Monday, March 12, 2012

Fire On the Mountain?

From Dave Brigham:

Fire tower #3

On one of my occasional Backside-hunting drives through Boston's western suburbs, I found myself on a quaint country road in Dover, one of the horsiest towns around. I drove past a small parking lot and saw a sign that marked it as a park of some sort. Sure enough: the Ralph MacAllester Fire Tower at Snow Hill.

Just what I didn't know I was looking for!

My first thought -- and Backside contributor Joe Viger will hear me on this -- was of Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, in which Kerouac's proxy character, Ray Smith, ends up working as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in Washington.

I'd never seen a fire tower up close, and had no idea there were any within a 50-mile radius of my home. So I knew I had to hike up.

During my short hike, I heard banging in the distance. I had passed by several homes on my drive to the parking lot, so I figured somebody was doing some construction work. Once I was in sight of the tower, however, I realized that the noise was two guys working on the structure itself.

I wasn't sure whether the tower was open to the public, and being the non-confrontational guy that I am, I balked at approaching. I snapped a few pictures from a distance, then turned around to explore the empty building I'd seen on my hike up (turned out to be a Boy Scout camp; more on this in a future post).

I left the park curious about the tower, but unsatisfied with my visit. I did some research online, and found some interesting facts:

  • The property is owned by the Dover Land Conservation Trust, which gives the state permission to operate the tower, which is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.
  • In 1984, the tower was struck by lightning; in 1985 a new cab was built.
  • On a clear day from the tower, you can see Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, the hills near Hartford, CT, the Boston skyline and Mount Ascutney in Vermont.

I determined I had to go back, so a week or so later I did.

Once again there were a couple of guys working on the structure, but I kept walking until I was close enough for them to see me, and snapped the photo you see above. They didn't say a word to me, so my initial hesitation seems pretty silly in hindsight.

I then hiked around much more of the park, and took some other pictures you'll see in two future posts.

For an idea of what it's like to work as a fire spotter, see this article about working in the MacAllester Fire Tower.


  1. There's another fantastic old firetower here in Ontario in the Northern Ontario town of Temagami.

  2. Alex -- have you been up there? I'd love to get into the tower I wrote about, or a different one, some time.

  3. That firetower was renamed after my grandfather. He was Dover's town ranger for many years, and was involved with the DLTC . He was also a boy scout leader and took his troop to that nearby boy scout camp.

  4. Hey, thanks for the information. Your grandfather must have loved that hill. It's a great place for hiking and exploring.

  5. Thanks for replying! May I make copies of your pictures? I haven't been up there for many years. We had Grandpa's memorial service at the outdoor church. He was the one who made it.

  6. He loved the outdoors since he was little and taught me a lot about nature and just observing what is around you. I don't remember for sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if he stuck that Smokey the Bear poster on the boyscout cabin. We were all proud when the fire tower was named after him, because he deserved the honor, but Grandpa was embarassed by all the fuss. He was a local hero everybody knew.

  7. Of course you can copy the pictures! I'm always so happy to learn personal stories about places we post about on this blog.

  8. FYI, last week I climbed the hill only to find the fire tower surrounded by a locked fence, with equipment inside and what looks like a satellite dish up on the tower. I think Ralph MacAllester would be displeased by this development! The tower has been a beloved destination for locals for years. Last year I watched all the greater Boston 4th of July fireworks from its summit! I don't have my finger on the pulse of Dover town politics, so I don't know why this happened, considering the tower is on conservation land. It's a real shame this has happened. For the intrepid and determined, the fence is scalable, but it's a real disappointment.
    Zaiga, Dover resident

  9. That's too bad. When I took the above picture earlier this year there were a couple of workers doing stuff on and around the tower, but there was no fence. I hope it's just a temporary situation.

  10. love that area where you took the picture for your header. Spent a lot of time looking for old fluorite mines around there. check out the Ontario urbex adventure - Dracula's Garden

  11. The picture for the header was taken in Waltham, Mass. Must look like a bunch of other places around the world, including Canada, which is where I'm guessing you explored for mines. Thanks for the link to the documentary.