Abenaki Fire Tower Offers an Amazing View

Story & Photos by Sarah Wright

The Abenaki Tower as seen from below

The Abenaki Tower as seen from below

It was a beautiful Saturday morning…the kind of day where it would be a shame to stay inside. I had a couple of errands to do in Wolfeboro on a recent spring day, and of course my sons groaned when I said they’d have to come along. To entice them, I said that we could climb the Abenaki Fire Tower, which was something I had always been meaning to do. Since the afternoon forecast called for rain, we had to see the view before the clouds rolled in. So, we set off on our mini-adventure. 

The Abenaki Fire Tower is located on Route 109 in Tuftonboro. I had passed it a thousand times, always thinking that I’d stop when I had more time. It’s clearly marked, but it’s on a curve, so naturally I drove past it and had to turn back around. There’s a small parking lot by a gate, and that’s the entrance to the trail. Admittedly, this is one of the shortest and easiest trails I’ve ever seen. It’s very wide and well traveled, with a slight incline. After just five minutes, you’ll be at the tower. There’s really no excuse not to go! 

On the day that we went, there were some other visitors, also eager to celebrate the beautiful spring morning by visiting the tower. One of the area’s more unique towers, the Abenaki Tower is completely made of wood and has a peaked roof. I was more concerned with how sturdy it was, and I was happy to see that it was definitely solid and well-built. 

Climbing the tower stairs.

Climbing the tower stairs.

The kids ran up ahead to the top, eager to climb. I actually have a fear of heights, so it was certainly more challenging for me. I took my time, trying not to look down, and stopped at each level to relax and take in the breeze. I was determined, and the reward for making it to the top was well worth it. We had a beautiful view of Lake Winnipesaukee and the Belknap Range, a perfect photo-op. I know I could never get tired of that view. I was thinking it would be a great place to unwind and read a book, but the kids’ idea of fun was to go back down and then back up again a few more times. They certainly got their exercise! 

The lake view from atop the tower.

The lake view from atop the tower.

Many people think that the Abenaki Fire Tower was once used for fire detection or even for spotting airplanes during World War II, but neither rumor is true. In fact, it all started one summer day in 1923, when Joshua Litchfield, headmaster of the Agassiz School in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts, went for a walk with Frank Speare, President of Northeastern University in Boston. They found themselves standing on Edgerly Hill, gazing out over clear pastures at the shimmering waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. The two outdoor enthusiasts came up with the idea of placing a tower in that spot, and organized a group of other interested people, with a man named Chester Campbell elected president. Plans were drawn up in February of 1924, by the newly named Abenaki Tower Association, and the land was purchased from John Edgerly for $800.

Tuftonboro resident, Lewis McIntire, put in a bid of $400 to construct the tower. His bid was the winner, and less than a year later, the tower was complete and dedicated before a crowd of 125 people. It was named the Abenaki Fire Tower, because it was built at the junction of several old Abenaki Indian Trails. In the 15 years following the dedication, the Abenaki Tower Association hired someone to raise and lower a flag each Sunday during the summer season. 

In 1972, amateur historian Ethel Burnett wrote, “In the forty-eight years since Abenaki Tower was built, many hundreds of people have enjoyed the view, and it is the wish of the Association that the Tower will continue to be ‘freely and considerately used.’” However, by that time the original tower was being overtaken by tall trees and visitor numbers were dwindling. Even worse, the tower itself had become dangerous and rickety.

In 1976, demolition of the tower was discussed. Kirk Titus, a resident of Wolfeboro and owner of the Maine Line Tree Service company (now Bartlett Tree Service), was hired to rebuild the tower for $12,000. The town of Tuftonboro contributed $1,500, and the Hurlburt Fund gave $1,000. The rest of the money came from private donors, including funds raised by the “Village Pinups” who made a quilt and raffled it off. Bill Cornell, a local builder, designed the new, taller tower, and construction began in 1977. Chet Fernald, longtime owner of the old Wawbeek Hotel, supervised the project. The four sides and top of the tower were actually cut and assembled on the ground before being hoisted into place by a large crane. The timbers used in the tower were utility poles from power company supply sources. Construction continued until the tower was re-dedicated on July 22, 1978. 

A stone engraved with the date was placed at the foot of the tower’s stairs. For years since then, Kirk would take his grandchildren to the tower at least once a summer, and they were impressed that their grandfather built such a wonderful structure.

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The Abenaki Fire Tower has delighted visitors for many years, and will continue to do so for many more to come. It’s a great resource in our area, and everyone should experience the tower at least once. It’s also a great place for locals to take guests who come to visit. I can imagine how beautiful the sunset would look from the top. 

If you’re interested in supporting the upkeep of the Abenaki Tower, you can become an Association member. The annual membership dues cover the ongoing costs of maintenance for the tower. For more information about the Abenaki Tower and Trail Association, write to PO Box 222, Melvin Village, NH 03850.