Highland Fire Tower Rises Again

An iconic Highland County landmark has found new life again. From the 1930’s until it was disassembled in 2002, the fire tower on Sounding Knob was visible to residents and visitors alike. Thanks to the efforts of Hammill “Skip” Jones and other dedicated area residents, it now stands once again on Jack Mountain.

“My name is Hammill Jones, I go by the nickname Skip – I live in Richmond, VA and I’m a full time practicing attorney. My great-grandfather started practicing law here right after the Civil War. My grandfather practiced law – both of them were in the legislature, and my father was born here in Monterey. He got sucked up into World War II, ended up career CIA, so we always lived in the Arlington area. And I’m 72 years old, but as a child, when I was from age five to 20, we would come back here and hunt and fish, and visit relatives, so I feel very close to Highland County, and we’ve been fortunate to own some property here in Highland County for over 100 years.

“There are approximately 300 acres on top of Jack Mountain overlooking Monterey, which I was fortunate to inherit through my family, and I’ve always wanted to give something back to Monterey, and always enjoyed the fire tower as a kid, as have many other people here locally, and I knew the history of it – where it was, how it was saved, and Steve Good and I were able to sort of form a partnership and put the thing back together.”

Mr. Jones spoke about that history.

“In the Franklin Roosevelt administration, in the 1930’s, after the Depression, Roosevelt formed various work projects that put America back to work, and one of those was the Civilian Conservation Corps. And if you go up Sounding Knob, about a half a mile on your right, you’ll actually see the foundation of the camp where the Civilian Conservation Corps workers stayed, and they built about a five or six mile dirt road, to the top of sounding Knob, which is the fifth highest point in Highland County, for the purpose of locating and building a fire tower, which was built in 1934.The purpose of the fire tower, obviously, was during fire season, for a watcher to be in the tower all the time during the day, and at night, he would stay in a little cabin, at the base of the fire tower. From there, there was a device in the fire tower where they could, if they saw a fire, spot and locate the direction and the elevation, and with a single line telephone line, make that call into town and there could be an appropriate fire-fighter response.”

“It was in the 1960’s which fire towers went into dis-use, because it became more practical for small airplanes to be used. So from the 1960’s until 2002, it was in disrepair, became rusted, the steps were broken, and basically, at some point, the Commonwealth of Virginia decided it was a liability and had to be taken down. So it had an auction sale, and I believe it sold for $50, and a local businessman, Steve Good, with Highland Welding, and a member of the Virginia Forestry Service, John Wright, formed a sort of partnership to try and save the tower. And they solicited funds, the Save the Tower Fund, and the bottom line is, they sent a big crane up to the top of sounding Knob, disassembled the tower, brought it back to Monterey, and from 2002 until a year ago, it stayed on the lot of Highland Welding, totally disassembled except for the very top cabin portion, and I would see it as I would drive by there, and got in touch with Steve Good, and I purchased the tower from him, and then employed him to re-construct the tower where it is now.”

In part two of this story, Mr. Jones talks about the extensive restoration efforts that were undertaken to bring the tower back to life.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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