Cunningham Tower, Cornwall

April, 2016 by Ray Bendici

The Damned Story: In the scenic Litchfield Hills, atop Mohawk Mountain is Cunningham Tower, a seemingly mysterious little stone edifice that has overlooked the surrounding Mohawk State Forest for nearly a century, although it certainly looks like it has been there longer.

Although it’s now known as a ski resort, for centuries Mohawk Mountain, with its great relative elevation (1,600 feet) and view of surrounding areas, has been used as a place for observation towers—it became known as Mohawk Mountain after other Native American tribes would light signal fires here to warn about impending Mohawk raids.

According to the Litchfield Historical Society:

The Mohawk Tower Association was formed in 1882 by residents of Litchfield, Goshen and Cornwall, Connecticut to provide an observation tower on Mohawk Mountain from which the view to the horizon could be seen in all directions. The first meeting of the Association was held at the Town Hall in Goshen on August 26, 1882.

A wooden pole tower was erected that year by Cyrus W. March and his son Charles, of Cornwall, on the summit of Mohawk Mountain after acquiring the title to an acre of land from Hunt, Lyman Iron Company. In 1882, 542 individuals visited the Tower, and the association collected $339.30 in receipts. In 1883, 687 persons visited the tower and a log cabin was built on the site at a cost of $400. In 1885 a subscription was started to purchase a telescope for the tower. By 1892 the tower was unsafe to climb, and the cabin was looted and began to fall into ruin. The wood tower later completely collapsed.

In 1912 Seymour Cunningham began acquiring land in the area. He purchased the Schlittenhart farm from Harrison Ives, as well as the adjoining farms of William H. Baldwin and Luke Richards. Mr. Cunningham was then able to secure the majority interest in the Mohawk Tower Association. At a meeting at Mohawk Tower on September 1, 1913 it was voted to deed and assign all the property of the Association to Mr. Cunningham.

After acquiring the land Cunningham erected a new round stone tower in place of the collapsed wooden structure. The new structure was thirty feet in [diameter] and thirty feet high, and referred to as “Aerie.” The area was fenced for sheep and many thousand Red and White seedlings were planted.

The sheep farm eventually failed, and the land was sold to Alain White, whose family eventually donated the property to the state in 1921.

The steel-braced tower has seen better days—the second level is completely gone, opening the top to the sky above. It has a large fireplace, which some visitors still seem to use for fires from time to time. The tower has also been abused by vandals and graffiti artists, which adds to the creepy, abandoned atmosphere. If you are so inclined, there are picnic tables where you can enjoy a bite while taking in the view.

Refreshingly, we can find no ghost or haunting stories about the tower, which is surprising when it seems that every other abandoned and slightly unusual place in the state seems to have claims of some sort of supernatural activity.

Our Damned Experience: We finally made the trek to Cunningham Tower on an overcast day in Spring 2015.

Fortunately, we were able to drive quite a ways up the mountain and parked a short distance away from the tower—like about two minutes away from the sign pointing toward it.

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The tower was open for us to explore, and as previously mentioned, it isn't remotely the show place it once was. The roof and second floor are still both gone, the stairs have been removed, there are no glass windows or wooden doors, and there's been a fair amount of weathering and vandalism. The fireplace, in particular, has seen a fair amount of abuse—it appears as though it's still used, although we doubt it's any sort of official DEP-sanctioned events.

The floor is actually not in bad shape, and the steel i-beams remain fairly intact, if a bit rusted. The masonry looks good, in general.

We were the only ones around, so we spent a bit of time poking around and taking pictures. All told, we were probably there a half hour, max. There's not really a lot to see other than the tower itself.

One of the fun things about visiting a spot like this, however, is discovering an aspects you never really heard about or see in any other pictures. In this case, up high up on the back of the tower—okay, a tower is a circle (technically a cylinder) and there's true "back," so let's say across from the main entranceway—there's a pretty cool ram's head waterspout carved from stone.

Not exactly sure of the significance, but it's an interesting detail.

