Southport weather tower crumbles

Southport’s weather tower has alerted people of the twists and turns of the weather for well over a century and withstood many, many hurricanes: the worst was Hazel in 1954, the most recent was Dorian last year.

But it wasn’t a hurricane that twisted and turned and brought down the structure early Friday morning. It was strong winds.

The unnamed winter storm that moved across the Southeast Thursday through Friday morning with high winds, rain and floods killed four people and injured several across at least a dozen states.

The U.S. Bureau Coastal Warning Display Tower on the Fort Johnston Garrison lawn was found curled and bent to the ground by Southport police officers around 1 a.m. One of its two remaining lights was smashed.

After finding the structure buckled, the police officers folded the American flag that was flying that night and turned off its power.

In the days following the tower’s fall, the Southport Fire Department parked a fire engine at the foot of Davis Street at Bay Street where the tower stood with the ladder raised and an American flag flying atop, to honor the tower and to keep the flag flying at the corner.

A structural engineer visited the site Monday morning and will be reporting back to the city on what may be done to save the monument. Southport’s tower is one of five remaining in the country.

Police Chief Todd Coring said he heard several ideas from onlookers of what the city should do if the tower is deemed unrepairable. Some said pieces of it should be sold for a fundraiser. A few thought there should be a replica. Others suggested it be left as is.

“This is an important restoration project for the city and we must salvage our heritage,” Mayor Joe Pat Hatem said in a statement.

Along with many others along the coast, the skeletal frame light tower was erected by the weather bureau in 1901 by the order of President William McKinley.

In the decades that followed, the weather tower warned sailors of hazardous weather through combinations of different pennants and three red and white lights. After the coastal warning network was deactivated in 1989, the structure remained as a memorial to Jessie Stevens Taylor, who served as voluntary weather observer and raised the tower’s flags from 1900-1961.

Hatem said he would like to have the tower rebuilt with as much of the original material as possible. In addition to the money collected from insurance, there will have to be private funds involved. Those who wish to donate may drop off a check at Southport City Hall with “Weather Tower Restoration Fund” in the memo.