State Will Consider Changing Name Of Mt. Ascutney To Reflect Region's Abenaki History

Jul 11, 2018

A Windsor County resident wants to change the name of Mount Ascutney, and the state department that has the authority to do so has scheduled a special hearing to consider his request.

If you drive along Interstate 91 in Windsor County today, you can’t miss Ascutney. The mountain looms over the landscape, and Mount Ascutney has lent its name to businesses, nonprofit groups and even the village of Ascutney.

But Rob Hutchins, who lives in Hartland, said he’s learned that there is a long history behind the mountain. This learning process all started for him with a pile of rocks.

“What happened was, I had a pond built, and I found pillow rocks,” he said. “Pillow rocks are formed in the ocean where the lava flows up in.”

Hutchins said the volcanic pillow rocks he found near his house in Hartland about three years ago led him on a geological and anthropological journey.

He learned that Mount Ascutney was once a volcano. And that the lava flowed across the nearby landscape, forming the wide mountain we see today.

And he learned that the name “Ascutney” is a made-up name, a kind of anglicized version of the Abenaki name “Ascutegnik,” which means “White Water.”

Hutchins says the original inhabitants of what is now Windsor County called it "Kaskadenak," which means, “Wide Mountain.”

“You know I always thought [Ascutney] was an Abenaki name. I think everybody around here thought it was an Abenaki name,” he said. “When Abenaki Indians named things, it had meaning. This name has no meaning. I’m thinking, we got the wrong name here.”

Mount Ascutney looms over the landscape in Windsor County, standing alone and high over the rest of the land.
Credit Rob Hutchins / Courtesy

Paul Bunnell, chief of the Koasek Traditional Band of the Sovereign Abenaki Nation, worked with Hutchins to help track down the proper spelling and pronunciation of Kaskadenak.

Bunnell said there's support throughout the Abenaki nation to rename mountains and rivers and to make sure it's accurate when the changes do occur.

“It's bringing the history more correct," said Bunnell. "And we're trying to, when we do get involved like this, is just to make it correct where our history is not being erased. You know, it gets to a point when you start erasing things, then it's gone."

The State of Vermont Board of Libraries has the statutory authority to rename mountains, lakes and other geographic sites. The board has scheduled a special hearing for July 17 to consider the name change.

If the state chooses to pursue a new name, the change would also need approval from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

"It's bringing the history more correct. And we're trying to, when we do get involved like this, is just to make it correct where our history is not being erased. You know, it gets to a point when you start erasing things, then it's gone." — Chief Paul Bunnell, Koasek Traditional Band of the Sovereign Abenaki Nation

The Board of Vermont Libraries has reached out to the towns of Windsor, West Windsor and Weathersfield, where the mountain is located, for input.

Chatter on social media has been largely against the idea, and the Windsor Facebook page post seeking comment on the proposal received nearly 200 comments.

At a selectboard meeting Monday in West Windsor, about a dozen people showed up. Hutchins didn’t get much support from those in attendance.

"First of all I’m very respectful of the desire of the Abenakis to change the name, and the effort you have gone through to do that,” said Bruce Boedtker at the meeting. “My real concern is the name 'Ascutney' is really — as far as this is community is concerned — is the heart, the soul and vitality of this area. And while I do appreciate the fact that there’s some history behind this, I think it is a little bit too late.”

There was a lot of talk at the meeting of doing a better job of recognizing the mountain’s former name and of introducing curriculum into the nearby schools to teach kids more about the original inhabitants of the region.

But no one from West Windsor supported the name change, and the selectboard voted to write a letter to the state opposing the idea.

The town of Windsor also discussed the issue at their selectboard meeting this week and the town of Weathersfield will address it at a meeting next week, before the Department of Libraries hearing this month.