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History Of The Mohawk Trail
The Highway of History
The Mohawk Trail, Route 2, in western Massachusetts
One of the oldest designated tourist and scenic routes in the country, the Mohawk Trail traces its roots to the post glacial age. While the peoples of the northeast had neither the wheel nor the horse, they created many footpath trade and travel routes throughout New England. One of the most heavily traveled - and one of the most famous today - was the path we call the Mohawk Trail.
Evolution of a Highway
During historic times, the Mohawk Trail evolved with the mode of transportation, advancing from foot travel to the automobile. The early European settlers used the Indian Path, as it was then called, to travel between the English settlements of Boston and Deerfield, and the Dutch settlements in New York. The white settlers and traders brought with them the horse and the wheel, which required the widening and slight relocation of the original path.
Over the course of the centuries, the native population had reached agreements on territorial matters of hunting and fishing. The Pocumtuck of the Massachusetts portion of the Connecticut River Valley shared salmon fishing spots with the Mohawk of New York on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers. The most notable of those fishing sites were Turners Falls on the Connecticut, and Shelburne Falls (also known as Salmon Falls) on the Deerfield.
Trouble on the TrailTheir population considerably reduced by disease from early contact with Europeans explorers, the native people were not able to effectively protect their homelands. With English intervention from their settlements in the lower Connecticut River Valley, and the Dutch in the lower valley of the Hudson River in New York, political unrest was established between the agricultural Pocumtuck and the expansionist Mohawk. The Europeans wanted the Indian lands, and pitting one tribe against the other seemed a good way to accomplish their goal.
The English and Dutch arranged a "peace" conference between the two tribes. However, a Mohawk of high tribal standing was killed, and the Pocumtuck people were blamed. The furious Mohawk sent their warriors quickly over the Indian Trail and annihilated the Pocumtuck settlements. The English now had no resistance to their advancement up the Connecticut River. Moreover, the Dutch took the opportunity of the Mohawk's diverted attention to pursue their interests farther up the Hudson River. With place names, then as now, the recognition goes to the victor therefore "The Mohawk Trail".
During the Colonial period, many notable personages traveled "The Trail". Metacomet, called King Philip by the English, traveled The Trail about 1676 in an unsuccessful effort to recruit the Mohawk. King Philip's War also proved unsuccessful in stopping the European invasion Nearly 100 years later, Benedict Arnold, still an American patriot, traveled the Mohawk Trail to Fort Ticonderoga, New York. Starting in Boston, he recruited additional troops in Deerfield and headed to the English held fort. He captured their cannon and returned with the artillery to Boston via the Indian Path. For those who wish, part of the original footpath, the old Indian Trail, can be hiked today in the Mohawk Trail State Forest.
With the Indian Wars and the American Revolution over, the white settlements concentrated on more trade with each other. North Adams became a booming industrial town, and the old trade route between Boston and western Massachusetts became more vital. Widened and graded, the old trail, now become a road, was better able to support the increasingly heavy traffic.
In the early part of this century, people began to realize what a beautiful
section of land the Mohawk Trail bisected. Again the road was improved, and in October of 1914, the Mohawk Trail was designated a scenic tourist route by the Massachusetts legislature. Since then, the reputation of the Mohawk Trail as a scenic route had continued to grow over the years. The National Geographic Traveler selected the Mohawk Trail as one of 50 such scenic routes in the United States. The American Automobile Association also chose "The Trail" for scenic recognition, as has the Federal government in one of its national programs.
The Mohawk Trail has gained a world wide reputation for its scenic beauty, both natural and manmade. It carries on its ancient trade route heritage via the many unique shops (including the Mohawk Trading Post), inns and villages that line its path. The Mohawk Trail truly is a "highway of history."
©2012 Laurene L. York
Owner, Mohawk Trading Post
874 Mohawk Trail
Shelburne, MA 01370
Reprint by permission only. Thank You.