The Northeastern Kingdom Byway Side Trip

While not a formal part of the recognized Byway, we have developed four side trip itineraries for those looking to extend their travels and venture off the main corridor. They are the Southern Kingdom Side Trip, the Central Kingdom Side Trip, the Northwestern Kingdom Side Trip, and the Northeastern Kingdom Side Trip.

The Northeastern Kingdom Side Trip begins in West Charleston and sends travelers to explore the towns of Island Pond (Brighton), Bloomfield, Canaan, Averill, Norton, Morgan, and Derby.

Brighton & Island Pond

Brighton was chartered in 1781 and has a population of just over 1,200.  Brighton has had three different names. The town was named Gilead in its original grant, and then the town was sold to a group consisting primarily of soldiers commanded by Colonel Joseph Nightingale and subsequently named Random. The town’s name was finally changed by the legislature to Brighton in 1832.

The Brighton village of Island Pond gets its name from the Abenaki word Menanbawk which literally means island pond.  Spectacle Pond in Brighton apparently was the site of the council fires of the Iroquois Five Nations and was part of the migration route of the St. Francis Indians when traveling from Canada to the Atlantic coast.

Island Pond was once a major railway junction and destination for timber industry leaders. The grand houses here reflect the wealth of another era. The depot, home to the Island Pond Historical Society, is a reminder that this was the first international railroad junction linking Montreal, Canada with Portland, Maine. In its heyday, thirteen railway tracks ran through Island Pond. Two lines are still in service today.

Island Pond is the gateway into the northeastern reaches of the Kingdom. The Pherrins and Coaticook Rivers lead the way through thick woods and waterways, moose country. Hunters and trappers find deer and beaver on land that has been a source of timber for over a century.

Brighton and Island Pond are now popular destinations for outdoor enthusiasts.  The abundant wilderness attracts hunters while Island Pond is popular among anglers, boaters, and beachgoers.  The main recreation in winter is snowmobiling on the many trails which connect in the area and are maintained by local clubs as part of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers or VAST network.  The frozen lake also becomes dotted with the ice shantys of many hopeful ice fishermen.

Bloomfield

Bloomfield was chartered in 1762 and has a population of just above 200.  Originally named Minehead, it was granted to the same group of Connecticut residents as neighboring Averill, Lemington and Lewis. The original name is taken from a town in England, where many of the families of the grantees had originated.

At the request of townspeople, the Vermont legislature changed the name to Bloomfield in 1830, possibly after Bloomfield, Connecticut.  It may have also been chosen to honor Joseph Bloomfield, a major in the Revolutionary War and a brigadier general in the War of 1812, during which he commanded a battalion at the Battle of Plattsburgh, an engagement in which many Vermonters took part.

An interesting fact to note: On December 30, 1933, Bloomfield set a record low temperature for New England with −50 °F (−46 °C), a record tied by Big Black River, Maine, in 2009.

The population and economy of Bloomfield has risen and fallen over the years. At its height, several hundred men were employed in lumbering and milling operations of the Nulhegan Lumber Company, which owned most of the land around a village then known as South Bloomfield; its location is now marked only by a cemetery. The only settlement to be found in the town today is at the junction of Vermont Routes 105 and 102, in the extreme southern corner.

Canaan

Canaan was chartered in 1782 and has a population of just over 900.  It was chartered to a group of men from Connecticut and named for Canaan, CT . The town of Canaan consists of many subdivisions such as Beecher Falls, Wallace Pond, South Canaan, and Canaan Hill. These communities were settled in the late 1800’s. During the 1800’s, people began migrating to Canaan as it was strategically located on the border with Canada and New Hampshire. The boundary line between Vermont and New Hampshire was not finally established until 1934 and between Vermont and Canada until 1925. Until the lines were firmly drawn, a number of border skirmishes took place.

In 1880 Canaan’s population was 637. These early settlers lived difficult lives as many goods had to be transported from seaports great distances away. Many of these individuals lived “off the land” on family farms and relied on each other socially and economically.

During the 1900’s many people immigrated to Canaan from Quebec, Canada. Today there are a number of French Canadian families living in the area and French is spoken at many social gatherings.

The Alice M. Ward Memorial Library is a neo-Palladian style building that was constructed in 1846 by Fernando Jacobs as a stagecoach stop and was donated to the town by Alice M. Ward in 1930 to be used as a public library.  It is thought to have been a spot along the Underground Railroad and was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings in 1980.

Fletcher Park, located in the center of the village, was given to the town by Charles Fletcher in the late 1800’s. Monuments in honor of soldiers from Canaan who served in the World Wars and Vietnam and Korean conflicts are located in Fletcher Park. Many events are held in the park, which remains a gathering place for residents.

