A Short History of Some Bolton Roads

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.