The view from the top of the historic Fort Revere Water Tower on Hull’s Telegraph Hill is spectacular — a miles-long vista across Boston Harbor and the length of the Hull peninsula — but it’s off-limits now for safety reasons.
“The tower is closed to the public until further notice,” Town Manager Philip Lemnios said last week. He said the decision was based on results of a pro-bono engineering study by Kleinfelder/SEA Consultants, which found that the 101-year-old structure was leaning, cracked, and deteriorating.
Of particular concern was a 1.9-ton granite monument — a bicentennial gift to Hull from France — on the tower’s observation deck, which the study said appeared to be “overstressing” the building’s supports.
The landmark tower, owned by the town, is located at Fort Revere Park — an approximately 8-acre property that Hull shares with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. The site includes a military history museum and the ramparts of two seacoast fortifications, as well as picnic tables and a rolling lawn. The “Officer Quarters Museum” is also closed because of structural problems with the building, according to DCR spokeswoman S.J. Port.
While both state and local officials say the site is historically significant, they also say they don’t have any money in their current budgets immediately to make the needed repairs to the tower or the rest of the park. Lemnios estimates the cost of fixing the tower could run into six figures.
A local group, the Fort Revere Park and Preservation Society, is tackling the money issue and held a fund-raiser at the park on July 4, raising about $300, according to member Toby Tierney. A retired Boston firefighter and Vietnam War veteran, he visits the park daily to clean up rubbish and has been painting over the graffiti on the fort’s stone ramparts.
“It’s a beautiful spot, and this is where American history started,” Tierney said.
“It’s truly a national treasure. But the tower’s crumbling, the museum’s porch is falling apart, and [there’s] the graffiti. It just really tears me apart.”
He’s also concerned that there’s so much tall brush on the property that it’s hard to see the historic structures from below. “The fort used to sell itself; when you drove around you could see it,” said Tierney, who grew up in Hull. “Now it’s all overgrown.”
Getting to Fort Revere Park isn’t easy. The site is on the far end of the Hull peninsula, at the top of a winding, narrow road that climbs to 120 feet above sea level. According to a history posted in a display at the park, the spot was first considered for military use in the 1630s but was passed over in favor of Castle Island. Later in the 1600s, beacons were placed on the hill to warn of potential Dutch and French naval attacks, the history said.
The first fort was built there in 1776 to defend the port of Boston, and another in the 1800s remained in service on and off until the end of World War II, according to the history.
In 1827, the first telegraph tower went up, consisting of a mast with painted paddles. Eventually several telegraph stations operated on what became known as Telegraph Hill, announcing arrival of ships in Boston Harbor. The last tower was demolished by 1938, made obsolete by the arrival of ship-to-shore radio communications, according to the history.
In 1903, the federal government built the 120-foot-tall tower to store water and serve as both a lookout platform and a base for a navigational light, the history said. The structure was the first reinforced concrete water tower in the United States and used a pioneering construction technique.
The tower was restored in 1975 and again in 1990. The observation deck opened to the public in 1975 and, according to Lemnios, was last open on a regular basis and staffed by volunteers in the summer of 2011. That was when the local building inspector recommended that a structural engineer assess the condition of the tower.
The preliminary study by Kleinfelder/SEA found that the tower was leaning toward the northeast and that there were cracks on the outside and inside, especially under the interior spiral staircase. The report said the roof appeared sound but the observation platform had severe corrosion.
The report recommended keeping the public out of the tower, moving or reinforcing the granite monument on the observation platform, and conducting a more detailed evaluation.
The report also suggested looking for ways to fund a renovation project through various historical agencies.
Lemnios said the work would be “part of the town’s overall capital plan, but since there is still more information to be developed it is premature as to where it will fall in the plan.” He said he was open to any funding suggestions, since “Fort Revere Tower is an important part of the town’s history and a significant landmark.”
Port said the Department of Conservation and Recreation couldn’t provide money to fix the water tower since it’s owned by Hull and not under DCR jurisdiction. “We certainly do care about the property and are interested, when funds do [become] available, to work with the town and friends groups,” she said.
She said the tower might be eligible for a historic preservation grant, though. And she said Fort Revere Park could be a candidate for the DCR’s curatorship program, which leases properties “we can’t afford to maintain or have fallen into disrepair” to private individuals, businesses, or non profit groups. It’s “one of the things we discuss when we have a property like this that people care about, that we don’t have the funds to rehabilitate ourselves,” she said.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.