It's hard to imagine life without computers, television, radios, cell phones or any of the other electronic devices that are available today. Even landline phones are becoming a thing of the past, but in 1947 they were in the experimental stages along with television. This month I will go back in history only seventy years when microwave towers were making history right here on a hill in Wolcott and providing a new kind of long distance communication.
For as long as I can remember while traveling north on Wolcott Road/Route 69, I would see a radio tower up on the hill across from the American Legion and Continental Scrap Metal. I knew it had been there since my family moved here in 1949 and my parents used to say it was for telephone communication. I never really thought too much about the purpose of the tower or when it was built until recently. Each month when I send my article to the Wolcott News, I also send a copy to our Historical Society webmaster, Stan Horzepa to put on our website. This month when Stan emailed our members to let them know that the website had been updated with my latest article, he also added a video on the website called "The Seven Hilltops," a very informative video produced by Art Donahue. Stan is an amateur radio operator and very knowledgeable about communication and its history. I quickly watched the video and to my surprise learned that the tower I had seen in the distance all these years was a microwave tower that had played a very important role in long distance communication almost seventy years ago. It amazed me that this tower that still stands on Wolcott Road blending into the landscape played such an important role in our country's communication history.
Anyone that is familiar with that section of Wolcott Road or Route 69 knows that the elevation in this region is one of the highest in town at approximately 1046 feet. That is why in 1947 this location was chosen by New England Telephone as one of the seven hills on which to build a microwave tower for a seven-hill relay radio system. These towers were part of the first television relay system in New England and the world. They were located on hills in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts and would serve as an experimental relay for long distance telephones calls, radio and television from Boston to New York and vice versa. Now before I name these seven hills, I need to share a labeling mistake on our early Wolcott maps. This hill that I am talking about on Wolcott Road was mislabeled "Spindle Hill" on the maps in the 1940s through 1970s and possibly later. So originally when I searched out the tower, I went to the one located on Andrews Road on an area referred to as Spindle Hill. I took pictures and sent them to Stan, but I was shocked when he told me I was at the WRONG tower!! He reminded me of the mistake on the maps and so I edited my article and took new pictures of the correct tower, which is located on Lindsley Hill. So when you watch the video or look at any old maps that show the radio tower on Wolcott Road, they will refer to the location as "Spindle Hill," but it is really Lindsley Hill.
The two hills in New York state were Jackie Jones Mountain, elevation 1240 feet and Birch Hill, at 1330 feet. The three hills in Connecticut were Spindle Hill (actually Lindsley Hill), elevation 1020 feet, John Tom Hill, at 875 feet, and Bald Hill, at 1286 feet. The last two hills located in Massachusetts were Asnebumskit Mountain, elevation 1395 feet and Bear Hill, at 355 feet. Each of these seven towers served as a relay station for very short microwaves, which were free from static and most man-made interference. These waves don't follow the Earth's curve so they must be gathered into a beam and aimed at the next tower, about 30 miles in the distance. By mounting four large square metal lenses on each of the towers scientists were able to focus the microwaves into narrow beams and transmit them to the next tower receiver. Microwave beams proved to be able to transmit more material while not being interrupted by nature such as sunspots or various forms of bad weather.
So on November 13, 1947 the seven towers proved to be a success. Bill Anderson, the chief Engineer of New England Telephone stated, "This Boston to New York run was the first one. It proved that the technology would work." This first television relay system in the world was just a beginning and throughout the 1950s they continued building them throughout New England and the rest of the country. For forty years the four major television stations at that time NBC, CBS, ABC and PBS used these stations to broadcast their television programs. Little did we know when we were watching our favorite shows during those early years of television that we had our own tower right here in Wolcott.
I found this story quite interesting and felt that it was important to share this history with my readers as well as the mistaken name of the hill on which the tower is located. I highly recommend that you go to our website wolcotthistory.org and watch the video, "The Seven Hilltops," by Art Donahue, you won't be disappointed. A special thank you to Stan Horzepa for editing my article and finding my huge error and for sharing the video with us on our website.
(Information for this article was taken from a November, 1947 Popular Science article "The Microwaves Are Coming" by Martin Mann with photography by Robert F. Smith, an article "The Bell System's Microwave Radio and Coaxial Cable Networks" found at www.long-lines.net/documents/index.html, information from Stan Horzepa and a video produced by Art Donahue posted on wolcotthistory.org called "The Seven Hilltops")
An aerial photo of the microwave tower found on Bing Maps.
A 2016 photo of what's left of the tower.
This is the old building next to the tower located on Wolcott Road.
The AT&T 1960's Network Television Microwave Relays map, from the article "The Microwaves Are Coming."
A 1950 topographical map showing the tower on Wolcott Road and mislabeled "Spindle Hill."
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