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Man Seeks to Rename Mount Ascutney

  • Cattails begin to lose their down as fog over Lake Runnemede in Windsor, Vt., obscures Mount Ascutney on December 14, 2009. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, August 22, 2016

Windsor — A Hartland resident has petitioned the federal government to change the name of the 3,130-foot peak that dominates the Upper Valley’s landscape from Mount Ascutney to Cas-Cad-Nac.

Robert Hutchins, an exterminator who works in the Upper Valley, says the name change would more accurately honor the traditional Abenaki who lived here for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers.

“I grew up in Windsor,” said Hutchins, who has started a Facebook page devoted to his cause. “I’ve been hiking that mountain since I was a kid. And when I heard the story, I thought it was too bad that we’re calling it the wrong thing.”

But there’s question as to what the mountain, which spans Windsor, West Windsor and Weathersfield, was originally called.

Esther Munroe Swift, a Vermont historian, wrote in her 1977 book Vermont Place-Names that Ascutney, or some variation of its spelling, is correct, and is translated as “at the end of the river fork,” a reference to the White River.

“Ascutney always seems to have been known by its present name, which everyone agrees is of Indian origin and very old,” she noted, citing an American Gazetteer from 1798.

Jenny Runyon, a researcher for the U.S. Board on Geologic Names, noted in an email to Hutchins that the Board made Mount Ascutney official in 1960, and established Cas-Cad-Nac as an official variant.

“Beginning in 1926, it was labeled Ascutney Mountain,” on United States Geological Survey topographic maps, Runyon wrote.

But Hutchins, who has been gathering petition signatures from local business owners and members of the Abenaki tribe, says the evidence clearly points to Cas-Cad-Nac.

He presented as evidence a collection of books and websites, including a regularly published hiking guide from the Green Mountain Club, which says that Ascutney is an Anglicanized version of the Abenaki word Ascutegnik, which translates as “meeting of the waters.”

Cas-Cad-Nac, according to the guide, was the name of the peak, and translates as “mountain of the rocky summit.”

Hutchins argues that Ascutney doesn’t honor anything, both because the spelling is off and because it refers to waters rather than a mountain.

He said he was inspired to actively lobby for the name change last August, when President Obama announced that North America’s highest peak would henceforth be known as Denali — a name from the language of local Athabaskans — rather than Mount McKinley, a name bestowed in 1896 by New Hampshire-born gold prospector William Dickey as a show of political support for then-presidential candidate William McKinley.

“When I heard about that, I thought, maybe now it has a chance,” Hutchins said.

He’s solicited and received support from the Koasek Traditional Band, a Weare, N.H.-based group led by Chief Paul Bunnell, who wrote in an email to Hutchins that he is circulating petitions in favor of the name change.

These kinds of disputes happen more often than one might suppose, said Martha Reid, Vermont’s state librarian.

When Hutchins asked the USGS to change Mount Ascutney’s name, the group referred the matter to the Vermont Board of Libraries for input.

Reid said Hutchins has his work cut out for him.

“There’s great reluctance of the State Library Board to change longstanding names like this,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless, she said. As soon as Hutchins turns in a petition with 25 signatures on it, she said, it will trigger a formal review of the idea.

The formal review will involve research of historical documents and queries for input from the local community; once that evidence is amassed, the state library board will hold a public hearing and make a determination, Reid said.

She said that, while the board might only hear one name change petition per year for several years, sometimes there’s a flurry of activity, as there has been in 2016.

In July, at the request of the Agency of Natural Resources, the board named 32 waterways in the Rockingham watershed that had not previously been named; it also recently named Meskaskeek Brook, which lies near the base of Plainfield’s Spruce Mountain, using the Abenaki word for “White Spruce.”

If Hutchins turns in the petitions soon, Reid said, it likely will be considered by the board later this year.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.