Hillside history

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As you drive along Route 131 in Weathersfield from Ascutney to Downers, you may notice, on the right, a pasture strewn with boulders, and just beyond, a red Cape-style house backed up by a cluster of barns. When I go on field trips with the 4th grade historians, the tour bus usually pulls over to the side so we can think about the history on that hillside, ancient and modern.

I like to talk with them about where those boulders came from. About twenty thousand years ago the last of the glaciers, this one about a mile thick, slid over the top of big and little Ascutney, and brought with it chunks of the mountains. When the glacier gradually melted, the boulders, of course, remained. These boulders are part of what geologists refer to as the Ascutney train, a fan-shaped scattering of rocks extending south southeast down into Massachusetts. Imagine, a sheet of ice covering the two Ascutneys!! That’s the ancient history.

The modern history on that hillside centers around the house that was also dropped into that pasture, but more recently, in 1959. This is the Stoughton Homestead, brought up to this location from Lower Perkinsville when the North Springfield Flood Control Project was constructed. It was brought up by Joseph Potwin Stoughton (it had been Potwine until his temperate mother removed the “e” in the interest of sobriety).

Several years earlier, the United States government began condemning property in Lower Perkinsville near the Black River and Branch Brook. Mr. Stoughton held out. The Stoughton Homestead, of which he was co-owner with his brother John, was dear to his heart. It had been built in 1789 by his great-great-grandfather, Nathaniel Stoughton, who had come up from Windsor, Connecticut.

Like most pioneers, Nathaniel came up alone to work on clearing his land, and building a log cabin as temporary housing. He and his wife already had three of their eleven children before they settled permanently in Weathersfield, probably about 1781.

The cabin, and later the house, were near Branch Brook, a tributary of the Black River. It was not far from the Crown Point Road, the old military road that stretched for 80 miles across Vermont, from Springfield to Chimney Rock on Lake Champlain. The road was built in 1759-1760 at the end of the French and Indian wars to bring supplies up to Fort Ticonderoga from Boston.

One Stoughton family story is that while Nathaniel was working on his cabin in 1776, cold and hungry soldiers came by dragging cannon down the Crown Point Road from Fort Ticonderoga to aid in the defense of Boston.

The family lived in the log cabin for 7 years before moving into the larger house. Four generations of Stoughtons had lived in that house, and Joseph Stoughton was not about to allow the government to destroy it.

The deadline for moving it was Sept. 14, 1959. On that day construction workers would flood the area to form the recreation pond, now known as Stoughton Pond.

Another favorite Stoughton family story relates that Mr. Stoughton warned the workers that if people were going to swim in that pond the government had better find and remove any septic tanks before the flooding. Since there were no septic tanks, this provided the canny Mr. Stoughton and his crew time to load the house and one barn onto trucks to take them to the new location.

In the years that followed, Mr. Stoughton lovingly worked on the restoration and enlargement of the house and barns that now stand on this history-filled rocky hillside.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

–Edith Hunter is a writer and historian who lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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