An Illuminating Idea

By JulieAnne Cross

There are many parks in Wilmington, but no park stands out as a landmark quite like Rockford Park, thanks to its recognizable, eponymous tower.

Located on the western edge of city limits, the park was built in 1889. Twelve years later, Rockford Tower was constructed on the highest point in the city — Mt. Salem Hill. 

The structure was originally conceived as a water tower, but the park’s commissioners had in mind to build an observatory on that spot. Thus, the height of the elegant stone structure was raised, intending to serve two meaningful purposes while fitting in with Rockford Park’s natural character.

An observation deck (accessible to today’s visitors only on designated summer days) opened in 1904. And yet, the 115-foot structure on the highest point in the city has never been visible to nighttime passersby.  

Light It Up

In November 2022, lights were installed for the first time on 14 of the observation deck’s 16 windows.

Wilmington City Councilmember Nathan Fields, who spearheaded the effort from conception through installation, says, “After dark, you wouldn’t know it was there. It had never been lit up at night.”

Strings of basic LED lights you can find at any hardware store were affixed inside the observatory arches, which sit 75 feet above ground. Fields says the lights can be seen from a couple of miles away — for now.

The Future of the Lights

The lights were scheduled to come down at the end of last month, however, the city will be funding the project next year with a goal of keeping the lights on year-round, says Fields.

While the Tower may have originally been designed to look “ancient” on purpose (engineer Theodore A. Leisen called for both Italian Renaissance Revival and Gothic architecture styles in his design, using quarried Brandywine “Blue Rock”), the modern, energy-efficient LED lighting doesn’t appear to take away from the charm the old structure possesses.

“Public feedback was incredibly positive,” says Fields. “Hundreds of people reached out to me to express how much they love it.”