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The Watchman

Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!

By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Historical Society Museum

“Careful with Fire” were words often seen on metal signs on the roads and trails in the forests of Maine in the 1920’s. At that time, the State of Maine maintained about 65 lookout towers within the forest district of Maine. Each tower was manned from about the end of May until the danger was over in the fall. Several were in northern Penobscot and Piscataquis counties and kept a watchful eye on GNP woodlands.

Some towers were easily reached from lumber camps and tote roads and were visited by sportsmen during the season. Other towers were remote and lonely for the watchman as months might pass without seeing anyone. The towers, to be effective, had to be on promontories over-looking the greatest possible territory. There had to be, within a reasonable distance, a water supply, and the telephone lines connected to the outside had to be in working order. GNP built and maintained their own phone system to the logging camps. The towers were of different heights depending on the particular mountain.

The July 1923, The Northern magazine has an article by an unidentified writer describing the duties of one of these watchmen in northern Piscataquis County. The unnamed writer stated, “This mountain has a 24 ft. high tower surmounted by a standard size house, 6 ft. square with three windows that lower to allow sighting, the one entrance to this house is a trap door in the floor reached by a steel ladder. In the center of the room is a round table with a circular pivoting map of the surrounding country.”

The watchman had to open the camp, see that the telephone and lines were in working order and be sure he had ample supplies in case he had to be on duty for a long period. Every clear day had to be spent on or near the tower while rainy or foggy days could be spent at the cabin or trimming the nearby trails. Each morning he would climb the tower and spend the day watching. He was allowed to read until sundown when could descend the tower for his evening meal. Some watchmen had wives who stayed in the cabin with them to do cooking and housekeeping. No wife, do your own cooking and housekeeping! The menu was limited, no fancy foods as most towers were many miles from a town. The article stated that a tote team brought supplies to a lumber camp four miles from the tower and the watchman had to get the supplies from there to the tower. The watchman had to do the rest of the toting.

“After supper I would sit on the porch and listen to the night sounds of the woods. Little animals stirring in the bushes, the murmur of the brook below the cabin. The wide stretches of the forest and the beauty of it. He then says, “to think of the scars where a forest fire had left nothing but bare rock and blackened stumps, a barren waste, a mute appeal to all to exercise care, to be careful with fire and preserve the forests.”

There was one of these towers just outside of Millinocket behind where MRH is now located just off Rte. 11. All that remains is one of the tower’s footings.

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