HistoriCorps upgrades fire tower at Devils Head
By Celeste McNeil; aerial photo by Bob Wiebold; photos courtesy of HistoriCorps
Devils Head, the familiar craggy outcropping that sits on the horizon just to the south and west of the Castle Pines community, is home to one of the last seven original Front Range fire lookout towers still in service. A mountain summit in the Rampart Range, the tower sits atop a 9,748-foot peak.
HistoriCorps, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving historic buildings across the country using help from volunteers, hosted a project at the fire lookout station earlier this summer. In 2009, a Devils Head project was included in the first year of HistoriCorps, with reroofing and painting. Volunteers return every few years to keep the lookout and ranger’s cabin in working condition.
“Devils Head is one of the most beloved project locations,” said Jason Whitehead, director of operations at HistoriCorps.
This August for two weeklong sessions, volunteers camped nearby while participating in the renovation. Window restoration was the main goal. Volunteers removed windows, carrying them down the 143 stairs to the base of the granite outcropping that the station is perched on, to restore or rebuild frames as needed. Then volunteers carefully climbed up to the top to refit the 360-degree view windows.
“Air quality was a factor in this project” said Whitehead. With lingering smoke from wildfires and wind gusts, moving window frames down and back up, took extra concentration and care.
The fire lookout station has been in continual use for more than 100 years, with the first official station established in 1912. It was bare bones, with a table and safety railing bolted to the granite, a fire finder device used to calculate directional bearing, and a small shed housing a telephone to report any fires. A horse barn and small cabin were built in 1913 at the base of the outcropping. A square timber observation structure replaced the bolted table in 1919, and the current station, with large windows and decking on all four sides was constructed in 1951 by the 973rd Engineer Construction Battalion from Fort Carson; the metal stairs were installed as well.
Helen Dowe became the first-ever female fire lookout in 1919 at Devils Head. She worked for The Denver Times before she applied for the fire spotting post. Dowe became a role model for women, receiving thousands of letters and inspired many women to fill similar posts around the country. She kept her post for three seasons, with assistance from a friend and her aunt.
Today, the two-and-a-half-mile hike is popular with locals and tourists alike. Due to the typical heavy traffic, confined nature of the trail and physical distancing guidelines, the Devils Head recreation area is closed for the season.
Historic photographs of the fire lookout station can be viewed online at Douglas County Libraries / Archives and Local History / Photograph Collection. For more information about this organization, visit Historicorps.org.