HALLOWELL — The oldest city-owned building will get a boost in the coming months, thanks to a $220,000 infusion of money to repair and restore a large portion of the historic Second Street fire station and wooden hose drying tower.

Last month’s passage of a $2.36 million bond — which includes the money to restore the tower — means City Manager Nate Rudy can begin setting in motion plans made by a citizens group to reinforce the tower’s infrastructure and set the city-owned building on a course for the future.

“I’m not sure what will ultimately happen there, but we’re taking the next step to ensure the building has a future,” Rudy said. “We’ll have a conversation later about what to do with the building.”

Sandy Stubbs, president of the Hallowell Citizens’ Initiative Committee, or Tower Preservation Group, hopes to see the multi-story building converted into a community center and museum, both of which she said are badly needed in Hallowell.

“It’s the oldest city-owned building still being used, which is why people need to continue to use it,” Stubbs said last week during a tour of the station and tower. “We have things all over the city that can be brought up here.”

The fire department takes up the first floor, but the second floor of the building contains a large, open room that used to host council meetings that is filled with hundreds of Hallowell Fire Department artifacts and memorabilia.

Stubbs and city historian Sam Webber said residents are working to create a historic society in Hallowell that would work to preserve and share pieces of the city’s history. Both can foresee the second-floor turned into a museum.

“This is one of the icons of Hallowell,” Stubbs said. “This really belongs to the present and future citizens of Hallowell.”

Stubbs said a lot of people don’t know the history, significance and importance of the hose drying tower, one of the last remaining such structures in the country, and therefore haven’t been as quick to support the project.

During a conversation last week at the Hubbard Free Library, Webber remembered the tower and, specifically, some interesting things situated on the top of it.

The longtime resident and former city councilor said there used to be a whistle on top of the tower that would sound at 5 p.m. to end the work day and again later at night to announce the city curfew had begun.

“When I was a little kid back in the 40s, people under a certain age weren’t allowed to be out past 9 p.m.,” he said. “The city marshal would take them down to the station and call their parents. It was very embarrassing.”

Webber said people remember the building and tower as more than just a fire station.

“I remember because when we heard that whistle, we knew it was time to hide in the bushes if we saw a car coming,” Webber joked.

The building was originally constructed in 1828 as the town hall and then became city hall when Hallowell became a city years later. The fire tower was added to the structure when the Hallowell Fire Department relocated from Water Street. A council resolution in 2013 sought to ensure the building was preserved and maintained for the future, something Mayor Mark Walker wants to see.

The fire tower was used for decades to dry the department’s fire hoses, which were made of leather and cotton. After fighting a fire, firefighters would hang the hoses inside the tower to dry. Snow, ice and water would also accumulate on the hoses, so the tower was used to drip-dry the material.

“(The station and tower) are truly historic, and it’s owned by the city, so we have an obligation to maintain this property,” Walker said. “This is a historic property deserving of investment to maintain it, just like the Dummer House and other wonderful Hallowell historic properties.”

In the months leading up to the April 28 bond vote, much of the public discussion was centered on the Stevens Commons component of the bond, which provided $600,000 for infrastructure improvements at the 54-acre campus off Winthrop Street. Walker said that property was state-owned and had little to no maintenance done to it for two decades, so now owner and developer Matt Morrill must spend millions more to bring that property back to life.

“I won’t let that happen to Hallowell-owned property,” the mayor said. “I feel strongly committed to preserving this building.”

Rudy said he expects bids to go out for the restoration project sometime soon with hopes to complete the work by the end of the year. The project will improve and secure the structural stability of the entire wooden portion of the building, and he said there may be some money available to improve the facade, windows and siding.

The city manager gave credit to Stubbs and her group for its dedication to seeing this building preserved.

“(Sandy) kept the conversation going about the building’s history and significance to the city,” Rudy said. “It’s really satisfying to see the community has come together around this building, and we’re ready to take the next step as partners with her group.”

For right now, Rudy said, the building will continue to house the Hallowell Fire Department until a new fire station is built at Stevens Commons with funds from an anonymous donor. Rudy and the mayor hope that station is completed before the Maine Department of Transportation begins a reconstruction project on Water Street next April.

“That’s our hope,” Rudy said.

Stubbs said that whatever the council decides to do with the building — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — she hopes it can be a place for residents to gather and experience the history of the structure, the tower and the city.

“There were a lot of people who wanted to tear this down, but we’re stubborn as hell,” she said. “Hallowell is a historic city and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

The Historic Hallowell Committee and Stubbs’ group will host an open house at the fire station from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 20. A press release said the event will highlight the renovation plans for the building and the extensive collection of historic fire equipment, photographs and memorabilia.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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