The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
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Fire Towers” Program to be presented Mon., Oct. 3rd
Thompson-Ames Historical Society will feature “Fire Towers” at its monthly meeting on Monday evening, October 3rd. The presentation, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Society’s Meetinghouse at 24 Belknap Mountain Road in Gilford Village, will follow the Society’s brief monthly meeting. The public is invited to attend the evening’s activities, which will conclude with the serving of refreshments.
The format for the evening program will be a slide show presented by a former fire lookout watchman who worked for many seasons for NH State. -- Copies of the 2nd edition of Fire Tower Field Guide will be available for purchase and autographing. (This is a timely gift item with the holiday season fast approaching!)
This program will be not only an eye-opening experience for new comers to New Hampshire but also a time to reminisce for those who are well acquainted with the history of New Hampshire’s fire towers.
It is no wonder that included in the archival records of the Thompson-Ames Historical Society of Gilford, among them Society scrap books, are items about Gilford’s Belknap Fire Tower which is on the National Historic Look Out Register.
Belknap Mountain’s 2378-foot height has been an attraction for hikers since the 1880s, as mentioned by Adair Mulligan in her 1995 book The Gunstock Parish, A History of Gilford, New Hampshire, and can be accessed from the Belknap Carriage Road, which leads off Gilford Village’s Belknap Mountain Road.
Historical insight can be gleaned from research prepared by John Chris Haartz and Iris W. Baird for the booklet A Field Guide to New Hampshire Firetowers published in 1992 for the summer conference of the Forest Fire Lookout Association at Weeks State Park in Lancaster, NH. In part we learn, “In 1915 a steel tower was erected with a 10 by 10 ft. cab, a ground cabin, woodshed-toilet and 2 miles of telephone line.”
In 1925, the Belknap Fire Tower was an improved construction (either through revision or replacement of the original structure). Haartz and Baird go on to say, “The height of the cab was 24 feet and access was by ladder. The ladder was replaced with stairs in 1928 to accommodate increased numbers of visitors.”
As stated in Adair Mulligan’s book, “A visit with the lookout tower watchman quickly surpassed the blueberries as the high point of a trip to the summit [of Belknap Mountain].”
Returning to the research of Haartz and Baird, we learn more about the history of Mount Belknap Fire Tower, as follows:
“A new two-room watchman’s cabin was built in 1934 and in the same year a new telephone line was constructed using poles and #12 wire circuit. The same year a new well 12 feet deep was blasted out of the summit rock, and the following year a garage for the watchman was built down on the carriage road.
“In 1939 the phone line was moved to a new location, and a new map stand and phone set were installed. The following year a new observation room was constructed, the station painted and a cement curb built around the well.
“Around 1950 electricity was brought to the summit in anticipation of the changeover to radio communication. In 1979 the tower was raised ten feet and a new cab installed.
“Located near the Gunstock Recreation Area, Belknap gets a large number of visitors, and many fires are started by campers, picnickers and hikers. Some statistics:
in 1981 the tower reported 95 fires and had 2626 visitors. In 1984 there was a major fire on the mountain; over a hundred men fought the fire, and laid 14,000 ft. of hose. The following year there was another major fire, involving 150 fire fighters. In 1987 the tower reported 129 fires and had 4047 visitors. By September 1989, 144 fires had been reported and 3935 people had visited the tower.”
The October 3rd program will be an opportunity to learn more about New Hampshire’s Fire Towers as well as a time to reminisce. Richard (“Richie”) Stewart will be on hand to share photos he accumulated during his 1976-1990 stint as watchman at the Mount Belknap Fire Tower. We welcome others to also help us reminisce.
Monthly programs such as this are open free to the public. More information about Thompson-Ames Historical Society and its programs can be found on the Society’s website www.gilfordhistoricalsociety.org and by telephoning 527-9009.