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Officials, Residents Largely Oppose Renaming Mount Ascutney

  • Mount Ascutney can be seen from Moody Park in Claremont Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (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 Correspondent
Thursday, July 12, 2018

Windsor — Officials in Windsor and West Windsor this week said they plan to tell a state panel that their towns oppose a petition to change the name of Mount Ascutney to the Abenaki name of Kaskadenak, primarily because of the opposition expressed by residents.

Though Selectboard members said they would support further research and discussion on the subject, they also said the request came upon them quickly and they did not want to make a hasty decision.

The Vermont Board of Libraries, which has the authority under state law on whether to change the name, will discuss the petition at its meeting on Tuesday but may or may not make a decision. The meeting is set for 10 a.m. at the Vermont Historical Society on Washington Street in Barre.

According to Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh, there have been about 950 responses to the yes/no question of changing the name of the mountain and 90 percent said no.

“It is extraordinarily one-sided,” Marsh said at Tuesday night’s Windsor Selectboard meeting.

West Windsor Selectboard Chairman Win Johnson said in an email that residents at the Monday board meeting were strongly opposed to the change, but there was interest in exploring the question further.

“The opposition expressed worry about impacts on existing enterprises using the name ‘Ascutney,’ emotional connection with the current name which is widely shared, and wonder that broad Abenaki tribal support for the change has not been more clearly conveyed,” Johnson said. “A straw vote taken at the meeting and expressions posted to the local Front Porch Forum were overwhelmingly negative, but there is still interest in a continuing conversation of the subject and a more inclusive understanding of the area’s history.”

Johnson said those in attendance at the board meeting found the presentation by the petitioner, Hartland resident Robert Hutchins and John Moody, an ethnohistorian who has researched Hutchins’ request, “interesting but not convincing.”

“Taking all of this into account, the West Windsor Selectboard recommends a vote against the name change at this time,” Johnson said.

On Tuesday in Windsor, the Selectboard also said it would be interested in more discussion and research into the mountain’s original name, but was opposed to the petition.

“I would not support the name change,” said board member Jeff White, who said he grew up in the area and only knows the mountain as Ascutney.

Moody, a West Hartford resident, made a presentation to the board that cited several sources identifying the mountain’s names. He said Kaskadenak and Cascadnac are clearly Abenaki names because the Western Abenaki tribe lived in what today is Vermont and New Hampshire.

But Moody also said he understands the desire on the part of residents to obtain more information and recognized that although the petition with 25 signatures was presented in 2016, the subject is brand new for most.

“I think a lot of people feel blindsided by this,” Moody said. “It came out of nowhere.”

Moody also said he doesn’t see the Vermont Board of Libraries overriding public opinion against the name change and most likely could table a decision.

“Further discussion seems more than reasonable,” Moody said.

Hutchins told the Valley News almost two years ago that the name change would more accurately honor the Abenaki, who lived here for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers.

Weathersfield Selectboard Chairwoman Kelly Murphy said the petition was new to her and her fellow board members.

“It was the first I heard of it,” Murphy said when the package of information arrived from the Board of Libraries.

In his petition, Hutchins argued that Ascutney derives from the Abenaki word for white water, (Ascutegnik) and settlers gave the name to their village to honor the Native Americans, but changed it to make pronunciation easier.

“With the town at the base of the mountain being called Ascutneyville, the settler started to call the mountain Ascutney,” Hutchins wrote in support of his petition.

But the Abenaki still were calling it Kaskadnek, which means wide mountain, he added.

“So indirectly, the mountain is named for a river,” Hutchins said.

Windsor resident Diane Foulds, who said she has researched local 17th-century history, said it is clear from Hutchins’ research the mountain was mistakenly named for the Connecticut River and no matter how old the mistake is, it should not change the need to correct it.

“I support this,” Foulds said.

But the other resident to speak in Windsor was opposed.

“I’m all in favor of it staying as Mount Ascutney,” resident Barbara Rhoad said.

After the meeting, Moody said a change like this can take years, citing the decades it took to change Mt. McKinley in Alaska to its indigenous name, Denali.

“My intention is to say, let’s talk about this until we reach a consensus on the name and then we can decide what we want to do,” Moody said.

According to state law, the Board of Libraries has the authority to name geographic locations, including mountains, lakes and streams, with a petition of at least 25 signatures.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.