Bolton Historical Society
Bolton, Connecticut

by Hans DePold, town historian

(Published in the Bolton Community News, October 1997)

The first route in Bolton was the Mohegan Indian trail along the Hop River that went through the Notch. The early settlement road entered Bolton through Bailey Road, and Brandy Street, and exited on Center Road. During the Revolution this road was one of the few intercolonial routes available, because the British had discouraged the colonies from trading with one another. It became the safe route that the patriots used when they deployed troops. The Connecticut forces, the Continental Army, and Governor Trumbull often used the road.

General Rochambeau used the Bolton road twice and camped in Bolton in 1781 on the hillside of the Rose Farm. His officers stayed at White's Tavern, 2 Brandy Street, and the artillery was positioned in the Bayberry Lane area. Hebron Road is also shown on his map of the encampment. The meeting house was then positioned on what is now the town green.

The historic turnpike era began in 1792 with Norwich and Boston Turnpikes. These roads were the first attempts to use money raised by collecting tolls to pay for road maintenance. When the Norwich Turnpike was created in 1792, it followed the dry Watrous Road rather than Bailey Road. The portion of Bailey Road behind Bolton High School was abandoned before it was widened or paved, thereby preserving it as a valuable archaeological source. Its condition has not changed substantially over the last 200 years.

When the railroad opened in the 1850s, Watrous Road was abandoned because the road grade was dangerously steep at the new rail crossing. The abandoned Watrous Road is another valuable archaeological resource for the study of the early industrial revolution era. When Watrous Road was closed, the Norwich Turnpike followed Steele Crossing Road into Bolton.

In 1808 the town of Vernon was split off from Bolton. Even so, Bolton still had two thriving centers, one called Quarryville and the other, Bolton Center. In 1895 the Connecticut Highway Department was created. In 1913 it was decided that a number of trunk line state roads were needed. Trunk line 13 was created in the present Route 6 corridor through Bolton Notch. The Norwich Turnpike then bypassed Bolton Center entirely. That move saved Bolton Center but proved to be the demise of Quarryville.

In 1916 the first federal highway act was passed and Connecticut designated its first four U.S. highways as Routes 1, 5, 6, and 7. Twenty-seven historic structures existed in Bolton Notch in 1913 in Quarryville. Between 1916 and 1952 every historic house but one, built in 1799, was lost due to Route 6 upgrades. That remaining house is not far from Squaw Cave.

In 1923 Special Act 228 designated Route 6 as the "Jonathan Trumbull Highway." During the Revolutionary War the British called Jonathan Trumbull the rebel governor of Connecticut. His war office in Lebanon was the headquarters for the Continental Army in Connecticut. General Washington referred to him as "Brother Jonathan."

In 1936 Route 44 was created to encourage tourism during the Depression. It corresponds to the Boston Turnpike through Bolton. Finally, in 1937, Special Act 285 designated Route 6 as the "Grand Army of the Republic Highway."

Route 6 is in the news again. In 1995 Reader's Digest listed it as the second most dangerous road in America. Many people think the first environmental impact statement for Route 6 was submitted in 1988. Not so! The first statement was submitted in 1972, only then the new road was called Route 84. Forty-five people have died in accidents on this section of Route 6 since 1972, more Americans than were lost in the Desert Storm war. We lost our Bolton recycling truck driver July 1, 1991.

The first protest was in 1962 when a team of oxen was driven from Willimantic to Hartford in an appeal for a limited access highway. The earliest complaint about the road that I found is recorded in the diary of General Clermont Crevecoeur on June 21, 1781. "From Windham to Bolton, a very small town, which is quite pretty. The roads were frightful... The roads are badly laid out and very difficult, especially for large vehicles." And so in some respects the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.

by Hans DePold, town historian

(Published in the Bolton Community News, February 1999)

In colonial times, Bolton residents maintained the town roads in front of their houses just as today people who live in cities must clear the snow from their sidewalks. The main road through Bolton in those days was the one we now call the Revolutionary Road. The first record of taxes being raised for road maintenance was at a town meeting December 7, 1778: "Voted in said meeting to mend the highways by a tax or rate on the inhabitants of said town."

The turnpike era began in 1795. Bolton had the Norwich Turnpike, which went down Bolton Center Road and out on Watrous Road. The muddy and stony Bailey Road fell out of use after having broken many a wheel, including the carriage wheel of General Rochambeau. The Boston Turnpike also went through Bolton on what today is Route 44. For a small toll, private corporations maintained the turnpikes.

The railroad was the first private, limited-access transportation system. By 1833 plans for a rail line from Hartford to Providence were beginning to emerge. Businessmen dreamed of a New England railroad to follow the prosperous alignment that went through Bolton. In 1847 the Hartford & Providence Railroad was chartered and quickly consolidated into the Hartford, Providence & Fishkill Railroad (H.P.&F.).

The H.P.&F. began operating between Hartford and Willimantic in 1849. Because the road grade where Watrous Road crossed the railroad was dangerously steep, Watrous Road was closed and the Norwich Turnpike followed Steele Crossing Road into Bolton Center. By 1855 the H.P.&F. had expanded quickly to Waterbury. The deep whooshing sound of the whistle filled our valleys, giving everyone a chance to snap the reins of their horses if they were running late. A cloud of smoke bellowed from the steam engine as the train hissed into the Bolton depot in the Notch. But our H.P.&F. was running on borrowed money and borrowed time, and in 1857 it went into receivership. After a series of bankruptcies and mergers, the powerful New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad emerged, foundered in 1900, and then re-emerged.

Competition began to grow for the railroads as a national highway system of good roads was adopted. In 1916 Bolton had one of America's first paved highways, Route 6. Route 44 was created and designated a scenic highway during the Great Depression, in a WPA program. After WW II, larger trucks on the limited-access highways began to win the competition with the railroads.

The final blow to the railroad dream came with a hurricane in 1956 that created a record flood that took out a critical railroad bridge in Putnam, Connecticut. That closed the final chapter on the New England railroad through Bolton. The railroad property is now a Connecticut Greenway approximately 100 feet wide, connecting several Bolton wetland and wildlife habitats.

Rail line through Bolton Notch

Rail line and terminal in Bolton Notch, 1906

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