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Looking Out: Maine's Fire Towers

This slideshow contains 34 items
1
Old fire lookout tower, Number Nine Mountain, ca. 1918

Old fire lookout tower, Number Nine Mountain, ca. 1918

Item 19126 info
Maine Forest Service

The Maine woods -- especially harvesting trees -- have been an important economic resource since Europeans first began visiting the region.

Protecting that resource also has been important. Maine has been a leader in fire protection, passing the first legislation to address the issue in 1891.

The law created a State Forest Commissioner (formerly known as a land agent) and made provision for appointment of fire wardens throughout the state.


2
Forest Service watchmen, Cooper Hill, Cooper, ca. 1919

Forest Service watchmen, Cooper Hill, Cooper, ca. 1919

Item 19038 info
Maine Forest Service

Also in 1891, the state set a minimum 15 cents per hour pay rate for those fighting forest fires.

Often, woods crews and farmers were called on to fight fires.

In the photo at left, two Forest Service employees, Allen [?] and Oscar Sadler, pose at the watch station at Cooper Mountain in about 1919. Sadler was the watchman from 1917-1919.

A wood fire watchtower was built on the mountain in 1913 and rebuilt in 1925. A steel tower, using steel discarded from the Naval Radio Tower in Bar Harbor, went up in 1937.


3
Construction, Depot Mountain lookout, ca. 1914

Construction, Depot Mountain lookout, ca. 1914

Item 19118 info
Maine Forest Service

Further impetus to prevent forest fires came in 1903 when fires burned more than 200,000 acres in unorganized territories in Maine.

The 1891 legislation had led to some 29 wardens being appointed to cover 10 million acres.

The 1903 fires prompted the forest commissioner to appoint 141 wardens who were paid $2 a day for active service.

At left is construction of a 63-foot steel fire lookout tower at Depot Mountain in Aroostook County.


4
Old and new fire lookout towers, Depot Mountain, ca. 1920

Old and new fire lookout towers, Depot Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19115 info
Maine Forest Service

In 1904, Elmer Crowley, a recent forestry graduate of the University of Maine who worked for M.G. Shaw Lumber Company, was on top of Big Squaw Mountain when he suggested it would be a good idea to put a fire watchman on top of the mountain.

A year later, M.G. Shaw Lumber built a fire lookout tower on the mountain, the first continuously operated forest fire lookout tower in the country.

At left is a view of the new, 63-foot steel tower on Depot Mountain in Aroostook County and the old platform and spruce tree tower.

The Depot Mountain tower, at 1,300 feet, closed in 1973.

Clyde Fox of St. Pamphile, Province of Quebec, was the watchman in 1917. Grover Bradford of Sebec was the chief warden.

The tower is one of several located in Maine that looks into Canada.


5
Watchman's camp, Depot Mountain, ca. 1920

Watchman's camp, Depot Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19119 info
Maine Forest Service

M.G. Shaw Lumber built two more towers in 1905, on Attean and Bigelow mountains.

Between 1905 and 1908, owners of forestlands built six more lookout towers in Maine.

At left is the watchman's camp at Depot Mountain. Lookouts generally had cabins for watchmen located lower on the mountain than the tower.


6
Forest Service lookout, Soper Mountain, ca. 1920

Forest Service lookout, Soper Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19136 info
Maine Forest Service

Forest fires again raged in 1908, burning more than 98,000 acres of woods.

For the first time, the Maine's woods were "closed," banning all activity.

At left is the Soper Mountain lookout in Piscataquis County.

A wood tower was first built in 1909 and rebuilt in 1916.

A steel tower replaced the wood structure in 1924.

F.L. Berry was the watchman in 1917.


7
Fire lookout and camp, Schoodic Mountain, ca. 1920

Fire lookout and camp, Schoodic Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19134 info
Maine Forest Service

The 1908 fires were followed by the development of the Maine Forest District.

In 1909, landowners in the unorganized territories of Maine were asked to pay a tax toward a $50,000 fund for fire protection.

At left is the Schoodic Mountain lookout and camp, built on the 1,069-foot mountain in Hancock County.

The wood tower was built in 1914 and replaced in 1920 by a 24-foot steel tower.

Wendall Harrison and Howard Webb of North Sullivan were watchmen in 1917-1919.

Fred S. Bunker of Franklin was chief warden in 1917.


8
Washington Bald Mountain fire lookout tower, ca. 1920

Washington Bald Mountain fire lookout tower, ca. 1920

Item 19142 info
Maine Forest Service

As part of its expanded fire protection efforts, the state took over the privately funded lookouts in 1909, making them part of the Maine Fire District.