During the 1900’s until the present, the town of Canaan has undergone a number of changes. Family farms have disappeared, logging jobs have decreased and tourism is now one of the major engines that drives the local economy.  Several lodging resorts and vacation cottages are located in the town and it is a popular destination for vacationers.   Hunters and anglers are also frequent visitors as the many forests, ponds, rivers and natural areas in Canaan are home to numerous birds and waterfowl, moose, deer, bear, rabbits, beaver and other wildlife.  Every August, Canaan hosts one day of the three day moose festival in the community park.  The popular family event includes games, a Moose BBQ cooking contest, auto show, wagon rides, and more.

Averill

Averill was chartered in 1762 and has a population of a mere 24.  Samuel Averill and his associates received from Benning Wentworth a total of twenty-one grants in what is now Vermont, plus several others in New Hampshire.Eight of the Vermont grants were in the present Essex County, accounting for more than half of the area as it stands.

Averill was a prosperous businessman and land speculator living in Kent, Connecticut at the time of the Vermont grants. Like many recipients of Wentworth grants, he never had any intention of settling on his Vermont lands

The town was never formally incorporated having never gained a large enough permanent population. The population was 8 at the 2000 census.  The only settlement this town has ever had is in the northernmost tip. The population reached its peak at 48 in 1880. It is one of the few towns in Vermont that has never had a post office in the conventional sense: the office named Averill is actually over the town line in Norton.

Other than lumbering and hunting, the only activity is a family-operated summer resort on Forest Lake, sometimes called Quimby’s Lake after the family which operates the resort.  It’s remoteness and abundant wilderness do attract many visitors who come for the peaceful scenery as well as the excellent hunting and fishing opportunities.

Norton

Norton was chartered in 1779 and has a population of just 169.  According to the US Census, the population in 1860 was just 32.  From 1970 until 1994, Norton was the location of the Earth Peoples Park, a “liberated” 592 acre piece of land that was open to anyone who wanted to live there, free of charge. Purchase of the Norton parcel was inspired by the original Peoples Park located in Berkeley, California, with some donations for the down payment raised at the 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Festival.  Living conditions were primitive, particularly in the early years when few structures existed suitable for surviving the harsh winter environment. Winters are often downright brutal in Essex County; it is normal to see snowfall accumulations of 6 or more inches per day, with minus 40 degree(F) nights not at all uncommon. No utilities such as power, water or telephone ran to the land, heating and cooking was by wood, kerosene or bottled propane, lighting by candles or kerosene lantern. Drinking and bathing water was drawn from Black Turn Brook, or directly from the Coaticook river. Winter access was challenging, once off the plowed state highway, the unmaintained dirt roads were frequently blocked by heavy, drifting snowfall accumulations, adding a half-mile hike in from the highway, with snowshoes, toboggans and cross-country skis much desired items.

Despite the harsh environment, many people thrived both in the isolation, and in their new found ability to ‘disconnect’ from the noise and distractions of mainstream society, with a number of winter-able structures added as more people moved in over time. In the period of 1973–75, there were perhaps 25 year-round residents living in dispersed cabins, A-frames, canvas teepees, old school buses, geodesic domes, a 1950s vintage travel trailer, as well as an impressive 8-sided log cabin constructed by one family over the course of several years. Additional living and auxiliary structures were constructed throughout the 1980s.

Warmer months saw increased visitors, such as traditional summer solstice and fall equinox gatherings, or other word-of-mouth events. The remote location with thickly forested lands included several secluded beaver ponds, along with access to the Coaticook River, providing an idealistic, counter-culture gathering mecca during the short summer months. Benefit concerts and gatherings took place at the property in an effort to help raise the property taxes and mortgage payments.

As demographics of the residents changed and younger people moved in, problems of crime and drug abuse occurred attracting the attention of the state and federal authorities.   In 1994 it was taken over by the State of Vermont and is now Black Turn Brook State Forest.

Morgan

Morgan was chartered in 1780 and has a population of just over 700. The town contains two villages: Morgan and MorganCenter.  The town was originally chartered as Caldersburgh, after brothers John and Inneas Calder. Some histories say that settlers changed the name to that of the grantee from whom they had purchased their land, however, there was no such grantee. There is, however, proof that the land had been purchased from a John Morgan, possibly the same John Morgan named in the grant documents of neighboring Derby.

LakeSeymour is contained entirely within the town and covers 1,732 acres. It is the second largest lake to be contained solely within the state. It was named for Israel Seymour, one of the original grantees. Natives called it Namagonic meaning “salmon trout spearing place”.   The lake remains a sporting paradise today and is popular with summer visitors and winter ice fishermen.