Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kancamagus Highway Celebrates 50 Years

One of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the entire Northeast marks a milestone this summer and a two-day celebration is planned for the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Kancamagus Highway.

"The story of The Kancamagus Highway is one that has not really been told over the years and, as we have discovered in our research, there was never a celebration of its opening in the summer of 1959," said Jayne O'Connor, president of White Mountains Attractions in North Woodstock, which, along with the U.S. Forest Service, is coordinating a celebration of the anniversary. "It is very appropriate that, for the half century mark of this remarkable road, we do take time and celebrate it."

In 1959, when The Kanc, as it is affectionately called, was officially opened. The beauty of the road earned The Kanc a designation in 1996 as a National Scenic Byway from the U.S. Department of Transportation. At the time, it was the only such designation of a road in the entire Northeast. For information on the Kancamagus Highway celebration, visit http://www.thekanc.com/.

Watchable wildlife, Swift River, Dugway Picnic Area, Albany Covered Bridge, Passaconaway Historic Site, Hancock, Pemi, C.L. Graham Wangan Ground, and Sugar Hill Over-looks, Sabbaday Falls, Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Lower Falls and Picnic Area, Greeley Ponds Scenic Area, Discovery Trail.

Saco Ranger Station and Russell-Colbath House, near Conway on the Kancamagus Highway, Lincoln Woods Ranger Station, White Mountains Visitor Center, North Woodstock.

The Kancamagus Highway stretches 34 1/2 miles from Conway in the east to Lincoln in the west. “The Kanc,” as it is known, traverses the White Mountain National Forest, crossing the flank of Mt. Kancamagus and climbing to nearly 3,000 feet in the process. Along its length are numerous hiking trails, federally designated Scenic Areas, and overlooks that provide travelers with truly breathtaking views.

The highway was named for Kancamagus, an early Indian Chief of the Penacook Confederacy, who tried to keep the peace between his people and the white settlers. Repeated harassment by the English eventually ended his efforts, and ultimately brought war and bloodshed to the region. In the early 1690’s, the tribes of the Confederacy scattered, and Kancamagus and his followers moved on, either to northern New Hampshire or—in some instances—to Canada.

It was Passaconaway, Kancamagus’ grandfather, who, in 1627, originally united more than 17 central New England Indian tribes into the Penacook Confederacy. Born as early as 1555 (or as late as 1580), it was Passaconaway who consolidated at least a dozen local tribes under the Pennacook leadership. Their names, spoken aloud even today, offer a haunting view of this region in an era before maps, boundaries, walls, fences and land ownership -- Wachusetts, Agawams, Wamesits, Pequawkets, Pawtuckets, Nashuas, Namaoskeags, Coosaukes, Winnepesaukes, Piscataquas, Winnecowetts, Amariscoggins, Newichewannocks, Sacos, Squamscotts, and Saugusaukes. Both action-hero and politician, Passaconnaway wove these depleted tribes together through marriages with his many children, through war, and through the sheer force of his argument, character and legendary skills. The story of one tribal marriage was popularized, with great exaggeration, by poet John Greenleaf Whittier in "The Bridal of Pennacook". A more accurate account by Thomas Morton, published in 1638, details the marriage of one of Passaconaway’s sons into a powerful tribe near Boston.

The rich flat land 12 miles north oof Conway is named for him. This community was first settled about 1790. The Russell-Colbath House is the only remaining 19th century homestead in the area, and serves as a US Forest Service Information Center. Visitors can learn about the history of the Passaconaway Valley, the families who lived in the house, domestic life in the 19th century, and view artifacts uncovered in recent archaeological excavations. The house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open to the public seasonally. Contact the Saco Ranger District for hours and more information.

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