Adirondack Fire Towers
Fire tower on
Sterling Ridge/ Highlands trail
In Orange County, New York.
How many times have you hiked up a mountain and found a wonderful surprise at the top - a fire tower? Several web sites have begun to catalog the estimated 58 (and counting) towers in the Adirondack Region.
Jolted by the devastation of thousands of acres of the Forest Preserve during the Great Fires of 1903 and 1908, Governor Hughes signed amendments to the existing Forest, Fish and Game Law which would provide for a forest patrol service and provisions for the erection and staffing of forest fire observation stations. The first was located atop Mt. Morris in Franklin Co., 16 in all in the Adirondacks by 1910, 4 in the Catskills, 49 stations by the end of 1912. Most were built with crude logs or planks and varied in height. At first observers lived in tents and were paid $50-$60/month, $12 more if they lived on the mountain rather than returning home each night. So, rough cabins quickly replaced the tents. By 1917, steel towers were replacing the wooden ones - most directed by Forest Ranger Albert Tebeau of Owls Head at a cost of $530 average, not counting the labor of the Rangers. During the thirties, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) laborers assisted in the construction or reconstruction of the fire observation sites. Manpower shortages in the forties brought women into fire observer positions.
So what brought about their abandonment? A number of factors I believe. Money (or lack of it), politics, and technology. As to the latter, twenty-nine railroads crisscrossed over 1,300 miles of NYS Forest Preserve in 1888 - the chief cause of early forest fires. Today, modern highways are the avenues by which people, goods and services are coursed through the mountains. The first Biplane used for fire patrol and observation began in 1931 and air service significantly increased following WWII. Helicopters were first brought into service in 1965.
Additional information on fire towers at these sites: