The Mountain Times

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Once Upon A Time in History: Killington’s summit inspires Vermont’s name

Long before skiing became a popular winter pastime, the Green Mountains formed a dominant and challenging presence on the Vermont landscape, dividing the state and presenting a major obstacle to commerce and communication. But as men carved roads through mountain passes, they made travel and trade possible.

They also logged the steep slopes, cleared paths to their neighboring peaks, and set "hotels" on spectacular summits. Meeting the mountains' challenge, early Vermonters transformed the barriers into economic and recreational resources. That included the Killington House set near the peak, (but that is another story.)

Today, we go back even earlier when "Mount Killington" figures into the naming of the state.

Vermont is said to have been given its name from atop Mount Pisgah, which was Mount Killington's earliest recorded name. (If you know your Bible, Mount Pisgah was the place from which Moses saw the "promised land" and An Anglican clergyman, the Reverend Samuel Peters, claimed to have traveled through Vermont in 1763 for the purpose of baptizing her inhabitants (population 300) when he decided to climb Mount Pisgah and in a moment of inspiration christened the state "Verd Mont."

There is some controversy over this story and whether Peters actually named the state. Some early historians credited Dr. Thomas Young of Philadelphia who suggested the name Vermont to the Windsor Convention of 1777. But they did not explain where he got the name "Vermont" from, nor did the nineteenth century historian Zadock Thompson who claimed that "Verdmont" was in use prior to 1763.

However, historian Charles T. Morrissey points out that a 1774 map was uncovered in the Killington Town Clerk's Office with reference to Mount Pisgah, which, along with other evidence, would tend to support Peters' contention.

According to Morrissey's account, the Reverend Peters wrote that in the late fall of 1763 he and his party ascended "a high mountain then named Mount Pisgah, because it provided to the company a clear sight of Lake Champlain to the west and the Connecticut River to the east, and overlooked all the trees and hills in the vast wilderness at the north and south."

After pouring a bottle of spirits on a rock, he dedicated the wilderness with "a new name worthy of the Athenians and ancient Spartans - which new name is Verd Mont, in token that her mountains and hills shall ever be green and shall never die."

As Peters told this story in 1807, he insisted that he had named the state Verd Mont for the greenness of her mountains and not Vermont, which translates from the French as Mountain of Maggots. Vermis is Latin or old French for worm and is the root of the word Vermin. "Maggot Mountin!" Peters would shout. "They've changed my suggestion to Maggot Mountain." It became Peters' lifelong compulsion to revise the name to Verdmont, but few listened.

Morrissey adds that "piqued at his critics" Peters curtly observed, "If the former spelling is to give way to the latter, it will prove that the state had rather be considered a mountain of worms than an ever green mountain!"

As further corroboration, Morrissey noted that on a clear day in autumn when all the leaves are down, Lake Champlain and a part of the Connecticut River can be seen from atop Killington Peak. That Peters may have indeed christened the state for its topography seems logical for the common sense and poetic justice that it brings to the naming of this land. And of course, all who love the mountains of Killington take a degree of pleasure in this legendary link to the past!

But Mount Killington, as Killington Peak was known in the 1800s, holds an even bolder claim to fame. While not as high as the Andes, the Rockies, the Himalayas, or the Alps, the Green Mountains are far older than all of these famous ranges.

Killington Peak boasts an exposed bedrock core that is older than all the mountains of the world except for the Adirondacks.
As a northern extension of the Appalachian Range, the Green Mountains are 500-million years old. Only the Adirondacks at 3-billion years are older (the earth is estimated to be 4.5 billion years). The Rockies at 75-million years are relative youngsters. At 900-million years, the exposed bedrock core of Killington Peak is truly historic.

Killington Peak boasts a summit elevation of 4,241-feet above sea level making it second only to Mount Mansfield in Vermont for height. (Mansfield is 4,395 feet above sea level, but has no bedrock core exposed.)

Killington Peak also offers the highest lift-served skiing and summer hiking in the state.

That makes it ideal for anyone - hiker or casual visitor who uses the K-1 Gondola - to ascend the 900-million-year-old rocky summit and sit upon a throne of some of the oldest rock on earth. And from this lofty perch, on a clear day, one can view five states and Canada and perhaps feel the inspiration that led the Reverend Peters to grant a name "worthy of the Athenians."

The K-1 Gondola provides easy access with daily operations from June 29 - September 3, then weekends September 8-30, then daily again October 1-8. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weather permitting. It should be noted that construction at the peak (foundation work for the new Killington Peak Lodge) could disrupt gondola operations at times.

From the top terminal of the K-1 there is a short trail (doable for all ages wearing sneakers or hiking shoes) that leads to the rocky summit. Don't miss this "hidden gem," seeing the view from the top, you'll know why the Reverend Peters was inspired to name the state Verdmont.  Don't forget your camera!

Tagged: Vermont, killington