THE COURSE OF THE TRAIL
Having shown that there was a trail we may next consider where it ran. In general we may say the Mohawk Trail runs from the mouth of the Hoosic River to North Adams, thence to the Deerfield and on to the Connecticut. Popularly there is no limit to its extension east and west of these points. From the mouth of the Hoosic to Eagle Bridge it seems to be generally accepted that the trail lay along the river bank, and probably on both sides of the river, in the place now occupied by the highway nearest the river bank.
From Eagle Bridge, to what we familiarly call the Dugway in Pownal its course was practically the same as the existing roads on the northerly bank. From this point the trail followed along the left bank in practically the exact location of the present highway past Williamstown station through Blackinton and North Adams.
Trails usually follow closely the first rise of land above the intervale flats, to escape swampy conditions. If we examine a relief map of this region we will see that this road follows very closely the first contour line of elevation all the way. At Blackinton the river originally ran where now stands the weave shed of the mill and the trail here came closely to the river bank.
At the well known place in Braytonville, midway between the two highway bridges, it crossed the river where the stream is still shallow. From here it ran very near the course of present West Main Street, through Main Street and straight on up East Main Street to the Five Roads. It then kept on directly up the hill and meets the present State Road near the old East Mountain school house.
Up to this point the course of the Indian path is known quite accurately. But where it crosses the watershed, its most interesting and last to be forsaken course, its location in many places, can be traced only by careful study of the topography of the mountain, and a consideration of Indian ways of travel.
The new Mohawk Trail does not follow the Indian path in any part of the ascent of the western slope. Here, the exact line of the path can never be shown, because its course was changed to meet conditions of weather and season, and took its most accommodating course to the summit. It is very probable that a different path was used in making the descent-the same instinct being indicated to this day, in the numerous cross paths and trails which scar this slope of the mountain in all directions. But all led to one spot on the crest-the place of lowest elevation. Here the new Mohawk Trail crosses, here for all time has every trail and road made its course, and here has passed every traveler from the Red man down through the long procession of scouts, soldiers, and adventurers. (See Note I). The first white man must have crossed this spot at an early date. Since it is certain that there was early communication between Deerfield and Albany.
From the crest the Indian path continued in the line of' the new Mohawk Trail until it met the head waters of Cold River whose course it then followed practically the entire distance to its confluence with the Deerfield, in the upper reaches following along the western, and in the lower reaches the northern bank, crossing the Deerfield at the mouth of Cold River or at the Fording Place which was the ford used by the earliest roads. All agree in the course of the Indian trail as far as the present bridge over Cold River, below Central Shaft. Many believe that the trail did not continue along the river, but ascended the shoulder of Whitcomb ridge, and continued on easterly, making its descent into Cold River valley in the line which was afterward followed by the first road. Judge John A. Aiken, who has given much study to this question, thinks that the first road was built on the Indian path. The exact truth cannot be learned, and it is largely a matter of opinion. Without wishing to appear arbitrary the writer for the reasons given is inclined to believe that the two were not identical. The first traveler up the Deerfield River when he had reached the point where the mountain barrier must be crossed, would naturally ascend the Cold River valley which is the only break in the mountain wall, and where the river valley extends in exactly the direction he sought, and in traveling in the reverse direction, the natural thing would seem to be to keep on down the river valley, having once started in that way. This seems more probable and in line with what we know of trails in general and the ways in which they were made. The deep rocky gorge of Cold River does not afford an easy passage for even a path, but after its course had been made in the easiest places, it is readily seen that it was the line of least grade.
The writer likes to think that in our time the instinct of the savage has been supported by our best civil engineers who laid the course of the new highway for a great part of its way down Cold River on what must have been in many places the exact position of the Indian path. Thus history repeats itself.
The first road could hardly follow the line of a foot path through such a difficult passage. It seems more than probable that the first white men made a path in the line of the first road,- the highlands being considered more safe for travel than the route through the deep gorge. We may be sure that there was an early path in the line of the first road, and perhaps an Indian path to be used when more suitable according to the season, but it seems to the writer that the main trail of the ancient Indians must have led down Cold River the entire distance.
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