Hurricane Mountain fire tower turns 100

Sean McHugh, left, and Florence MacGregor of Massachusetts make their way toward the Hurricane Mountain fire tower on Saturday morning. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

KEENE — The Friends of Hurricane Mountain celebrated the centennial anniversary of the mountain’s popular fire tower last week with the opening of a new exhibit at the Adirondack History Museum in Elizabethtown.


The fire tower that still sits atop the mountain — located between Keene and Elizabethtown in the Hurricane Mountain Wilderness — was erected in the summer of 1919, although the bare rock summit had been used as a fire lookout for several years before that.

Many of the Adirondack fire towers were erected in the years 1917 through 1919, after several big fire years early in the last century burned hundreds of thousands of acres of forest.

“The Forest Fish and Game Commission responded by establishing a lookout station on the bald summit of Hurricane Mountain in April 1910,” Martin Podskoch wrote in his book, “Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore.” “The observer watched for wisps of smoke in the Giant Mountain wilderness to the south and the Keene Valley to the west. State workers strung 2 1/2 miles of telephone wire to the summit. The total cost for the station was $216.64. The first observer, Joseph Denton, reported three fires in 1910. The next year Matthew Ryan reported 22 fires.

“For the first decade there wasn’t a wooden tower like there was on most mountains because the observer had a clear view in all directions.”

According to a July 3, 1919, news brief on the front page of the Ticonderoga Sentinel newspaper, the fire towers on Hurricane and Whiteface were being built simultaneously.

“James H. Hopkins, district forest ranger for Saranac Lake, and rangers under his command have completed the difficult task of cutting rough trails to the summits of Whiteface and Hurricane mountains, two of the loftiest Adirondack peaks,” the brief says. “The trails were cut to allow horses to drag up the small steel girders from which observation towers are to be erected on the summits.

“There have been fire observers upon each mountain for several seasons, but no tower. The tower on Whiteface is to be twenty-two feet high and that on Hurricane will be thirty-five feet.”

The Friends group says the tower was decommissioned in 1979 after air patrols took the place of fire spotters. The tower was slated to be removed, but efforts to reclassify the land under the tower as historic were successful, allowing the tower to stay in place. The same was done to preserve other towers, such as the one on St. Regis Mountain.

Bigfoot tale

Podskoch, in his book, also details what may be a Bigfoot sighting by one of the fire spotters who lived in the state-provided cabin part way up the mountain.

According to Podskoch, Hank McCoy, the fire observer on the mountain in 1949, was in a nearby lean-to after a fight with his wife Florence when he heard something large crashing through the woods. McCoy ran to the cabin when he saw something that was far too large to be a bear.

“The door flew open and he yelled to Florence, ‘I got to get my rifle because I just saw this huge animal in the woods and I think he’s coming here,'” Podskoch wrote. “He got his rifle from the bedroom and went outside. From the porch he saw a large, dark shadow by a tree about 10 feet from him. He decided that his rifle was no match for whatever it was so he went back inside and put the rifle down. ‘It’s too big,’ he gasped.

“Their bedroom was in the back of the cabin, which was about four feet from the edge of the hill. All of a sudden the cabin began to shake violently. The animal was pushing the corner of the cabin causing waves of terror in the McCoy family. Then the shaking stopped and the animal made a harsh, heavy sound.

“They then heard something moving outside their window. Florence stepped to the head of the bed to look out and was shocked to see the dark object right next to the window. Hank moved next to Florence and both moved closer to the window. They saw the animal going down to the foot of the hill. It went around the side of the mountain into the woods and they heard its cries as it went toward Keene Valley.”

Earlier this year, Outside Magazine — which has 38 million readers across its platforms — named Hurricane Mountain the best hike in New York. The mountain has three trails to its summit. For more information on the hiking trails, go to www.dec.ny.gov/lands/100895.html.