What’s that tower on the Shawangunk Ridge? If you’re driving through Ulster County, you may have spotted an interesting sight overlooking the Hudson Valley. That tower is Sky Top Tower, which just celebrated its 100-year anniversary this October.
On October 6, 2023, a ceremony was held to honor the tower and note how iconic it is within the Hudson Valley. The reception welcomed Mohonk Mountain House President (and fifth-generation family member) Eric Gullickson and Congressman Pat Ryan to speak on the tower’s importance.
Representing More Than 100 Years of History
Located on the Mohonk Mountain House property, Sky Top Tower has been delighting guests for a century. Being the highest point on the Shawangunk Ridge, the location of Sky Top was ideal for a fire tower to spot forest fires. Albert Smiley was the founder of Mohonk Mountain House (the first inn accommodating guests opened in 1870) and, in the first year of the Smiley proprietorship, Alfred Smiley (Albert’s twin brother) built the first tower at the point, which was soon destroyed by strong winds. Following this, in 1872 and 1878, two more towers were built on the point, both of which were destroyed due to the elements.
From 1909 to 1919, there was no tower on the point. In 1919, New York State requested to build a steel fire tower. Upon the new year in 1920, a test tower was constructed on the site. A few months later in the summer, members of the Smiley family and guests came together to propose something more aesthetic to be built in memory of the founder, Albert Smiley, who died in 1912. After fundraising efforts, the cornerstone was set on August 30, 1921. In 1923, after many months of construction by a large crew, the tower as we know it today was finished. The stone quarry next to the tower became a reservoir that holds 1,300,000 gallons of water. The entire project was overseen by members of the Smiley family, with “Bert” Smiley (1883-1964) as the Project Manager. Francis F. Allen was the architect behind the project who donated his services.
A Lasting Impact
During the anniversary celebration, Eric Gullickson quoted what Joan LaChance (archivist at the time) and Ben Matteson (Mohonk’s executive vice president at the time) wrote in 1998.
“The tower is a landmark to our guests and neighbors. When you see Sky Top Tower on the horizon, you know you’re almost home.”
This rings true for both Hudson Valley residents and those who often come to visit and enjoy the beauty of the region.
The tower’s four corners point north, south, east, and west, like a compass. On a clear day, you can see the mountains of five states—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The elevation of Sky Top is 1,542 feet (300 feet above Lake Mohonk). Visitors enjoy taking the hike up to it today to climb the 100 steps of the tower, bringing them 80 feet above the ground to take in the unmatched views.
Sky Top Tower is a landmark that has and will be important to the region for generations. Many residents can attest to fond memories of climbing the tower and feeling on top of the world (or our little sliver of the world—the Hudson Valley). Even those who have not experienced climbing the tower recognize it and feel it is a symbol of home.
“My sons, when they see the tower, maybe experience it slightly differently but have the same feeling of ‘Hey I know that,’” notes Pat Ryan on the impact of the tower.
If you are not staying at the Mohonk Mountain House as a guest, you must purchase a day guest package or hiking trail pass in order to visit the tower. If you are only purchasing a hiking trail pass, you will be directed to park at a parking lot approximately 2.2 miles from the resort. You may not enter the resort with this pass option; however, you have access to 85 miles of Hudson Valley hiking trails and, of course, Sky Top Tower.