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Saturday, May 25, 2024

INTERESTING PLACES NEARBY – The Castle @ Grey Towers Offers Unique Perspective on Conservation

Grey Towers National Historic Site, Milford, Pennsylvania, less than a 45-minute drive from Blairstown, New Jersey (50+ min. if you follow scenic Route 209 to Milford through the Delaware National Recreation Area)

Little known unless you know a forester, a Bonafide castle exists nearby across the Delaware River, in Milford, Pennsylvania. Why is it important to most foresters? Because this impressive, turreted French-style chateau was the home of Gifford Pinchot – the Father of the National Forest Service in the United States.

The property offers commanding vistas, sweeping lawns, unique architectural and landscape features, conference space, plus an interesting array of fun, educational activities for young and old. The garden features classical fountains, a walled garden, a moat, an intriguing outdoor stone dining table designed by Leah Marie Kirk. It has a built-in water feature to float food across.

Photo courtesy of the Grey Towers Heritage Association.

According to the Grey Towers Heritage Association‘s website:

The house was originally the summer estate of the James Pinchot family and later the primary home of Gifford Pinchot, former Pennsylvania Governor, America’s first forester and founder of the USDA Forest Service and his wife, Cornelia.

Grey Towers was built in 1886 by James and Mary Pinchot as a summer retreat. It was James who first recognized the reckless destruction of natural resources that was overtaking the nation in the 19th century. James encouraged his eldest son Gifford to consider a career in forestry, thus introducing the idea of conservation to America.

In 1818, the Pinchot family settled in the nearby city of Milford, Pennsylvania. A self-guided walking tour highlights their first home in town plus many other homes and structures they built for a growing family.

Gifford Pinchot went on to establish and serve as the first Chief of the US Forest Service, and he was twice elected Governor of Pennsylvania. Between family, friends and political associates, Grey Towers was always bustling with activity and was central to advancing the Pinchots’ social, political and conservation ideals. In 1963 the Pinchot family donated Grey Towers and its surrounding 102 acres to the US Forest Service.

Strengthening Community Connection(s)

Grey Towers Heritage Association (GTHA) supports the efforts of the US Forest Service to preserve and maintain the estate’s historic integrity, to continue the tradition of Pinchot hospitality and to strengthen Grey Towers’ connection to (the) community. GTHA helps support public programs that tell the interesting story of how one family helped shape our nation’s thinking about conservation.

They support:

  • Musical, visual and literary events
  • Public walks and talks
  • Interpretive mansion tours
  • Conservation education, schools and youth programs

Forest Discovery Trail –

This easy-to-hike, ½ mile trail winds its way through the mixed white pine and hemlock stand.

You will see what life was like for forestry students more than a century ago by visiting the re-creation of a Yale School of Forestry tent site, and hear some great old songs and stories on the wind-up EcoBox at the tent site.

The trailhead is located at the paved path near the parking area behind the mansion. Along the trail you will learn about forest ecosystems and forest health.

Restoring History – Fire Tower Restoration Project

Built in 1921, Big Pocono Tower is typical of fire tower construction in Pennsylvania between 1914 and 1939. It was located in Big Pocono State Park atop Big Pocono Mountain adjacent to Camelback Ski Area.

The steel tower Aermotor Model LS 40 with 7’X7’ cab is 21 ft. tall.

In 2017, the tower was disassembled as part of Pennsylvania’s plan to upgrade its fire tower network.

The first step was the restoration of the fire tower cab, which was disassembled during the summer of 2018 and reassembled during the summer of 2019. The Cab was scraped, primed and painted with a final coat of paint similar to the original color. Windows were salvaged from another fire tower of like construction, windows were restored and installed. The interior was completely removed, and new flooring and siding installed. A new roof was purchased and installed based on the original Aermotor design.

During the summer of 2021 we plan to place the fire tower in the vicinity of the Forest Discovery Trail, construct a new foundation, rebuild the tower scaffolding and stairs, pour concrete footings and attach the cab to the tower structure.

Fire Tower dismantle

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

As the Pennsylvania commissioner of forestry in 1921, Gifford Pinchot accessed $1 million, the largest appropriation for forest protection at the time. Part of that money was used to buy 50 fire towers. Most were erected in 1923, the year Mr. Pinchot became governor. These towers were sometimes called “Pinchot towers,” Mr. Cummings said, because Mr. Pinchot signed the order for them (Steve Cummings, Forest Fire Lookout Association).

Gifford Pinchot

Current Reconstruction Plans

The tower was relocated to Grey Towers National Historic Site, the home of Forester and Gov. Gifford Pinchot, where it will be refurbished and re-erected.

In the coming months the US Forest Service and other partners plan to reconstruct the Big Pocono Tower at a site at Grey Towers.

Proposals under consideration include development of educational panels describing the USFS fire program, its history, Gifford’s role, and fire suppression and management today.

Fire Tower Presentation

May 7, 2022
11:00 am
 – 1:00 pm

Tickets Required$15.00 – $20.00

Robert & Melody Remillard will present the History of Fire Towers, the Pinchot connection to Fire Towers, and an update on the Fire Tower being reconstructed at Grey Towers.

Gifford Pinchot’s leadership in development of wildfire detection facilities and construction of permanent fire lookouts within National Forests and Pennsylvania will be discussed. You will be updated on the restoration of the Big Pocono Fire Tower (Aermotor Model LS 40) which has been erected at Grey Towers and nearing its final stages of completion. A look at the Big Pocono “firefinder” and discussion of the “firefinder” including the Osborne “firefinder” will be quite enlightening.

If this event sells out, ask to be placed on the waiting list.

For more information visit the website of Grey Towers National Historic Site, or call 570-296-9630.

Fire Management Today Volume 79, Issue 3 | US Forest Service (

Desiree Dunn
Desi L. Dunn, Managing Editor
Managing Editor at Desiree L. Dunn, LLC

Born & educated in NY with an Environmental Science degree from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Desi's family resides in Hardwick with a young teen and several spoiled pets. Considering northwest Jersey to be a true gem, her commitment to the people and environs is exemplified by the many different jobs she's had - municipal & county official, election clerk, open space plan writer, newspaper & radio journalist, grant writer, events coordinator and farm market manager as well as retail, waitressing, archaeological digger and once for a short while in a very huge warehouse.

Her favorite was as a reporter for many years with the Recorder newspapers, Blairstown Press, Paulinskill Chronicle, Gannett publications plus WNTI Public Radio producing public affairs and human interest stories on-air.

She often has her camera ready to capture interesting people and events. She's thrilled to now serve as RVE's Managing Editor, helping fellow writers hone their skills and show you the issues as well as treasures that exist in North Warren, through their eyes.