WASHINGTON-ROCHAMBEAU REVOLUTIONARY ROUTE WRRR NEWSLETTER NO.36

November 21, 2000

Editor Hans DePold, Bolton Town Historian

Heritage Loss Due to Widening Historic Roads

At the recent National Park Service conference I attended in Baltimore, the losses attributed to highways in National Parks was discussed. Traffic lights, road widening, and turning lanes are all part of the gradual process of erosion of national heritage even in some national parks. It is often difficult to get a highway bypass and thus preserve historic routes. The W3R has, and will continue to have this problem in some areas. Therefore what I propose in this newsletter is a test of our ability to effect expressway decisions to protect heritage and the environment simultaneously. The national parks are publicly owned while the surrounding environment is subject to subdivision followed by urban sprawl. It makes sense to bypass heritage to off-load the through traffic from areas rich in heritage.

Stop Death by a Thousand Cuts

Rochambeau selected the W3R because, while difficult and narrow, it was a primary road in 1781. By 1913, when the first national highways were being designated, the route of Rochambeau was still in the top six of important national routes. So it was designated Route 6 in many areas. But fortunately many sections of the original road had already been bypassed before 1913. In some areas the route had moved 2 miles or more and spared encampments like W3R Camp 5 which we successfully purchased and preserved this year. But in other areas such as in Andover, CT, Route 6 widening continues to threaten the center of that historic village with death by a thousand cuts. We now have an opportunity to spare that Andover section of the W3R that has 26 historic homes, including the White tavern where Rochambeau and Chastellux stayed. That section of Route 6 also bisects French Camp #46. Chastellux, a major general under Rochambeau wrote about that particular stretch of road in 1780, “After descending a gentile slope for about two miles, I found myself in a rather narrow, but agreeable and well-cultivated valley: it is watered by a rivulet … which is adorned with the name of ‘Hope” River (now Hop River); you follow this valley to Bolton.” This is the section of the W3R that God willing, with our support, could now be bypassed and saved for future generations.

A Re-enactor Assesses the W3R Erosion

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection knows the history and environment of the W3R corridor and supports the Alternative 133B bypass of the Heritage and Hope River floodplains. I asked Richard Swartwout what he thought of the alternatives. Richard Swartwout is captain, 6th Connecticut, Company of Light Infantry (Circa 1777-81). The unit has approx. 30 members including men, woman and children. He is also President of the CCMA (Connecticut Colony Military Association.), an umbrella organization of approx. 200 members made up of Connecticut 18th Century re-enactment groups, representing British, French and American Military units and Civilian interpretations of the RevWar Period. Richard is also a member of the Conn. Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and the New York State Society of the Cincinnati and a past commander of American Legion Post 79, Madison Connecticut. I asked Richard some questions about the state proposal to bypass the village center of Andover CT. He replied, “You ask some rather difficult questions. Yes, in fact I do live right on Rt. 6, the Historic Washington Rochambeau Road. Of course it is also known as ‘Suicide 6’. It is hard to imagine this particular piece of the road being turned into a 4-lane commuter road, but of course, that is what is slowly happening. This road was, and still is, the only direct route from Hartford to points east, including Providence and Newport, R.I.”

“The biggest issue at the moment seems to be where to put all the traffic. The discussions have gone on for some 35 years. Of course a new route is needed, that is inevitable. I think it important to retain the character of the present road before it is lost to the lumbering beast of traffic. We can not change the fact that a road is needed, but we need to think that we can at least influence the character of the road. The designation of Rt. 6, as a Historic Trail, I think, can only help the character of this road and its environs.”

It should be pointed out that Richard is in good company. State Representative Pamela Sawyer who championed the Connecticut state legislation for the Rochambeau route also actively supports the bypass solution recommended by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, bypass Alternative133B.

Environmental Impact of the Bypass

While all the Alternatives under consideration do spare the historic resources of the W3R, only one also spares the Hope (Hop) River itself. The worst possible decision would be to do nothing. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection supports the best solution, A133B.

The Hope River, is the last river on the “Old Connecticut Path,” crossed by Thomas Hooker and the first settlers colonizing the Connecticut Valley. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection considers this historic river to be the primary environment resource in the corridor. Alternative 133B does not cross the Hope River at all. The existing Route 6 and all the other alternatives being considered cross this historic and environmentally important river two or more times. The Hope River name was misspelled during the 19th century and it is now called the Hop River.

Today, many environmentalists think that the federal pond building support given farmers half a century ago was destructive of the environment. Some EPA and Army Corps environmentalists claim that it is not possible to create man-made wetlands. In 1994, Coventry historian Arnold Carlson revealed the historical fact that the only significant wet area that Alternative 133B impacts, Bear Swamp, was created by the farm owner (Seymour) less than a century ago when he built ponds to water his cattle in the dry summer spells. That early farm pond building effort created the only major wet area in the path of the Alternative 133B bypass. Because it is man-made it would be disingenuous to claim the swamp is more important than the untouched class A Hope (Hop) River.

It had been suggested that local pre-European primeval CT forests were in decline and responsible for a decline in neo-tropical birds migrating each year from the tropical regions of South America. But the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection presented the true history of the Connecticut forests. All the pre-European forests were cut down before 1815 and 90% of the land was cleared then for farming and industrial purposes. Connecticut was then as bare as the British Isles. That situation continued until the Great Depression, when re-forestation began. By 1994 more than 60% of CT was reforested and the trend has continued. Connecticut has provided more and more potential nesting areas for neo-tropical birds while the forests of South America are being burned and cleared. The decline in South American birds is due in fact to the policies in the South American nesting forests. The CT DEP determined that there are no birds of any kind threatened by Alternative 133B. Amphibian and reptile species in the corridor are scarce relative to species such as deer. It was suggested that the relatively lower number of sensitive amphibian and reptile populations could be considered a precursor to these species being becoming endangered. The CT Department of Environmental Protection pointed out that in CT the reverse is true. Because CT has recently been reforested, all species are returning. Those species that move the fastest, such as deer, wild turkey, and coyote, already have returned in greater numbers. Brown bear and bobcats have recently been returning. The species of amphibians and reptiles take longer to migrate and therefore are still lower today in relative population. It was concluded by the DEP that there are no endangered or threatened species of any kind in the bypass Alternative 133b corridor. Connecticut heritage should not be penalized because of the CT success in restoring wildlife.

The greatest threat in the W3R corridor is urban sprawl. While the path of Alternative 133B has been reforested just the same as the rest of Connecticut, State Representative Pamela Sawyer has shown that it is now subdivided for development. Urban sprawl is the real danger to local wildlife, the environment, and to historical resources. While only 386 acres of the already subdivided forest areas would be affected by Alternative 133B, Representative Sawyer tonight said that she was told that 2000 acres will be purchased and preserved as mitigation for the bypass. Therefore the net environmental impact of Alternative 133B will be to protect 2000 acres of open space and stop the loss of heritage in this section of the W3R.

Alternative 133B Can Protect 2000 Acres

In addition to protecting the Franco-American W3R heritage of Andover CT, the bypass will free up federal funds to purchase and protect 2000 acres as open space. It is important that the 2000 acres be in the W3R corridor not in some inexpensive mountain area where there is no threat of urban sprawl. Several W3R French and American encampments could be purchased and preserved as open space when the bypass is built.