Road names can speak volumes about a place — its topography, the people who settled there, where they hailed from and how they used the land. This week, a reader sent us an interesting "What the hill?" question about road names in Vermont and why some are more common than others.
"I'm dying to know why almost every town has an East Hill Road [but] very few have a West Hill Road (Putney, for example), and I've never seen a North or South Hill Road," wrote Jonathan Shapiro of Plainfield. "Something about the way towns were initially surveyed? Some pattern in river bottoms running north/south?"
To get an accurate rundown of Vermont road names, I contacted Tyler Hermanson, a GIS specialist with the Vermont Enhanced 911 Board in Montpelier. Hermanson maintains and updates the digital maps used by 911 dispatchers, emergency responders, road crews and others to find particular addresses.
Not surprisingly, I learned that the Green Mountain State does indeed have scads of roads with "Hill" in their names. In fact, "Hill" may be the word most commonly used to name the state's roadways. Of the 28,650 roads listed from Addison to Worcester — the actual number is smaller, as the list is categorized by city and town, and some roads cross municipal boundaries — 1,849 have names containing that keyword. And those "Hill" monikers run the gamut from quaint to colorful to downright perplexing.
Shapiro was way off in his assumption that "almost every town" has an East Hill Road, but his observation that that name is more common than West Hill Road is accurate, if not by a wide margin. Of Vermont's 251 towns, 38 have an East Hill Road, 34 a West Hill Road.
Twelve roads are named South Hill, seven named North Hill and 20 named simply Hill Road. Ludlow has the distinction of being the only Vermont town with East Hill, West Hill, North Hill and South Hill roads.
Other common hill road names include Sand Hill (18), Maple Hill (18), Church Hill (15), Oak Hill (13) and Spring Hill (13). Speaking of seasons, Vermont has Autumn, Spring and Summer Hill roads, but no Winter Hill Road. However, there's a Frost Hill Road in Mount Holly and a Snow Hill Road in Bloomfield.
Vermont's hill roads are heavily populated by critters: Bear, Buck, Coon, Cow, Crow, Deer, Doe, Fox, Fish, Hedgehog, Herring, Hounds, Lamb, Lion, Moose Dog, Ox, Rabbit, Skunk, Snake, Turtle, Wolf and Woodchuck. Plenty of birds flock the hills, too, including Jay, Owl, Owl's Head, Partridge, Pheasant, Quails, Raven, Robin, Swallow and Turkey. Bugs swarm the hills: Cricket, Black Fly, Locust and Monarch.
- Andrea Suozzo
Oodles of hill roads are named for trees: Apple, Beech, Birch, Cedar, Cherry, Chestnut, Elm, Hemlock, Hickory, Maple, Oak, Pine, Tamarack and Walnut. There's also an Arbor Hill, Branch Hill, Leaf Hill, Orchard Hill and simply Tree Hill Road. Ditto for plants: Basil, Briar, Clover, Fern, Ivy, Juniper, Laurel, Lupine, Sage, Thistle and Trillium.
Some of Vermont's hill roads practically gush with personality: Our hills are Bald, Bare, Bent, Breezy, Burnt, Busy, Coy, Darling, Folding, Hateful, High, Learned, Long, Misty, Old, Round, Ruff, Sandy, Single, Slack, Slippery, Steep, Stony, Sunny, Wild, Winding and Windy.
There's a Happy Hill Road in Lyndon and a Downer Hill Road in Weathersfield; a Dynamite Hill Road in Hinesburg and a Plain Hill Road in Springfield; a Gay Hill Road in Bethel and a Moody Hill Road in Vershire.
Vermonters' occupations are memorialized, too: Baker, Barber, Carpenter, Cook, Cooper, Hooker, Lackey, Mason, Painter, Potter, Shearer, Smith and Tinker.
Religious themes abound: Baptist, Bible, Bishop, Chapel, Christian, Cross, Deacon, Minister, Parish, Parsons, Priory, Seminary and Zion. Understandably, there are many more Church Hill roads (15) than Temple Hill roads (2), and not a single Mosque Hill Road. Yet. And there's only one Devil's Hill Road, in Peacham.
Oddly, there are more Sunset Hill Roads (5) than Sunrise Hill Roads (1), which may say something about Vermonters' sleep habits. There's an Overhill Road and Underhill Road — and even an Under the Hill Road (but no Over the Hill Road).
Edibles are fairly well represented in the hills: Bean, Berry, Biscuit, Butternut, Caper, Corn, Cream, Gingerbread, Honey, Jelly, Mutton, Pickle, Pineapple, Potato, Pudding, Rice and Russet. Berries are particularly popular: Blackberry, Blueberry, Cranberry, Raspberry and Strawberry,. Ditto for the adult beverages of Cider, Mead, Scotch Hill and Whiskey.
As for nationalities, we've got German, Irish, Dutch and French Hill roads, and even a few Austin, Houston and Texas Hill roads. There's a Barnum Hill Road (Shoreham) and a Bailey Hill Road (Cavendish), as well as a Jack Hill Road (Calais) and a Jills Hill Road (Wheelock).
Perhaps most interesting are the oddball hill names, including Blood Hill Road in Norwich, Frisbie Hill Road in Castleton, Troll Hill Road in Mount Tabor, Sickman Hill in Hinesburg, Swearing Hill Road in Sandgate and Butts Hill Road in Wells. Must be some juicy stories behind those.
Got the Hill Street blues because you didn't see a hill name you like? No worries. Hermanson points out that Vermont adds 50 to 200 new road names per year, which means it's probably only a matter of time before there's a Bernie Hill Road — and it'll likely veer sharply to the left.