EAST PHARSALIA – Restoration of the Observer’s cabin and the 59 foot fire tower at Berry Hill will soon begin through a recently signed cooperative agreement between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Forest Fire Lookout Association.
The Berry Hill facility was created in the early fall of 1934 with the construction of the fire tower by the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) to provide early fire detection over their reforestation projects, which today make up the McDonough State Forest. In the spring of 1935, the forest fire observatory began operating and ran continuously up through the end of the 1988 fire season. As was the case with all of the state operated fire towers during World War II, the forest fire observer at Berry Hill reported all aircraft sightings to the local command of Civil Defense, while keeping a watchful eye out for smoke. Along with the fire towers that once stood at Brookfield, Chenango Lake (moved to Brookfield in 1948) and Georgetown, any forest fire could be triangulated on a map by local forest rangers once compass azimuth readings of a smoke were provided from each fire tower.
The forest fire observers who staffed the Berry Hill fire tower included; Ralph Bauder, Graydon G. Dolan, Max Fern, John Losoavio, LeRoy F. Phillips and Edgar J. Slate all of Norwich; Viola Marie Chapin of Georgetown, Reuben G. Coon of East Pharasalia, Michael Hickox of South New Berlin and Lyle C. Perkins of Sherburne.
The restoration project will begin this spring in phases and will take a few years to complete. The old observer’s cabin will be first on the list. Renovations will include replacing the porch floor and railings, minor roof repairs and general clean up of the interior, including a fresh coat of varnish. Once completed the cabin will be a living museum, offering visitors a glimpse into the past life at a fire tower. Vintage photographs illustrating the history and development of the state’s fire tower network and Forest Ranger force will also be on display...