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Charleston saves a piece of history

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From The Post and Courier on Friday 3/19

Fire tower keeps lofty place in city history

120-year-old Cannon Street landmark is being restored at cost of about $100,000

BY JASON HARDIN

Of The Post and Courier Staff

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For decades, the spindly tower on Cannon Street helped protect Charleston from the threat of a devastating fire, allowing firefighters a bird's-eye view of the upper peninsula.

On Thursday, the city began to repay the favor in dramatic fashion.

Workers kicked off a major restoration of the roughly 120-year-old tower by chopping off the top half of the structure, with a blowtorch, slicing through the metal and sending sparks toward the ground.

The top of the rusting, dilapidated tower was then lowered to the ground, where it will be restored and reassembled, preserving a significant piece of the city's firefighting history.

The tower is no longer used by firefighters, but it was considered important enough to save, said project manager Bill Turner, comparing the effort to the restorations of Market Hall and other significant buildings.

"It's just a valuable old piece of history that we want to preserve," he said. "You could tear these buildings down and replace them with fresh new buildings, but we don't like to do that here in Charleston."

The project is expected to cost about $100,000, Turner said, and work will proceed throughout the year. The city undertook a similar project about a decade ago on Charleston's other fire tower, which is near the intersection of Meeting and Queen streets, he said.

Fire Chief Rusty Thomas said the towers, along with the bells that told volunteer firefighters where to respond, have a rich history in Charleston.

Much of the metal in the tower was too far gone to save, but the restoration will use as much of the material as possible, Turner said. The idea is to avoid completely disassembling the tower, so it's clear where everything goes, he said.

"They'll take off a piece, replace it, take off the next piece and replace it," he said.

The tower was not in danger of falling down, but it was not in great shape either, and pieces could have fallen, Turner said. A massive bell and bell-striking equipment were in some danger of plunging through the weakening floor, he said.

The bell has been moved to the fire station at Meeting and Wentworth streets, and the equipment that allowed a firefighter to ring the bell from below will go there as well.

Tim Bozard of Phoenix Steel Services of South Carolina, which is working on the project, said it is an interesting one. "You can get a close look at history," he said.

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