A Page from North Quabbin History: Old Mount Grace Fire Tower logs bring back memories

  • Visitor logs from Mount Grace Fire Tower, Warwick. Staff photo/Paul Franz

  • Fredericka and Calvin Fellows of Warwick outside the Warwick Historical Society. They remember signing a fire tower visitors log in the 1940s or early 1950s. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The 1939 fire tower: The Mount Grace Fire Tower in Warwick was rebuilt in 1939 afater the previous tower was destroyed by the 1938 hurricane. Photo courtesy Warwick Historical Society

  • Fire Observation Tower atop Mount Grace in Warwick as it looked in 1920. Photo courtesy Warwick Historical Society

Published: 7/21/2022 3:01:00 PM
Modified: 7/21/2022 3:00:36 PM

Mount Grace is the third highest point in Massachusetts east of the Connecticut River at an elevation of 1,617 feet. Only Mt. Wachusett and Mt. Watantic have a higher elevation, according to Fredericka Fellows of the Warwick Historical Society. Located at the top of Mount Grace in Warwick is the Mount Grace fire tower, part of a network of 42 active lookouts throughout the state.

Warwick’s first fire tower was a 40-foot iron windmill type tower with a ladder and 6-by-6-foot cab on the top of the tower, built in 1911. In 1920-1921, a 68-foot iron tower replaced the 40-foot tower, which blew down in the 1938 hurricane. In 1939, the present 68-foot steel tower with a 10-by-10-foot wooden cab was built, and rehabilitated in 2010, Fellows continued.

At the Mount Grace Tower, if a possible fire is spotted, an Osborne Fire Finder Compass is used, the location of the fire is triangulated with another fire tower and the Fire Department in that town is notified, according to Phil Gilmore, Forest Fire Warden for Franklin County.

The fire tower until the 1980s, Gilmore said, offered visitor logs which could be signed by those who hiked to the tower. The Warwick Historical Society has these logs dating from 1911 to 1926. “The majority of those signing were local from Warwick, Orange, Athol, Winchester and other towns in close proximity. There were many (visitors) from the Boston area and many states were represented including Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, Delaware, Florida, California and Michigan, Washington D.C. and some surprises with visitors from Korea, Africa, London, Persia, Sweden, and the Philippine Islands,” Fellows said.

Other names in the logs included “Families as a group, a party of seven from Swanzey, a family group of nine, 11 students from the Brush Valley School, which is no longer standing, the Warwick Center School eighth grade picnic with 10 students, and a Boy Scout from Troop 5 Woburn. The youngest I spotted was an 18-month-old child with mother and grandparents.”

“In 1921, 683 individuals signed the visitor log and in 1926, signers numbered 836. When we realize that the population of Warwick in 1920 was 327, visitor numbers are hard to comprehend,” Fellows continued. “To me, reading these logs was a walk down memory lane. Many names were familiar: Couples long since married signed together with the maiden name of the future wife, names of families once prominent in town, people we knew as late middle age or older, relatives, seeing their handwriting in 1922, 100 years ago, my grandmother, father, aunt, uncles. I am 85, my husband, Calvin, 89, and we remember signing a log in the 1940s or early 1950s. Hopefully, someday logs after the 1920s will be found.

“On a very personal note, the first time my future husband looked my way, he and his family were climbing Mount Grace and I was climbing the mountain with my sister,” Fellows said.

The museum also houses a notebook entitled “Information concerning the Fire Observation Tower on Mt. Grace 1911 thru ,” which contains a chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Entomology and instructions for filling out the chart — temperature, wind direction, wind velocity, character of the day. The last entry is for April 1926. In the society archives there are also a number of letters and documents from M.C. Hutchins, State Fire Warden.

Gilmore would also like to remind residents to be very careful with camp fires as the area is currently in a significant drought. “Be very careful with camp fires and be sure they are completely out,” Gilmore said.

The Warwick Historical Society is always interested in donations related to the history of Mount Grace, the Mount Grace Fire Tower or any other aspects of Warwick history. The society may be contacted their website www.history.town.warwick. ma.us

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on history with a particular interest in the history of the North Quabbin area. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.

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