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Fire Lookout Tower Still Sits On Top Of Hahn's Peak

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) - The lure of gold drew speculators from across the nation to Colorado. Among them was German immigrant Joseph Hahn.

In the 1860s he found gold on Well Creek in what is now Routt County.

Hahn's Peak Village grew out of his dreams and became the first settlement in Routt County.

"The first mining district was here, the post office," said Becky Hicks with the Hahn's Peak Village Historical Society. "The town grew from that into a county seat."

Growth brought prosperity, with about three decades of profitable mining.

The Hahn's Peak Historic Society has preserved the relics of those golden days including several buildings. The Wither Cabin, the schoolhouse and pole barn are the oldest buildings in Hahn's Peak.

"It's good to see that we can save some of them," said Jim Hicks with the Hahn's Peak Village Historical Society. "So they don't deteriorate and people can actually go enjoy them."

But perhaps of more significance is the building that sits on top of the village's namesake mountain, a fire lookout tower.

For more than a century, the tower has perched atop that extinct volcano.

(credit: CBS)

"The Hahn's Peak lookout tower was constructed somewhere between 1908 and 1912," said Bridget Roth with the U.S. Forest Service. "It's part of a network of fire lookouts that would allow rangers to identify in a very precise way the location of any wildfires so they could respond."

Building in that remote but perfect location was challenging. "It was built with a pack string," said Roth. "These guys lugged up concrete and used local rock and poor horses to bring everything up.

"It was an uncoursed stone foundation that had living quarters on the bottom and a platform. When it was first created, it was monumental to even be able to have facilities that we could identify wildfires with, that we could protect not only communities in the area but the resources that make up the national forest."

The building got a makeover in the 1930s with a roof added to the upper platform.

During World War II, the fire towers took on a new mission: national security.

"The people who were manning the towers were also keeping an eye out for aerial incursions," Roth said.

No enemy planes were ever spotted over Colorado's skies but the advent of aviation did doom the fire tower networks.

"There was more of a reliance on using airplanes to identify forest fires rather than manning the fire lookouts," said Roth.

"In the 1950s, this facility was abandoned and left in place. It's been sitting here ever since."

Sitting for 60 years on the top of a 10,000 peak took a toll on the building.

"A combination of weathering and lightning have really deteriorated the structure," Roth said.

People also took a toll on the tower, taking pieces of the tower and setting fires inside.

Those fires actually attracted renewed attention to the tower. In the summer of 2013 volunteers from Historicorps shored up the building.

"It was pretty unstable," said Jim Hicks. "It was going back and forth. The idea was to replace beams and strengthen the structure so it wouldn't get blown away."

Still, the tower needs more work, and it's work those in the area want it to get.

"It is considered part of our cultural heritage," Becky Hicks explained.

"It's the layered part of our cultural history," Roth said. "You can see the history of the mining activity. You can see how the building has changed over time.

"It's not just protecting monumental things for monumental people in monumental places. We're protecting the small actions of people."

Additional Resources

To learn more about the lookout tower and other sites on this year's Most Endangered Places list visit

Watch CBS4's complete 2014 Colorado's Most Endangered Places special.

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