Fire Towers Once Provided Early Warnings in Cecil

fire tower _0007

Woodlawn Tower outside Port Deposit, taken about two years ago.

In the middle-third of the 20th century, when forest fires were a greater threat to rural Maryland counties, Cecil had three forest fire spotter towers.  Sitting on top of those tall structures, some 80 to 100-feet above the ground, observers kept a carefully watch out for wisps of smoke in the vast tracts of woodlands that covered the county.

From that high vantage point, the operators were able to provide a watchful eye, scanning the horizon for any sign of trouble.  Working in conjunction with other fire towers, they could triangulate the location and dispatch forestry and fire companies to the spot where an incipient blaze had started.   This early warning system was critical in the time when the county was less developed and notification of a fire in an undeveloped area might be delayed.

Two of those structures were erected in the 1930s as part of the Roosevelt Administration program to provide relief from the Great Depression.  A WPA (Works Progress Administration) publication noted that the erection of three structures were authorized.  Woodlawn and Pleasant Hill (Egg Hill) opened in 1935.  Black Hill apparently came a little later, in the 1940s.

During World War II, the lookouts also doubled as posts for identification of airplanes.  By the late 1960s, the importance of these protective measures for early warning was declining, though seasonal staffing continued into the 1970s.   At some point in recent decades the State stopped operating the towers as they had become obsolete due to the diminished value as an early warning system.

tower woodlawn 1966 watching

Keeping a careful eye out for forest fires from the Pleasant Hill Tower in 1966.,

Woodlawn Tower in 1966, Source:  Cecil Whig

Woodlawn Tower in 1966, Source: Cecil Whig

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