Despite primitive beginnings, fire tower construction in West Virginia soon took on more advanced methods in the 1920s. By the end of the 1930s efforts by the state and the Civilian Conservation Corps had resulted in a statewide network of approximately 100 fire towers. Fewer than a dozen remain standing today, and all have been retired from service.
Of those that survive, Thorny Mountain Fire Tower is unique. Though the original fire tower was constructed at Michael Mountain on the eastern side of Seneca State Park in the 1920s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the present site was found to be a better choice. The tower was reconstructed there in 1935. The Bluefield Telegraph described it as:
A new type fire tower--with observer's cabin and living quarters atop a 40-foot steel framework...This tower, of the type used by the federal government in the far west, enables the observer to work, sleep and eat in his quarters 40 feet above the ground. CCC labor from Camp Seneca constructed it.
'Observers at the Thorny Mountain Tower slept in cots, got heat from a wood stove, and used a rope-and-pulley system to bring food, firewood and water into the cab.2
The alidade uses a circular tabletop covered with a correctly centered topographical map and two sighting apertures on opposite ends of the table.The fire lookout moved the sights along a circular track marked with degree gradients of 0 to 360 until both sights aligned with the smoke plume at the base of a fire, providing the coordinates needed to map the blaze.2