View from Hurricane Mountain

by Peter Slocum

Festivities are planned to celebrate a local landmark, a monument to a fire tower’s heyday.

Milo Bronson’s 1919 summer job was to spot fires from the top of Hurricane Mountain on the eastern edge of the Adirondack High Peaks. But what happened one August day a century ago was a fire observer’s worst nightmare—he spotted his own house on fire. He raced a mile and a half down the steep, boulder-strewn trail only to find his home destroyed. His wife and family were safe, but the house, shed, and livestock were gone.

Bronson’s bad luck came nine years into New York’s experiment with mountain top fire observation. Fortunately, the overall experience was a raging success, a statewide initiative that played a major role in protecting and preserving the largest park in the nation outside of Alaska.

This summer, the Adirondack History Center in Elizabethtown will host a special exhibit on the Hurricane Fire Tower’s 100th Anniversary with photographs, historic documents, log books, and oral histories. Commemorative hikes are also planned for August 10 and 11. The celebration honors the history and changing role of the fire tower over its years standing in the Adirondack Park.

Fire Danger
In the very beginning of the twentieth century, the future of the Adirondack Park did not look so good. Huge fires roared through the wilderness in 1903 and again in 1908, burning more than 800,000 acres (an area larger than Yosemite National Park) and coming within a few miles of Keene Valley and other villages. Conditions were unusually dry those years, and widespread lumbering was increasing the fire danger dramatically. Critically, the state had no early detection system at all.

Maine is credited with the first mountain top observers, and New York followed suit in 1910, putting a pair of eyes on eight peaks. Four years later, there were observers on forty-nine peaks and the plan was making a difference. The New York State Conservation Commission observed, “If we compare the three years of great drought, namely, 1903, 1908 and 1913, the efficiency of the present system is immediately seen. … The area burned in 1903 was 464,189 acres; in 1908, 368,072; and in 1913, 54,768 acres.” The average acreage consumed per fire dropped from 608 acres in 1908 to 79 acres in 1913. Hurricane, in the Town of Keene, played a significant part; its observers reported a… <<read full article at New York Archives magazine>>