As we talked about earlier, there was nothing unusual or particularly creepy about Cunningham Tower. 

Now if this was the 1970s and we were talking about Joanie Cunningham, well, that'd be another story ... even though she ultimately wound up loving Chachi.

If You Go: Cunningham Tower is along the blue-blazed trail Mohawk/Mattatuck Trail in Mohawk Mountain State Park and Mohawk State Forest in Cornwall and Goshen. It is not too far from the ski area—it’s pretty clearly marked on the official “Northern Section” trail map.

The gates to the forest and state park are officially open to the public between April and November, and are located on Great Hollow Road in Cornwall, just off of Route 4; there are no parking fees.

As indicated earlier, you can drive a ways up the mountain and park reasonably close to the tower. Like any hike, be prepared for bugs, random woodland creatures and the possibility of poison ivy.

 

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Comments

Submitted by Frictionsmurf (not verified) on
I'm curious if this tower can be dated and if their were any other archeological finds or engravings? Most of all any relation to Newport tower in rhode island? See link and towers research graph @ bottom of Newport Tower page: http://www.neara.org/CARLSON/newporttower.htm

Submitted by Kristin (not verified) on
I visited Cunningham Tower with my husband last month and it was quite spooky even on a sunny day. There is a gargoyle high on the top of the tower facing into the woods and the fireplace is filled with soot. Someone had thrown 2 bags into the fireplace and taped them up and attached long strings. (?) There are steel beams where the 2nd floor used to be and you can get to them by walking up stones embedded in the wall to the right of the entrance. Caution should be used when climbing the stones because someone snapped off as much of the stone staircase as possible and occassionally there is only about 1-2" to stand on. Aside from a few charcoal writings near the fireplace, there is no graffiti in the tower. Nice place to look around and take pictures. The floor has small red tiles and is particularly interesting to see.

Submitted by Jim (not verified) on
I visited the tower today. Didn't feel "creeped out" at all by the place itself-I thought it was kind of nifty, but I also saw something kind of weird-someone had placed a very neat row of votive candles and broken crockery on the mantel above the fireplace.

Submitted by shannon (not verified) on
My boyfriend and I visited the tower today, we were not at all scared and thought it was an interesting place, however the Gargoyle did give off a creepy feeling, we saw broken pottery and many tea light candles and some graffiti, as we started down one path there were stone columns erected out of no where! We decided to walk back to the tower and take a few more pictures before we left. One saying on the wall inside had me a bit bothered it stated "he whispers dreams" I have tons of pictures from every angle.

Submitted by Koreen Bova (not verified) on
When I was a little girl I went to Camp Mohawk and the counselors would tell us stories about this tower and a guy they called Mohawk Charlie. The legend was that he was flying in a single engine plane with his wife and daughter. They crashed into the mountain and his wife and daughter were killed. He was so distraught that he never left the mountain and built a home in the tower. When the camp was built he would travel down the mountain and kidnap little girls that reminded him of his beloved daughter. Charlie would keep them locked up in the tower until one day the police came to arrest him and he set fire to his home with all the children in it. Legend says his body was never recovered from the ashes and he still roams the camp late at night looking for his daughter. The story terrified me at the time and certainly keep us from wandering around camp late at night.

Submitted by Lindsey (not verified) on
Yeah, I'm a CIT at Camp Mohawk right now and around here, the Mohawk Charlie legend is generally regarded as fact.

Submitted by David P. (not verified) on
Seymour Cunningham was a wealthy financier from Litchfield. His home is on South Street and is on the historical tour. He founded the Litchfield Golf Club and his picture can be seen there. His daughter Pamela married Lammot duPont Copeland; the single wealthiest member of the duPont family. Mrs. Copeland had wonderful memories of growing up in Litchfield and was very supportive of the the Litchfield Historical Society. No airplane crashes and no Charleys I'm afraid.

