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Brave Little State’s 6th Annual Brief History Of Vermont Road Names

An elderly woman points to a spot on a map while seated in her home.
Joia Putnoi
Vermont Public
Meda Lowell points to Gerts Knob Road — where she lived from the late 1960s to early '80s — on her Vermont atlas. She returned to her former home for the first time in nearly 42 years with reporter Joia Putnoi.

Exploring the origins of Vermont’s most peculiar road names — as chosen by listeners. In this installment: Tigertown, Hateful Hill and Gerts Knob.

We continue our favorite Brave Little State summer tradition. We’re now in our sixth consecutive year investigating the origins of unusual Vermont road names submitted and voted on by you, our listeners. Our state turns out to be a hotbed for road name creativity!

You can find all our other brief histories of Vermont road names, here:

Note: Our show is made for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio provided here. But we also provide a written version of the episode below.


Tigertown Road

By Josh Crane

Josh Crane: To get to the bottom of the first road name story in this year’s edition, I head to the westernmost edge of Norwich, in the Upper Valley.

Josh Crane: Hi, Claudia?

Claudia Marieb: Come on in!

Josh Crane: I'm so sorry I'm late. 

Claudia Marieb: That's alright. If you get lost here, there’s no cell service.

Josh Crane: Claudia Marieb’s house is pretty remote, even by local standards. I got lost on my way to visit her — and I live on the other side of the same town.

Claudia Marieb: That’s how you do it.Hi! Did you get lost?” (laughter) That’s like how we welcome people in our neck of the woods.

Josh Crane: This neck of the woods goes by different names: West Norwich, also known as “Beaver Meadow.” But if you go by the name of Claudia’s road, this area is “Tigertown.”

Claudia Marieb: You're talking to me because I wrote you and said, “What is the story behind this road I live on, Tigertown Road?” And I've been asking neighbors for four years and no one knows — Why? Why in Vermont would you have a road named Tigertown Road?

A smiling woman stands with her arms crossed on a dirt road, bordered by trees.
Josh Crane
Vermont Public
Claudia Marieb lives on Tigertown Road, in West Norwich. She — and her neighbors — wanted to know: How did Tigertown gets its wild name?

Josh Crane: As far as Vermont roads go, Tigertown is mostly unremarkable.

It’s made of dirt. And in true Vermont fashion, it’s about one — and a half — lanes wide.

Claudia Marieb: And when you meet someone on it, sometimes there's this little negotiation where one of us pulls over and the other one goes and somehow there's a silent telepathic communication about how that's going to work. And it works well. 

Josh Crane: Everything about the road screams Vermont. Except for the name. And Claudia isn’t the only one waiting on Brave Little State to find an answer.

Claudia Marieb: Yeah. I have to say, I told some neighbors about it. And they all — in an email, we have this little email list — so many people wrote back saying, “I've always thought that would be great for the road name show. Thank you for posting it.” Like, there's going to be a big fan following from our little rural part of Vermont for this name.

Josh Crane: That makes me so happy to hear that. (laughter)

Claudia Marieb: Why on Earth is it called Tigertown Road? We have no idea. We hope you can help us.

Josh Crane: No pressure. At least she gives me a good place to start

Claudia Marieb: But also, we shouldn't forget, like, there's the West Hartford end. So, was it named Tigertown for this end of the road or that end of the road?

An ornately wallpapered room contains filing cabinets full of binders and historical documents.
Josh Crane
Vermont Public
The Hartford Historical Society sits near one end of Tigertown Road.

Josh Crane: Tigertown Road runs from West Norwich all the way across the town line to West Hartford. It ends in a junction with Route 14, along the White River. And pretty close to that junction is the Hartford Historical Society, my next stop.

Josh Crane: Hi! I'm Josh, I'm from Vermont Public. 

Historical society volunteer: Well, welcome to our little historical society.

Josh Crane: I link up with Pat Stark who shows me around.

Pat Stark: I'm the volunteer curator, acting director. I don't know. Whatever.

Josh Crane: Pat brings me to a small room on the second floor.

Josh Crane: Where are we right now?

Pat Stark: We are in our research work room.

Josh Crane: OK. I see a lot of file cabinets.

Pat Stark: Have a seat. I’m going to see if there’s anything in here.

Josh Crane: Unfortunately, she learns that her filing system has been updated recently.

Pat Stark: Well, I filed for the first few years and I have a volunteer filing now. And, you know, everybody that files thinks differently.

