Ancient Days in Bolton Notch

by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in Bolton Community News, August 1997)

Bolton Notch mountain forms the watershed divide for three rivers, and at its top, suspended some 60 feet above the Bolton Notch shopping center, there is a pond. A well-worn path wends its way around the pond lined with thin bands of high-bush blueberry, mountain laurel, winterberry, and sweet pepper bush. The pond is fed by rainwater and has no outlet.

Many residents climb the notch, especially in October when, after a light rain, the fall colors are spectacular. They climb the mountain to be dazzled by the lemon, orange, and raspberry colors. Here on the craggy outcrop of rock is the divide between the ancient Podunk tribal hunting lands and the Mohegans' hunting lands.

The forest soils of Bolton are regularly soaked with tannic acid from composting fall leaves, leaving little fossil or bone evidence of the early inhabitants. The Podunk Indians occupied the lands west to the Connecticut River, and the Mohegans used Bolton Notch as their forward lookout for unexpected visitors from the west. From there, fleet-footed runners were sent to warn mighty Uncas, the Mohegan sachem (chief). Uncas was a Pequot who became the Mohegan sachem and then conquered his native tribe, the Pequots.

There is little remaining evidence of the many visitors from the past. The Indians chose not to leave their mark on nature, believing that by being humble before nature they became close to the great spiritual being. Their spirits were believed to inhabit important places, and if you close your eyes while standing on top of the notch, you can hear the rustling of the leaves where Mohegan spirits walk. The Indians called Bolton Notch "Saqumsketuck," meaning a land or place of hard rock.

Bolton Lake, just northeast of Saqumsketuck, did not exist at this time. Looking more like the Florida Everglades, the area had only a small pond and was known as Cedar Swamp. At the west side of Cedar Swamp was a large encampment with great masses of chips and flakes, which were evidence of Indian stonework.

The mountain itself has several shallow caves. Perhaps they were created by the effects of gradual seepage from the pond at the top of the notch. On the south side of the mountain is Squaw's Cave, where an early settler and his Indian wife lived as outcasts at a time when intermarriage was unlawful.

Connecticut was settled beginning in 1630, and Bolton was originally part of Hartford township. Until 1648, the path through Bolton Notch was the only known Indian path into the region from Hartford. It was sometimes called the Olde Connecticut Path or the Key Path and extended to the region of Willimantic, where it met the Nipmuck trail to the northwest, and the Pequot and Mohegan trails to the south. These and other prehistoric Indian trading and hunting paths became the early trading paths and settlement routes of the colonies.

In 1720, when Bolton received its charter, the town center area began to grow, and Bolton Center Road became the main road through town. The route through the notch, however, continued to be the main road connecting Hartford to Providence and to Boston. Vernon was part of the town of Bolton until 1808.

There was no universal suffrage then--only male residents who met the following requirements could take the Freeman's Oath and vote: 21 years of age, possessed of a free-hold estate of 40 shillings per year or 40 pounds personal estate; must have previously taken the Oath of Fidelity to the state; and must be of quiet and peaceful behavior.

The Indians knew that survival was not easy, and that the new settlers would not actually get to choose the country. The land would soon decide if it would choose to keep them.