…Fire Tower History

Fires were not uncommon during this time period. Once started, a fire could spread quickly as there was plenty of fuel in the forests from activities such as logging and tanning. With poor communication and transportation systems, fires could spread significantly and were often large and devastating. Add to this scenario a period of drought. In 1909 the Adirondack Village of Long Lake West was destroyed by fire. As more persons were transported to the scene by train to help, more fires were caused by the sparks from the trains. Something needed to be done to prevent this from happening in other areas of the state.

So began the early warning system of fire towers placed on mountaintops throughout New York State. These were staffed by Fire Tower Observers to watch for fires. When smoke was spotted, the observers utilized phone systems to communicate the location of the fire to Forest Rangers, who would then send paid personnel to systematically put it out.

As the early warning system consisting of fire towers, Fire Tower Observers and Forest Rangers grew around New York State, it became increasingly clear where the areas were that needed more coverage or taller towers to improve fire prevention efforts. It also became clear that the role of Fire Tower Observers included what was known at the time as Public Relations. As the hiking public followed the trails to the fire towers and visited with the Observer in the cab, they were not only treated to a magnificent view, but to educational information on fire prevention and how best to care for the surrounding forest. The Observers were important caretakers of the public’s homes and the surrounding lands.

It was during this time period that Bramley Mountain Fire Tower was put in place as part of this system. In 1950, an 80-foot Aeromotor Company LS40 fire tower was erected on the summit of Bramley Mountain by the New York State DEC. A three room pine paneled observer’s cabin was also constructed. Local electric and telephone companies strung lines to the cabin and tower. A radio antenna was also erected near the tower. A picnic table and fireplace rounded out improvements to the summit grounds. For 20 years, Fire Observers and Forest Rangers monitored the local area for fires from this tower, triangulating locations in conjunction with the Mt. Utsayantha and Balsam Lake Fire Tower Observers. According to the DEC, the Bramley Mountain tower was also visible from the Hunter Mountain and Tremper Mountain towers. The fire tower was accessed by a dirt road leading up from Bramley Mountain Road in Bovina.

During the years the tower was in operation, it was a frequent destination for residents and visitors who walked or drove the rough dirt road to the tower. Many school trips were made to the tower, and the fire observers welcomed the visitors with snacks, sometimes a barbeque lunch, and a wealth of educational information. One visitor to the tower recalled that the observer actually spotted a fire while they were there. The Bramley Fire Tower was served by one of the few female fire observers in New York State – Therese Aitken – in 1952.

As our communication and transportation systems were updated and changed, fire towers and their Observers began to be replaced by air surveillance. Funding for the fire tower system began to dwindle. By the 1970s and 1980s many towers were closed all around New York State. The Conservation Department sold some of the fire towers to the highest bidder, as was the case with the Bramley Mountain tower.