The state also began construction of additional lookouts and hire additional watchmen, paid for by the tax on landowners.

At left is the Bald Mountain fire lookout in Washington County, a 55-foot enclosed wood tower that was built in 1918.

It was replaced with a 70-foot steel tower in 1934 and abandoned as a lookout in 1970.


9
Forest Service watchwoman, 1920

Forest Service watchwoman, 1920

Item 19061 info
Maine Forest Service

Building the towers was challenging as all the supplies had to be carried up the mountains by hand or with the assistant of tote teams.

Crews also built the cabins for watchmen.

At left is James M. Pierce and Maine Forestry District watchwoman Miss Cummings in 1920.

In 1917, Pierce, of Houlton, was chief warden at the Number Nine Mountain lookout.


10
Fire Warden, Ripogenus, 1920

Fire Warden, Ripogenus, 1920

Item 19064 info
Maine Forest Service

The watchmen went by tote team in late spring to the tower sites, usually staying until fall.

Between 1905 and 1907, the watchmen had to run down the mountain to report sightings of fires.

Starting in 1909, when the Maine Forestry District took over the towers, watchmen were equipped with battery-operated, hand-cranked telephones.


11
Fire watchtower, Black Cat Mountain, 1920

Fire watchtower, Black Cat Mountain, 1920

Item 19110 info
Maine Forest Service

The towers were equipped with alidades, a sighting apparatus that utilized hand-drawn maps of the geographic features of the area to help the watchers pinpoint the location of fires or smoke they spotted.

Early watchmen also had low-powered binoculars -- and a 360-degree view.

It was the watchmen's knowledge of the area, however, that was the greatest boon to determining the location of fires.

At left is the Black Cat Mountain tower in Piscataquis County. The 60-foot steel tower was built in 1919 at an elevation of 2,599 feet.

The lookout station moved to Trout Mountain in 1931.


12
Forest Service camp, Boarstone Mountain, Elliottsville, ca. 1920

Forest Service camp, Boarstone Mountain, Elliottsville, ca. 1920

Item 19111 info
Maine Forest Service

Maine's fire protection efforts were aided in 1911 with a federal law that allowed the government to establish federal forests and to allocate money for state fire protection efforts.

At left is the watchman's camp at Boarstone Mountain in Piscataquis County.

The wooden house on the ledge was built in 1913.

F.H. Small of Onawa was watchman in 1917 and J.L. Chapman of Milo was chief warden. In 1919, T.H. Keaton was the watchman.


13
Forest Service lookout tower, Coburn Mountain, ca. 1920

Forest Service lookout tower, Coburn Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19112 info
Maine Forest Service

In 1917, Maine registered another "first" in fire protection efforts, using a panoramic alidade.

Watchmen drew features of the area on heavy drafting paper. Workers in Augusta later turned the draft into the panoramic map.

At left is the tower at Coburn Mountain in Somerset County.

The wood tower was built in 1910 and a 24-foot steel replacement in 1914.

In 1938, the cab was crushed by ice and rebuilt.

P.J. Walsh of The Forks was the watchman in 1917. John M. Comber of Caratunk was chief warden.


14
Center Mountain lookout tower, ca. 1920

Center Mountain lookout tower, ca. 1920

Item 19113 info
Maine Forest Service

John B. Mitchell, chief warder for Upper East Branch waters of Penobscot River, District 4 in 1919 said lookout construction at Center Mountain began May 25.

The tower was hauled up to the foot of the mountain in 1918 on a hand sled.

The steel house and cement were hauled up the mountain by a Lincoln Pulpwood Co. team and men.

The task was challenging because of the steepness of the mountain.

By June 15, 1919, the tower was up, the phone line installed, and all in running order.

The site, now within Baxter State Park, was once private land.


15
Jim Haynes, Mitchell Mountain, 1920

Jim Haynes, Mitchell Mountain, 1920

Item 19122 info
Maine Forest Service

Jim Haynes, at left, was the Forest Service fire watchman at Mitchell Mountain in Haynesville in 1920.

The wood fire observation tower was built in 1918 at a height of 36 feet and at an elevation of 567 feet.

A steel tower of the same height replaced it in 1927.

It was abandoned in 1954.


16
Forest Service crow's nest, Spoon Mountain, ca. 1920

Forest Service crow's nest, Spoon Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19132 info
Maine Forest Service

The first fire towers were logs that formed quadrupeds or tripods, topped with open platforms.

The crow's nest tower at Spoon Mountain in Penobscot County was at an elevation of 1,082 feet.

The 30-foot wood tower was built in 1916. A 15-foot section was added in 1920, replaced in 1936 with a 50-foot steel tower.