Josh Crane: Yes.

Pat Stark: So, we don’t know.

Josh Crane: But Pat does pass along an important piece of information: that Tigertown Road might not be the only Tigertown Road.

A woman reads from a piece of paper next to a filing cabinet in a densely packed room.
Josh Crane
Vermont Public
The Hartford Historical Society's Pat Stark looped us in on an important clue in our fact-finding mission — that Norwich's Tigertown isn't the only place that that name.

Pat Stark: Yes. My recollection of whatever was produced about it before was that there are Tigertown roads in other places.

Josh Crane: In Vermont, or just in general? 

Pat Stark: I don't remember.

Josh Crane: OK.

Pat Stark: I don't keep a lot in my head.

Josh Crane: That’s why you have all these files! (laughter)

Josh Crane: I can confirm that Pat’s recollection is correct.

I didn’t find evidence of other Tigertowns in Vermont. But I did stumble upon a neighborhood in Holyoke, Massachusetts that was originally known as Tigertown. That’s according to an article in the local paper in 1913, which describes Tigertown as, quote, “a portion of South Holyoke that had a reputation of exceeding the city limits for rough and tumble fights and rowdyiesm.”

A black-and-white snippet from an old newspaper describes how a portion of South Holyoke had a reputation for being rough-and-tumble and was nicknamed "Tigertown."
A 1913 excerpt from the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram shows how a rowdy reputation earned one Massachusetts community its Tigertown title.

And there’s also a Tigertown in Texas. Or, there was. It’s a ghost town now. But according to the county history, it was named Tigertown — or, maybe, Tiger Point — by an Old West gambler because it was “full of men who led fast and furious lives.” That gambler was later killed in a shootout with Wild Bill Hicock, so he may have been onto something.

So, in both Massachusetts and Texas history, “Tigertown” was a name awarded for rowdiness, recklessness and violence. Maybe the same was true in Vermont.

To try and confirm, I call up a guy who Pat from the historical society told me about. She said he’d been asking around about Tigertown Road a few years ago. Maybe he found something.

Art Peale: Hello?

Josh Crane: Hi, I’m looking for Art Peale.

Art Peale: Art Peale? Well that’s me.

Josh Crane: Art Peale is a former board member of the Hartford Historical Society. Art has lived next to Tigertown Road for more than 30 years.

Josh Crane: I'm working on a piece trying to figure out the origin of the name of Tigertown Road.

Art Peale: Oh, Tigertown Road. That's a good question. It seems as though once upon a time, ’cross the river, there was either a skating rink or a dancehall. It was quite a wild place. And that's why they called it Tigertown.

Josh Crane: But Art doesn’t have any documentation to support this. And he’s a little short on specifics.

Art Peale: I do very vaguely back in my mind remember reading something like that one time.

The tiger is kind of a wild animal. And so that would be an appropriate name for something that was a little wild, rowdy area.

Josh Crane: I found the confirmation I was looking for on the Norwich side of Tigertown Road.

Sarah Rooker: This question comes up all the time. People ask about Tigertown, and they wonder if it's because there were tigers. 

Josh Crane: Sarah Rooker is the director of the Norwich Historical Society.

Sarah Rooker: In fact, someone just asked me today when they heard you were coming. They said, “Why — were there tigers around here?” I mean, “Were there tigers, or did people have tigers, or was there some parade with tigers, or did something like that happen?” And the answer is, “No.”

But really, I’ve always known, forever, that “Tigertown” is associated with kind of a rowdy area.

Josh Crane: OK. Now this feels promising.

A woman's hand points to a road on a colorful hanging map.
Josh Crane
Vermont Public
Sarah Rooker, director of the Norwich Historical Society, points to where Tigertown Road would be on an 1869 map.

Josh Crane: Well so, the association with kind of a rowdier area of town, would that fit where Tigertown Road is?

Sarah Rooker: It does fit.

Josh Crane: Remember how the part of town where our question-asker Claudia lives has a couple of different names? There’s West Norwich, also known as “Beaver Meadow.” Here’s the story of its other, mostly forgotten nickname: “Tigertown.”

For a while, up until the mid-1800s, this area thrived as a farming community. But Sarah says that didn’t last. In the post-Civil War period, people abandoned their farms and started to move West.

Sarah Rooker: I once read a letter that someone who had moved out West wrote back and said, “You really need to come because this is an area where God took a rolling pin to the hills.”

