Smugglers Notch

An old Richardson postcard of Smugglers Notch.

Today, thousands of cars easily travel through the gap known as Smugglers Notch, the scenic boulder-lined roadway that links the towns of Stowe and Jeffersonville. But someone always must be first.

A car had never traveled up and over the Notch from one town to the other, that is until one mid-August day in 1919 when the F.R. Linke family of Springfield, Mass., and the Ira Ward family of Waterbury took their Fords, one a “touring car” and the other a “runabout,” up into the Notch with the idea of doing just that.

Both vehicles made it up the Stowe side on the primitive trail that would later became Route 108. But the hardest part lay ahead. Once at the top of the Notch, these adventurers attempted to drive down the Jeffersonville side on a route that was little more than a trail cut out of the side of the steep mountainside. To get down the mountain, they had to cut trees, roll large rocks out of the way, and cross gushing brooks spilling off the side of the mountain. 

Once they started downhill, there was no turning back.

The boys at the Dead Horse Hill lumber camp (in the general vicinity of the upper parking lot of Smugglers’ Notch Resort) were amazed when two cars with two families suddenly appeared on the trail. By this time, the brakes had failed on both cars and three pieces of wood were lashed to each of the vehicles to help slow them down for the rest of the journey.

Eventually, both cars made it to Jeffersonville where repairs were made before the Knapps returned to Waterbury and the Linkes left to drive back to Springfield—a journey of no insignificance in 1919.

An account of the feat said, “It is certain that no machine could ever attempt to ascend the trail, inasmuch as it is almost impossible to go down the mountain, even with a Ford.”

Author’s note: The Dead Horse Hill lumber camp took its name from an earlier—some might say legendary—attempt to traverse the road on horse and buggy, this time from Jeffersonville to Stowe. At a particularly steep and dangerous spot, the horse spooked and the man lost his nerve. He panicked but still managed to tie his poor horse to the nearest tree before walking back down the mountain. Sadly, by the time rescuers returned to save the horse, it had died.

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