Old Farm Road, South Burlington; 1962 (L) and 2009 (R).


The Roads Less Traveled. . .or are they?

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Thursday January 12, 2012

Would you be surprised to know there are 95 miles of routes, roads, streets and lanes contained within our community? It definitely gives me a new appreciation for the folks we hold responsible for taking care of them.

In a desire to get to our destinations, we often see roads as a frustrating aspect of our daily routines. We’re impatient at the traffic lights and stop signs (the number of which I’m sure would boggle the mind). We’re upset when there isn’t a shorter, more direct route. We’re really upset, when we drive over a pothole or the roads aren’t plowed right away. And ironically, we’re upset when we “get stuck” behind a plow or farm tractor, or better yet, have to wait for the excavator or steamroller fixing the road on which we are driving. 
There were only a handful of roads here, when South Burlington became a town in 1865. The two main roads or routes at the time were Shelburne Road and Williston Road and they remain today. While Shelburne Road’s name leads you to its origin, Williston Road seems to have a more colorful past. It was originally known as the Winooski Turnpike, beginning at the University of Vermont and extending all the way to Montpelier, following the route of the Winooski River.

In the 1700s, before private turnpike companies took over maintenance of roads, able bodied men and boys, ages 16 to 60 years old, were required to provide 4 full days a year of labor to maintain the roads in their own town. When the turnpike companies took over, they charged tolls to those who traveled on them. At one such tollbooth on the Winooski Turnpike, at the hill just east of Shunpike Road, travelers paid fifty cents to pass with their 4-wheel pleasure carriage drawn by two horses. A herd of swine or sheep was charged at six cents a dozen. However, those on their way to church and farmers passing to their land were exempt from paying a toll. Thrifty citizens determined to “shun the pike,” built a road around the tollbooth, creating Shunpike Road (still there today). However, the turnpike company moved the tollbooth to the west of Shunpike Road and consequently, travelers began paying tolls once again, until collecting tolls ended around 1900.

As I learn more about South Burlington’s history, I continually find myself trying to figure out the particular location of something and discovering the roads or routes are often the only remaining evidence of the place I’m trying to find. That is to say, their names often tell “the story.” And regretfully, when the roads are relocated or removed, they take with them the history of the place to which they led us.

I recently had the pleasure of spending a morning with Joyce “Lavalette” Shepard, a delightful woman who resides at the Pines Senior Residences off Dorset Street, with my mother and many other seniors who have moved there to be closer to family. However, unlike my mother (and most South Burlington citizens) Joyce has lived here for over 80 years. As you can imagine, Joyce has seen her hometown evolve in ways she could never have imagined. While my husband, Steve, who grew up in Burlington, can say, “I remember when Williston Road was a dirt road,” Joyce can say, “Well, I remember when Kennedy Drive wasn’t there.” Joyce graciously, and with a sense of humor, sat with me, answering my questions about South Burlington.

Joyce grew up in a house on Lime Kiln Road. However, she lived near the intersection of Lime Kiln Road and Williston Road. “What?” you say, “Lime Kiln Road doesn’t connect with Williston Road. That’s Airport Road.”  Well, when Joyce was a young girl, Lime Kiln Road began at the intersection of Williston Road and ended at its current location near St. Michael’s College on Route 15. She lived in a house with her parents and 11 brothers and sisters, near the small Eldredge Cemetery. While the cemetery is still there, now surrounded by a car rental agency and an aviation company, the house she lived in is long gone, a result of the airport’s early days and expansion.

Joyce told me how White Street reached all the way to Poor Farm Road, which is located to the east of the National Guard today. She shared how Old Farm Road emptied onto Williston Road. This was where Joyce and the other children went sliding in the winter. Old Farm Road (known as Eldredge Street in the 1700 and 1800s) had continued from Williston Road south, what is now known as Hinesburg Road, long before Kennedy Drive was built).

Joyce attended the Eldredge School on Williston Road, where there is a car wash today. She recounted how the children would cross Williston Road with buckets, to bring water to the school because there was no electricity or running water.

Perhaps Joyce’s recollections are strengthened by her love of walking, as she takes daily walks up Dorset Street to the University Mall or the length of Barrett Street to St. John Vianney Church on Hinesburg Road. Joyce is a connection to South Burlington’s past and how fortunate I am to now know her. She had many other stories to tell and I plan to share them with readers in future articles. Thank you, Joyce. I can’t wait until we sit down again to reminisce. My house next time…

Sources: South Burlington, Vermont 1865-1965, South Burlington League of Women Voters (1965); Look Around South Burlington, Chittenden County Historical Society (1975); The Turnpikes of New England and Evolution of the Same, Frederic James Wood (1919); interviews – Justin Rabidoux, South Burlington Public Works and Joyce “Lavalette” Shepard, South Burlington resident.

SOURCE: Elizabeth Milizia, Contributor