View Full Version : Old Fire Towers in WMNF

11-14-2004, 05:35 PM
I was on a mountain today in the WMNF that had the footings of an old fire tower. (Spectacular view, high wind, report later.) It brought to mind some other WMNF peaks with abandoned towers or their remains--Osceola,
Hale, Garfield, Carrigain, Old Speck, etc. As best I can figure it, USFS was involved in fire lookout in the WMNF as early as the 1920s, these towers gradually became unstaffed around the 1960s (airplane surveillance?), and then many were removed subsequently in the 1970s and '80s. Can anyone suggest a source for history on WMNF observation towers?

11-15-2004, 07:24 AM
Here's some sites on fire towers:




11-15-2004, 10:50 AM
I found that the book The 4000-Footers of the White Mountains, by Steven D. Smith and Mike Dickerman had some historical information about some of the fire towers on NH 4,000 ft peaks.

Tramper Al
11-15-2004, 10:55 AM
In my youth, I have fond memories of going up and into the staffed fire tower to visit with the rangers on Mt. Cardigan.

Which towers are staffed by rangers today? There may be others, but I was pleasantly surprised this summer to find a staffed fire tower atop the highpoint of Sullivan County New Hampshire.

11-15-2004, 01:00 PM
Great replies, many thanks! The websites look really interesting, Ridgerunner, and I'll spend time exploring them. Cgarby, I'd forgotten about Steve and Mike's book, always a mine of information, so I'll go back and look at that again too. And TramperAl, I've been up two NH staffed fire towers this fall, Green Mountain (W. Effingham NH almost on the Maine border) which is staffed by Harry (74) who works for State of NH, and Red Hill (Squam Lake), staffed by Ed who works for the Moltonborough fire department. Red Hill has a fabulous view, and the extra-clear day I was there Ed pointed out Killington to the west and Portland ME to the east. We also saw smoke from a structure fire over in the Old Orchard beach area. Green Mountain allows great views of Chocorua, Crawford Notch, and the Presidentials. Both Harry and Ed were extremely friendly guys who invited me up into the cab and answered all the questions I had, mainly what mountains was I seeing. They're there three seasons a year, all but winter. The cabs are not well-heated enough for cold weather, and fire danger is lower then. Green is already closed for winter and probably Red is too. Since visiting these two towers I've begun to think more about these structures and their histories, reinforced yesterday by Speckled's former tower. Thanks again for the suggestions.

11-15-2004, 05:30 PM
Another staffed fire tower that comes to mind is Belknap, here in the Lakes region. The ranger up there recently retired (actually after serving only about four years or so) but is well known in the hiking and trail maintenance community. . . Hal Graham. Hal is one of the founders of Trailwrights and is still very active tending trails on the Belknap Range.

If you've never been up Belknap before, I would highly recommend it and while you're in the area, run up Mt Major also. Two easy hikes with outstanding views!

Tramper Al- If you're still reading this, did you hike up Croydon this summer? And if you did, how did you manage that? Tell me more.

There are a few other manned towers in the state though not necessarily in the Whites: Blue Job in Farmington, Federal Hill in Milford, South Kearsarge in Wilmot-Warner, Magalloway in Pittsburg, Oak Hill in Loudon, Pawtuckaway in Nottingham, Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard, Warner Hill in Derry and Hyland Hill in Westmoreland. I might have missed one or two. And dare I say it... there's a list and that's all I'm going to say about that!

11-15-2004, 06:46 PM
Thanks, J&J, for the, um, you know. Never mind. The website that RR pointed out shows that NH is down to 16 staffed firetowers of the total 25 extant; the high was 75. They were on many of the major WMNF peaks, including Carter, Moosilauke, Cannon, and the others listed above. But none, I gather, in the Presidentials.

David Metsky
11-15-2004, 08:57 PM
As far as I know, Moosilauke never had a firetower.


11-15-2004, 10:23 PM
Not a tower per se, but a lookout, "a permanent fixed site," as well as its occupant, according to the second source that Ridgewalker cites above. Speckled first had a lookout cabin, then tower. Moosilauke was part of the lookout system early on.

"Fire lookouts, permanent fixed sites from which to spot forest fires, originated in the west before 1900. The first lookout in the east was reportedly on Squaw Mt. in Maine in 1905. (Note: personal conversation with Iris W. Baird, February 8, 2001 - there is evidence that not only was Croydon station the first New Hampshire tower but it may have been the first in the East as early as 1903.)

In the fall of 1909 the state found itself with $599.39 of unexpended fire fighting funds, and got permission to purchase telephones, wire and fixtures for five lookout stations. There were already two lookouts on private land: Croydon Peak in the Draper Company-Blue Mountain Park, and Mt. Rosebrook, operated by the Mt. Pleasant Hotel in Crawford Notch.

The AMC, which had title to the summit of Kearsarge North (Pequawket) let a lookout use the ruined hotel on that summit and run a phone line to the valley. With this cooperation from the private sector, New Hampshire entered the lookout business.

New Hampshire State Forester Edgar C. Hirst next called a meeting in Gorham in March 1910 at which he explained to the major timberland owners what Maine, New York and Vermont were doing and asked for support. The timbermen contributed $4100 on the spot and organized themselves into the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association (NHTOA). This group later assessed themselves a penny per acre per year for fire detection, on a total acreage of about a million acres.

In the summer of 1910, ten additional lookouts went into service. Of these, three -- Mt. Agassiz, Mt. Madison and Mt. Moosilauke -- already had some sort of summit occupancy with telephones, with whom contacts could be made. Aziscoos, in Maine, was operated by the Maine Forest Service, with which New Hampshire entered into a cooperative agreement. There was a hotel on Moosilauke, and the AMC caretaker at Madison Hut had a phone connected to Ravine House in Randolf. The NHTOA supplied funds for seven additional stations: Magalloway, Sugarloaf, Signal, Cambridge Black, Pine, Carrigain and Osceola."

The Moosilauke watchman was credited with having spotted five forest fires in the early years of the lookout system. His salary was paid directly or indirectly by the NHTOA funds. This is a whole apect of White Mountain history that's new to me but it all makes sense. The logging practices of the time (high piles of tinder dry slash) and sparks from the logging trains set off so many devastating fires, many of which, ironically cleared the mountain views we enjoy today (e.g., Baldface Circle), that timber owners naturally were alarmed and took action to protect their wood. How effectively they could fight a fire once they spotted it I don't know. Much of the impulse to "Save the Notch" in Franconia came from fear of the forest fires.

Smarts Mountain also has a long and complicated involvement in NH firetower history ( that encapsulates major interrelated issues in forestry, hiking, conservation.