Roads Less Traveled

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Andrew Cushing

the origins of Grafton's road names

This is the first of multiple explorations of Mascoma Valley's more curious road names.

The networks of road that exist today are the result of hundreds of years of steady improvement, negotiation, planning, and name changes. When white families settled New England's interior in the late 1700s, roads were crude. Water navigation was still the preferred mode of travel, though post roads did connect the seacoast to Dartmouth College. Otherwise, property owners were expected to pitch in to develop portions of road that snaked through their land. As you can imagine, this created varied conditions. And people complained.

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Around 1800, turnpikes came into being. Private companies built decent roads to connect pockets of population, paid for by shareholders. In the Mascoma region, there were two turnpikes: the Grafton Turnpike (named after the county, not the town), which connected Andover and Orford in 1804, and the 4th NH Turnpike (roughly today's Route 4A), which connected Boscawen and Lebanon in 1800.

Turnpikes lost favor by the 1820s because road development finally caught up and people didn't like paying tolls to travel to church or visit the neighbors. If you look hard enough, there are clues you're driving on a former turnpike. Unlike narrow town roads, turnpikes measured four rods wide (sixty-six feet). This difference in width can be seen more easily when there are stone walls that parallel the route.

Also, turnpikes generally attracted early construction. East Grafton, Razor Hill, Canaan Street, and Lyme Center all developed along the Grafton Turnpike. Similarly, Enfield Center developed along the 4th NH Turnpike, which remained a toll road until 1845.

1860 Walling Map, inset of East Grafton.

If you pore over early town reports (perhaps your next leisurely read), there's lots of talk about building roads. After the Civil War, and especially by the turn of the twentieth century, the discussion turns to "throwing up" town roads due to population loss. That's why Class VI roads exist - once farmers abandoned their homesteads, the towns ceased to maintain certain roads but kept them on the books just in case.

Until the early 1900s, roads were not officially named. Deeds and gazetteers called roads "Town Road 18" or "the road leading to the former Smith farm," names that became increasingly vague for mail delivery and navigation. Then, starting in the 1920s, towns started applying official names to these roads, usually using the following formula: longtime farming family + hill = road name. Whenever you see a Jones Hill Road, Prescott Hill Road, Williams Hill Road, Bailey Hill Road, that's why.

But then there are those road names that tell more interesting stories:

Wild Meadow Road

Wild Meadow Road extends from East Grafton to Alexandria's Four Corners. The pastures surrounding Grant's Pond were actually wild meadows, formed from beaver activity. The cleared land attracted farmers who enjoyed the fact that the beavers had already done the tough work. Many fine farms sprouted up, enough to demand a schoolhouse (in fact, Wild Meadows School was District #1). Unfortunately, many of the large farms, including the Sulloway Farm pictured below, have been demolished by a logging company that owns the large tracts of land. Only a handful of farmhouses stand today, but the fields continue to be mowed.

Sulloway Farm, Wild Meadows. Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

Razor Hill Road

Razor Hill Road has been applied to many roads in Grafton because, topographically speaking, there is no Razor Hill. The name derives from Grafton's earliest farmers who settled the central upland region of town; these farmers oozed agricultural acumen and were supposedly sharp as razors. And thus, Razor Hill. Historically, Razor Hill included a section of the Grafton Turnpike that boasted several large Federal and Georgian houses that doubled as taverns, many of which still exist.

The former Flagg Tavern on the Grafton Turnpike (today's Razor Hill Road). In the 1920s, this building became headquarters for a religious revival and it was renamed El Nathan. Note how wide the road is - sure sign of a turnpike!

Bullocks Crossing

Bullocks Crossing was a name slapped onto a road that was formerly known as Razor Hill Road or Church Hill Road. At its summit stands the cradle of Grafton's government. Here in Razor Hill Cemetery stood the North Meetinghouse, built in 1785. On both sides were taverns (necessary, I suppose, for town meeting and church services). The tavern to the north was owned by the Bullock Family from the 1780s to the late 1800s. It still stands and is a glorious example of vernacular Georgian architecture.

Bullock's Tavern on today's Bullock's Crossing.

Snug Harbor Road

The motor age created a new market for lodging travelers and Grafton residents catered to these vacationers. Snug Harbor Cabins were built at the corner of today's Route 4 and Snug Harbor Road in the 1930s. This collection of small cabins was nothing too fancy, but travelers enjoyed the convenience of a pit stop. These cabins became ubiquitous on the New Hampshire landscape, but they're increasingly rare (even the cabins in the North Country are disappearing). Today, one cabin remains on site in Grafton, but others exist in back yards throughout town.

Snug Harbor cabins, Grafton.

Slab City Road

Slab City comes from the large piles of sawmill refuse that once littered the banks of Smith Brook (formerly Hurd River). Since 1827, the Barney family operated a sawmill operated here; the 1850 industrial census shows that they were sawing 170,000 board feet of lumber and 50,000 shingles. According to Grafton's history book, the sawmill stood so close to the road that the mill's cradle would sometimes extend into the roadway, preventing traffic from passing until the cradle retracted.

Slab City's Hoyt Brother's Farms. Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

Tunnel Road

You might think, driving on Tunnel Road today, that it was so named because of the cathedral effect of the trees. Instead, the name derives from a nearby railroad overpass known as Straw's Crossing. The embankments washed away in the 1938 Hurricane, leaving some dramatic photo opportunities.

Straw's Crossing, near Tunnel Road, after a washout caused by the Hurricane of 1938. Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

Kinsman Highway

Kinsman Highway is nothing like a highway. Most of the isolated dirt road is narrow and winding. In 1799, Colonel Aaron Kinsman proposed turning "South rode" into a turnpike. Residents on the road rejected the idea because they didn't want to pay tolls to travel on an existing road. Somehow, the name stuck, however.

This road includes some sweeping views of Cardigan Mountain to the north and also a roadside marker that commemorates Ruth Cole, a spurned lover who, on her way home from a devastating break-up, was killed in a wagon accident.

"Ruth Cole, thrown from the wagon and killed April 28, 1863, Ae. 23 yrs 7 mo."

An old stone bridge exists on a road that once branched off of Kinsman Highway.

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