The colonials used the 1,400 foot north peak of Mount Beacon along the Hudson River during the Revolutionary War to set warning fires to alert General Washington at his headquarters on the western side of the river of any British presence in the valley below. From this activity, the City of Beacon got its name.
The Mount Beacon Fire Tower is however, located on South Mount Beacon which is just less than one mile due southeast and two hundred fifty feet higher than the peak where those early warning fires were built. Constructed on the site of a former wooden fire tower in 1931, it stood for 79 years without any major renovations. The last assigned fire ranger was in 1972. Thereafter, the tower became open to hikers bold enough to ascend the seventy two stairs to the seven foot by seven foot observation room at the top. One learned quickly on such a trip that new steps were badly needed, as were upgraded railings and new steel for most of the cross members.
In 2001, George Profous of the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC), Division of Lands and Forest for Region 3 began seeking support for the tower’s refurbishment. In 2003 a formal organizational meeting took place with DEC, the Hudson Valley Greenway, the City of Beacon, the Scenic Hudson Land Trust, and the Mt Beacon Incline Railway Restoration Society participating. The Mount Beacon Historic Fire Tower Restoration Committee (MBFTRC) was organized with John Hupe as its Chair. This group began seeking funding and ways to promote the mission to restore the tower. Their first undertaking was to sell the seventy-two replacements steps. In 2005 the tower earned special recognition when it was placed on the National Historic Lookout Register. During the next two years much needed funding for the project was gained with the support of former State Senator Steve Saland and the late State Assemblyman Thomas Kirwan.
In the fall of 2007, David Rocco, who had spent five years as a board member for the Walkway Over the Hudson project, joined the MBFTRC organization and became the Project Manager. Over the summer of 2008, work was begun to install new staircase landings and the cabin floor. The two hundred pound steel gratings removed from the historic Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, now the Walkway Over the Hudson, were transported up Mt. Beacon, and then hand carried across the mountain top to the fire tower by several of the fire tower committee members. Over the course of the next several weekends, all of the landings and the cabin floor were replaced.
Then in 2009 the Mt. Beacon Fire Tower again earned notable historic status with its listing on the State and National Registry for Historic Places.
By 2010, engineering inspections were updated and committee members worked with the Hudson Valley Four Wheelers Association to get the remaining necessary materials and equipment up to the tower site for the first phase of the cross bracing work. Two years later, Vanna Construction of Saranac Lake, New York, was hired to work alongside volunteers to complete the remaining steel cross braces. They also replaced the roof on the cabin. With the help of the core volunteers, the Hudson Valley Four Wheeler Association, and the New York Army National Guard (1156th Engineering Company and the 204th Engineering Battalion), the cross bracing, cabin walls, raised handrails, and priming and painting of the entire tower were completed.
The Beacon Fire Tower was ready for those intrepid hikers adventurous enough to go up to the top to get an even more breathtaking view of the Hudson Highlands, the New York City skyline sixty miles due south and on very clear winter days the New York State Office Towers in Albany ninety miles due north.
On the official opening day (June 22, 2013) 94-year-old Pete Seeger and 82-year-old David Amram were two of the first guests of the Fire Tower Committee to arrive at the summit and to climb the tower. These two gentlemen along with Hudson Valley Storyteller Jonathan Kruk were the featured artists for the re-opening of the tower.
Thanks to the twenty-five volunteer four wheel drive vehicle owners, the sixty guests arrived safely up top from the base of Mount Beacon. With the entire Hudson Valley Highlands as the amphitheater, David Rocco stood on one of the granite outcroppings surrounded by the folks who had contributed so selflessly all those years and thanked each volunteer and contributor for their efforts.
Jon Kruk then told a captivating tale of Beacon folks from the Revolutionary Period who came to believe that one man of some questionable means had actually buried treasure up on this mountain. Since it was never found, we are today left with the amazing treasure of this high and special place open for all of us to enjoy for just the price of the challenging hike. David Amram followed with a Lakota Chant accompanied by Jon Kruk on a drum. It was a very special moment: the grand open sky, the simple true structure of the tower, the presence of over sixty dedicated workers and friends—-all shared and contributed in silent tribute to the ancient sounds and feelings David and Jon brought to that afternoon. Pete Seeger then those gathered in singing “Amazing Grace” – one thousand six hundred fifty feet above the Hudson River.
Photos of Beacon Fire Tower by David Rocco before (above) and after (below) renovation .