The southern Connecticut towns of Wallingford and Durham are separated by the Totoket Mountains. My great-grandfather William E. Hall grew up on the Wallingford side, and my great-grandmother Lydia Jane Hart on the Durham side. At some point before they married in 1863, one of them must have crossed the Totokets by a now unused road and met the other.
My brother has the dried skin from an impressively large rattlesnake killed by an ancestor on one of these trips over the mountain. In a horse and buggy the journey was long and arduous. These days the drive from Whirlwind Hill to Durham Town Center takes about fifteen minutes.
The section of the mountain range that fascinates me is called “Three Notches.” In a letter written in 1944 to his future wife Betty, my uncle Austin tells her about his home and the things he loves:
“When I was a kid I used to be crazy to go out to Mother’s home [his mother was my great-aunt Ellen, my grandfather Ellsworth’s sister] and help them hay and milk. I would ride my bicycle out there every Saturday just to get in the way and watch. That must be a satisfying way of life, farming I mean…There is a range of hills beyond the farm which we love to climb for a picnic lunch…Our favorite spot on the range is called “Three Notches,” and on the highest notch, Mother’s dad [my great-grandfather William E. Hall] has his name chipped into the rock. That’s the highest point of land in Wallingford and you can see for miles around, Long Island Sound on one side and Hartford, the capitol on the other.” – Austin Hart Norton
After my cousin Margy shared this letter with me this spring, I became obsessed with the “Three Notches.” I love a mystery, and for me these mountains always seemed off-limits and mysterious. My mother warned me about unsavory people in that area, and signs around Paug Pond at the foot of the mountains still say “Danger – Quicksand.”
So when I came east this April, my brother and I began looking at maps and reading histories and going to the library to find out more about the routes taken across these mountains by George Washington in 1775 and 1789 and by our grandparents and great-grandparents in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We didn’t get a chance to climb to the top of the Notches on this trip, and we’ve only begun to discover the old routes and roads, but when we learn more I’ll give a full report. How I will ever be able to find that stone with my great-grandfather’s name chipped into it, I have no idea, but I’m determined to try.
On Monday: Cornelia and the Sea