Josh Crane: Beaver Meadow started losing its population. And the local economy tanked.

Sarah Rooker: And it became quite an impoverished backwater area.

Josh Crane: And also became quite rowdy. There’s an account of a drunken brawl in the street, and lots of bootlegging. An 1874 article in the Burlington Free Press describes an “illicit distiller” who is, “after all… a resident of ‘Tigertown’, in Norwich.”

An old newspaper describes a Norwich resident who was arrested for illegally distilling booze.
Sarah Rooker
A 1874 article in the Burlington Free Press describes an “illicit distiller” who made Tigertown his home.

Sarah Rooker: There were stills and applejack and homebrew flowing from Beaver Meadow, to Hanover and probably to Dartmouth College.

Josh Crane: Sarah hasn’t seen a reference for a wild “dancehall” or “skating rink” in old newspaper clippings. She does share an article from the Randolph newspaper in 1905. It refers to Beaver Meadow as the “fighting part of Norwich.”

Sarah Rooker: And that was the reputation. Yeah.

Josh Crane: So, here’s what we’ve learned: as early as 1874, this part of Norwich was known as “Tigertown,” a nickname that stems from its rowdiness. We also checked our work with the closest thing we have to a road names bible — Esther Swift’s Vermont Place Names. And she writes that Tigertown is probably a reference to some “unruly individuals” who used to live there.

What’s still unclear is when, exactly, the nickname was adopted as a road name. Though we do see the name “Tigertown Brook” pop up on maps as early as 1906. And that brook runs parallel to Tigertown Road.

That part of town is no longer rowdy. If anything, it’s downright peaceful and quiet. The name “Beaver Meadow” definitely fits the vibe these days a lot better than “Tigertown.”

And Sarah says this evolution started back in 1915, with the opening of a new community institution — The Beaver Meadow Union Chapel. It was created with a specific goal in mind: to reform the area; to spread God and quote-unquote “morality.” And in some ways, it worked. All of a sudden, there was something to do other than bootlegging, and drinking and fighting.


Sarah Rooker: They started to hold Sunday school, they started to hold church suppers. They started to have reading nights.

Josh Crane: That chapel is just a couple miles from Claudia’s house. And it’s still at the center of the Beaver Meadow community today.

It’s a community as close-knit as it is isolated from the rest of town.

Sarah Rooker: It is kind of its own thing. And I think there are people in Norwich who've never been out there because it's quite a drive. 

Out there, it’s steeper valleys. The roads are narrower, it's actually a little darker as you drive through there. 

It really feels like a different, a different world.

Josh Crane: And the name Tigertown Road is one of the only remaining clues of the way that world used to be.

Hateful Hill Road

By Andrea Laurion and Mae Nagusky

Andrea Laurion: Sarah Aubry lives in Wells, in Rutland County. She’s lived there for nearly a decade. But one day last fall, she drove a particular route she’s never driven before.

Sarah Aubry: Driving east from Wells, we went through East Wallingford.

Andrea Laurion: And while passing through East Wallingford, she saw something that caught her eye.

Sarah Aubry: And just kind of noticed, at the side of the road, this little green sign that said “Hateful Hill Road.” And I thought, “Hmm … what’s going on up on Hateful Hill Road?”

Andrea Laurion: Hateful Hill Road. It sounds pretty intense.

Sarah hasn’t returned there since her drive last fall. I mean, I get it — the road doesn’t really sound welcoming.

But the name has stuck with her. And she’s thought a lot about where it might have come from.

Sarah Aubry: I have a couple of theories. Maybe something awful happened up there one time. Maybe there was some sort of mishap with a farm. I don’t know.

Andrea Laurion: Sarah was partially correct. We did end up on a farm at one point — but thankfully, no mishaps on this adventure.

Hateful Hill Road in Wallingford, Vt.
Mae Nagusky
Vermont Public
Hateful Hill Road in Wallingford, Vt.

Early one Saturday morning, I set out with Brave Little State intern — and fellow road trip enthusiast — Mae Nagusky. We drove to East Wallingford to try to find an answer — or, at least, some sort of explanation — for Sarah’s question, and maybe have some fun along the way.

Andrea Laurion: And I brought extra batteries.

Mae Nagusky:  Awesome, awesome, me too.

Andrea Laurion: OK, good.

Mae Nagusky:  I brought four additional.

