East Bank: Millers Falls To Charlestown

This section of the Connecticut Valley Route follows closely the eastern bank of the river. The roads traversed are town and county roads, mostly in very fair condition. The New Hampshire West Side State Highway, to be marked by light blue bands on poles and fences, at Hinsdale (p 336) turns away from the Connecticut valley. The principal points of interest are the old villages of Charlestown and Walpole, the manufacturing town of Claremont, and the distinguished artist center of Cornish. Of the many fine views along the river, those of Mt. Ascutney from south and from north are especially imposing.

From Millers River the route leads north near Mount Hermon School (p 329), to

9.0 NORTHFIELD. Alt 300 ft. Pop (twp) 1642. Franklin Co. Settled 1673.

This quiet, tree-shaded village is beautifully situated on the broad terraces rising from the meadows of the Connecticut; which here flows in long, graceful curves. Northfield has become famous as the center of the schools and conferences established by the famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody. The annual summer conferences begun by him in 1880 attract hundreds of Christian workers during midsummer. The rustic homes of `conference people’ now dot the slopes of Strowbridge Hill and Notch Mountain.

Northfield Seminary was founded by Moody in 1879 to teach practical Christian work. Endowment and gifts and the household work done by the students make possible a low tuition. The Russell Sage Chapel, of Rockport granite, was erected in 1909 from Mrs. Sage’s gift of $150,000.

The old farmhouse where Moody was born in 1837 still stands adjoining the campus. It was while he was a successful shoe salesman in Chicago that he turned to evangelistic work.

Clarkes Island in the river near Northfield has a tale of a buried treasure connected with the famous Captain Kidd. The red sandstone about here has yielded large numbers of fossil imprints of the so-called `bird tracks’ made by reptiles when the sandstone was a vast mud flat on the shore of an inland sea (p 413).

The site of Northfield was known to the Indians as Squakheags, meaning “a spearing place for salmon.” Settled in 1673, just before the outbreak of King Philip’s War, it was during its early years a frontier outpost which tempted Indian attacks, so that its third and permanent settlement was in 1714. On Sept. 2, 1676, the Indians attempted the capture of the town. Captain Beers with thirty-six troopers was sent to the rescue from Hadley. The troopers, fearing an ambush, were on the lookout for Indians, but not a trace of them could be found. At the peaceful spot since known as Beers Plain they lingered to eat the wild grapes which lined the way. All at once a band of concealed savages sprang out at the dismayed troopers, and in the slaughter which followed only sixteen escaped. Major Treat with a relief party arrived too late to be of any assistance, but he succeeded in succoring Northfield. The town was abandoned by the settlers and then burned by the Indians. On Beers Plain there is a monument marking the spot where the gallant captain fell.

The route runs straight on through East Northfield (10.0), following the dark blue markers to the New Hampshire line, where the pole marks are to be light blue with white border.

16.0 HINSDALE. Alt 340 ft. Pop 1673. Cheshire Co. Mfg. lawnmowers, paper, lumber, and turbine water-wheels.

Hinsdale is an old country village in the midst of a good farming region. The terraces of the Connecticut between Hinsdale and the Vermont town of Dummer are among the finest of the whole valley.

The main-traveled road up the valley leads through North Hinsdale, crossing the river to Brattleboro and Bellows Falls.

Note. The light blue-marked route, the New Hampshire `West Side Road,’ turns right at Hinsdale and leads northward through Keene to Newport and Lebanon (83.0); it is an excellent gravel road through a rolling country without heavy grades, and is much used instead of the route nearer the east bank of the Connecticut.

As the route follows a succession of river valleys the scenery ,is pastoral and quiet, bounded by the low hill ranges to east and west. Farming and lumbering are the principal occupations, with the manufacture of lumber products. Keene and Newport, from which Lake Sunapee is quickly reached, are the main points of interest.

Following the Ashuelot river through the villages of Ashuelot (2.5), Winchester (5.0), Westport (10.0), and West Swanzey (13.5), the route follows the light blue banded poles through the busy little city of KEENE (19.0), crossing Route 33. It then continues up the Ashuelot valley through Gilsum (28.0), Marlow (34.5), and East Lempster (43.8), climbing the slight divide into the valley of Goshen Brook, which it descends, past Mill Village (49.8) to NEWPORT (54.6), on Route 43. After leaving this little summer center the road leads on beside the Sugar river and then northward up Croydon Brook through the villages of Croydon Flat (58.3) and Croydon (61.6).

The little hamlet of Croydon was the home of Ruel Durkee, long the political `boss’ of New Hampshire. He is said to have been the original of “Jethro Bass,” the central figure of Winston Churchill’s novel “Coniston.” Austin Corbin, the railroad magnate of a previous generation, was also a native of this town. Immediately to the west rises the great ridge of Blue Mountain, now a great game preserve of 25,000 acres, known as Corbin Park.

The route continues through Grantham (63.0), crossing a divide, and follows a pleasant brook down to Lebanon (79.2) and West Lebanon (83.0), where the road joins the main route again (p 360).

