Allured by the prospect of gold, German immigrant Joseph Henn originally settled in the area now known as Hahns Peak in the early 1860s. The mountain and the village were named for Henn, whose pronunciation sounded like “Hahn.” The village of Hahns Peak was the first settlement in Routt County and eventually became the first county seat. The area proved to be successful in mining from 1860 – 1890.
In 1905, lands surrounding the Hahns Peak community, which included the closed and abandoned Hahns Peak Gold Mine, were converted from private lands to public lands, with the establishment of the Park Range Forest Preserve. Created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, the Park Range Forest Preserve was established for the protection and management of range lands and for watershed protection. In 1908, the name was changed to the Routt National Forest, in honor of Colorado’s first elected governor, John Long Routt.
As one of the most prominent peaks in northern Routt County, the Forest Service selected Hahns Peak as the location to construct the new administrative building for managing forest resources – the Hahns Peak Fire Lookout. Construction occurred between 1908 and 1912 by Forest Rangers Harry Ratliff and Percy Paxton, as well as Stanley Brock from Hayden, Jim McCormick from Hahns Peak, and other unnamed men. The construction date discrepancy is due either to fallible memories of the constructors, or the lag in time between the authorization to construct and the federal money arriving in Hahns Peak.
Ratliff utilized local resources and ingenuity to complete the project. Walls were constructed of local stone from the top of the mountain, and the remains of the Hahns Peak Gold Mining and Milling Company operations of the Royal Flush – Wedge Lode mining claim. The men encountered a unique challenge during the construction: pack horses could not be hired because the slide rock was considered too dangerous. Instead, Ratliff assigned Forest Rangers who were willing to put one or more saddle horses on the job. Tied head to tail, this caravan hauled needed building supplies to the summit of Hahns Peak. Many hundreds of pounds of sand, cement and water, three or four 2×12’ timbers were hauled up to the construction site.
Fire watchers were often teachers, who spent their summers atop Hahns peak, where they were equipped with a stove, a mine-set telephone, detailed maps, and an Osborne fire finder. Watchers slept in the stone room below the lookout and spent their days scanning their surroundings for signs of fires.
The Hahns Peak Lookout was enlarged and modernized circa 1942. Modifications included the addition of the cab on top of the original lookout structure, as well as stairs to access the tower. Photographic evidence highlights the addition of poured concrete on all elevations of the lookout’s base. There is no documentation as to why the poured concrete was added to the structure’s exterior. However, this additional cladding adds a special texture to the lookout.
The lookout was briefly repurposed for national security to watch the skies for fighter jets during World War II, but by the late 1940s, use of the site decreased. The end of the war eliminated the need for staffing fire lookouts as a part of the war effort. Concurrently, a paradigmatic shift was occurring within the U.S. Forest Service regarding the monitoring of public lands for forest fires. After World War II, airplanes were used for fire monitoring instead of lookout towers. The Hahns Peak Lookout, along with many other lookouts in the Forest Service system, was taken off-line.