Long Winding Road

Here is one example of a vintage postcard from the mid 20th century. Notice the vivid imagery and hostile representation of Native Indians.

Gabriel Abbott Memorial School is a small school, with a student population of approximately 110 students, pre-k through eighth grade, located in rural Massachusetts. Since our school is located right off of Route 2, otherwise known as The Mohawk Trail, we decided to learn more about this world famous road. Join us on a tour of the landmarks and rich history of the Trail – a history that parallels the history of the United States itself. From its roots as a Native American footpath, to the building of the greatest engineering feat of the 19th century – the Hoosac Tunnel, to the development of the mass produced automobile and the entrepreneurial spirit that made the Mohawk Trail one of America’s premiere vacation destinations, the history of the Mohawk Trail is not only long; spanning over hundreds of years, but it winds its way through the timeline of the history of our great American experiment. Note the many different references to local, national, and global history

Using primary and secondary resources, artifacts, Internet sites and research gathered from local three local historians; Paul Marino, Stanley Brown, and Robert Campanile, along with visits to local sites along the Trail, as well as a day at the North Adams Museum of History and Science and the Western Gateway Heritage State Park, third and fourth graders, working in pairs, each focused on researching one important landmark along the Trail. While there are those who consider the Mohawk Trail to run from Buffalo, New York to Boston, Massachusetts, including all of Route 2 as the Trail, we chose to focus on the original trail, from North Adams, Massachusetts to Charlemont, including our hometown, Florida, MA.

On this advertisement for the Trail it is called the Mohawk Indian Trail Route, running from Boston to Buffalo.

While at the North Adams Museum of History and Science and the Western Gateway Heritage State Park we studied the huge collection of “vintage” postcards that were popular souviners at roadside stands and attractions along the Mohawk Trail from the 1920s to the 1960s. Gene and Justyn Carlson were kind enough to give us copies of a few dozen of their hundreds of post cards to use for this site. Using these post cards as reference, we traveled to each site, trying our best to recreate the images.

We also were lucky enough to spend time with Robert Campanile, author of the book, Post Card Histroy Series: Mohawk Trail, who showed us how to tell the story of the Mohawk Trail using vintage postcards. You will find images of these post cards, along with other ephemeral from the Trail, on every page of our site, allowing you to, as we did, compare the past to the present. We hope you find these post cards as enjoyable as we have.

You may have noticed a Google map at the top right hand corner of each page. This will allow you to navigate down the Mohawk Trail, outlined in blue. To see students’ work just click on the STUDENTS PAGES at the top of each page and a menu will appear. Then just click on one of the eleven sites to learn about each landmark. Click on any graphic to enlarge. To learn more about the resources we used and all the generous people who donated their time, expertise, and encouragement, or to learn our recommended resources for further information on the Mohawk Trail, just click on our resource page. There is also a Timeline page that includes Massachusetts’ history and important dates about the Mohawk Trail. Just remember to click on the back arrow to return to our site.

Most of these postcards were printed between 1910 and 1960. Many cost just cost one cent and unlike this example, were hand painted in Germany.

Here is an example of a 1952 souvenir coloring book about landmarks along the Mohawk Trail. We actually copied and used this book as part of our research. One thing hasn’t changes – kids still love a good coloring book!

The Mohawk Trading Post, 874 Mohawk Trail Shelburne, MA 01370 has been a regular stop for tourists.

Before we begin our journey up and down the long and winding road, lets start with some background information on the Mohawk Trail. Here’s what Laurene L. York, present owner of the Mohawk Trading Post located on the Trail in Shelburne Falls, MA, writes in her history of the Trail:

[The Mohawk Trail] 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 Trail

Their 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”.

Notable Travelers

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.

Boom Time

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

A beautiful hand colored image of the Hoosac Mountains.

Notice the twists and turns and why we refer to the Mohawk Trail as the long and winding road

Scenic Designation

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.” (Used with author’s permission.)

Typical scene on the Mohawk Trail in the 1930s. Check out the cars. And we think its tough traveling today!