Why Bayley-Hazen is One of Vermont’s Most Historic Dirt Roads
August 19, 2016
Vermont is home to more than 8,000 miles of unpaved roads. One of the most historic is the Bayley-Hazen Military Road, the Northeast Kingdom’s oldest thoroughfare. Traces of the road, most of it unpaved, extends diagonally 48 miles from Wells River to Montgomery Center.
Much of the original route can be followed using existing roads through Wells River, West Danville, Peacham, Greensboro, Craftsbury, Albany, Irasburg, and Montgomery. You can travel the Bayley-Hazen by car, although you’re better off exploring on bike or even by foot to spot the historical markers, grave sites, monuments, and other small details that recall the history of this 18th-century road.
The History of Bayley-Hazen Road
The history of the road begins in 1776 when Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery attempted to capture Canada. The American army needed reinforcements and supplies to continue the siege of Quebec. Jacob Bayley, head of the frontier militia and a resident of Newbury, wrote to General George Washington about the need to build a new road to shorten existing supply routes.
In 1778-79, General Moses Hazen continued the construction of the Bayley-Hazen Military Road as far as Hazen’s Notch on Route 58—now marked by a historic site plaque. The military road was abandoned in April 1779 when news broke that the British patrols might use it as an invasion route.
Steve Perkins, executive director of the Vermont Historical Society, says the other famous military road in Vermont was the Crown Point Road from Fort #4 to Crown Point and Ticonderoga. “That road is mostly gone now, so it’s not fun to drive like the Bayley-Hazen Road,” he says.
As a military achievement, the Bayley-Hazen road was considered a flop. Still, nearly 250 years after it was built, the road continues to generate interest among history buffs, locals, and visitors today. The 1959 booklet, “Bayley-Hazen Military Road — 1776 & 1779” described the historic road as making “no concessions to comfort or convenience, and very few even to the law of gravity. It goes as straight as possible, regardless of grade, like an old Roman road, but by no means regardless of that bogey of the early road builders in New England. In general it keeps on the ridge tops, dodging the wet spots as much as possible, crossing brooks and larger streams at right angles, almost never following them.”
Sounds like a road worth traveling.
A map of the route and other details can be found on CrossVermont.org.