Andrea Laurion: Amazing. And you brought breakfast.

Mae Nagusky: Breakfast on the road.

Andrea Laurion: East Wallingford is located in the Otter Creek Valley, in south central Vermont. On our way there, we offered up our own theories about Hateful Hill Road.

Andrea Laurion: I wonder if there was like, a notorious family that used to live there back in the day.

Mae Nagusky: I think maybe it’s such a lovely road that people were just joking around, maybe, when they named it Hateful Hill Road. And they were like, “This would be funny…”

Andrea Laurion: I love that.

Mae Nagusky: “...if we just named this road what it is not.”

Andrea Laurion: Our first stop is not the road in question. Instead, we visit the Seward family at their farm on nearby Sugar Hill Road.

The Sewards have been running a dairy farm in East Wallingford for decades. We heard that if anyone would know the answer, it would be them.

Dave and Art Seward are cousins and they invited us down to visit.

Andrea Laurion: What’s your dog’s name?

Dave Seward: His name’s Bill.

Andrea Laurion: Bill. Hi Bill!

A dog stands in an open barn door, with a hill behind him. In the foreground, men lounge in chairs.
Andrea Laurion
Vermont Public
Bill, the Sewards' dog, stands in the door of the barn, with Hateful Hill looming in the background.

Andrea Laurion: Every morning, there’s coffee in the Sewards’ barn after the milking is done, around 8:30 a.m. Inside the big barn door, a handful of old office chairs wait for family and friends to sit down and chat.

We could see Hateful Hill from the barn door, looming in the distance.

Mae Nagusky: You guys been coming to this morning coffee all your life, probably.

Dave Seward: Yeah, pretty much. (laughter)

Mae Nagusky: What do you guys typically talk about? In this morning coffee?

Dave Seward: Haven’t you realized how much better off the state is, now? We fix it every day.

Mike Morabito: Oh, every day. 

Marty Rabtoy: Sometimes we get into government, fix that too.

Andrea Laurion: Pretty soon, Mae gets down to business and grills everyone on what they know about Hateful Hill Road. And by the way, that’s the milking machine whooshing in the background.

Marty Rabtoy: She asked me a question I can’t answer: How the hell did Hateful Hill get the Hateful Hill name?

Dave Seward: Well, that’s what we’ve been talking about. I don’t know.

Andrea Laurion: The Sewards don’t know for sure where the name Hateful Hill comes from. But Dave Seward has an idea. Two ideas, actually. And both connect to the slope of the road, which is very steep.

Dave Seward: It was a stage road. And the stagecoach hated it because it’s such a steep hill that the horses would get tired trying to drive up it.

Andrea Laurion: Before there were cars, there were stagecoaches, pulled by horses. And what would make it really hard for a horse to pull a stagecoach? Yep, a steep hill.

We look into this theory first. And we learn that Hateful Hill Road was on a slightly different part of the hill, back in the era of stagecoaches, than where it is now.

A reporter with a microphone looks on as a man points into the distance. They're standing in a field.
Andrea Laurion
Vermont Public
Art Seward shows Mae Nagusky the view of the surrounding area — including Hateful Hill — from a nearby peak.

Dave and Art take us up there and show us the old route.

Art Seward: Right out through there is part of your stage road.

Andrea Laurion: Oh, wow.

Art Seward: Yeah. We’ll go on the other end of that, that kind of goes into a little swampy part.

Andrea Laurion: Like, where this clearing is, right here?

Art Seward: Yeah, right through there.

Andrea Laurion: That was a stage road?

Dave Seward: Yep. That’s part of the stage road we’re talking about. 

Andrea Laurion: It looks pretty steep. But was it enough to warrant the name Hateful Hill?

One thing is for certain: We definitely did not hate the view.

Mae Nagusky: So, could you explain to me where we are, for a radio listener?

Dave Seward: On top of the world. (laughter)

Andrea Laurion: This brings us to Dave’s other theory. We’ll call it the “shadow theory.” And it centers around the impact the hill has had on the surrounding area.

Here’s Dave again, in his family’s barn.

Dave Seward: OK, so that’s Hateful Hill right there. So, on the other side of it is Cuttingsville, which is part of Shrewsbury. And so they call it Hateful Hill because that will not let the sun shine down into Cuttingsville.

Andrea Laurion: Did you catch that? Dave is saying that Hateful Hill is positioned in such a way that at certain times of day, it casts a shadow on the nearby village of Cuttingsville, which is in Shrewsbury.

