Mount Ascutney through the rain, seen down Main Street in Claremont.

I say Ascutney, you say Kaskadenak ...


Submitted 4 months ago

After two years of contemplating a name change for Mount Ascutney, the Vermont Department of Libraries will be discussing the name at a public meeting July 17 in Barre.

Robert Hutchins of Hartland presented the idea of changing the name from Mount Ascutney to its indigenous name Cas-Cad-Nac in 2016. Hutchins later corrected the spelling to Kaskadenak. He said the process was delayed due to personnel changes in the Vermont Department of Libraries. State Librarian Scott Murphy was appointed in May 2017.

“It’s a long process anyway,” Hutchins said.

About 25 residents from West Windsor and neighboring towns signed a geographic naming petition for the Vermont Board of Libraries. 

The feelings regarding the changing the name have been mixed.

“I got an earful yesterday, so I don’t think there will be wide support, but we’ll see,” said West Windsor Selectboard chair Win Johnson. “I heard a number of people saying they liked ‘Asctuney.’”

The West Windsor Selectboard received a letter from Vermont Department of Libraries on June 28, informing the board of the meeting in Barre and inviting board members to submit a response. West Windsor is planning to discuss the name change at a meeting July 9. Windsor is scheduled to talk about the name change on July 10 and Weathersfield will discuss it July 16. All three towns plan to submit responses to the petition.

“I was surprised that as long as this as been discussed that the notice came out so late,” said Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh.

Marsh plans to put out a Survey Monkey on the town’s Facebook page to invite people to share their thoughts.

“The word is getting out there,” Marsh said. Most have told Marsh “no way” to the idea, he said.

Marsh said some of the people he’s talked with do not know the history behind the mountain.

Hutchins, who lives in Hartland, grew up hiking Mount Ascutney.

He became interested in the area’s history after he discovering lava formerly ran through his property. 

Local geologist David Howell of Walpole, New Hampshire told Hutchins the rocks surrounding Mount Ascutney are from a volcano that existed 150 million years ago.

“That got me excited,” Hutchins said. 

Matt O’Donnell, a contractor for the U.S. Board on Geographic names, further clarified in a June 4 email to the library board that  “the mountain is made up of plutonic igneous rocks which are the eroded remains of the magma chamber of a volcano that existed 150 million years ago.”

[Editor's note: reference to the bedrock geology map of Vermont published by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that Hutchins and O'Donnell recall the age of the rocks and origin of the “Ascutney igneous complex” more or less correctly. But its origin is not related to volcanic activity. Rather, it cooled from a molten state far beneath the surface 125 to 113 million years ago. It is related to similar complexes that give the Granite State its name.]

The Abenaki tribe is believed to have called the mountain “Kaskadenak,” which translates to “that which is a wide mountain,” according to Ives Goddard, a senior linguist at the Department of Anthropology of the Smithsonian Institution.

“It’s not to change the name just to change the name,” said Hutchins. “It’s been wrong for some time.”

The website for Ascutney State Park states: “Mount Ascutney,... is named from the derivative of several Abenaki words meaning "mountain of the rocky summit ...” Bob Lindeman, in his chapter in the book “50 Hikes in Vermont” (2003), states that “Ascutegnik” was the name of the Abenaki settlement the juncture of the Sugar and Connecticut rivers, not the mountain.

The Vermont State Library Board will make the decision. Vermont State Librarian Scott Murphy, who was appointed in May 2017 said the board has seen many name change proposals through the years. This is the first request to change the name of Mount Ascutney.

A name change for a mountain is not unprecedented in the U.S. Few people refer to the tallest mountain in North America as Mount McKinley anymore. The State of Alaska changed the official name to Denali in 1975, and the U.S. Department of Interior followed suit in 2015. Denali is the Koyukon tribe's word for “high” or “tall.”

There is a certain amount of branding attached to the Ascutney name. The town of West Windsor purchased the Mount Ascutney ski area in 2015, following its closure and bankruptcy in 2010. Since then, Ascutney Trails and Sports Trails of Mount Ascutney have created mountain bike and hiking trails.

The State Library Board meeting is 10 a.m. to noon at 60 Washington Street in Barre on July 17.

-- KATY SAVAGE
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