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Mass. War Memorial Tower To Undergo More Repairs

Jim Levulis

A beacon to Massachusetts’ veterans hobbled by years of extreme conditions is set to shine bright once again.Currently closed, the 93-foot Quincy granite War Memorial Tower sits atop Mt. Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.  At its peak is a capsule containing bulbs that can be seen 70 miles away. Since its formal dedication in 1933, which was broadcast nationally on NBC Radio, it serves to honor the commonwealth’s veterans. Jeffrey Harris of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation is in charge of restoring the tower to its original grandeur.

“While this was done in the wake of World War I it was intended to be, from the outset, a memorial to all war veterans,” said Harris.

Harris says since its construction, the tower has seen water seep inside its walls and wreak havoc because of the subsequent rapid freezing and thawing that occurs nearly 3,500 feet above sea level. He cited a 1936 Berkshire Eagle article explaining just that. The angled design of the tower actually forces water to run inside, leading to the state condemning the tower from 1962 to 1973 before it was dismantled and reconstructed. Further repairs occurred in the late 1990s. With conditions worsening over the past five years — such as two inches of ice filling the chamber floor — the federal government and the state have allocated $2 million for repairs. Here’s Harris.

“We really wanted to bring in repairs that better accounted for the climatic conditions at the summit,” Harris said. “To try some new strategies that have not been deployed there before so that we’re just repeating the same mistakes of the past. To try to take advantage of new technology and new thinking.”

Enter George Katsoufis of DHK Architects, part of a team working on what’s being described as a unique renovation. They are proposing a double layered sealant system inside the walls, basically a second line of defense so any water that gets in can either flow out or evaporate with the help of dehumidifiers and fans. Still, the best sealant today only lasts about 10 years before restoration is needed, so they propose building a miniature granite tower near the memorial to test a new technique that involves waterproofing.

“That structure will be tested for the next cycle which will be hopefully more than 10 years,” said Katsoufis. “But it needs to be tested because it has not been tried. We’re trying to find examples of this kind of repair work, let alone water proofing them.”

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
Inside the War Memorial Tower's chamber

Other improvements include new lighting, an access ramp so those with limited mobility can go inside the tower’s restored ceremonial chamber, and putting new caps on the spiral staircase that winds up to the fifth tier and the observation area. There the viewing panels will be replaced and the beacon’s capsule refaced so 12 LED light bulbs can shine through. The hope is visitors can enjoy the view like Mt. Greylock park supervisor Alec Gillman has seen.

“On a clear day you can see all the way up to the Adirondacks, Mt. Marcy and way over east you can see Mt. Wachusett and south down into the Connecticut River Valley,” Gillman said. “It’s a good view from up top.”

Because of the unique masonry work, two to three contractors are expected to bid, which they won’t be able to do until they can see the tower in the spring. The one-and-a-half year construction period will divert part of the Appalachian Trail at the peak and workers will have to dismantle scaffolding during the 2015-2016 winter. Like America’s veterans, the memorial deserves the care, according to Governor Deval Patrick.

“It has earned the facelift that we’re going to invest in,” said Patrick.

Click here to learn more about the state's restoration plans.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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