Note. From Hinsdale the shortest route leads over a hilly dirt road in a wooded, sparsely inhabited region. The Pisgah primeval forest, a mile or two east of the road, has the largest growth of white pines in the East, some of them with a girth of twelve to fifteen feet. Passing through the village of Chesterfield (7.0), a mile and a half further on the road reaches LAKE SPOFFORD (724 ft), a beautiful little sheet of water with irregular wooded shores and sandy beaches, nine miles in circumference. Across the lake to the north is Pistareen Mountain (1060 ft); along the shore are a number of summer camps and residences. The chief resort is the Pine Grove Springs Hotel, very attractively situated near a good golf course. Nearby is the spring from which it takes its name. William Dean Howells was much impressed with the beauty of this little lake and compared it to the lakes of Italy. The road rises 700 feet and then descends rapidly into Westmoreland (16.0), joining the main route and Route 40.

The road along the east bank of the Connecticut passes straight through Hinsdale and North Hinsdale (20.0). At North Hinsdale a stone monument near the junction of the roads is inscribed: “In memory of 14 men who were way-laid by Indians near this place June 16, 1748.” The road skirts the base of Mt. Wantastiquet (1364 ft), which stands like a sentinel over the valley. A good carriage road has been constructed up the mountain, and at its foot is a bridge to Brattleboro (p 331). The road follows the bank past West Chesterfield (26.5), Ware’s Ferry (31.0), and Parkhill (34.0), where it forks to the left.

34.5 WESTMORELAND. Alt 506 ft. Pop (twit) 758. Cheshire Co. Settled 1741. Mfg. lumber.

The village lies in a beautiful region not unlike the landscape of its English namesake.

One of the earliest New Hampshire settlements on the Connecticut river, it was originally called `The Great Meadow,’ from a considerable intervale on the opposite side of the Connecticut river. It was also often styled `No. 2,’ being the second in a range of townships granted on the Connecticut at the same time, of which Chesterfield was No. 1; Walpole, No. 3; and Charlestown, No. 4. A small fort, or block-house, was erected here in 1741 by emigrants who came up the river in canoes. Like the other valley towns it suffered much from Indian raids.

Continuing north from Parkhill, but at some distance from the river bank, the route reaches

42.0 WALPOLE. Alt 271 ft. Pop (twp) 2668. Cheshire Co. Inc. 1752. Mfg. cider.

Walpole is a fine old country town on the fertile terraces of the Connecticut, with a background of glorious hills. The number of Colonial mansions attests its early prosperity.

Main Street with its rows of fine elms and handsome old residences has an air of quiet dignity. Here is the house of Thomas Bellows Peck, built in 1792, and the old house of Colonel Josiah Bellows, now the residence of Mr. J. G. Bellows.

One of the finest examples of Colonial architecture in the town is the house on Westminster St. now owned by Miss Fanny P. Mason of Boston. The estate of Colonel Benjamin Bellows is the property of Copley Amory of Boston. Some of the finest of the old homesteads stretch along the bank of the river. On the outskirts of the town is Glenside, the residence of Rear-admiral Henry B. Robeson. Rebecca Hooper Eastman, the playwright, has a residence here.

Walpole was incorporated in 1752 along with a number of the other valley towns. Colonel Benjamin Bellows seems to have been the leading spirit of the little community and is the hero of several Indian attacks. It is interesting to note that at that time salmon were so plentiful in the river that Colonel Bellows’ hired men refused to have the fish served to them more than three days a week.

In August, 1755, occurred the Indian attack and siege of John Kilburn’s house. Surrounded by palisades, it stood a mile and a half from Colonel Bellows’ fort under the shadow of Kilburn’s Peak, named for its hero. Kilburn, with the assistance of his wife and young sons and daughters, defended his stout log house against 400 savages. The women moulded the bullets, loaded the guns, and when they became too hot from frequent firing cooled them in a water trough. When the stock of lead ran short, blankets were stretched in the upper part of the roof to catch the bullets which came through. These were quickly remolded and returned to their senders. The attack continued all day, but ended with only one of the family wounded.

The first bridge to span the Connecticut river was built between Walpole and Bellows Falls in 1785 on the site of the present bridge. A century ago Walpole had more than a local reputation for its ` Society 0f Wits,’ chief of whom was `Joe’ Dennie, known as the `American Addison,’ “delicately made, needy of purse, but usually dressing in pumps and white stockings,” who here edited the “Farmers’ Weekly Museum.” Cider was once a popular product with the townspeople, who have been known to consume 4800 barrels in a year, an average of three barrels for each man, woman, and child.

The main-traveled road from here to Cold River is that via Bellows Falls and the West Bank (p 340). The New Hampshire road leads straight on through the riverside hamlet of Cold River (44.0) and past Kilburn Peak, joining the road which enters from the bridge on the left, and reaching South Charlestown (47.5). The route leads on to

51.5 CHARLESTOWN. Alt 369 ft. Pop (twp) 1473. Sullivan Co. Settled 1740. Mfg. violin cases, boxes, and taps and dies.

Charlestown is a dignified old village placidly set in the midst of rich meadows, and still gives evidence of its early nineteenth century prosperity. Its long street, parallel with the river, broad, and shaded by rows of magnificent elms, has upon it some fine substantial old residences. Route 43, from Lake Sunapee, crosses the river here.

