Jasper Peak Fire Lookout Tower
Jasper Peak, also known as Chester Peak, has long been a focal point of Lake Vermilion life. From the fire watch tower built on the top, to the park on the roadside at the bottom, many events have taken place at Jasper Peak and it was a part of daily life in the Tower/Soudan area.
The original name, Chester Peak, came from Albert Huntington Chester, the professor who surveyed the Vermilion and Mesabi Iron Ranges around 1882. The current name comes from the jasper rock that comprises the peak.
Jasper Peak was though to be the highest peak in Minnesota, before Lake Superior’s North Shore was well explored. There are a few peaks along the North Shore that are taller than Jasper Peak. Jasper Peak has an iconic look: a mountain that looks to be in the middle of a field – so it can be understood why it was believed to be the tallest peak in Minnesota.
The original wooden tower on top of the peak was built in 1919, at the request of forest ranger Fred P. Murphy, by O. W. Osterberg and Jon Oberg. It was only 10 feet tall, but at the time most of the area was still clear from early logging so it afforded a good view. The current steel tower was built in 1934. This tower was still used into the 1990s by the State of Minnesota for fire watch. The watchers would climb the peak and tower with a radio, and would work full shifts searching for smoke plumes rising from the forest. The compass in the tower was used to pinpoint the heading of the fire so they could be found quickly by ground crews.
The land Jasper Peak is located on was bought by the Bois Forte band from the State of Minnesota in 1996. The Bois Forte band traded it back to the State of Minnesota for a more strategically-located plot of land elsewhere.
Lots of events were held here throughout the years at the park and at the summit. From club gatherings to school class trips to hikers to the Old Settlers Reunion to research groups, Jasper Peak was a center of social events. Before the current highway was rerouted just east of Soudan, the park was on the far side of the old highway and probably had a lot more open space for people. There is a large fireplace still standing but crumbling, that features a large grill that a pot of booyah could easily have been cooked over.
Wildlife is abundant around Jasper Peak. Rumors fly of cougar sightings in the area, though they could just as easily be bobcat or lynx. There are many outcroppings of the peak that go relatively unexplored by people. Often hikers encounter deer wandering along the path, or hear the drumming of grouse that were scared up from the underbrush.
Jasper Peak has long been used as a punchline or accentuation for jokes and boasts because of its iconic look and stature. Many jokes have been written down in old newspapers, commentary on the state of the world, using Jasper Peak’s size as a punchline or a foil. LakeVermilion.net has tried to include a few of these stories as some of them are quite entertaining, but there are many more to be had in editions of the Tower Weekly News.
Jasper Peak is found two miles east of Tower, on the outskirts of Soudan and across from the new Lake Vermilion State Park’s entrance, down a section of the old Highway 1.
Jasper Peak was surrounded on the west by farms along the Thompson Farm Road. These farms have all been overtaken by the forest again, but the driveways to the farms can still be seen along the road traveling northwest to southeast. This photo map also shows road sign markers for the current highway, to show where the old highway was in comparison to the current one.
The original 10 foot wooden tower on the top of the peak, built in 1919. The current steel tower was built in 1934.
Bottom of the trail on the way up from the old Highway 1. The path is crisscrossed with roots in some places. Further up the peak white pines are growing untouched along the edges of the peak’s plateaus.
Stairs at the bottom of the tower.
Various shots of the strata at the top of Jasper Peak. The banded jasper with its colorful layers give the peak its name.
Shots from the cabin on top of the tower at the surrounding area.
Looking down the stairs from the top of the cabin; also a view of the inside of the tower. The tower is coated in signatures and graffiti – a tradition of visitors to the tower, stretching back into the 1930s. The pedestal had a large compass with a movable arm. When a plume of smoke was spotted, the fire watcher could line up the arm with the smoke and read the compass and report the heading via radio.
Shots of the trail on the way back down the peak.
The Virginia enterprise, Vol 11, No 1 – February 6, 1903
INTERESTING CITY NEWS NOTES.
Briefly Sketched For…
A staff correspondent of the News Tribune is responsible for the report that the erection of a memorial monument to the late George C. Stone, the man through whose efforts capital was first interested in the development of the Vermilion range, is under consideration. It if proposed to erect the monument on Jasper Peak, near Tower, the highest point of land in Minnesota.
Tower weekly news, Vol 15, No 7 – July 10, 1914
JASPER PEAK MONUMENT
In commenting on the suggestion made in this paper in a previous issue relative to a monument to the men who discovered and made this mining country of ours, editor Pete Schaefer of the Ely Miner has the following to say relative to the proposed recognition of the brave and hardy pioneers: The Tower News has the proper spirit and we hope to see the idea materialize. A memorial to the (explorers who discovered the source of the wealth of this section would be fitting and Jasper Peak is the place to locate it.”
Skillings’ Mining Market and News Letter, of Duluth, also makes a few kindly comments on the proposition as follows: “The Tower News suggests that a monument be established on Jasper Peak, near that city, in honor of, and to perpetuate the memory of the pioneers who blazed the way to the discovery, and the development, of the great mineral wealth of the Vermilion range. Jasper Peak is said to be the highest point of land in Minnesota, and is an object of interest to all visitors at Tower and vicinity. The suggestion of the Tower News cannot fail to interest and favorably impress all St. Louis county people, and most Minnesota people.”
