An Annual Fall Ritual: The Lighting of the St. Regis Fire Tower
As founding director of an Adirondack Park sustainable development organization, I was a big believer in reaching into a community’s past to talk about its future potential.
It reminds me of when we talk about beer during our History of Beer Tastings on how beer became a key community staple. One thing we need to remember is that in many places in early history, especially urban centers, water was not something you could always drink. Beer, being fermented (and if you ever take any of Cathy’s cooking classes, she will certainly explain the importance of eating fermented foods even today!) became an icon. Thus, the selling of beer became a vital local commodity. Like any product, selling it effectively required good marketing! One way to ensure this was to make your local beer as unique as possible. Sounds like today’s local craft beer right?! Except this practice goes as far back as before the time of the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians! Once you establish that notoriety for a certain kind of beer, it becomes another reason to travel to your community. As time goes on, this unique reputation hopefully builds on itself.
Fire Towers: An Icon
Fire towers are an important icon to Adirondack history and its communities. According to https://www.adirondack.net/history/fire-towers/, there were two “great fires” in 1903 and 1908 that burned nearly 1 million acres including the town of Long Lake in Hamilton County. That is a significant number when the Park today is only 6 million acres. In response, New York State began to re-evaluate how to control such outbreaks and came up with the idea to create fire districts “complete with superintendents and patrolmen.”
To help with this according to this article, fire towers were built on top of Adirondack mountains with the first being built in 1909 on top of Mount Morris in Tupper Lake. Fairly quickly other towers were built throughout the Adirondacks. Ironically, they were built from the very same timber they were trying to protect with steel not being part of the framing until about 1916.
Other tidbits from this article include the height of towers being built between 40 and 70 feet tall with the cubicle containing a “circular map” of the region with a “pointer tool” to assist in identifying the fire. Of course, the most important was the telephone!
Just recently, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, the Adirondacks only daily newspaper, wrote an article “Fire Towers Get a Second Life a Century On” by Justin A. Levine (August 24th, 2019) and references 57 were built in the Adirondacks and talks about how by the 1960s they began to be abandoned. By 1990, according to this article, all the Fire Towers were closed.
St. Regis Fire Tower
For the St. Regis Fire Tower, that beautiful icon you can see from our beach, these abandoned structures became slated for removal. Complicating this was that many of these structures were on lands now so classified that no structures could exist. Community groups, believing in the importance of their place in Adirondack history began to crop up and began working with the state to change the land classification to allow some of these towers to stay. The St. Regis Fire Tower along with a few others became a successful example of this partnership.
A Lighting & Celebration
The “Friends of St. Regis Mountain Fire Tower” is a volunteer community group and the next challenge became fundraising and requesting help with restoring the Tower. To help keep the legacy of the fire towers in New York State in the public eye, they promote a “lighting of the fire towers” for any community group interested, on Labor Day Weekend. They have done so for six years and the Friends of St. Regis Mountain Fire Tower has participated in three of those. The Hohmeyer family has been pleased to be a part of that effort by hosting a special “Light up Your Senses, an Evening of Light, Food & History” to commemorate this event. It is a lot of fun with a unique “Schnitzel Bar,” presentations by the Friends group during dinner and culminating with a bonfire and desserts down at our beach with its magnificent view of St. Regis Mountain and its iconic tower. Each year they seem to improve the lighting and this year it was great!
There is still much to be done on the St. Regis Mountain Fire Tower including work on the structure, putting in interpretive materials like a map which the observers used to rely on, and other rehabilitation work.
Next year we have offered to have this event be a fundraiser for the effort, so mark your calendars for Saturday, September 5th, 2020 with a rain date of Sunday, September 6th, 2020. If you would like to know more about the Fire Tower restoration effort or to donate, please view their website, or contact us.