Sunday, June 25, 2017

Verplanck Colvin Built First Tower On Stillwater Mt.

The famed surveyor Verplanck Colvin built the first tower on Stillwater Mountain way back in 1882. The hole that once held his copper marker is still visible on the summit bedrock.

Colvin’s tower is long gone, but a steel tower built in 1919 still stands, and last week the state nominated the structure — along with the fire observer’s cabin and some other buildings — for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Click here to read the state’s application.

The fifty-six-foot tower, which is on private land, has not been used for fire observation since 1988. However, it is open to the public and can be reached by a one-mile trail. The cab offers a splendid view of Stillwater Reservoir and the pristine hills of the southwestern Adirondacks.

For the opportunity to enjoy the view, we owe thanks to the Friends of Stillwater Fire Tower, a group of volunteers who rehabilitated the tower and reopened it to the public just last summer.

The Adirondack Explorer sent writer John Pitarresi and photographer Nancy Ford to cover the festivities on the day the tower reopened. We dipped into our archives to share the story and the photos.

Click here to see the Explorer story.

Photo of Stillwater Mountain Fire Tower by Nancy Ford.


Related Stories

Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

6 Responses

  1. Jim Fox says:

    Slight correction, Phil. Yes, the hills of SW Adirondacks are pristine, but the views from Stillwater are far more impressive than most would guess. The High Peaks of the NE Adirondacks – up to 60+ miles distant – can be seen even on a hazy day – Whiteface, Santanoni, Algonquin, and Marcy amongst them.

    Volunteer Summit Stewards will be at the tower weekends all summer. They’ll explain the authentic sliding-top map table, 1920 “Panoramic Map for Stillwater Mt. with adidade, point out what visitors can see, show photos of earlier towers and the recovered 1882 survey marker, and suggest what else Stillwater Reservoir’s surroundings can offer besides primitive camping.

  2. Bill Ott says:

    Last summer I was able to pick out the Wanakena Ranger School fire tower from an overlook on Grass Pond Mountain on Lows Lake, a distance of 7.5 miles. Back home I charted all the elevation profiles of the sightlines between all 25 fire towers using Google Earth. The towers listed here are theoretically visible from Stillwater, so maybe somebody would like to take a stab at picking out a few before I get up there in a month or so. It was hard enough just finding the one at Wanakena. Bearings are from true north.

    Bald Mtn, 10 miles, 145 deg; Woodhull Mtn, 17 miles, 168 deg; Wakely Mtn, 27 miles, 108 deg; Blue Mtn, 32 miles, 88.5 deg; Pillsbury Mtn, 33 miles, 32.5 deg; Loon Lake Mtn, 65 miles, 42 deg; and (bring your star-gazing scope on a cold clear day) Lyon Mtn, 82 miles, 44 deg.

    I have double checked these numbers, but they are still subject to random or systematic error. I anyone is interested I will post a facebook page with all the work. Imagine signalling someone from 82 miles at night with a flashlight.

    • Jim Fox says:

      Bill Ott: I hope when you hike up Stillwater Mt, it’ll be on a Sat. or Sun.10-2:00. Summit Stewards have photos with many peaks labeled. In addition to Google Earth, check out Type in Stillwater Mt. NY as viewpoint, and you can see what you can see in any direction according to their software. I’ve found errors, (e.g. 2 Cellar Mts to the SE).
      I’d be interested in your numbers.
      My dream is to recreate Colvin’s Primary Triangulation Stations. I have not been able to find Woodhull Mt. from which Colvin’s survey crew spotted Stillwater’s signal tower in 1882, but short of a gunpowder flash that was probably used back then, maybe Stillwater and Woodhull can see each other. And Bald/Rondaxe, Pillsbury, Blue, Wakley … Any takers?

  3. Boreas says:

    Some dumb questions, but things I have always wondered having seen many of VP’s copper survey bolts. How exactly were those original bolts attached to the rock? Was it done on the day of the survey? Was the lettering inscribed first and the elevation added later? Just curious…

    • Paul says:

      Those don’t sound dumb to me? I would like to know as well. Must have been put there later since they had to do all the engraving once they had the information? Here is another one. How does their survey figures match up with the satellite type of data we have now for things like elevation?

      • Jim Fox says:

        Boreas – Not sure about the marker bolts, but the steel anchor bolts that held the cables to stabilize the log towers were imbedded with molten lead. Not sure about the copper bolts. Stillwater only has the bore-hole with no traces of lead. The bolt was pilfered long enough ago with no oral history from old timers that a marker from 1882 was up on the summit. (It was recovered in NJ by Kyle Kristiansen in 2013, returned, and is now kept by the Colvin Crew in Wanakena).
        Stillwater’s bolt was not inscribed specifically with it’s location. Only the precast: “Sta. No. 77, NYS Adirondack Survey, Verplack Colvin Supt. 1882.” No location was on the bolt. (See “The Mysterious Benchmark At Station 77”, in The Adirondack Almanack). Colvin Crew Superintendent Jim Vianna found a list of bolt numbers and locations in the DEC Archives in 2015.The whole story, with a photo of the original marker: “The Rising Elevation of Stillwater Mountain” also in the Adirondack Almanack.
        Lots of photos at Friends of Stillwater Fire Tower on Facebook and

        Paul – read “The Rising Elevation ,,, ” and Jim Vianna’s reply about accuracy from the Colvin Crew website.
        The surveyors would not have set the markers until word got back from Colvin in Albany that their site was determined to be a Primary Triangulation Station. I doubt that the 73 yr. old S.H. Snell, surveyor from nearby Croghan, would have bushwacked up Stillwater a second time just to set the bolt. His son S.S. Snell was a carpenter (who probably built the signal tower), and later surveyor who was listed as setting the bolt. Photos of S.H. Snell’s 1882 Surveyor’s Notebook, and the list of bolts are on the FSFT Facebook page.

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox