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Somerville to offer tours of Prospect Hill Tower

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Prospect Hill Tower will soon be open for public tours.

Visitors who have ventured to the top of Prospect Hill Park in Somerville have long enjoyed sweeping views of the surrounding cities, including parts of Cambridge and the clump of skyscrapers far off in the distance, in downtown Boston.

Soon, the view will get even better.

On Tuesday, Somerville will celebrate the official reopening of the Prospect Hill Tower, a granite structure built in 1903 to honor the troops who camped atop the hill during both the Revolutionary War and Civil War.

Access to the 35-foot tower had been shut off due to safety issues, though people could still climb to the base of the monument to take in the scenery.


But following the completion of renovations through a $500,000 Community Preservation Act grant, the city now plans to let people enter the observatory beginning next spring. Select visits inside the tower will also take place in October.

Tours will be led by docents from Historic Somerville and the city's Historic Preservation Commission. Docents are volunteer guides who wear old-timey garments as they educate visitors about a particular place.

"Historic Somerville is organizing a docent program that will offer regular opportunities for people to climb the tower and learn more about its history," the city said in a statement.

The looming landmark stands like a guard over Somerville's Union Square neighborhood, and features large blocks of granite, layered like a wedding cake. A "Grand Union" colonial flag — 13 red and white stripes and the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George in the upper corner — is flown from the top platform of the fortress-like structure each year during a ceremony on New Year's Day.

The annual tradition commemorates General George Washington's orders to unfurl the colonies' flag, a symbol of defiance against the British troops, on Jan. 1, 1776, at that site, according to Globe archives.


Repair work on the tower began in September 2015, and wrapped up in December. Improvements included resetting parapet stones, repointing the façade, replacing the upper-level floor slab, and restoring the front doors and ornamental iron stairs on the inside, said Kristen Stelljes, Somerville's Community Preservation Act manager.

"From a capital-projects perspective, they wanted to make sure the tower was in good shape, and the focus of the project was on restoring the building," Stelljes said. "The secondary benefit is that now we can open up the tower to the public."

Tuesday's event will kick off with remarks from Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, and include updates about other projects supported by the Community Preservation Act. Attendees will also get to learn "the lesser known history" of Prospect Hill, officials said in a statement.

Those who can't physically climb to the top of the tower and gaze out at the vast landscape at the event will be able to explore it using smart devices. The city will be providing virtual, real-time tours.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.