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Application for NHLR

Lookout Inspections:

Forest Fire Lookout Association


Poke-O-Moonshine Fire Tower

US 265, New York 20

Essex County, New York

Elevation:  2165'
Coordinates:  N44.401755 W73.512904
Administrative Unit:  NYSDEC Region 5
Cooperators:  NYSDEC Region 5, Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine and Adirondack Architectural Heritage

To Topographical Map

The mountain probably got its name from a “bag of corn whiskey” that some traveler found stashed there many years ago.  Another and likely possibility is that the name was derived from the Algonquin name for the hill:  Pohqui moosie. Poke-O-Moonshine Fire Tower was first used as a lookout site in 1912. The 35’ Aermotor LS-40 tower with 7’x7’ metal cab was constructed 81 years ago in 1917. A popular hiking destination in the Adirondack Park, it was deactivated in 1988 and considered for removal. In 1997 the Town of Chesterfield passed a resolution supporting renovation of the tower. The Adirondack Heritage and the Adirondack Mountain Club joined in a Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine tower project.

Additional information and photos courtesy of Bill Starr, NHLR State Registrar:

"In 1918 Forest Fire Control tested the ”Osborne Fire Finder” in this fire tower. With the fire finder immediately proving it’s worth the bureau began making “Panoramic Circular Maps” with the plotting instrument on the fire finder for each of the fire towers. A simplified version of the “Osborne” was developed and installed at each fire tower beginning in 1919. This tower has been fully restored and is open to the public. The tower is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the National Historic Lookout Register.

"As the initial group of Forest Fire Observers were retiring, or leaving to other jobs the need to attract quality candidates for the position was a priority. One concern was the quality of living quarters at the fire towers. In the early 1930s work began to improve these sites by first placing additions on some cabins, or constructing new outbuildings. Then later in the 1930s the Bureau took advantage of having the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) to build more elaborate cabins, and to provide the funding on many of these jobs. As work was scarce during the “Great Depression” many skilled tradesmen were among the participants at the various C.C.C. camps.

"What I call the ‘Model 1936’ cabin was developed and placed into service that year. Six were built at Azure, De Bar, Makomis, Poke-O-Moonshine, Rock Rift and Stissing mountains. The blue prints call for a stone fireplace on the front wall of the cabin. Yet from very recent photographic research not all these cabins were constructed with the stone fireplace.

"Accessibility to material and even to a skilled stone mason was essential. At Azure, De Bar and Poke-O-Moonshine mountains road access to the cabin sites was available, and a stone mason must have been at one of the nearest C.C.C. camps because these three locations all had their ‘Model 1936’ cabins built with a stone fire place. The only other cabin with a stone fire place was at St. Regis Mountain where this cabin was built in 1939. Two stone chimneys existed on this cabin, the main fireplace in front and a smaller chimney in the rear left corner of the cabin at the pantry, no doubt for a wood burning cook stove.

"Many misconceptions exist about the map table and circular map and I hope to clear them up here.

"In 1918 the Bureau of Forest Fire Control obtained a Model 1917 “Osborne Fire Finder” that was in use by the U.S. Forest Service. This device was placed in the Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain fire tower to test the effectiveness of the instrument. Almost immediately the Osborne proved that having such device would greatly extend the ability of the Forest Fire Observer in accurately pinpointing a fire location.

The 1917 Osborne Fire Finder Plotting instrument on the 1917 Osborne Fire Finder (Paul Hartmann photos)

"The “Osborne” not only was a heavy device to be lugging up and down a mountain, or fire tower, it was expensive too. Even today a current model of the “Osborne” is selling upwards of $4,000 each.

"With the plotting instrument on the 1917 Osborne maps were made for each of the fire towers. These maps were only 19 and then 24 inches in diameter and utilized a topographical map in the center. On the perimeter of the topographic map the physical land features, visible from a fire tower, were plotted on the map by use of the plotting instrument.

"First described in the 1919 Annual Report to the Legislature, maps were being made for each tower, about six to ten per year. This was a laborious job, toting the one Osborne from fire tower to fire tower, setting it up and then plotting each physical land feature one by one.

"These first circular maps were called “Panorama Maps” and the following illustration was pictured in the 1919 Annual Report to the Legislature.

The Panorama Map for Saint Regis Mountain 1919. NYS-DEC Photo.

Of course a table had to be provided to support this map. Made of iron plumbing pipes a table with a fixed circular top, 30” in diameter were made for each fire tower as “Panorama Maps” were being made.

Additional photos:

2003--Restoration (NYS-DEC photo) 1977 (Bob Eckler photo)
Summer 2001 flyover (Marty Podskoch photo) 1974--Model 1936 Cabin and Model 1922 on right (Bob Eckler photo)

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