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Looking for Forest Fire Towers
by Barbara Garner

Steel towers, serving various modem day purposes, are scattered across the landscape of Maryland. Whether viewing the ridge lines of mountains or the skyscapes of cities, towers are always visible. Less conspicuous, because they may reach only 100 feet and are easily dwarfed by their 300-400 feet neighbors, are the towers built after the turn of the 20th century to protect Maryland's once ravaged forest lands. These fire lookout towers are a reminder of the work of forestry during the past one hundred years.

In 1906 scientific forestry began in Maryland with the appointment of Fred W. Besley as Maryland's first State Forester. He addressed many issues of forest management, with fire detection and suppression receiving significant attention. Thus during his thirty-six years (June 1906 - February 1942) as State Forester, fire lookout towers were put up throughout the state.
In 1932, the State Department of Forestry reported that 30-35 towers would be needed to protect all the woodlands in Maryland. At that time there were 19 towers in operation.

By 1944, the Board of Natural Resources Annual Report stated that there were 34 lookouts across the state. Ultimately the towers stopped being used for their original purpose. Some were taken down, some were moved to other locations for other uses, and some remained standing while acquiring the various components of radio and satellite communication devices.

The towers, which were used as fire lookouts and remain standing, are in 15 of Maryland's 23 counties. Some are not in their original locations. Others are not readily accessible. A few now have other uses, and most are in disrepair.

At a Glance

  • People working as "Lookouts" helped detect forest fires soon after they were started. Sitting atop high towers, in a small wooden cabin, lookouts used various means of communication to alert people on the ground of the fire's location. Crews then responded to the location with equipment to control the fire.
  • Towers, mostly made of steel, were erected throughout Maryland. Some towers were over l00' high. The first tower went up in 1915. By 1944 there were 34 towers in Maryland.
  • A volunteer survey of towers in 2005, showed 24 towers still standing. Some have been moved from their original sites. None are presently operational as fire lookouts.

The best places to visit towers include four towers which have been moved from their original sites to locations where the public is welcome. The towers should not be climbed unless there is an official guide present. Call for an appointment or for further information about the tower.

Brandywine Tower photo courtesy of Barbara Garner

Hollofield Tower photo courtesy of Barbara Garner

Brandywine Tower
Fairview Outdoor Education Center
Clear Spring, Washington County
Hollofield Tower
Critical Area Driving Tour
Merkle NRMA
Prince George's County

Great Mills Tower photo courtesy of Barbara Garner

Quantico Tower photo courtesy of Barbara Garner

Great Mills Tower
Lathrop E. Smith Envir. Education Center
Rockville, Montgomery County
Quantico Tower
Chesapeake Fire Museum
Hebron, Wicomico County

The five towers listed below are on Maryland public lands.
The public may view these towers, but climbing them is prohibited.

Thayerville Tower photo courtesy of Barbara Garner

Long Hill Tower photo courtesy of Barbara Garner

Thayerville  Tower
Deep Creek Lake State Park
Swanton, Garrett County
Long Hill Tower
8023 Long Hill Road
Pasadena, Anne Arundel County

Church Creek Tower photo courtesy of Barbara Garner

Nassawango Tower photo courtesy of Barbara Garner

Church Creek Tower
4329 Golden Hill Road
Church Creek, Dorchester County
Nassawango Tower
6572 Snow Hill Road
Snow Hill, Worcester County

Cub Hill Tower photo courtesy of Barbara Garner

Cub Hill Tower
9405 Old Harford Road
Baltimore, Baltimore County


County # of Lookouts
Original Names
Garrett 4 Elder Hill, Thayerville, High Rock, Roth Rock
Allegany 2 Dan's Rock, Town Hill
Washington 2 Sideling Hill, Brandywine
Frederick 2 Lamb's Knoll, Gambrill
Baltimore 1 Cub Hill
Montgomery 2 Great Mills, Burtonsville
Anne Arundel 1 Long Hill
Prince Georges 1 Hollofield
Charles 1 Welcome
Cecil 2 Woodlawn, Black Hill
Caroline 1 Interstate
Dorchester 1 Church Creek
Wicomico 2 Quantico, Powellville
Worcester 1 Nassawango
Somerset 1 Greenhill

- Barbara Garner, December 13, 2005

Acknowledgements:  All of the photographs of fire lookout towers pictured on this webpage were provided by Barbara Garner, who also researched and developed this information as a Centennial Committee Volunteer.

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