.
The Cochituate Standpipe, as the Gothic-style structure is known, was originally designed to hold water. But with its unusually ornate architecture, it served a dual purpose. The 1869 tower opened at a turning point in the city’s history, as the availability of new public water and sewer systems lured surrounding towns into joining Boston. The tower was both a reward of sorts to Roxbury residents, who had voted to join Boston the previous year, and an enticing beacon to voters in Dorchester, West Roxbury, Brighton, and Charlestown as they weighed whether to become part of the growing metropolis.
Only a decade later, the standpipe had become technologically obsolete. But Boston had nearly reached its present borders, more than doubling its population in the process.
For a time, the city permitted visitors inside the abandoned tower; a cast-iron staircase and observation deck opened in 1917. But at some point, the tower fell into disuse. The viewing balcony collapsed in the 1970s.
The city is now renovating the standpipe, recoating the roof, repairing windows, and painting the stairs. A spokeswoman for Mayor Menino said after the work the tower will be reopened to the public, though hours and other specifics have yet to be determined. They should aim for the most access consistent with public safety. Many neighbors have expressed enthusiasm for the idea; the tower could also bring more visitors to a part of the city that now sees few. They would be rewarded with a view of the city that spreads out in every direction — from a unique legacy of the campaign that made it that way.