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.
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.