A(nother) Brief History Of Vermont Road Names

Sep 6, 2019

Brave Little State takes on more of your questions about mysterious Green Mountain byways in our Second Annual Brief History of Vermont Road Names.

Editor’s note: Our show is made for the ear. As always, we recommend listening if you can!

After we deciphered the origins of four road names in an episode last summer — States Prison Hollow Road, Kelley Stand Road, Lime Kiln Road and Poor Farm Road — we got an influx of follow-up questions about other perplexing road names.

So, in an attempt to establish a new tradition, we’re taking another road trip of inquiry to bring you more answers.

  • “Outside of Manchester you have the Mad Tom River, Road and Notch. Where did this name come from?” — John, Arlington
  • “For the love of God, please tell me the origin of Putney’s “Hi-Lo Biddy Road”! — Michael Hudson, Putney
  • “How did Star Pudding Farm Road get its name? Is there a Star Pudding farm?” — Katie Sullivan, Albany
  • “How did Sawnee Bean Road in Thetford Center get its name? I thought Sawney Bean and his family were ship-wreckers off the coast of Scotland.” — Nan Carman, West Windsor

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To kick things off, we returned to road history expert Paul Gillies, the author of Uncommon Law, Ancient Roads, and Other Ruminations on Vermont Legal History.

“Everybody wonders, ‘What’s the name of that road, and where did it come from?'’’ says Gillies. “And sometimes it’s delightful, and sometimes it’s just nothin’.”

When you’re wondering about a Vermont road name, there are two directions you can go in your research. If it’s an old road name, you might find a clue in a 1977 tome called Vermont Place Names: Footprints of History, by Esther Monroe Swift. That’s a go-to for Paul Gillies.

The other possibility is that the road name is much newer.

“The arrival of the 911 emergency location system was the trigger for the naming of the majority of Vermont roads, because you had to have a name in order to be able to have the ambulance know how to find you,” Gillies says.

The creation of a statewide 911 system started in the mid ‘90s. Gillies says the process sometimes resulted pretty arbitrary names.

“Usually it was named for some person that might have settled there. But when they didn’t have anybody that had any opinion, they started using, like you’ve got Penny Lane and some Beatles songs names,” Gillies says. “And if you drive around and you’re wondering about why that that road was named that way it might have been the simple whim of the 911 coordinator.”

That particular fate did not befall any of the roads we explore in this episode, however. Listen to the episode above for the full effect, or explore individual road names in the posts below:

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Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public Radio. We have support from the VPR Innovation Fund. You can support us by becoming a sustaining member of VPR, or by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram @bravestatevt.

Editing this month by Lynne McCrea and Angela Evancie. Our theme music is by Ty Gibbons; other music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions:

We have engineering support from Chris Albertine and digital support from Elodie Reed, Meg Malone and Noah Cutter. Special thanks to Martha Howard, Jon Mathewson, Lori Magoon, Tracy Borst, Barbara Taylor and the R.P.T. Coffin Archive at Bowdoin College.