The story of the Irish Hills Towers

April 20, 2009

Irish Hills Towers

Irish Hills Towers, photo by dt10111.

The Wikipedia entry for the Irish Hills Towers says that these wooden observation towers were constructed along US-12 in the Irish Hills region in northern Lenawee County as the result of a curious competition along the lines of the skyscraper frenzy in New York:

In the early 1920s, the Michigan Observation Company sought places of high elevation to erect fifty foot high enclosed platforms to boost tourism. In southern Michigan, a tower was placed atop Bundy Hill in Hillsdale County, Michigan and officials sought a knoll in the heart of the Irish Hills in Lenawee County. A farmer who owned half of the knoll, Edward Kelly, turned down the company’s offer to purchase his portion of the land. The adjoining land owner, Thomas Brighton, consented the sale of his plat, and construction of the Irish Hills Observatory commenced.

The opening of the Irish Hills Observatory was announced by The Brooklyn Exponent in September 1924. In a gala celebration on October 4 and October 5, hundreds of people ascended the hill and tower to gaze upon the rolling landscape and crystal blue lakes in all directions. Kelly seemed spited by the exploitation of the MOCs venture, and protested by erecting his own tower. By the end of November, 1924, his own observation platform was in place, just feet away from the MOCs structure, and several feet higher.

The Michigan Observation Company responded by adding a second observation enclosure to the top of its own facilities, now designated as the “Original Irish Hills Tower”. Kelly proceeded to add a raised platform to his “Gray” tower (named as such because of its gray-painted exterior), an act which brought the two edifices to an even height. The MOC informed Kelly that if he attempted to compete with more height given to his tower, they would tear down their own and construct a metal observatory so large that Kelly’s efforts would be nullified. He conceded, and turned his efforts instead to drawing more revenue to his creation.

In the 1950s Frank Lamping purchased both and added a gift shop. The towers closed in 2000.

Here’s a cool postcard from the 1930s of the view from Irish Hills Towers, a sweet photo from Matt Callow and a few photos showing different views of the towers. You can see the location on Waymarks.

See this bigger right here and in Daniel’s Buildings set (slideshow).

More Michigan roadside attractions from Michigan in Pictures!

8 Responses to “The story of the Irish Hills Towers”

  1. myphotoscout Says:

    Too bad the towers are closed. Are they being renovated or permanently closed?

  2. Penny Says:

    I have a really neat picture of the 2 towers side by side, taken by my parents. I can read the names of the 2 towers. I would be happy to post it, if someone would tell me how, or where to send it to be posted.

  3. farlane Says:

    If you send it to me by email at farlane@absolutemichigan.com I’ll post it for you – send me the credit for the photo as you would like it to appear and please make sure to add the date!!


  4. The Towers are going to be refurbished. There is a fund raiser on August 6, 2011 at the site. A new website is being created at irishhillstowers.com you can currently get some information at http://iclimbedthe.irishhillstowers.com/


  5. [...] Hills towers and to open an Irish Hills museum. You can learn more at that link and read about the history of the Irish Hills towers on Michigan in [...]

  6. Laura Bass Says:

    I have a wonderful picture from long ago of some of my family members from the 20′s. I wish they were still open. I would love to see it like they did.


  7. [...] a ten lakes visible.  Michigan in Pictures has more shots of these iconic landmarks including the history of the towers and a crazy cool photo by Matt [...]


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