Mohawk Overlook and Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

August 30, 2020 – Litchfield, Connecticut

Maps: Mohawk Mountain State Forest Maps

Parking: Toumey Rd, Litchfield, CT 06759


Overview:

From atop the 1,683-ft. Mohawk Mountain, the view is literally forever on a clear day. The summit offers panoramic views of the Taconic Mountains and Berkshire Mountains to the north and northwest including Bear Mountain, Canaan Mountain, and Cream Hill in Connecticut as well as peaks in Massachusetts (Race Mountain, Mount Everett, Mount Greylock) and the eastern Catskills in New York State.

Mohawk Overlook - Mohawk State Forest

Mohawk Overlook – Mohawk State Forest

Mohawk State Forest, also known as Mohawk Mountain State Park, encompasses over 4,000 acres in the towns of Cornwall, Goshen, and Litchfield, in the southern Berkshires of Litchfield County, Connecticut. As overseen by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the area is used for hiking, picnicking, and winter sports by the public, while being actively managed to produce timber and other forest products.

  • The forest recreation areas are open from 8 am to sunset. Other forest areas are open one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
  • Gates remain open between April-November. They close during the winter. Dates vary with the first snowfall and the end of mud season.
Mohawk State Forest

Mohawk State Forest


Trails Overview:

Both the Mattatuck and Mohawk Trails, major arteries of the Connecticut Blue Trail system, weave through Mohawk State Forest, unveiling its quiet beauty. Rustic Adirondack-style shelters, scattered about, serve thru-hikers. The forest trails brush past the Mohawk Mountain Ski Area.

Mohawk Mountain is the highest point on the blue-blazed Mattatuck Trail, which passes over the summit. The northernmost section of the 42 mile long Mattatuck Trail, travels through the Mohawk State Forest in Cornwall, one of the most scenic woodland areas in Connecticut. Meandering beside streams and through rock walls, the trail climbs Mohawk Mountain and offers outstanding panoramic views from the Mohawk Overlook. The Mattatuck’s northern terminus is at its junction with the blue-blazed Mohawk Trail.

Mattatuck Trail - Mohawk State Forest

Mattatuck Trail – Mohawk State Forest

The Mohawk Trail (24.3 miles), established as a Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail on May 8, 1988, follows the former eastern route of the Appalachian Trail. The Mohawk Trail crosses Mohawk Mountain and Housatonic Meadows State Parks and the Mohawk, Wyantenock and Housatonic State Forests. The Mohawk Trail intersects the Mattatuck Trail on Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall. Distinctive features such as Cathedral Pines, Mohawk Mountain, Red Mountain, Dean Ravine, and Lookout Point on Barrack Mountain, as well as spectacular views from many points along the trail, make it a popular hiking destination.

Mohawk Trail - Mohawk State Forest

Mohawk Trail – Mohawk State Forest


History:

In 1882, a little over one acre of land on the mountain’s peak was purchased from the Hunts Lyman Iron Company by Cynthia J. “Nina” White and Henry Norton in order to build a tower for sightseeing. Outdoor recreation and the enjoyment of nature had become popular all over the country.

Mohawk Tower opened with great fanfare on July 4, 1883 and quickly became a popular picnic site. For twenty-five cents, visitors could climb the 40-ft. tower and use a telescope to enjoy the view. By 1890, interest in maintaining the tower dwindled, and it fell into disrepair. By 1892 the tower was unsafe to climb, and the cabin was looted and began to fall into ruin. The wooden tower was finally knocked down by a strong wind in 1898.

Mohawk Tower 1883 - Cornwall Historical Society

Mohawk Tower 1883 – Cornwall Historical Society

In 1912, Litchfield resident Seymour Cunningham began acquiring land on Mohawk Mountain. After acquiring the land, Cunningham erected a new circular stone tower on the northwestern side of Mohawk Mountain, just below the summit. The new structure was thirty feet in circumference and thirty feet high, and referred to as “Aerie.”

Cunningham Tower - Cornwall Historical Society

Cunningham Tower – Cornwall Historical Society

In 1917, Cunningham’s neighbor on Mohawk, Andrew Clark, donated five acres of woodland to the Connecticut State Park Commission, the first tract of what was to become Mohawk State Forest. It was known as Mohawk Mountain Park until the 1920’s.

In 1921, the White Memorial Foundation donated approximately 1,200 acres of land on Mohawk Mountain to Connecticut. This included Seymour Cunningham’s property, which had been acquired by White Memorial in 1920. Mohawk Mountain Park was joined with this larger tract to form Mohawk State Forest. In total, the White Memorial Foundation contributed over 2,900 acres to the acquisition of the forest. One of the conditions of the gift of this forest was that a lookout station should be erected and maintained on the summit of the mountain.

During the spring of 1922, with the assistance of the White Memorial Foundation, a rough 35-ft. timber lookout tower with an enclosed cab, was constructed by contract on the summit of Mohawk Mountain. Braced by four legs on the bare glacial rock, it was ungainly looking, but it stood firm for ten years. Cornwall’s first Fire Warden, Henry J. Bouteiller walked to the tower daily during fire season.