Submitted by Jenn Nodine (not verified) on
Great writeup! Thank you kindly for noting that there are no creepy stories about this structure as I have gone to visit it several times; some of which are days that are favored in my memories. I have only experienced deep feelings of joy, love, freedom, and wonder at this place and I'd be surprised to hear otherwise from anyone. One of my top ten favorite days is one I spent there with my husband (then still my boyfriend), my best friend back home in CT (Love You, Jacinta!), and my father who passed away last month. It was before my kids so probably 16 years ago or better have passed now. Dad brought some venison sausage and a pan, and we picked up some beer, mayo, portugeuse rolls, cheese, an onion and a few italian peppers on the way. We parked down at the gate and hiked the hill for a while, then settled in at the castle. We gathered some kindling, and the men lit a fire in the fireplace while my Cint & I weaved through the big window openings that we could reach and tried climbing the tiny remnants of the original stone staircase that are set in the stone structure's interior. The air was crisp and fresh and cold, so cold that the floor inside was a skating rink at first. But by the time the sausage and peppers were cooked, and we were making S&P sandwiches with all the stuff we picked up, everything had thawed. We sat at the picnic table for hours, drinking beers and talking about whatever. We had seconds later on after a few games of cribbage. It started getting really cold after dark so we left after much reluctance and dilly-dallying and we I drove away feeling a great sense of fulfillment and satisfaction at the day I'd just had. I've thought alot about that day in the weeks since Dad died and I feel so much gratitude to whatever powers conspired to make that day happen the way it did.

Submitted by Ashley (not verified) on
Jenn, thank you for you sharing your wonderful story. I am a commercial real estate analyst in Dallas, Texas and was looking for detail on a property when I came across this site. Somehow I wound up on this page and just read the stories about the tower. I will eventually visit your great state and the first interesting place I intend to visit is the tower. It does indeed sound like a magical place where splendid memories are made. I greatly look foward to making a few of my own when I visit Connecticut.

Submitted by Outfitter (not verified) on
I finally discovered the tower today, after 15 years of visiting Mohawk regularly. I always thought the Cunningham Tower trail just lead to the foundation at the peak of the ski area. I was so impressed by the majesty of the tower, it has such a presence as you approach it from the front with a lone crooked tree growing from the only patch of dirt amongst the ledge. The tower was in great shape on this visit, a picnic table inside welcomes hikers...very disappointed about some graffiti on the stone fireplace. Further along the blue trail i saw a marker for the mattatuck tower "1.6 miles", I didn't have time for the walk, is there another tower on the propety? "make your life a story worth telling" -Outfitter

Submitted by Dave Polmon (not verified) on
Outfitter: My search and rescue group routinely trains in that area and we know the Cunningham Tower quite well. The old fire tower on the peak is gone now -- guess it got too rickety for the public to be safe on it, and there is another much smaller stone tower nearby Cunningham. At the old homestead site at the 90-degree turn in the road, follow the trail to the top of the ski slopes and you will see it. It is quite close to the parking lot. If memory serves me there is still the stone pedestal rising up from the floor that the sighting compass once rested on.

Submitted by DaveP (not verified) on
Incidently: Seymour Cunningham's brother Mac sold his property to Ivan Lendel. I believe it was the highest price paid for property in Litchfield but I am not sure about that.

Submitted by DaveP (not verified) on
Opps - The property was in Goshen.

Submitted by Gina J (not verified) on
We had a blast today visiting the Cunningham Tower. Would love to see what it looked like back in the early 1900s. Does anyone know what all the stone pillars erecting out of the ground behind it were for? Further up the mountain we checked out the stone fireplaces that are clearly all that is left of old hunting cabins. Found a "surprise" in one which made for a very memorable day.

Submitted by GaryZ (not verified) on
Engraved on the mantle piece is ' Seymour Cunningham Fegit MCXV " or Constructed 1915. Also of note, the gargoyle's head was the drain or downspout for the roof. So when it rained, water poured from it's mouth. In the center of the roof is a pipe that I believe was used to hold a telescope. There are also foundation stones just below the tower on the west side.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Got attacked by a swarm of hornets last time I visited here. Not spooky necessarily, but pretty scary nonetheless.