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November 4, 2014

A scenic drive up the Route 100 Byway showcases the best of Vermont, past and present

By Julia Purdy

The 138-mile Scenic Route 100 Byway zigzags up the center of the state, from Massachusetts almost to the Canadian border at Newport, stitching together the two halves of Vermont in a continuous panorama of villages, farmlands, mountains, and streams. The north-south mountain ridges frame a natural corridor for a continuous highway that is easily traced on a road map.  Originally ending in Pittsfield just north of Killington, in 2013 the Scenic Route 100 Byway pushed north through Stockbridge, Rochester, Hancock, and Granville, to join with the Mad River Byway at the Warren town line.

As a Vermont Byway, Scenic 100 provides an easy itinerary that has something for everyone: recreation, scenery and working landscapes, local history and culture, and unspoiled natural features. A major presence along this Byway is the majestic Green Mountain National Forest, with many access points for camping, hiking, fishing and snowshoeing. As with all Byways, these qualities have been specifically identified at the grass-roots level by each member community and enjoy the protection that Byway status affords.

“The Skiers’ Highway?”

Until the 1940s, the territory between Ludlow and Massachusetts was a crazy-quilt of separate numbered routes between towns. For visitors it was the proverbial you-can’t-get-there-from-here scenario. The only other direct routes into Vermont were along the Connecticut River and the New York line.

Beginning in 1935, existing roads were patched together to continue Route 100 south, and in 1944 the highway finally reached the Massachusetts border. This development was prompted by Vermont’s goal to attract the growing post-war tourist trade.

No one at the state recalls exactly how Route 100 became known as “The Skiers’ Highway,” but it is probably no coincidence that over the next 27 years, no fewer than 12 major ski areas opened for business along Route 100, from Bromley to Jay Peak.

1944 was also the year that produced the hauntingly lovely hit single “Moonlight in Vermont,” a picture-postcard in song that evokes perhaps Route 100 itself: “telegraph cables that sing down the highway and follow each bend in the road . . .” and “. . . ski trails on the mountainside. . . .” sang Frank Sinatra.

Plymouth- Bridgewater

From Ludlow, Scenic Route 100 winds past a necklace of small lakes, following an ancient travelway and roughly paralleling the Crown Point Military Road of 1759. Vermont Fish & Wildlife provides a boat ramp at Woodward Reservoir.  At Plymouth Union,  Route 100A climbs uphill to the right to reach the hamlet of Plymouth Notch, the birthplace and family home of Calvin Coolidge, where time seems to stand still. Route 100 continues to West Bridgewater, where it doubles up with US Route 4 for about 6 miles heading west before departing to the north in Killington.

Killington-Pittsfield

At this point Route 100 dates back to 1931, when it was put through the former William Gifford farm. Gifford Woods State Park boasts a patch of old-growth forest, a hike on the Appalachian Trail, camping, paddling, and fishing.

Pause for gas, grab a snack, once an important timber town and the former home of Stanley Tool, which used locally harvested timber to produce the wood handles for its products worldwide.

Stockbridge

At the edge of Stockbridge, Route 100 bears left at a ‘Y’ in the road. At the bridge, bear left onto a gravel road to reach the Peavine swimming hole on the White River, within the National Forest. The White River is usually ideal for paddling and tubing. Straight ahead on Route 100 and up the short hill at the blinking light brings you to peaceful 200-year-old Stockbridge Common, now a National Register District. Just before the hill is the Ted Green Ford dealership, a family business in continuous operation since 1913.

Rochester

In this stretch the Byway traces the Center Turnpike of 1800. Rochester is the one of the only “full-service” towns on this stretch of the Byway, with food, accomodations, gas and shopping. A broad, grassy park, gracious houses, 19th-century storefronts, and a white church on a hill mark this scenic village. Once a mining town and the terminus of the Peavine Rail Road, its economy is a healthy mix of businesses, professions, services, various trades, and the arts. There is even a jazz/pop/folk concert in the park every Sunday evening. About 1.7 miles north of the village is the Rochester Ranger District of the Green Mountain National Forest, with an attractive visitor center on the site of the old Perkins farm. Trail maps available.

Hancock

In the 1940s a ski-jump called The Pinnacle occupied a hillside near the Hancock town line, where amateurs and European professionals gathered to compete. In the village, the Hancock Hotel still serves travelers as it did in the days of the Center Turnpike, which veers west to cross the Green Mountains as on Route 125. A detour up VT-125 brings you to Texas Falls, a cataract on the Hancock Branch with a viewing bridge and hiking trails. The town was once a big producer of sheep and timber, and John Deere owned a blacksmith shop here before moving on to revolutionize farming in the midwest.

Granville

Another former timber town, Granville provides direct access into the National Forest via Forest Road 55.  The White River rises in the nearby hillsides. In the village, the family-operated Granville Manufacturing Company has been producing genuine wood clapboards, flooring and shingles since 1857, using locally harvested timber. Michael Egan’s glass studio next door is a cornucopia of blown glass, where you can watch the process. North of the village you enter Granville Gulf, a steep-sided slot through the hills with a tumbling brook and narrow, winding road.  Watch for Moss Glen Falls on the left, where Deer Hollow Brook drops 68 feet into a pool.  Granville Gulf is known moose habitat.

For more information and previews of the Vermont Byways can be found by visiting www.vermont-byways.us.

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