Dave Seward: ‘Cause if you drive through Cuttingsville, the houses that are backed up to this mountain never see the sun, even in the summertime…

Mike Morabito: Directly. 

Dave Seward: …it never shines on their house.

Mae Nagusky: Never? 

A hill pops out from behind a cornfield.
Andrea Laurion
Vermont Public
The Sewards had two theories about how Hateful Hill Road had earned its unusual name — both centering around the slope of the hill (pictured here).

Marty Rabtoy: I never heard of that one.

Dave Seward: Nope.

Mae Nagusky: Because of Hateful Hill?

Dave Seward: Because of Hateful Hill.

Andrea Laurion: I have to say, if a big old hill cast a huge shadow on my house every day, I’d probably hate it, too.

So we take Dave’s suggestion and head over to the other side of Hateful Hill.

The Shrewsbury Historical Society doesn’t have any useful records to back up the shadow theory. But luckily for us, a handful of locals are right next door for a big headstone cleaning and restoration at a local cemetery.

And we meet Elliott and Alyssa Stewart, a young married couple from Cuttingsville.

Elliott Stewart: Yeah, I don’t know offhand.

Alyssa Stewart: I always — My grandmother grew up in East Wallingford, and she always was like, “It’s Hateful Hill ’cause it casts a shadow on Cuttingsville, and that’s why no one wants to live over here.” (laughter)

Mae Nagusky: Your grandmother said that?

Alyssa Stewart: Yeah. And that’s what we always thought it was. That was the legend, I guess. And it is true — it is shadowy over here compared to Wallingford.

Andrea Laurion: And Alyssa and Elliot haven’t just heard about this legend: They live in the shadow themselves.

Elliott Stewart: Well, the sun does go down early.

Alyssa Stewart: (laughter) It does go down early. It is the dark side of the moon, a little bit. Not in a bad way.

Andrea Laurion: We bat this theory around with some of the other headstone cleaners, but don’t have much luck.

Mae Nagusky: Do you guys know of anyone who might know the answer?

Volunteer 1: Probably some of these headstones, if, uh.

Volunteer 2: Go talk to Gramps, he’s down on the end. He would have known.


Andrea Laurion: Did we go home after this? Absolutely not. Did we find a definitive explanation as to the origins of the name Hateful Hill Road? Also, not really — but it was not for lack of trying.

Mae and I floated our theories to shoppers at the Family Dollar and people waiting in line for ice cream. We spoke with locals at a coffee shop, a hair salon, an Italian restaurant. Also a gas station, a rotary club and a retirement home. We took a trip back to Hateful Hill Road to chat with the neighbors. And we ended our day at a community ham dinner at the Masonic lodge, where Dave Seward was hard at work in the kitchen.

And after all that, we ended the day with a lot more of the same information.

As far as we can tell, Hateful Hill is quote-unquote "hateful" due to how steep it is. But whether the “hate” originated with some tired horses, or with the shadow it casts over neighboring Cuttingsville, that is still an open question.

And in the meantime, something else came up in our reporting that adds another layer to the mystery.

The green road sign, the one that says Hateful Hill Road and caught the eye of our question-asker, Sarah Aubry.

Mae Nagusky: The sign’s gone.

Andrea Laurion: The sign is gone.

Mae Nagusky: Oh my gosh.

Andrea Laurion: The road sign was completely cut off its posts, like it’s been stolen.

Art Seward: Somebody wanted the Hateful Hill sign. 

Looks like there’s someone out there who’s just as interested in Hateful Hill Road as we are.

A woman stands between two sign posts, next to a road.
Mae Nagusky
Vermont Public
Reporter Andrea Laurion stands between signposts that once held up the Hateful Hill Road name.

Gerts Knob Road

By Joia Putnoi

Joia Putnoi: In the early 90’s, Judy Raineault was looking to move to Vermont. She and her family lived in Connecticut at the time.

Judy Raineault: And then I saw this listing that said, “Gerts Knob”, and I thought, “Oh, come on. That's hysterical.” We only looked at it because of the street name — the house was not big enough. But we came anyway, just because it was Gerts Knob.

Joia Putnoi: So, the house wasn’t perfect. But to Judy, the road name was enough of a sell.

She and her husband closed on the house in 1992, and they’ve lived on Gert’s Knob Road ever since.

