Historic Structures

North Mountain Lookout - Fire Watchtower, Groveland California

Date added: June 30, 2021 Categories: California Fire Watchtower

North Mountain lookout and garage were built in 1963 to replace an earlier 30' tall "windmill" type wooden tower. The wooden tower had been built in 1940. The taller tower added at least another 10 percent to the area viewed, made the remote facility more fire-resistant and greatly improved its strength and durability.

North Mountain, the location, had its name by at least 1908 and a trail system that reached the mountain-top was in place by at least 1927. North Mountain may have been used for fire detection during the course of building the Hetch Hetchy project for the water and hydroelectric supply for the City and County of San Francisco.

The old lookout was replaced with the new during a flourescence of administrative facility construction on the Stanislaus between 1961 and 1965. Construction during that period was exceeded on the Stanislaus only by the level of construction activity during the Civilian Conservation Corps era. The $45,795 cost to build North Mountain was shared between the Forest Service and the National Park Service. North Mountain was the second steel tower constructed on the Stanislaus with the tower on Pilot Peak being the first (in 1962). The new tower did not have the garage and workspace that comprised the lower stories of the 1940 wooden lookout. To replace this lost functional space, a 24 1/2' x 20' 4" cement foundation, wood-framed and wood-clad garage was built in 1963. Additionally, the old pit toilet was replaced with a new one on the North Mountain site.

The lookout person employed at North Mountain during the transition from the old to the new was Herschel Nieman. Herschel's wife, Joan Nieman, assumed lookout duties on Herschel's days off. When the new facility was built, the Niemans had a 2-year-old daughter for whom North Mountain was also her summer home. According to a newspaper article about the new facility, this accounts for the specially constructed chain-link fence around the cab's catwalk.

North Mountain was in continuous fire season service until 1971. During the last four years of its use, Juanita Larson was the lookout person. In her estimation, the view from North Mountain lookout, of Kolana Rock, Matterhorn Peak, Mount Conness, Mount Hoffmann, Castle Rock, Cherry and Eleanor Lakes, the Clark Range, Burst Rock, Haystack Peak, Iron Mountain, Tiltill Mountain, the Cathedral Range, Pilot Ridge, and Duckwall, is unequaled.

There have been no modifications to North Mountain lookout, except for the addition of a set of solar panels on the cab's roof in the Fall of 1987. These panels are the power source for part of the Forest's radio repeater system. The heater, refrigerator, and 4-burner stove and oven and the Osborne firefinder were removed from the cab when it was taken out of service. The cabinets, firefinder table, sink, water hand-pump and furnishings are as they were when the tower was in service.