Makomis fire tower boasts easy access, Adirondack views
By Jamie Organski
While a 48-foot fire tower situated in the middle of a park is not commonplace, it paints a striking picture in Sacandaga Park in Speculator. The Makomis Fire Tower was the first steel tower set in New York state when it was erected on Makomis Mountain in 1916.
The tower offers phenomenal views of the Sacandaga River (in fall and winter), and to the far side of Lake Pleasant and beyond. The tower allows those who may not be able to hike to a mountaintop, such as young children, the elderly, or disabled, the opportunity to marvel at the beauty of the Adirondacks from a unique vantage point.
“The Makomis Fire Tower is the most accessible in the Adirondacks,” Speculator Mayor Jeannette Barrett said. “It provides a central locale for visitors and offers a gateway to other experiences in the Adirondacks. To me, the location is perfect. It is in a place where people can easily come see it and appreciate the historical nod.”
A tower within a tower
The Makomis fire tower was originally a wooden structure, built near the town of North Hudson in 1911 and replaced by a steel structure in 1916. One of 10 Aeromotor LL25 towers, the original tower had an external ladder to reach the cab, and was retrofitted with a stair tower in 1933, making it a tower within a tower. The tower was decommissioned by the NYS DEC in 1973 and removed in 1978.
The tower was acquired by Bruce Vowles and later given in exchange for survey work to George Barber, who stored the tower in his home for over 30 years. The tower found its home in Speculator by way of Mike Vilegi of Excelsior Towers, when he purchased the tower in 2019 and began the reconstruction project.
Barrett said Barber had carefully stored each piece of the tower; every nut and bolt. The roof needed to be replaced because it blew away when they took the tower down.
“When we splayed all the pieces out, it looked like a huge erector set,” Barrett said. “The original stampings from the DEC director of where the tower was manufactured look new, and you just don’t see that.”
Since the tower didn’t have a foundation, a 20-foot-by-20-foot one was built by the Speculator Department of Public Works and Wastewater Treatment Plant staff. Ground was broken for the foundation the first week of June, and the tower was up by July 5, Barrett said.
Barrett credited C&R Excavation, and Mike Vilegi for building the tower on location, piece by piece with no blueprints for the inner stair tower due to a fire at the Aeromotor company in Chicago. The tower will serve as a landing strip for LifeNet helicopters, and the roof has been painted emergency orange for visibility.
Barrett said the erection of the tower was made possible due to public and private investment, and as of Aug. 10, they have raised $58,600 of a total goal of $75,000-$80,000 needed to complete the project. A $100,000 DEC Community Smart Growth Grant was acquired with assistance from the Lake Champlain/Lake George Regional Planning Board. A $10,000 Adirondack Foundation grant also helped kickstart the work.
Location, location, location
Mayor Barrett detailed the tower’s restoration plans, which began in the mid-1990s when Dean Lane obtained the Hooker Hill fire tower from author Marty Podskoch.
“Dean hoped to restore and put up the fire tower in town, but it needed a lot of repairs, so the project never materialized,” Barrett said. “Dean has passed away, but his son, Jonathan, wanted to make the fire tower project a reality to honor his father.”
Jonathan Lane said his father had a vision of having a tower placed in Sacandaga Park 25 years ago.
“At first I thought he was crazy, but over time, it made a lot of sense,” Lane said. “This location should be a huge draw for the area. This has been a dream three years in the making. Some people may find it [the location] strange, but I appreciate Mayor Barrett and trustees working for the vision my father so believed in.”
The past few years have been a lesson in faith and trust and have shown that the culture present when fire towers first came about is still alive, Barrett continued.
“It was centered around preserving neighborhoods, the environment, and taking care of one another,” Barrett said. “This was a labor of love. People donated time and money to this project because of a passion for fire towers and a love of community. It is a 112 year old tower. I hope it will stand for hundreds of years to come.”
Placing the final touches
The crew has been putting on the final touches to complete the tower. A dedication ceremony is set for 2 p.m. on Sept 1, which will include a ribbon cutting, officially opening the fire tower to the public.
An 8-sided kiosk is nearly finished, Barrett said. The kiosk will include history of the Makomis Fire Tower and other area fire towers, highlights of Speculator and Lake Pleasant, with a section dedicated to all who contributed to the project.
The tower’s wooden steps will be replaced with galvanized steel so the tower may be used year-round and will better withstand the elements. The crew will also install a door on a time lock for increased safety and security. The tower will be open during daylight hours, and closed to the public at night and in times of inclement weather.