It’s a winding dirt road located at the base of Metcalf Hill in Underhill. And for as long as Judy’s lived there, she’s always wondered about the meaning behind the road name.

Judy Raineault: Hi, my name is Judy Raineault, and I live in Underhill on Gerts Knob Road. And I was wondering where that name ever came from.

Joia Putnoi: What Judy didn’t know was that by submitting this question to Brave Little State, she was cracking open a vault of history that had been sitting dormant for nearly half a century.

A green road sign says "Gerts Knob Road," in front of a background of trees.
Joia Putnoi
Vermont Public
Gerts Knob Road in Underhill, Vt.

After we talk on the phone, Judy starts doing my job for me. She gets in touch with her neighbors that share the winding dirt road with the mysterious name — looking for any leads or traces of history to follow.

Then she finds something: a Gerts Knob expert who has quite a story to tell.

She points me in her direction — which turns out to be about 40 minutes away from Gerts Knob Road, in Burlington — and in less than a day, I’m opening the door to this expert’s living room.

Joia Putnoi: Hi!

Meda Lowell: Hi, Joan? 

Joia Putnoi: It’s “Joia.”

Meda Lowell: Oh, it’s Joy. (laughter)

Joia Putnoi: Yes. “Joia.” With an “a” at the end.

Meda Lowell: Oh, lovely.

Joia Putnoi: Yeah, nice to meet you.

Meda Lowell: Nice to meet you too. Come on in.

Joia Putnoi: Thanks for letting me come over. Do you want me to take my shoes off?

Meda Lowell: No, no. No.

Joia Putnoi: Well, my first question is, how did you get in touch with Judy? Like, how did that come about?

Meda Lowell: She called me!

Joia Putnoi: This is Meda Lowell. She's 80.

Joia Putnoi: I’m curious if Judy told you this, that she moved there…

Meda Lowell: …Because of the name! I know. It's sort of serendipitous, in a way.

Joia Putnoi: Meda grew up in Vermont and moved onto Gerts Knob in the late ’60s.

Today, there are a handful of properties on the road. But back then, hers was the only one.

It was a very old farmhouse, a barn and 41 acres of land. But she says it wasn’t technically named Gerts Knob Road back then. There was no road sign.

Meda Lowell: People in town would ask us, “Oh, whereabouts do you live?” And I would tell them where we live. And they say “Oh, you live on Gerts Knob.” And we had no idea — I mean, there was nothing on any piece of paper or anywhere that said that that's what it was.

But the hill itself was always called “Gert’ s Knob,” or “Gertie’s Knob.” Some people call it "Gertie’s Knob.”

Joia Putnoi: While living there, she attended Johnson College as an anthropology student. She says her schoolwork inspired her to ask the question: Who was Gert, and what was her connection to this road?

So she took matters into her own hands, in the form of her mother’s huge Reel-to-reel tape recorder, and made her way down nearby Route 15 on a mission to learn a story. In other words, Meda was essentially reporting her own road names episode, back in the ’70s.

She interviewed the residents along Route 15 — these were her closest neighbors at the time — asking about the name Gerts Knob and collecting the tidbits that people knew.

At the homes of the older residents, Meda learned that there had indeed been a Gert — a Gertrude Cullen, who spent her whole life in the very same farmhouse Meda lived in.

Meda Lowell: And they all remembered Gert. So, everyone seemed to love her.


Joia Putnoi: All the older neighbors had memories to share about Gert — that she would walk the four miles from her farmhouse into town, singing to herself as she made her way down Route 15. She would stop at the neighbors houses along her journey.

Meda Lowell: And they would tell me stories about when she would come, she played the piano, but she couldn't play the piano — she’d just bang away on it. People said, “Oh, she was simple, but she was sweet.”

Joia Putnoi: Meda also learned something tragic: that one day, on Gert’s journey back home from town, she was killed by a milk truck.

Meda says that her understanding of Gert was patched together by her neighbors' fragmented recollections, and she does not remember the specific dates of Gert’s life. But she learned enough to want to name her previously unnamed road after her.

Meda Lowell: Everything that I knew, I wrote up and I submitted it to the town. And they agreed, and stuff.

So, it’s nice to know Gert will be remembered, you know?

Joia Putnoi: She says the paper she submitted is lost to time. And, sadly, so are the Reel-to-reel recordings she made while interviewing her neighbors.

