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Interpreting the Evidence

Forestry Students and Fire Tower, 1922

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    North Country
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Forestry Students and Fire Tower, 1922 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Cornell University Forestry students seated on the summit of Mount Morris below a fire tower in the Adirondack Mountains, 1922.
Historical Context
Fire towers are an essential part of the history of New York State.  They have been used to guard against fires spreading throughout forests in the Catskills and the Adirondack Mountains. While lightning had always been a threat to the forests, it was not until the late nineteenth century that railroads and expanding tourism also caused a variety of forest fires, which became a serious threat to life and property in these areas.

In 1909, the state began to build lookout towers that would house a man who would remain on duty throughout the fire season. The positioning of the towers was crucial in providing a wide, spanning, almost aerial, view of an area, in hope of identifying any fire early on and preventing tremendous damage. Over the next decade these lookout stations evolved into metal towers with enclosed cabs. They rose as much as seventy feet above the forest floor. Later, cabins were built to provide durable homes for fire observers, and the towers became a preferred destination for generations of hikers who would climb the towers for the panoramic views.

Essential Question
How do human settlement patterns impact the environment?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain why this object was necessary.
Historical Challenges
What was significant about Cornell University's College of Forestry when it opened in 1898? How long was the College of Forestry open? It reopened after a few years under a new name as a part of Cornell's College of Agriculture. What was the College of Forestry called at the time this photograph was taken? What is it called today?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a newspaper article as if it were the year 1928 that describes safety precautions one must take to prevent forest fires.
Art: Create a poster for fire safety week.