The kindly comments keep coming in this week relative to the placing of a monument on Jasper Peak, in honor of the men of now thirty odd years since who came here and discovered the metal that has placed tens of millions of dollars in circulation and furnished employment for thousands of men. A cheerful letter comes from A. M. Chisholm, of Duluth, in response to a marked copy of this paper sent out asking for suggestions on how to proceed. Mr. Chisholm thinks that Mr. T. J. Walsh, president of the North American mining company should be the one to lead the work as Mr. Walsh is more familiar with the early day and events.
Mr. Chisholm says that he will be glad to help the cause in any manner he can and wishes the undertaking every success. Things are beginning to shape themselves, and we trust that Mr. Walsh will find the time to send suggetions on the best method for farther procedure. Jasper Peak was made in the beginning for this memorial.
If not, what then? Let us use it then for what it was intended.
This paper would be pleased to receive letters from anyone who has an idea looking towards the forwading of the above plans.
Tower weekly news, Vol 20, No 2 – May 30, 1919
Forest ranger Fred P. Murphy has arranged for the erection of “look-out tower” on top of Jasper Peak and same is to be built at once. From that vantage point forest fires in almost any part of the district can be easily located.
The Duluth herald, Vol 37, No 82 – July 19, 1919
SOCIAL AND OTHER NEWS OF OUR NEIGHBORS
Ranger Fred Murphy of the forestry service is superintending the work of erecting a ten-foot lookout tower on Jasper peak. Contractor O. W. Osterberg and John Oberg are doing the work. The erection of this tower will fill a long-felt want, as there has been nothing of the kind in the vicinity from which fires could be located.
Tower weekly news, Vol 20, No 52 – May 14, 1920
Miss H. E. Morcom has been appointed to a position as lookout at the tower maintained by the State Forestry department on Jasper Peak.
Bois Forte news, Vol 11, No 2 – August 1, 1996
Moved by Phyllis Boshey; seconded by Jerome Whiteman; to adopt resolution # 172-96, purchase of the Jasper Peak property Carried 4-0-0.
Tower weekly news, Vol 15, No 16 – September 11, 1914
Politics Be Durned
It is claimed that the Germans are using dum-dum bullets. Well, what of lit? That’s the idea. Why not shoot log chains and a keg of drift bolts? Why not? Poison ’em. Blow ’em up! Why not? It is war. Anything goes in war. The idea is death. The more dead, the better.
War is not a Sunday school picnic or a booya party. The sooner they are all dead the sooner they will quit. When a man is dead what does he care whether he was stabbed with a blueberry pie or shot out of a cannon at Jasper Peak?
Tower weekly news, Vol 16, No 37 – February 4, 1916
Ascended the Mighty Jasper
The ascent of Jasper Peak on snowshoes was accomplished Sunday afternoon by two snowshoers who are exhibiting the belt won after a half day’s fight. This trip has probably never been made before. The soft snow made the work something that was work.
Only by taking the north slope was the trip a possibility. Over fences buried in snow, following the lines of least resistence, the party made its way. Holding to the trees and brush and at times falling headlong in the deep snow, the long grind was rewarded by the finest view imaginable. OQ the top of the peak the snow was frozen to solid ice and as smooth as a baldhead. Below and far away one could see the buried city of Soudan lying like a checker board. Lake Vermilion weighed under the snowy whiteness was a panorama picture never to be forgotten. The skyline twenty and thirty miles away was clear cut and the smoke from the Ely chimneys was easily discernible.
The snow covered pines and balsams in the valley below glittered in the sunshine and made a frost picture well worthy the trouble to climb and see. Time was taken at the top to take photographs of the beautiful scenery far below and stretching on all sides as far as the eye could reach. The trip down over the trail made in going up was a pleasure and took but a few minutes to cover. Snowshoeing has its pleasures and a trip to the top of Jasper Peak enhances it all and repays one for the effort put forth to accomplish it.
Tower weekly news, Vol 16, No 9 – July 23, 1915
Should Get A Free Ride
The Tower man who wears crape and looks longingly toward Lakeview cemetery, is outclassed a mile by the fellow who pulls his belt up another notch, grabs a root and helps pull. Tower, or any town, is composed of two classes—those who lean and those who lift. Join the lifters, son, and if Jasper Peak sinks and the cows eat up the new cement walks, smile and cut out the crape hanger business.
Tower weekly news, Vol 18, No 2 – June 1, 1917
Be Sure to Register
If Tom Edison could hear the remarks said about him these days he might stop long enough to smile.
A whole lot of our people are pinning their faith on Tom and Henry, others on Torn and Jerry, but principally on Tom Edison. Of all the weird things patentable in the world he is supposed to be it in that line as an inventor. Tom can stop a clock at a mile by winking at it with a machine no one as yet knows about. Any enemy battleship can be blown out of the water in any degree of latitude and longitude desired by pressing a button in Edison’s labatory. Tom has an invention which, when a button is touched, sours all the kraut in Germany.
With a machine he has invented Tom can hear the sounds of the bats in the Riser’s belfry. Tom can touch a button in New Jersey and the top of Jasper peak will fall off. He is working on a machine now which goes out alone, hunts up a German U-boat and bores seven boles in the bottom of it at a speed of 12 knots. O, you Tom Edison! We have a sublime faith in vou.