Bigelow watch tower burned
FRANKLIN COUNTY — The watch tower now owned by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Land on top of Bigelow Mountain was burned Friday, April 15, according to Mark Russo with the Maine Forestry Fire Control based in Farmington.
To longtime Maine Forestry employees Duluth Wing of Eustis, who retired in 1984 after 38 years of service as a District Forest Ranger, and Franklin Sargent of Highland Plantation, who retired in 1988, it was not a happy day to learn that the watch tower where they had spent so many years had been burned.
But Wing agreed that the tower had been vacant since about 1972 and with so many hikers on the Appalachian Trail there was a lot of vandalism. It was decided to close the tower, said Wing, and turn the observation of fires over to aircraft. It was harder and harder to get someone to live at the cabin which was about a third of a mile down from the tower, said Wing. That cabin is now used by Appalachian Trail hikers.
It was about 1905 when the first tower was built; it was the only one besides the one at Squaw Mountain in Greenville, said Wing. In 1947 Wing said that he was the watchman in the tower and the steel in the tower legs was all right but the cabin on the top was rotting away with ice breaking it down. Wing said the tower was regulation size nine- by ninefeet.
“Every year we had a problem with the sills with ice hanging on them, so I finally convinced my boss about 1960 to put in a 12- by 12-foot stone foundation with a livable cabin on the top,” said Wing.
“We had to carry the rocks on a stretcher and spent about 188 man days building the foundation.” The late Bill Connor of Reading, Pa. was a watchman for 12 years at the tower and was a great mason. Connor came to hike the Appalachian Trail and fell in love with the area and decided to seek work at the tower. Connor did a great job constructing the tower that was burned Friday, Wing said.
Wing said he built the complete cabin inside during the winter at the Eustis Storehouse (the former old school house used by the Maine Forestry). “In the spring we took it apart and bundled it and took it by helicopter from Stratton Brook Pond area to the top of the mountain. You could drive for a while and then you had to walk on a foot path about four miles to get to the tower.”
Having this cabin led to a man being able to stay there for longer hours so they could relay messages with a radio when they spotted a fire. Weather stations also radioed the Bigelow Tower for information. The new tower and cabin allowed the Forestry Service to keep a tower watchman in the spring and later in the fall, said Wing.
Both Wing and his son, Kenny Wing, retired from the Maine State Forestry as Forest Wardens. “My son even worked on the tower after it was closed to have it available for the hikers,” said Wing.
Sargent, who worked with Wing in 1948 on rebuilding the tower, went back to the tower and cabin in 1993 taking wonderful photographs of not just the cabin and tower but of all of the Bigelow Preserve. Sargent transferred in 1953 to a year-round position with the Maine Forestry and Department of Conservation as radio operator and inventory control clerk at the main office in Augusta working there for 35 years.