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Pinnacle Knob

Pinnacle Knob Fire Tower
  This past autumn included a rare opportunity to visit one of the only restored "fire towers" still standing in Kentucky. Beginning in the late 1930's the US Forest Service and various state governments across the land began constructing observation towers on the highest points around the state. Their sole purpose was to locate and accurately pinpoint wildfires.
  In the heavily forested areas of Kentucky. Wildfires became, and still are, a problem during dry springs and especially the dry fall season with the continuous build up of falling leaf material coupled with the usually dry weather.
  At one time there were as many as 165 fire towers dispersed across the state according to the records.
Most were built in the 1930's and have since been removed or fell into disrepair. They served our state well up until the use of airplanes to provide spotter activities replaced the need for the fire towers.
View east from tower in October
  Located on Cumberland Falls State Park is the only completely restored fire tower in the state today of 165 towers at one time. It was originally constructed in 1937 and was built on the large cabin plan. Basically, there were two kinds of designs of fire towers. The seven foot by seven foot cab design that offered just a small space for the tower man to move about and work the fire finder. This is the most common type of towers one occasionally sees today along remote roads. In the eastern U.S. the far less common fourteen by fourteen foot cabin design are all gone in Kentucky except the Pinnacle Knob tower. A similar tower is Tater Knob located in Bath County in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Though its original construction was drastically altered it was open to the public until arsonists burned it in recent years. It is now closed to the public. The larger cabin style tower provided a place in a remote area the tower man could stay the fire season providing more time to watch for fires and less time walking to and from the tower. Fire towers to be effective must be located on the highest elevation in an area sometimes which are in remote places.

Cumberland Falls Park Naturalist, Bret Smitley, demonstrates the alidade
  Pinnacle Knob is really a rare historic place and has carefully been restored to its original condition which includes a bed, a stove for cooking and heat, a water cistern with guttering on the cabin to collect the water. The most important item and now very rare was the alidade or fire finder. This was the instrument every "fire watcher" used to help pin point the exact location of the fire. Basically, the alidade was like a giant compass with degrees indicated around the outside rim with the "face" of the compass being a topographical scale map of the entire region within vision of the tower. Two horse hair sights located on each side of the finder allowed the fire watcher to use the device to line up the direction of the fire. Basically the tower man would see a smoke rising in the distance, then sight through the fire finder sights. With the finder turned to the direction to aim the sights at the distant smoke, the fire tower man would then note the degree number setting on the side and call the forest district office and report the sighting degree. Other fire towers in the region would do the same and, of course, each would call in a different degree. In the main office the ranger had a large map board of the whole area and the various fire tower locations. The only thing that needed to be down was to stretch a string from each sighting tower corresponding to the degree setting they reported and the strings will intersect at some point on the map, the location of the fire. A fire crew could be quickly assembled and dispatched to the identified location. Actually, the concept was ingenious.
A "catwalk" completely surrounds the 14' X 14" living quarters
  Like most things new innovations and devices replace the old. So it went with the grand fire towers of Kentucky. By the mid 1970's small aircraft replaced the fire towers as a less expensive way to fire watch. Aircraft had become plentiful and affordable to operate. There were many more pilots as well.  Gradually, most of the towers were taken down and removed, with a few still remaining here there but none officially used for fire watching.
  I read that Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, the land on which the tower is located, opens the tower for visitors and provides on site interpretive information one day each month during the summer season. Park Naturalist, Bret Smitley was on hand this visit to offer great explanations of the use of the equipment  and life in the fire tower during fire season. It is a gorgeous view and especially breathtaking on this October day.  I should mention the mile hike to the tower does have some steep climbing to the top of the rock pinnacle the tower is perched upon. The tower is 40 feet high requiring climbing a series of metal steps to reach the top and the fantastic view of the area including the river below the Cumberland Falls.
Visitors descend the steps of the 40 ' high structure
  If you have the opportunity this year to make the trip to Cumberland Falls and take the hike to the Pinnacle Knob fire tower, I am quite sure you will enjoy the trip and the adventure. This most unique part of Kentucky history has thoughtfully and carefully been restored to its original look and feel. Aside from the unique learning experience, the view is breathtaking. On the day of my visit I met people from North Carolina, Tennessee and all around Kentucky taking advantage of this warm, colorful autumn day to visit the last of its kind fire tower standing in Kentucky.

  My book Swift is still available in print and Kindle versions at either: Booklocker or It is also available through most bookstores.


  1. As I recall it’s probably been 20 years or more since I stumbled-up-on two of the old fire towers in south-east KY. The most majestic was high atop Yellow Mountain overlooking the remote Quicksand Creek area in Knott County; the second was located near the Perry & Leslie County border. You see, I was supposed to be searching for un-mined coal reserves, not enjoying the view offered by the region. Both had extremely rough 4x4 road ways that I was able to utilize to gain access, which were most likely not available for use originally.

    Regardless, I was so impressed with the scenic view from the tower over-looking the Quicksand Creek area, that on that very evening (yep, after work) I convinced by wife to venture with me back to the remote tower to share a bottle of wine with cheese & saltine crackers while soaking in the view. It was an evening to remember.

  2. What a nice recollection Tony! Thanks for sharing.


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