The Fire Tower is open
This imposing stone and reinforced concrete tower is 120 feet tall and sits atop Mt. Penn, overlooking the City of Reading and its surroundings. The tower is situated in a park setting on Skyline Drive, one mile from Reading's landmark Pagoda. From the top of the tower there is a 60 mile panoramic view. The tower is 950 feet above 5th and Penn Street, the center of the city, and 1,015 feet above the Schuylkill River, and 1239 feet above sea level.
The tower, which is owned by the City of Reading , was built in 1939 as a fire observation tower and tourist attraction. It is constructed entirely of fire-proof materials. While the tower is largely intact and structurally sound, and it has retained its architectural integrity, it is deteriorating rapidly. The reinforced concrete foundation with stone around the main entrance doorway and center entrance floor's brick and stone design are in fair condition and are original to the original Tower Hotel circa 1889 to 1923, which burned to a shell; this tower was built over the original foundation.
Inlaid on the entry wall is the "shield of arms" of the William Penn Family designed in colored tiling. The exterior and interior walls of the tower have a sand finish with molded shale brick, and a center entrance floor of brick-and-stone design. All stone used in construction is local to this mountain.
The interior of the tower includes a small room that houses 3 transmitters used by the Forestry Department and has not been used for approximately 10 years. Rest rooms located in a one story rear wing are supplied with 1400-gallon reinforced concrete septic system, and the main line exists for water service. The electrical service to the building is outdated. Steel stairs with concrete platforms rise to the lower levels of the tower. A spiral stair case reaches to the upper levels of the tower , eventually to an observation area enclosed in glass block. This top floor of the tower includes an outside observation deck. A dome roof finished in copper with turret-sized windows encased in bronze completes the tower. The tower has lighting rod protection from pinnacle to base. The glass-walled observation room contained 16 spotlights that generated over 2,400 watts of light with signal lights flashing red and white communication codes. The interior of the octagonal dome was originally illuminated by an R40 reflection lamp in the center, built of radial construction. Years of neglect have taken a toll on the tower. The exterior observation platform steel railing is in poor condition. The bronze window casings of the dome are broken. The windows and glass blocks are also broken. Condition of the dome is deplorable
The macadam drive, picnic area and parking lot are located on either side of the tower, with the forest of Mt. Penn behind and below. The picnic areas are still in use.
On the property site, to the left end of the tower, are the remnants and foundation of the back porch and storage shed from the "Summit Hotel". Picnic and parking areas are still in use, as are the numerous, well-maintained, trails across the mountain.
The non-profit volunteer organization Pagoda-Skyline Inc. is currently raising funds to restore the Fire Tower. They are sponsoring a number of fund raisers and have released a history book on the Pagoda,Tower, William Penn Fire Tower, and Skyline Drive. Following an evaluation of the tower, an estimate for restoration has been prepared. The estimated costs are just under 1 million dollars. A baseline structural survey has been completed and the building is termed structurally sound for complete rehabilitation of the tower. The original architect's plans are available for use during the restoration.
When restored, the tower will serve once again as a tourist attraction, and possibly as a fire detection location. The Pa Bureau of Forestry stopped using the tower in 1988, stating that though the view shed of 5,000 acres of valuable forests in the Antietam, Angelica, and Maiden Creek valleys was a vital link in their wild fire control program, the tower's condition was a safety risk to employees. They have offered to re evaluate use of the tower following restoration.
Fire Tower Facts
Panorama by John A. Secoges
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