On Roads

The geography of a region helps to shape its history, determining the types of industry and agriculture, over generations shaping cultural markers ranging clothing to houses to holiday traditions. One of the clearest ways in which geography affects history is in transportation.
New Hartford’s roads record this. While neither of the two rivers were suitable for navigation, the Farmington and Nepaug valleys were associated with two of the early roads: the Albany highway and the Litchfield Turnpike. The Albany postroad, also known as the Old North Road, ran from Hartford to Albany. As it passed through New Hartford it ran first on the northeast side of the Farmington, along what is now the Farmington Turnpike. This would have been fairly easy going, as it was flat, flood-plain forest, which in summer is dry and fairly open with few rocks. Near what is now the center of town it crossed a ford, started up Town Hill, turned off on West Hill, and then travelled along Burgoyne Heights, coming out in Barkhamsted behind the dump where there is now a cell tower. The name of Burgoyne Heights does come from the fact that it was a Revolutionary War route, used by at least some of General Burgoyne’s forces.
Why, you might ask though, does it angle up the hill? The answer refers back to the problem of geography. As I mentioned last week, west of the center of town lay a large swamp. Like narrow gorges, swamps were close to impassable and so the road went around it. By going slightly farther up the hill, the road takes advantage of a ridgeline, preferable to trying to travel across a slope which is slow and energy consuming. Using a ridgeline meant climbing a hill, but they are generally dryer, slightly less rocky, and more open than hillsides.
The stretch between the center of town and Burgoyne Heights also shows its age in the alignment. It consists of tight, climbing curves. Because of the grade, nearly 9%, these curves would give better control over wheeled vehicles as well as being easier for both the animals and men than larger curves or straight alignments.

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2 Comments

Filed under Natural History, Roads

2 responses to “On Roads

  1. Jamie Hall

    And I have been told that even with the curves that Town Hill Road was really tough on horses. Oddly (to us moderns anyway) my grandmother always felt that it was the long straight hill that was hardest, because there was no break in it — just one long hard pull, and you didn’t want to stop because getting started just might not be possible.

  2. Yes. Which is why on the other side, it switch-backed. I suspect that the grade between Burdick’s Rd and the top is just low enough to make a straight climb possible, as it is faster than switch-backs and so would be used if it could be. The problem was particularly acute with large wheeled wagons.

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