Home Commentary DOT'S BEAT: Road, River and Neighborhood Names

DOT'S BEAT: Road, River and Neighborhood Names



by Dot Helling

Ever wonder how our area roads, rivers and neighborhoods got their names? Some of course are obvious, like Montpelier’s Main and State Streets, Country Club and Three Mile Bridge Road. The bridge where Three Mile Bridge Road tees into the Junction Road is three miles from downtown Montpelier. Junction Road takes you to the Montpelier Junction train station. Court Street is a bit odd since it runs behind our two courthouses with direct entry to neither. It might have made more sense to call it Capitol Street since it ends at our State Capitol and the turnoff to Capitol Apartments. Streets have been named after famous persons in our history, for example, Governors Aiken and Davis, Widow Moses and Baird Street.

Residents can get possessive of road names, especially since 911 law required all private and public ways to be addressed. Roads of 911 vintage often are named after a street resident or something descriptive of the road, like “Justa Road” by Curtis Pond or Log Road in Montpelier. Earlier roads were named after family settlers and farmers, eg. Lyle Young, Elisha Smith, Vincent Flats and Brazier in East Montpelier. Jones Brook and Chase Brook Roads follow brooks, although the latter was renamed a bland Chase Road to the chagrin of many of the residents. Herring Brook, Dog River  and Lower and Upper Sunnybrook Roads also follow waterways. Anyone know where Montpelier Street is? It’s the entry road into the Casella Waste site off Route 2. How about Bonterma Road or Simplicity Acres? Both are in the heart of downtown Montpelier. What about Stretch’s Way?

And what about the “Onion River,” our local name for the North Branch of the Winooski? Despite theories that this name came from an onion farm upstream or because it sometimes smells like an onion, the truth is that all of the Winooski River was formerly the Onion River. The name derived from Abenaki Winooski, “the wild onion place,” and Winooskitook, “the wild onion river.” During the 19th Century, Montpelier residents campaigned for a name change. They were sensitive to being “Montpelier-on-the-Onion.” For a time it became the French River until finally changed to the Winooski River.

On your way out to the Three Mile Bridge Road you’ll pass “Toytown.” It’s the community of small ranch houses across from the Creemee Stand. When I drove by it with Margot George on a December night in the 70s, she called it that. I assumed because of its small size and the plethora of lighted Christmas decorations. Actually, it is the site of the former Toytown Cabins and Motel in front of which was located a model replica of our Capitol. That replica now sits at Morse Farm under cover and appears in many of our parades. It was moved around the state for years and repaired and restored twice before it was given  to the Montpelier Historical Society.

“Barre-O” is a local synonym for the Barre Street neighborhood near Foster where the street splits to head up to the College Street neighborhood. Barre-O is approximately 54% rental properties and has had its own neighborhood grocery and restaurants, even a pub. It is considered more affordable and diverse than most other parts of our city. In contrast is The Meadow which includes Summer, Spring, Winter and Pearl Streets. It generally consists of upper middle class residents who own their own homes. It has a history of neighborhood traditions including block parties. The Meadow’s greatest amenity is its proximity to Hubbard Park. I was unable to determine the roots of its description as “The Meadow,” but I’m thinking it may have been the meadow portion of an old homestead, perhaps even the brick house owned by Ben and Barbara Scotch. Warren Kitzmiller thinks it may have that name “simply because it was a very nice meadow before it was developed.”

“Codyville” is located just up the road from “The Meadow” on Elm. It includes numerous upper class homes built by and lived in by the William Cody family and the extended family of Fred and Mary Bashara. Mary was born a Cody. Their homes have finely manicured expansive lawns and amenities such as a swimming pool and tennis court. A neighborhood store, coffee shop and years ago a Creemee stand have serviced this neighborhood and “The Meadow.” In fact, in previous decades virtually every Montpelier neighborhood, including those now called Franklin Street Southwest, Liberty Street West, and College Hill — East State Street, had their own Mom and Pop groceries, some located in private basements.

Last but not least, Hubbard Park, Hubbard Park Drive, Hubbard Street and Kellogg Hubbard Library take their names from John Hubbard who bequeathed 125 acres of the Park to the City in 1899 to “preserve wilderness.” Parcels were added over the years including 50 acres from the Bud Heney Family. Hubbard Park, its Observation Tower built in 1908, and its connecting park, The North Branch, are perhaps Montpelier’s greatest municipal amenity, along with the State Capitol. It may have been Hubbard’s greatest lifetime contribution — his gift of the amazing Hubbard Park — to our city. To those of us who love the woods, it certainly was Montpelier’s greatest gift.