One thing that isn’t lost to time is, of course, the road name: Gerts Knob. And Meda says it wasn’t all that hard to make that name official.

Meda Lowell: Life was so simple. You went to the town clerk — I said, “Here, Zilda, this is what I found out about Gerts Knob. You can ask the selectmen if they would officially change the name.”

She said, “Oh, sure, no problem.” Next thing I knew, it was changed.

Joia Putnoi: So, that explains the “Gert.”

Joia Putnoi: But then the word “knob” — What is a knob?

Meda Lowell: Well, a knob is a knob. It's a hill that, you know — it’s a hill, and it sticks up. If you drive down Route 15, you’ll see that it sticks up like that. So it's a knob.

Joia Putnoi: So, Meda Lowell named the road Gerts Knob in 1976.

Meda Lowell: I just felt a kinship to Gert. I just felt like this woman needs to be remembered.

Joia Putnoi: Meda says that part of her sense of kinship to Gert was that life in the farmhouse on top of the Knob was hard. Meda remembers chopping wood with a kid on her back, and taking her car battery inside the house in the wintertime to keep it warm enough to start again.

Also, during Meda’s time there, her first husband passed away in an automobile accident. And in 1977, the farmhouse burned down. Meda grew to associate the road with deep pain, and she decided to move away in 1981.

Meda Lowell: I've never gone back.

Joia Putnoi: Really?

Meda Lowell: Well, you know, I dream about it a lot. And it changes in my dream all the time. But I'm afraid the barn will be dilapidated. I don't know. I'm afraid I'll lose it. Yeah.

Joia Putnoi: Well, I am going to be going back next week.

Meda Lowell: Fantastic.

Joia Putnoi: And I might try to reach out to the town clerk and see if they’d be available that day to do a records check.

Meda Lowell: Yeah, maybe we can both go to the town clerk even. Yeah.

Joia Putnoi: Let’s do it.

Meda Lowell: Oh, let’s do it! Yeah!

Joia Putnoi: On a quest to find any more details of Gert’s life, Meda and I visit the Underhill Town Clerk’s Office.

A standing elderly woman looks through a cabinet of index cards in a back room.
Joia Putnoi
Vermont Public
Meda Lowell searches for records on Gertrude Cullen at the Underhill Town Clerk's office.

Joia Putnoi: Well, we have the person who named the road right here.

Clerk’s office employee: OK. Alright.

Meda Lowell: I don’t know — how far back do your records go? I mean, I have…

Clerk’s office employee: Revolution. (laughter)

Meda Lowell: …I have our deed, when we bought the house in ’67… 

Joia Putnoi: We enter a tiny room, walls stacked with land records. We’re trying to work backwards from the property deed Meda was given when she bought the land back in the ’60s.

Meda Lowell: …if we wanted to back track.

Town clerk: So you’re going to go to this…

Joia Putnoi: No mention of Gert.

Town clerk: …three, 302 — it’s not going to matter, because it’s an administrative conveyance. 

Joia Putnoi: Then we shift gears and start puzzling through the filing cabinet, organized with index card death certificates.

We hit the C’s, for Cullen, Gert’s last name.

Then, something magical happens.

Meda Lowell: “Cullen” — “Gertrude!” Jackpot! Jackpot!

Joia Putnoi: Gertrude Cullen’s index card, complete with dates, relatives and place of burial.

We learn that Gert was born in Underhill in 1877, the daughter of two Irish immigrants. She died in June of 1936 from a crushed skull — most likely from the milk truck incident that Meda remembered.

Meda Lowell: Oh my God. Look at that.

Joia Putnoi: Oh my God. 

An index card lays out the details of Gertrude Cullen's life, written on the card in cursive.
Joia Putnoi
Vermont Public
Gert's index card at the Underhill clerk's office lays out the details of her life, from birth to death.

Meda Lowell: Take a picture of this.

Joia Putnoi: In this moment, I just stare at Meda as she holds Gert’s index card in her hands. She’s holding a lot more than an index card: It’s the realness of Gert, the weight of these stories. This is the closest thing to a tangible connection between these two women, who shared a home decades apart.

And now, finally, Meda is ready to return to Gerts Knob Road for the very first time since she left almost 42 years earlier.

There’s more than one house on Gerts Knob Road these days, including the house of question-asker Judy Raineault. Judy’s not around when we visit, but some other current Knob-dwellers are. They look at some old photos Meda brought from her life on the Knob.