Mohawk Mountain Fire Tower 1922 - Cornwall Historical Society

Mohawk Mountain Fire Tower 1922 – Cornwall Historical Society

The Civilian Conservation Corps’ (C.C.C.) Camp Toumey was stationed at Mohawk State Forest from June 25, 1933 to July 26, 1941. Named for James W. Toumey, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry, this camp was originally designed as a camp exclusively for veterans of World Was I and, as such, the enrollees were older. But as the veterans’ need for employment waned, younger enrollees were gradually added to the camp. Some of the projects and accomplishments included: fighting forest fires; making improvements on the Old Farm House and renovations to the Old Hart House; construction of the Western District saw mill, a sawdust storage shed, a warehouse, and the lumber shed that served the entire western half of Connecticut. The camp also included a carpentry and cabinet shop which produced furniture, doors, and trim wood.

Camp Toumey - Mohawk State Forest

Camp Toumey – Mohawk State Forest

In 1937, the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) took down the wooden 1922 tower and erected a new steel lookout tower that was 37-ft. high with a cab for fire watchers. For the next sixteen years, the public could enjoy climbing the tower on weekends and holidays for much of the year. Ted Starr served in the tower from 1945 to1953.

steel fire tower - Mohawk State Forest

steel fire tower – Mohawk State Forest

The structure, which was located by the parking area at Mohawk Overlook (at the end of Toumey Road), is no longer standing, but the concrete pillars can still be seen.

concrete pillars - 1937 fire tower

concrete pillars – 1937 fire tower

In 1953, the State of Connecticut made an arrangement with AT&T to place a booster microwave repeater at the summit. They took down the CCC tower and in order to receive permission to build one on state land, AT&T agreed to put a cab on the top of the tower for the fire lookout and the fire detection apparatus. The new 65-ft. AT&T tower was kept locked at all times and was surrounded by a ten-ft. mesh fence. On the ground floor, in the building, are the instruments for the relay station. Since repair crews must be able to reach the tower at all times, throughout the winter, Tower Road is kept plowed by Connecticut State Highway crews. This tower has changed ownership over the years and has been modified, but still stands today and is still off limits to the public.

AT&T Tower - August 2020

AT&T Tower – August 2020

During the 1960’s, a group led by Cornwall residents complained that there was no way that the public could enjoy the views from the summit of Mohawk Mountain. The vegetation was growing, blocking the view and the AT&T tower was always locked. Eventually the protest was noticed and around 1974, the former 40-ft. lookout tower on Booth Hill in Hartland was moved to the Mohawk summit. A new wooden cab was built by Edwin Palmer of Cornwall, a State Forest carpenter. An area to the south was cleared so that people could again look down on Mohawk Lake and out at the Litchfield Hills.

Booth Hill tower

Booth Hill tower

This tower was removed from Mohawk Mountain in September of 2008.

Booth Hill tower - date unknown

Booth Hill tower – date unknown

The concrete footings are still visible at the summit.

concrete footings - Booth Hill tower

concrete footings – Booth Hill tower

In 1979, a 180-ft. self-supporting telecommunication tower was erected on Mohawk summit. The tower provides emergency communications for the Department of Public safety (a division of the State Police), the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

Presently, there are two towers at the Mohawk Overlook that are off limits to the general public. The now gutted Cunningham Tower sits below the summit, and offers no views.


Today:

Although there are no accessible towers at the summit, the Mohawk Overlook provides visitors with outstanding views. One can drive right up to the summit (April – November) and enjoy the scenic vistas while enjoying a picnic.

Mohawk Overlook

Mohawk Overlook

Mohawk Overlook

Mohawk Overlook

If you arrive early and are lucky enough to secure the lone grill at the summit, you can grill some breakfast while enjoying the panoramic views.

Grilling breakfast - Mohawk Overlook

Grilling breakfast – Mohawk Overlook

From atop the 1,683-foot Mohawk Mountain, the view is literally forever on a clear day.

Mohawk Overlook – Mohawk State Forest

Mohawk Overlook – Mohawk State Forest

View northwest.

Mohawk Overlook – Mohawk State Forest

Mohawk Overlook – Mohawk State Forest

View southeast.

Mohawk Overlook – Mohawk State Forest

Mohawk Overlook – Mohawk State Forest

When you are done admiring the views, you can drive down the road and check out Cunningham Tower. There is a gate with two stone pillars and shown on Google Maps as Cunningham Tower Trailhead. There is room for several cars along the road.

Cunningham Tower Trailhead

Cunningham Tower Trailhead

Cunningham Tower Trailhead

Cunningham Tower Trailhead

Proceed past the gate and follow the old road into the woods. Soon the road curves to the left and joins the blue-blazed Mohawk Trail, a short distance later, the tower will come into view.

Cunningham Tower trail

Cunningham Tower trail

Just ahead is the two-story fieldstone structure.

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

The trees around the tower have grown tall, so there is no view of the surrounding area.

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

The tower is open for all to explore, although it is mostly just a shell.

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

The red tiled floor seems to have weathered well.

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

The fireplace is still used on occasion.

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

A keystone in the wall next to the fireplace reads: “Seymour Cunningham, Fecit, MCMXV.” Translated from Latin, the word “Fecit” is used on an artwork (such as a painting, sculpture, engraving, or building) to identify its creator. “MCMXV” = 1915, the year it was built.

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

The second floor and roof are long gone, just steel beams where the second floor and roof used to be.

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

The stone steps leading to the second floor have been broken off and all that is left is the twisted steel railing that climbs the wall.

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest

Cunningham Tower – Mohawk State Forest


If you are in the area, or just want to take a day trip, the Mohawk Overlook in Mohawk State Forest is definitely a great place to visit. Hikers and tourists alike, will enjoy the panoramic views and the historic stone tower.


Sources:

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