A Brief History of Jay Peak: Part 1 (or, Would it be the Big Time?)

by Bob Soden
Previously published, with permission, in the Kingdom Historical (now the Northland Journal) – Jan. 2003

All rights reserved by author

View of Jay Peak's eastern slopeLyndonville had Burke. And Ludlow had Okemo. Now Jeffersonville was in the running with Sterling. Kiwanis Club President Harold Haynes had done all he could to see that North Troy would ‘get a piece of the pie’. The year was 1955, and the ‘pie’ was $10 million dollars in Vermont ski tourism. In Newport and Richford, two intrepid newspapermen, the Gilpin brothers, had been editorializing for years about the need to develop Jay Peak as a seasonal complement to Lake Memphremagog. Tourism would grow, they predicted. So the stage was set. Would it be the big time this time?

It had been tried before, but without success. Back in 1940. When Pico Peak, Sunset Schuss, and Hedgehog Trail were luring skiers north to Vermont. The Jay Peak Outing Club in North Troy tried Winter Carnivals, with ski jumping, downhill races, and even something called ‘hockey-football’. Trying to repeat the success of The Mount Mansfield Outing Club and its effect on the economies of Stowe and Underhill. Hoping to have summer crowds fall under the area’s spell, Jim Taylor kicked-off Jay Peak Days, organizing picnics at the foot of the mountain (about where the photo above was taken). Then along came WWII.

The Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) began campaigning for the long sought-after ‘missing link’, the Jay-Richford road, to connect Franklin and Orleans counties and northwestern and northeastern Vermont; and the creation of a Jay Peak state park. The year was 1950. Then along came Korea.

By 1953, when concerns on foreign shores had lessened somewhat, and folks began to look forward again, Harold Haynes decided to make sure Jay Peak wouldn’t miss the boat. There might not be another. He began boosting the idea. ‘Sparking it,’ as he tells it. Along with his neighbor Roy Barnett, and entrepreneurs Saul Sokol and Paul St. Marie of Newport, and Wendell Chaffee of Montgomery Center and others. The Kiwanis Club credo in practice.

Orleans County Senator Fred Crawford and Franklin County Senator Frank Branon also saw the benefits that would accrue to all, and led delegations to the legislature to achieve it.

In May of 1953, Vermont Governor Lee Emerson approved a Joint Resolution, introduced by Senator Crawford, to study the development of Jay Peak. A special committee, appointed at the time, reported its findings in December of 1954. The recommendations were positive. The state agreed to purchase 2,000 acres for a state park, which would form Jay’s cornerstone.

Jay Peak was incorporated in January 1955. Much work still lay ahead. Perry Merrill, Vermont State Forester, would lead the effort to acquire the right-of-way for an improved road to the ski area. Father George St. Onge of North Troy, would use his considerable promotional talents to help raise capital for the young corporation. The general sale of Jay Peak shares was opened to the public in November. Charles Lord, of Stowe, renowned for his expertise in ski hill design, was enlisted to survey Jay and recommend layouts for trails and lifts.

Jay Peak Opening CeremoniesThe necessary funds were raised, and the Pomalski Co. of France was contacted in the spring of 1956 to supply Jay’s first ski lift. Jay Peak president Harold Haynes and Perry Merrill directed the clearing of the ‘Open Slope’ and the ‘Poma’ line in July. Congenial Don McNally, of Derby, was named Jay’s first mountain manager. In December, Walter Foeger arrived to set up his ski school. Elinor Huckabone of North Troy provided accommodations with a bed and breakfast network amongst local homeowners. The official opening was held at the bottom of the ‘Open Slope’ on Sunday, January 6, 1957. Jay Peak was on its way. It would be the big time this time!