Massachusetts granted the township now Charlestown, which was long designated as Number Four. The first permanent settlement was in 1740 by people from Massachusetts. A fort was built enclosing about three quarters of an acre. Its walls were of massive square-hewn timbers laid horizontally, and within were the more important houses. A boulder now marks its site. In 1747 the fort, garrisoned by but thirty, withstood a siege by 400 French and Indians, and compelled them to retreat to Canada. Captain Phineas Stevens, the gallant defender, was highly honored by the people, and Commodore Sir Charles Knowles, whose ship then lay at Boston, sent him a sword. Therefore when the town was resettled it was called Charlestown in honor of Sir Charles.

On an August evening in 1754 there had been a party at the Johnson house on the outskirts of the settlement. They had spent the evening “very cheerfully” with “watermelons and flip till midnight,” and perhaps slept over-soundly. Surprised by a sudden Indian attack at dawn, seven of them, including Mrs. Johnson, were taken captives and hastily rushed northward through the wilderness to be held for ransom in Canada. Mrs. Johnson was mounted on a horse, `Old Scoggin.’ The first night they camped in Weathersfield. Mrs. Johnson’s “Narrative” recounts with realistic gusto the privations and tortures of the journey.

“The men were made secure in having their legs put in split sticks, somewhat like stocks, and tied to the limbs of trees too high to be reached. My sister . . . must lie between two Indians, with a cord thrown over her, and passing under each of them. . . . I was taken with the pangs of child-birth. The Indians signified that we must go on to a brook. When we got there they showed some humanity by making a booth for me. . . . My children were crying at a distance, where they were held by their masters, and only my husband and sister to attend me,—none but mothers can figure to themselves my unhappy posture. The Indians kept aloof the whole time. About ten o’clock a daughter was born. . . . I was permitted to rest for the remainder of the day. The Indians were employed in making a bier for the prisoners to carry me on and another booth for my lodging during night.”

Forty years later Mrs. Johnson returned to this spot and commissioned a stone cutter to make two monuments,—one to mark the place of the birth, the other of the encampment. His handiwork may still be seen beside the road a mile south of FelchviIle, but through some mistake the two monuments were set side by side. The larger one bears this inscription:

“This is near the spot that the Indians / Encamped the Night after they took / Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and Family, Mr. Larabee / and Farnsworth August 30th, 1754, And / Mrs. Johnson was Delivered of her / Child Half a mile up this Brook.

” When troubles near the Lord is Kind He hears the Captives cry He can subdue the Savage hand And Learn it Sympathy.”

For more than twenty years Charlestown remained a frontier post against which the French and Indian raids from the north were directed.

During the closing years of the last French War it was the military base from which was cut the Old Crown Point Road over which the Colonial troops advanced to assist Lord Amherst in the taking of Crown Point. This road, long since abandoned, is of great historic interest. Over it, in 1776, were dragged the heavy cannon from Crown Point which crowned the heights of Dorchester over Boston and compelled the evacuation of the town by General Gage. During the Revolution Charlestown was continuously garrisoned and was an important depot of military stores. General Stark made it the rendezvous of the New Hampshire troops before the Battle of Bennington.

THE OLD CROWN POINT ROAD. In the summer of 1728 an exploring party of travelers traversed the “Indian Road” by way of the Connecticut, Black River, Otter Creek, and Lake Champlain. This was the road usually taken by the Indians coming from the north to trade at the Truck House at Fort Dummer. James Cross, a trader at Deerfield, kept a diary of the journey he made over this road in 1730. The project of building a road through from the Connecticut to Crown Point had long been mooted, and in the spring of 1756 the General Court at Boston passed an order for an examination of a route “by the directest course” from Number Four to Crown Point. Colonel Williams of Hatfield made a topographical sketch of the country, compiled from the reports of scouting parties. Because of the hostile Indians infesting the regi0n the project was not renewed until 1759, when General Amherst had succeeded to the command. The first cutting was on the west side of the Green Mountains in the summer of 1759, under the direction of General Stark and Major Hawkes.

The following summer Colonel Goffe with a regiment of 800 New Hampshire men, having opened up a path from the Merrimack to the Connecticut by way of Keene, began in June to complete the road from Wentworth’s Ferry, two miles north of Charlestown, to Otter Creek. They first built a large blockhouse close to the ferry landing on the Vermont side. It took forty-five days to cut the road to the foot of the mountains. The road followed the devious course of the Old Indian Trail over the hills through the present towns of Spring-field and Weathersfield, Cavendish and Ludlow to the Green Mountains. At every mile a post was set up. Twenty-six had been placed when the mountains were reached.

Thirty-three stone monuments now mark the Old Crown Point Road, and as many more will soon be placed by the Colonial Dames and other patriotic organizations. The town of Springfield has placed nine stone markers, the first of which is on the site of the Old Block House at the Ferry. Cavendish has placed a marker at the twenty-mile encampment. An interesting account of this road is given in the “Vermonter” of 1910.