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Iconic watchtower back up in Grand Rapids

Posted at 4:59 PM, Nov 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-14 17:00:03-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It was a couldn't miss landmark in Grand Rapids until June, when the old Bridge Street railroad signal tower came down for repairs. After standing above the westside for more than a century, the tower needed a little TLC.

After five months of restoration, the signal shed was put back up early Friday morning, but left covered until the the unveiling ceremony Monday afternoon, revealing a refreshed watchtower ready for another century of looking over the westside.

Developer Charlie Secchia organized the project. “It had been abandoned for the better part of half a century, so you can imagine, it was not in a good state.”

Bridge St Tower

Bugs, birds and Michigan weather had beaten up the old signal shed, making for a nail-biting removal back in June for carpenter Brian Lahaie.  “Well, there’s a lot to taking a signal tower down. We didn’t know if we had a house of cards - if we could take it down, if it was going to fold up and be destroyed.”

Turns out, it's a tough building, built on a foundation of railroad ties. While there was a lot of restoration work to be done, the main concern was making sure the facelift would be historically accurate. “We really relied on the research and the old photographs to help us understand what it looked like, when it was in use," Lahaie explains. "That was really our guideposts that helped us put it back together.”

The new color, while historically accurate, does make it look like a flag for Michigan State. But Secchia says it's actually the exact color it was before it fell into disrepair. “It’s official Penn Central colors and Penn Central did own this the last couple decades of its use. We were able to contact the historical society of the Penn Central Railroad and get color samples and their logo to keep it historically as exact as possible.”

Historic Tower

While the rail lines the tower once watched over are long gone, now Seward St., it's a piece of Grand Rapids History. “This is the only standing one we’ve been able to find in Michigan, that is as tall as it is and the type that it is," Secchia explains. "This one somehow made it through the years. The significance is these used to dot our cities everywhere and now they’re gone."

The hope is that the newly-restored tower will last another 100 years.

Now they did add one modern touch to the building, an electric light inside that will light up after dark.