Globe Local

MARBLEHEAD

Voters to consider tax increase for Fort Sewall upgrades

Marblehead voters this spring will consider a tax increase to help fund a major upgrade to historic Fort Sewall.

The Board of Selectmen recently agreed to seek an estimated $750,000 appropriation from Town Meeting in May for the $1.1 million project. Approval of the funding would be subject to passage of a debt exclusion — a tax increase that expires once the debt is repaid — at a special election in June.

Selectmen acted at the behest of the Fort Sewall Oversight Committee, which is spearheading the public-private restoration effort. The proposed upgrades involve improving access for people with disabilities; addressing structural problems; and updating fencing and handrails. Funds also would be set aside for future maintenance and a summer student internship program.

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The committee has developed a financing plan that includes a private fund drive and a quest for federal and state grants, in addition to the town funding. To date, the group has raised about $350,000 in private funds, according to committee member Charles Gessner.

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Built in 1644, Fort Sewall was enlarged in 1742, and again in 1794 and during the Civil War. A company was mustered at the fort during the War of 1812, and in 1814, protection from its guns allowed the USS Constitution to escape from two British frigates into Marblehead Harbor.

Deeded to the town by the federal government in 1922, the fort retains bunkers and underground rooms. Organizers say the project is important because Fort Sewall, with its history and scenic harbor views, is one of the town’s key attractions. The proposed renovations are based on a plan developed by consultants with a previous state grant.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.