The structure was removed in 1978.

In 1917, Joseph Ingram of Patten was the watchman and John E. Mitchell, also of Patten, was chief warden.


17
Lookout tower, Moxie Bald Mountain, ca. 1920

Lookout tower, Moxie Bald Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19123 info
Maine Forest Service

Towers took a variety of shapes and were of varying heights.

A variation of the open platform was log-cribbed cabins on the tripods or towers.

The tower at left is at Moxie Bald Mountain in Somerset County.

The 12-foot steel tower went up in 1919, replacing a 1910 wood tower.

The cab was replaced in 1961 and the tower removed in 1995.

In 1917, Richard Morris of The Forks was the watchman and the chief warden was Frank Hilton of Bingham.


18
New lookout tower, Number Nine Mountain, ca. 1920

New lookout tower, Number Nine Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19127 info
Maine Forest Service

Eventually, towers were built on poles with completely enclosed cabs.

This 36-foot steel tower was built in 1919 at Number Nine Mountain in Aroostook County. It was removed in 1993.

In 1917, W.B. Hussey of Patten was the watchman. James M. Pierce of Houlton was chief warden.


19
Fire lookout station, White Cap Mountain, ca. 1920

Fire lookout station, White Cap Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19144 info
Maine Forest Service

Some towers were completely enclosed, such as White Cap Mountain at left.

A 12-foot wood tower was built at 3,707 feet on White Cap Mountain in 1906 and rebuilt in 1914.

In 1920, it was replaced with a 24-foot steel tower.

The lookout was deactivated in 1968 and the tower removed in 1993.


20
Passadumkeag fire lookout tower, ca. 1920

Passadumkeag fire lookout tower, ca. 1920

Item 19131 info
Maine Forest Service

In 1913, the Maine Forestry District built its first steel tower.

From 1913-1914, the District built 17 lookout towers.

It built 22 towers between 1916 and 1925.

The tower at left was built in 1919.


21
Forest Service lookout tower and camp, Mattamiscontis Mountain, ca. 1920

Forest Service lookout tower and camp, Mattamiscontis Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19121 info
Maine Forest Service

At left is the tower and camp at Mattamiscontis in Penobscot County.

A wood tower was built on the 1,400-foot mountain in 1914. A 48-foot steel tower replaced it in 1917, in which year John Stinchfield was the watchman.

The lookout was discontinued in 1968.



22
Fire lookout tower, Soubunge Mountain, ca. 1920

Fire lookout tower, Soubunge Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19135 info
Maine Forest Service

The 16-foot steel tower at Soubunge Mountain in Piscataquis County, built in 1919, replaced a wood tower that had been built the year before.


23
Forest Service camp, Spencer Mountain, ca. 1920

Forest Service camp, Spencer Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19138 info
Maine Forest Service

Watchmen did more than sit in the cab atop the tower and watch for smoke or fire.

They also took care of repairs on watchmen's camps and on the phone lines and other equipment.

The watchmen at Spencer Mountain in 1917 were E.S. Turner and S.D. Call of Levant.

R.L Brick of Levant was chief warden in 1917.

A wood lookout tower opened in 1906 at Spencer, replaced in 1927 by a 12-foot steel structure.


24
Fire watchman camp, Tumbledown, 1915

Fire watchman camp, Tumbledown, 1915

Item 19141 info
Maine Forest Service

In addition, watchmen often had small gardens to provide fresh vegetables to their summer diets.

They cooked, sewed, cut wood for fuel, and protected their camps and food from bears, deer, and other animals.

The watchman in 1915 wrote on the back of the photo, calling the camp a "fine little camp."

He noted it had good beds, a cook stove, good dishes and a spring nearby. He also cited its distance from Skinner, Eustis (2 miles), Blakeslee (5 miles), Spence Depot Camp ( 1 1/2 miles) and 1 mile from the Tumbledown tower.


25
Tumbledown Camp, Maine Forest Department, ca. 1920

Tumbledown Camp, Maine Forest Department, ca. 1920

Item 19068 info
Maine Forest Service

On the back of the photo is written, "Interior Camp Tumbledown, Showing Radio which is a great comfort during evenings. Get the news and other items all over the U.S."

A wood lookout tower was built on the 3.542-foot Tumbledown peak in 1910.

A 24-foot steel tower replaced it in 1914.


26
Oak Hill Mountain fire lookout tower, ca. 1924

Oak Hill Mountain fire lookout tower, ca. 1924

Item 19129 info
Maine Forest Service

The towers, standing tall on the peaks of mountains, were subject to Maine's harsh weather: wind, lightning, snow accumulation, and ice.

Storms damaged many cabs and towers, especially over the winter.

