Harlem Fire Watchtower

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Harlem Fire Watchtower
Location Marcus Garvey Park, East 122 Street, Manhattan, New York City, New York
Built 1855-1857
Architect Julius H. Kroehl
NRHP Reference # 80002692[1]
Added to NRHP June 21, 1976
Harlem Fire Watchtower in 1857 in Mount Morris Park

The Harlem Fire Watchtower, also known as the Mount Morris Fire Watchtower, is the only surviving one of eleven cast-iron watchtowers placed throughout New York City starting in the 1850s.[2] It was built by Julius H. Kroehl for $2,300 based on a design by James Bogardus. It is located in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, Manhattan.

The Mount Morris Park tower went into service in 1857 in response to Harlem residents’ demand. The towers gave volunteers a perch from which to watch for fires that were common in the wooden structures that then made up much of New York City, and the watchers then spread the word via bell ringing. Later, electric telegraphs were installed but the bell provided local alarms. When pull boxes and other technological advances rendered the fire watchtowers obsolete, the system was discontinued and the other towers eventually were destroyed. Harlem’s, protected in the middle of a park, endured.

During the New Deal, the area surrounding the Watchtower was rebuilt by government employees as part of the Works Project Administration jobs program. This project created a gracious plaza (sometimes called "the Acropolis"), stone retaining wall, and wide steps approaching the summit from several sides for pedestrians. The tower was designated a city landmark in 1967 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The last work on the watchtower came in 1994, but cracks in the overall structure and in the bell remain. The granite parapet along the top is in need of restoration.

Weather, lack of maintenance, and neglect have taken their toll over the years. Roof damage allowed water into the structure rusting structural members. The original copper roof deteriorated and has fallen off, exposing the interior to more damage. Many of the internal steps are missing and park visitors may no longer climb them or get near the structure which is protected by a fence. In 2013, the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association partnered with the Dept. of Parks and Recreation to raise $4 million to restore the Harlem Watchtower: Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association.[3] Starting in late 2014, the New York City Parks Department will disassemble the tower to restore the structure and ensure its soundness and stability before reconstruction.


  1. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ Mount Morris Watchtower NYC Parks
  3. ^ Restoration of the Harlem Fire Watchtower Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association

External links[edit]

Media related to Harlem Fire Watchtower at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 40°48′15″N 73°56′37″W / 40.804097°N 73.94357°W / 40.804097; -73.94357