Jane Coia: These are some — oh, these are some old — there’s the barn.

Meda Lowell: There’s the barn. That’s how clear it was to see up to the barn.

Steve Coia: Yeah.

Jane Coia: Oh my.

Meda Lowell: There's the picture in the door.

Steve Coia: Is that you? 

Meda Lowell: Yeah, that’s me.

Jane Coia: Look at her. 

Meda Lowell: In my younger days.

Jane Coia: Oh my gosh.

Steve Coia: Wow.

Jane Coia: There’s the barn.

On the left, an old discolored photo shows a young woman leaning against a barn door in shorts and a t-shirt. On the right, a photo shows an older woman leaning against the same door, which has now been overgrown with green plants.
Meda Lowell / Courtesy, Joia Putnoi
Vermont Public
Meda Lowell stands in her old barn door — once Gert's — 46 years apart.

The current owners of the home that was once Meda’s — and once Gert’s — are not there when we visit. But they kindly let us check out the property.

And from the moment Meda steps foot on her old land, the memories come back.

Meda Lowell: Our chickens were in this spot, here, in the shed. The donkey was up here. The pigs were in here. They cleared this out, this was full.

Joia Putnoi: We head up to the barn, which Meda says has been standing since Gert’s lifetime.

It's in rough shape. We walk through together, Meda absorbing the damage.

Meda Lowell: This saddens me, to see the barn. I always loved barns to begin with. I always loved this barn. And I always — if we had the money…

Joia Putnoi: A week later, Meda and I reconnect outside the Vermont Public studios. She brings me a bag of her homemade ginger scones.

Joia Putnoi: Thank you so much. So nice. And that sounds so delicious. Thank you.

Meda Lowell: They’re pretty good.

Joia Putnoi: We settle in to reflect on the journey.

Meda Lowell: It was closure. It was a chapter in my life. And when you get to be my age, that's all you have left, are these chapters. And that one needed to be closed. Um, because you hold onto things that hurt.

And so this was a good closure for me. It was, yeah. It’s been great. It's been a great journey.

An elderly woman stands in front of a green road sign, at the side of a road.
Joia Putnoi
Vermont Public
Meda Lowell returns to Gerts Knob road after more than four decades away.

Joia Putnoi: One of the important moments of closure was finding the index card at the town clerk’s office with Gert’s name on it.

Joia Putnoi: What did it feel like to hold that card in your hand and know Gert was real — this is all real?

Meda Lowell: Right? There's Gert, there she is. There's her father, there's her brother. There she is. Yeah.

And it was like, “Hi, Gert. Hello, Gert. You're being remembered again.”

Joia Putnoi: Well, I'm just so glad you named this road. And I'm so glad that I've gotten the opportunity to work on it, and meet you and learn your story. I mean, it's been amazing.

Meda Lowell: It’s been a fabulous journey. 

Josh Crane: By the way, Joia did reconnect with Judy Raineault, question-asker and current resident of Gerts Knob Road. She is thrilled that her road’s name has such a rich history.



Thanks to Claudia Marieb, Sarah Aubry, and Judy Raineault for a great batch of unusual Vermont road names.

This episode was reported, produced, edited and mixed by Josh Crane, Andrea Laurion, Mae Nagusky, Joia Putnoi and Sabine Poux. Angela Evancie is our executive producer. Ty Gibbons composed our theme music. Other music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Special thanks to Mikaela Lefrak, Judy Barwood, Donna Wheeler, Jane & Steve Coia, Sherri Morin and Caroline Fritz.

Our show gets lots of help behind the scenes, so a special shoutout to our colleague Tedra Meyer for helping to share our episodes on Vermont Public’s midday news show, Vermont Edition.

As always, our journalism is better when you’re a part of it:

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public.

Josh Crane is part of Vermont Public's Engagement Journalism team. He's the senior producer and managing editor for Brave Little State, a podcast based on questions about Vermont that have been asked and voted on by the audience, and runs Vermont Public's Sonic ID project.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.
Mae Nagusky was an Intern with Brave Little State from 2022 to 2023.
Joia Putnoi worked as a Newsroom Intern from 2022 - 2023.
Sabine Poux is a reporter/producer with Brave Little State. She comes to Vermont by way of Kenai, Alaska, where she was a reporter, news director, and on-air host for almost three years. Her reporting on commercial fishing and energy has been syndicated across Alaska and on NPR.
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