This 75-foot steel tower was built in 1925 at Oak Hill Mountain in Aroostook County.



27
Watchman's camp, Zircon Mountain, 1924

Watchman's camp, Zircon Mountain, 1924

Item 19147 info
Maine Forest Service

The 60-foot steel tower at Zircon Mountain in Oxford County was built in 1922.

Early watchmen were Clayton Weymouth and Barney Leighton, who served from 1932 to 1939.

They reported doing maintenance on the tower and phone lines, keeping the road and path open, and tending a vegetable garden.

From the tower, they could see 35 to 40 miles.


28
White Cap Mountain fire lookout camp

White Cap Mountain fire lookout camp

Item 19143 info
Maine Forest Service

In 1935, the state built 77 towers, the most built any year.

In 1959, the state operated 102 fire lookout towers in Maine.

At left is the White Cap Mountain watchman's camp.


29
Fire lookout at Agamenticus Mountain, ca. 1920

Fire lookout at Agamenticus Mountain, ca. 1920

Item 19145 info
Maine Forest Service

The state recorded another fire protection "first" in 1927 when Maine became the first state to use aircraft for fire spotting work.

That "first" also contributed to the decline of the fire lookout towers.

The lookout at Agamenticus Mountain in York County began in 1918 as a 24-foot steel tower on the east side of the 692-foot mountain.

In 1934, a 47-foot steel tower was built on the east side and in 1941, a 54-foot steel tower was built on the west side of the peak.

Volunteers now operate the tower, deactivated in 1991.


30
Hardwood Mountain fire lookout tower, 1925

Hardwood Mountain fire lookout tower, 1925

Item 19148 info
Maine Forest Service

The towers began declining in use in 1950, replaced by improved detection, especially by aircraft.

At left is the 75-foot steel tower at Hardwood Mountain in Somerset County. It was built in 1916 with an improved tower with ladder access built in 1925.

The station looks out into Canada and fire observers often notified Canadian authorities of fires in their territory.

Officials often noted that cooperation -- between landowners, paper companies, railroads, the news media and between the U.S. and Canada -- was the most important factor in fire prevention.


31
Watchman's camp, Azicoos Mountain, Lincoln, ca. 1929

Watchman's camp, Azicoos Mountain, Lincoln, ca. 1929

Item 19105 info
Maine Forest Service

Radios were added at a few towers in 1949 and 1950, also aiding the firefighting effort.

At the height of tower operations, the Forest Service maintained some 1,700 miles of telephone lines.

The watchman's camp at Azicoos was 1.4 miles from top of mountain. Calvin Fox of Wilson's Mills was watchman there from 1916 to 1935, when he died.


32
Old lookout, Azicoos Mountain, Lincoln Plantation, ca. 1929

Old lookout, Azicoos Mountain, Lincoln Plantation, ca. 1929

Item 19104 info
Maine Forest Service

The wood lookout at Azicoos in Oxford County
was built in 1910 as a wood house on a ledge.

A wood tower replaces it in 1917. A new wood tower, in a different location, went up in 1919.

A 24-foot steel tower replaced the wood structures in 1929.

From the tower, the watchman could see Katahdin, Kennebago, Saddleback, Baldpate, Bigelow and Boundary bald Mountains.

He also could see more than 25 bodies of water.


33
Sally Mountain fire tower, 1932

Sally Mountain fire tower, 1932

Item 19044 info
Maine Forest Service

In 1962, when the Maine Forest Service wrote its first Forest Watchman's Handbook, 59 towers were in operation.

By 1973, only 13 towers remained, replaced by surveillance aircraft.

Also in 1973, the Maine Department of Conservation was created, ending the Forestry Department and Forest Commissioner.

At left is the Sally Mountain tower in Somerset County, which was built of wood in 1908 -- a response to a fire on the mountain.

It was removed in the 1930s. Towers sometimes were discontinued or relocated to reflect changing needs and changing landscapes.


34
Watchman's cabin, Sally Mountain, 1932

Watchman's cabin, Sally Mountain, 1932

Item 19043 info
Maine Forest Service

The Watchman's Cabin at Sally Mountain, in 1932, perhaps about the time the lookout tower was removed from the mountain.

The cabin was built in 1908.

Fire prevention in Maine did not end with discontinuation of the fire lookouts, but merely entered a new era.

Sources:
Austin H. Wilkins, Ten Million Acres of Timber: The Remarkable Story of Forest Protection the Maine Forestry District (1909-1972). Woolwich: TBW Books, 1978.

David Hilton. From York to the Allagash: Forest Fire Lookouts of Maine, 1905-1991


This slideshow contains 34 items