(HOST) We Vermonters love our mountains, and we’ve always been happy to share them with visitors – according to commentator Edith Hunter – who has a story to illustrate the point.
(HUNTER) In 1824 and 1825, the Marquis de Lafayette returned to the United States for a triumphal tour. During that visit, on June 17th, 1825, the 50th anniversary of the famous Battle of Bunker Hill, he laid the cornerstone of Bunker Hill Monument. A week later he would journey north to lay a cornerstone at the University of Vermont.
After spending the night of June 28th in Claremont, New Hampshire, General Lafayette’s party crossed the Connecticut River into Windsor. Here he was feted at a breakfast with Vermont Governor Cornelius Van Ness, followed by a reception attended by five thousand people.
In anticipation of Gen. Lafayette’s visit, some ambitious residents of the Windsor area decided to construct a road up Mount Ascutney so the hero of the Revolutionary War could enjoy the view. They had not gotten very far, when they abandoned this effort. It was a good thing, too, since the Marquis was running late, and had no time for sightseeing. However, some maps show a turnoff on the present automobile road labeled “Lafayette’s View.”
The excellent road that goes up Mount Ascutney today was the work of participants in the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) between 1933 and 1937. The CCC program, inaugurated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was one of his favorite projects to help America get back on its feet after the 1929 stock market crash. Camps were set up in all forty-eight states, with two and a half million participants, nationally.
The CCC camp that was built at the foot of Mt. Ascutney housed about two hundred and fifty young men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four. They received thirty dollars a month, twenty-five dollars of which was to be sent home to their families.
The road was built mostly by sheer hard work – sawing down trees with hand saws (no chain saws yet), dynamite, sledge hammers, crow bars, wheel barrows, and a few trucks. There was little heavy equipment.
A recent slide program put on by the Ascutney Trails Association (the ATA) showed what a daunting task it was to break a road up the side of that rocky old mountain.
Every year the ATA hosts a hikers’ picnic to the top of Mount Ascutney. The automobile road is closed on that day – this year May 27th – and hikers must take one of the three foot trails.
It’s worth the effort. The view is spectacular – too bad Gen. Lafayette missed it.
Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center.