2020 SWOCC F251 Elliott State Forest "Virtual" Roads & Trails Report
Part 3. Deans Mountain Lookout and CCC Roads, 1930-1962
By Evan Johnson, Regan Lavoie and Quinn Allen
Fig. 10. CCC Road Builders, ca. 1936 (Phillips 1998: 55).
Deans Mountain Lookout was a fire lookout estimated to have been established in 1914 by the first inhabitant. Materials were sourced locally, and the original lookout was built just well enough to achieve its purpose. This was one of the first lookouts to be constructed in the Siuslaw National Forest, a matter of great significance because of how susceptible to forest fires the Pacific Northwest area is (Phillips 1998: 82-83).
A lookout in a position with great visibility meant that potentially devastating forest fires could be caught very quickly and stopped before causing massive damage to surrounding areas. Local papers announced the lookout’s construction as a deeply important addition to the safety and security of the forest and the people. Despite the establishment of the lookout being so vital to the security of the local area, the lookout itself was connected to civilization only by a trail on a ridge on the eastern side of Dry Creek and was not connected to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) road system in 1934 (Phillips 1998: 82).
Fig. 9. Jennie Walker at Deans Mountain Lookout, 1917 (Phillips 1998: 83).
This means that the Deans Mountain Lookout predates the CCC, which began operation in 1933, and was established so soon after the invention of the "Osborne Firefinder," invented in 1914, that the original shack did not come equipped with one and instead utilized a compass in order to find where a fire was beginning (Phillips 1998: 83).
When such an important structure is originally built under the context of urgency, which in this context being that the Great Fire of 1910 woke many foresters up to the reality that catastrophes will occur, the quality of the structure is often not as high as it would have been if it were built in a time where it was not as rushed. For example, the original building was nothing more than a thrown together cabin built by the lookout themself, not built by an engineer or other qualified professional.
Map 5. CCC Roads and Camps, 1930 to 1940 (Phillips 1998: 70).
This does not detract from why the site is of significance, but rather highlights that if something such as this were to stay the same throughout many years it would be meaningless. The Dean Mountain Lookout is important because throughout its history it continued to change and evolve with outside influences. To accommodate one such influence, the Firefinder, the lookout shack was rebuilt to have a cupola added on top to house it (Phillips 1998: 83-84). From around 1920 through 1952 the lookout endured multiple additions and re-buildings, evolving from the cupola-bearing cabin until it resembled a “guard station” (ibid: 86).
It wasn’t just the exterior of the lookout that changed over time, but the important services it provided had changed as well. After the attack on America at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in World War Two, the Deans Mountain Lookout was directed to be used as a lookout for a new kind of danger, the danger of attack from the enemy. In 1942, the following year from the attack, two men were assigned to serve the purpose of the Aircraft Warning Service detection system, a service to the country to help defend from those who would wish to do harm.
Suddenly the Deans Mountain Lookout wasn’t just a local lookout that stopped forest fires, it was a bulwark against the threat of enemy attack, a nationally important station that could change whether or not thousands of American lives could be lost in another attack by the Empire of Great Japan. Thus, the significance of the Deans Mountain Lookout ascended from protecting people locally and regionally, but to being a place of national importance (Phillips 1998: 88).
Aside from why the Deans Mountain Lookout is important, it is wise to look at how the Deans Mountain Lookout is used otherwise. The lookout existed somewhat in pre-industrial conditions, not being accessible by automobile and without easy access; this is vital to understanding how radically it has changed over time. The Elliott, as a whole, has a lot of verticality, it is not easy to traverse flatland that an amateur hiker could pass through without at least a dedicated effort, and lookouts by nature must be in relatively harder to access areas in order to serve their purpose of having a clear view of the surrounding area.
The lookouts posted there before automobile access were reliant on themselves and subject to the weather. If one were to attempt to make minor or significant repairs to the original building, they would have had to use a ten-mile trail on horseback in order to pack materials from their source to the site, and under the oppressive and unpredictable Oregon coast weather; we can be mostly sure that there have been times in which transport of necessary materials and supplies were made impossible (Phillips 1998: 84).
In the 1930s’ the lookout was connected to a new and constantly improving road system built by the CCC, allowing for automobile access, meaning that it took around fifteen years for the lookout itself to reach the industrial era. Suddenly the access to the lookout is no longer tied to elements out of control such as the weather and is now more in the hands of lookouts themselves. Communication between lookouts improve, as does the safety of the forest in direct proportion. Radios were not installed until the end of this decade and start of the next, so communication was limited to telephone.
Fig. 11. Foundation remnant from 1930s Dean Mountain Structure, November 8, 2017 (Photo by Bob Zybach).
In 1936 another revolutionary development for the Deans Mountain Lookout, the panoramic photo program, made touchdown there. Using panoramic photos with markings allow for higher quality of communication between lookout and dispatch, creating a much more effective means of coordinating responses to emerging fires. Shortly after this the entire lookout was rebuilt, much more efficiently and of higher constructional quality than the original buildings, this was just in time for the transition to being a vital instrument in homeland defense.
The final major modification to the lookout was in 1963, where a small cabin was added on top of the lookout tower. After this point, the usefulness of the lookout was surpassed by air patrol and the combined watchfulness of the general public, now more well equipped with the ability to quickly report fires. The structure itself was less used from that point forward, until being demolished in 1991 (Phillips 1998: 86-88). It does not need to stay that way!
I recommend that the original structures are rebuilt as true to history as logistically possible. The lookout itself lived and served the land for 77 years by providing safety and should live again as tangible history that the public can interact with. By reaching out to various historical societies and fire lookout associations, the funding for materials, knowledge of historical building practices, and potential volunteers could result in the resurrection of the Deans Mountain Lookout.
The foundation remains of the lookout and can be used as a piece of living history, connecting us now to the century past, letting us see what they saw, and feel what they felt looking over the Elliott in a building as hardy as the land itself. A plaque does not do the brave men and women who stood as stewards of the forest justice, but a revival of the true essence of the lookout will.
If one lookout could build it without road access and only hand tools, surely we can rebuild it with access to tools far beyond what they had. I was confused about how this lookout is significant today before writing this, but now I realize that the importance is that it isn't significant today, and that the importance is in changing that.
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