This panoramic photo is courtesy of Bob Berch
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St Regis Mountain - Photo courtesy of Gordon Keyes


History

When this observation station was established in April 1910, no tower was immediately erected, as an unobstructed view was available due to the lack of tree cover on the mountaintop.

Five letters that provide some insight into the establishment of this station date back to 2/24/1910, 3/15/1910, 3/17/1910, 6/28/1916 and in 7/3/1916.During this first year of use three miles of telephone line were constructed so that the observer could quickly report fires spotted to the local forest ranger. There is no evidence that a tower was ever built on St. Regis until 1918, when the Conservation Commission erected a 35' Aermotor LS40 steel tower that still remains there today.

The significance of New York State forest fire observation stations, in general, and of St. Regis Mountain station was the preservation of the States wild forests and to protect them against devastating fires. During the early 1900s the forests of the Adirondacks had been plagued by fires with the most damaging fires occurring in 1903 and 1908. The fires in 1903 destroyed over 464,180 acres of NYS land. The fires of 1908 destroyed over 368,000 acres of NYS land. Below are four photos from 1908 taken after a fire on St. Regis Mountain.

St. Regis Mountain Fire 1908 NYS Archive 1 of 4-red.jpg - 81447 Bytes

St. Regis Mountain Fire Photo from 1908 Photo 1 of 4
Image from New York State Photographic Archives



St. Regis Mountain Fire 1908 NYS Archive 2 of 4-red.jpg - 75648 Bytes

St. Regis Mountain Fire Photo from 1908 Photo 2 of 4
Image from New York State Photographic Archives



St. Regis Mountain Fire 1908 NYS Archive 3 of 4-red.jpg - 97048 Bytes

St. Regis Mountain Fire Photo from 1908 Photo 3 of 4
Image from New York State Photographic Archives



St. Regis Mountain Fire 1908 NYS Archive 4 of 4-red.jpg - 105308 Bytes

St. Regis Mountain Fire Photo from 1908 Photo 4 of 4
Image from New York State Photographic Archives



The State assigned George F. Brown as the first observer on St. Regis Mountain who reported 55 fires that year. There were a few dangerous fires in the area of this tower. On the afternoon of May 31, 1915, a small fire, that was probably left by fishermen in the town of Santa Clara, was fanned by swift winds. The fire destroyed 1,550 acres of state land, most of which had been burned over from a previous fire.

Below is a Fire Prevention Poster from 1914

Fire Prevention Posters 1914 NYS Archive-red.jpg - 143959 Bytes

1914 NYS Fire Prevention Poster
Image from New York State Photographic Archives



By 1916 each observation station included a cabin for the observers comfort. Previously, most were provided only tents for shelter. These original cabins were usually constructed of logs cut on site. Most were small and less than ideal. In the early 20's a standard design would be developed.

In 1919, a "device known as the Osborne Fire Finder has been developed by the US Forest Service. By means of this instrument a panoramic map of the territory visible from a mountain station could be developed. This made it possible for an inexperienced observer to locate fires more accurately than with ordinary topographic maps. One of the new fire finders was purchased and tried out at Poke-O-Moonshine during the year and a map made" according to the Conservation Commission.

Demonstrating the operation of an alidade NYS Archive-red.jpg - 68032 Bytes

"Kinne F. Williams, a state forester, demonstrating the operation of an alidade on a table adopted for use in fire observation towers, in conjunction with a United States Geological Survey map. An alidade is a surveying/mapping instrument used for determining directions."
Image from New York State Conservation Department Photographic Archives



A panoramic map and table were installed on St. Regis in that same year to aid the observer in locating fires. This was a circular map with a panoramic sketch of the surrounding vista around the outside edge. The inner portion was a topographic map with the tower location in the center. A sighting device called an "alidade" pivoted on a pin in the center of the map. Along the outer edge of the topographic map portion are azimuths that could be easily read by the observer once the alidade was sited on a possible fire and reported to the local forest ranger. Below is a picture of the map for St. Regis Mt.

The Panoramic Map Used On St. Regis Mt. - ca. 1919
Image courtesy of the NYS Conservation Commission Report - 1919



The first standard design for observer cabins was developed in 1922, mandating that they be 12' x 16' in size and roofed and sided with asphalt shingles. These consisted of a small living area, and even smaller bedroom and a pantry. A cabin of this design was erected in 1925 though, to date, there are no pictures existing of it.

Because of the cramped conditions in these earlier cabins, a new design was adopted in 1936. It increased the size to 16' x 20' with a 7' porch. These had waney edge pine siding, pine board interior and a large fire place. A cabin of this design was completed by the members of the CCC Camp at Barnum Pond in 1939 and is pictured below.

St. Regis observer's cabin - 1973
Photo courtesy of Bob Eckler



In the 1930's the Conservation Department experimented with two way radios to improve communications between its fire towers and forest rangers. The first radio ever used on St. Regis Mt. is pictured here. This should not be confused with a radio that is similar in make, for this is the actual radio once used on St. Regis Mountain.

The original two-way radio used on St. Regis - ca. 1940
Photo courtesy of Paul Hartmann



St. Regis Mountain was staffed continuously from April 1910 through 1990 making it not only the longest operating fire tower in the Adirondack Mountains, but the longest operating fire tower in the State of New York. Below are pictures of past forest fire observers.

St. Regis Tower and Observer Leander Martin - 1940
Photo courtesy of Agnes Martin



St. Regis Observer Leander Martin - 1940
Photo courtesy of Agnes Martin



St. Regis Observer Ed Samburgh - 1974



The percentage of fires reported by fire towers dwindled over the years to a mere 4% of all fires reported. In 1988, the Department of Environmental Conservation concluded that towers were no longer effective and decided to phase them out of service. The 1989 plans called for staffing six to eight of the thirty one towers staffed in 1988.

In 1990, the last of the operating fire towers in New York State, of which St. Regis was one, were closed. This brought to an end an era or organized and systematic forest fire detection that lasted 82 years.

The St. Regis Mountain Fire Tower appears on the National Historic Lookout Register being placed there in March 2005.