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Adirondack Fire Towers by Marty Podskoch


Marty Podskoch’s Fire Tower Presentations:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fires raged out of control in the many of New York State’s vast wooded areas. The years 1903 and 1908 were particularly disastrous, and because of public outcry for protection from the devastation, the state began a rigorous fire and prevention and control program, including the building of fire towers.

The first state fire towers in the Adirondacks were established in the Adirondacks in 1909 on Mount Morris in Franklin County, Gore Mountain in Warren County, and West, Snowy and Hamilton mountains in Hamilton County.

Three other towers were established in the Catskills on Hunter Mountain in Green County, Balsam Lake and Belleayre mountains in Ulster County. These towers were constructed of trees and logs with an open platform built on top. Each tower was equipped with a telephone, a map, and binoculars. When smoke was sighted, an observer would call in the location of the fire to a forest ranger.

These wooden towers were replaced with steel towers and the use of towers greatly reduced the number of acres destroyed by fires because they were extinguished at the early stages. Eventually the state had about 114 fire towers operating throughout the state in 1960.

In 1971 the state started to use air surveillance and gradually closed the fire towers to save money. By 1990 the remaining four fire towers in the Adirondacks and one in the Catskills were closed. Fifty-two towers were removed but many remained and began to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance.

A few communities heard that the state might remove their local tower. They raised money and restored the towers. Today these towers have been restored in the Adirondacks: Mount Arab, Blue, Hadley, Goodenow, Kane, White Face, Cathederal Rock (at the Ranger School in Wanakena), Number Four (Lowville), Azure, Poke-O-Moonshine, and Snowy mountains. The following towers are in the process of restoration: Adams, Vanderwacker, and Rondaxe (Bald) mountains.
These towers: Spruce (Saratoga County), Stillwater (Herkimer County), and Loon Lake (Franklin) are awaiting approval for public access through private lands. Then a local restoration group will be sought for restoration work.

Five Catskills fire towers, Mount Tremper, Hunter, Balsam Lake, Red Hill, and Overlook mountain towers, were restored.

With the restoration of the fire towers, hikers, families and school children can visit a fire tower that helped prevent the devastation of fires. After climbing the fire tower, the hiker is rewarded with a 360-degree panoramic view of the forests, lakes, mountains and valleys since most of the mountains are covered with trees.

Photo by EEHealy
Pharaoh Mountain Tower - 1951



Fire towers are an essential element in the history of New York State having stood for nearly a century as guardians of the vast woodlands in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains. While lightning had always been a threat to the forests, it was not until the late 19th century with the advent of the railroads serving new communities and expanding tourism that forest fires became a serious threat to life and property.

Locomotives shot burning cinders and sparks onto the right-of-way starting fires that reached into the forests where loggers had left treetops and limbs, dried out, ready fuel for what became gigantic fires that destroyed thousands of acres, drove people from their homes, and darkened the skies in distant cities. In 1903 and 1908 the destruction was disastrous and the state was spurred by public pressure to create a new, more effective system to contain the rampant flames.

In 1909 the state began to erect primitive outlook stations with observers on duty throughout the fire season perched atop crude log towers with open platforms. The observers lived in tents or log cabins nearby. Over the next decade these lookout stations evolved into metal towers with enclosed cabs rising as much as 70’ above the forest floor. Later standard cabins were built to provide durable homes and the towers became a preferred destination for generations of hikers who would climb the towers for the panoramic views and to listen to the lore of the nature-wise observers.

Marty Podskoch has become the chronicler of the history and lore of the fire towers of the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains. His interest in the subject was aroused in 1987 when he visited the tower on Hunter Mountain. The observer was so enthusiastic about and proud of his work protecting the forests and educating the public on fire prevention that it inspired Marty to learn more about the towers. His research has taken him thousands of miles throughout the mountains of New York visiting the observers, the forest rangers who supervised the towers, and their families and friends as he gathered stories and pictures about their adventures “on the mountain.”

Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, the Southern Districts published by Purple Mountain Press of Fleischmanns, NY, covers the general history of the state fire prevention system from the late 19th century to the 1980s, when the role of the towers was diminished as air surveillance took over the function of fire spotting at reduced cost. Eventually, all of the towers were closed and many were removed, but recently several communities have restored their towers to be once again an attraction to hikers and a source of knowledge about the region.

Included in the book are many hundreds of human interest stories the author has gathered in personal interviews, and 233 photographs both historical and contemporary that give intimate details of the lives of these courageous denizens of the deep woods. Bears abound! Danger flashes down in lightning bolts that fry telephones and make hair stand on end! Porcupines gnaw everything! Families survive nicely in tiny cabins, and always the towers stand and sway in wind and rain staffed by men and women dedicated to preserving our precious wilderness.

The new book covers 29 state and 3 private towers in the southern part of the Adirondack Park, which includes parts of Herkimer, Lewis, Hamilton, Fulton, Saratoga, Washington, and Warren Counties. Many are still standing and directions and maps are included. The 256-page, large-format book is available in local stores in a paperback edition for $20.00.

A future volume will cover fire towers in the northern section of the mountains.


Photo by EEHealy
Pharaoh Mountain Ranger - 1951

Photo by EEHealy
Pharaoh Mountain Ranger Cabin - 1951


Photo of Marty PodskochMarty Podskoch recently retired from teaching reading for 36 years. He taught the last 28 years at Delaware Academy in Delhi, NY. He and his wife Lynn raised their three children in an old farmhouse along the West Branch of the Delaware River. He became interested in fire towers after climbing Hunter Mountain in the fall of 1987 where he met an old observer and Podskoch wanted to find out more information about the history and lore of the fire towers. Purple Mountain Press then asked him to write about the history of the Catskill fire towers and the restoration project that was occurring in the Catskills.

After interviewing hundreds of observers, rangers and their families, he was able to gather their stories and pictures about working at the 23 Catskill fire towers. In 2000 his book, Fire Towers of the Catskill: Their History and Lore, was published. Purple Mountain Press published his second book, Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, the Southern Districts, in June of 2003. Purple Mountain Press will publish Marty’s next book, Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, the Northern Districts, in June of 2005.

The July/August 2003 issue of Adirondack Life states, “A few icons seem never to wear out their welcome with Adirondack audiences, and fire towers are no exception.”

These books can be purchased
Online at Amazon via our Link Below.

Books By Marty Podskoch:

Fire Towers of the Catskills:
Their History and Lore

Adirondack Fire Towers:
Their History and Lore - The Southern Districts

Adirondack Fire Towers:
Their History and Lore - The Northern Divisions


Contact Information:
Marty Podskoch
43 O'Neill Lane
East Hampton, CT 06424

(860) 267-2442



Published by: Capital Celtic Network
Year Written: 2005


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