Jay Peak – The Jewel in the Kingdom’s Crown

by Bob Soden
Previously published, with permission, in the Jay Peak annual journal – JAY 2004 – Jan. 2004

All rights reserved by author


Jay Peak may be home to many blue jays, but in fact the mountain is named in honor of John Jay, first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. In 1792, in recognition of his role in the framing the Treaty of Paris, the township of Jay, encompassing Jay Peak, was duly chartered. The treaty defined the borders of the United States, and, fittingly, Jay defines a portion of the U.S.-Canada border.


Jay Peak, part of the Green Mountains, forms a natural north-south divide between Franklin and Orleans Counties. Inscrutably, it has watched history pass its feet: the War of 1812, the Fenian raids, bootleggers, and international arms deals. If stone could speak…
Long before England collided with the U.S., Europe collided with North America. About 400 million years ago. Upshot was the Green Mountains. “Time and the river” and glaciers bore down. Four times – beginning 2 million years ago. Jay Peak refused to knuckle under.


About 9 thousand years ago Native Americans followed the retreating ice. About 500 years ago many were encamped along the fertile Missisquoi Valley. About 400 years ago Samuel de Champlain remarked on the “verts monts” east of the lake. The first Europeans began to settle here about 240 years ago. Working on farms and in forest-related industries. Sugar maple and golden birch grow in profusion on Jay’s slopes. The Blair Veneer Co. never closed its doors during the Great Depression.


In the early part of the last century people began to view Jay Peak differently. “Jay Peak Days” were organized in the 1920’s. Poems were written: “There’s a mountain up in old Vermont, A mountain I’d like to see… There’s not a mountain half as grand, As old Jay Peak”- circa 1920, W.S. Trumpass.
In the 1940’s the “Jay Peak Outing Club” in North Troy tried “Winter Carnivals,” with ski jumping, downhill races, and “hockey-football”. Jim Taylor kicked-off a new round of “Jay Peak Days,” organizing picnics at the foot of the mountain. Then along came WWII.


Wallace and Ernest Gilpin were born “on the banks of the Missisquoi River, in the shadow of majestic Jay Peak.” Wallace became editor and publisher of the Newport Daily Express. Ernest went over the mountain and published the Richford Journal-Gazette. In the 30’s and 40’s recurrent themes in their editorials were the promotion of a “missing-link” to connect the counties, and the development of Jay Peak. Wallace and Ernest led the people to the mountain and glimpsed the promised land, but would not enter it.


The Northeastern Vermont Development Association campaigned for a Jay-Richford road and a Jay Peak State Park. The year was 1950. Then along came Korea.
Senators Fred Crawford and Frank Branon saw the benefits and led delegations to the legislature. In May of 1953, Vermont Governor Lee Emerson approved a Joint Resolution to study the development of Jay Peak. A special committee reported its findings in December of 1954. The recommendations were positive. The state agreed to purchase 2,000 acres.


Harold Haynes, North Troy high school agricultural teacher and Kiwanis booster, was determined the area wouldn’t miss the economic snow train bringing $10 million a year to the Vermont. Together with Roy Barnett, Sol Sokol, Paul St. Marie, and Wendell Chaffee, and others, they began “sparking it.” They led delegations to Montpelier. They encouraged young Future Farmers of America to renew the mid-summer “Jay Peak Days,” this time featuring barbequed broilers. Father George St. Onge, of Richford, was a key promoter. Jay Peak was incorporated in January 1955. They began capitalizing the corporation, selling $10 shares. This was Project Bootstrap.


Perry Merrill, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests and Parks, had been involved with the CCC and the development of Mt. Mansfield. The problem at Jay Peak was You Couldn’t Get There from Here. So began Project Right of Way. One of the critical properties Merrill had to acquire was that of Mr. Kennett, of Abenaki descent, living at the foot of Jay. With the road out of the way, a trail was cut, a ski lift ordered, and the corporation hired Don McNally, a former Vaudevillian, to manage the new ski area. To run the ski school they hired Walter Foeger a ski pro from Austria. He taught a method of parallel-from-the-start skiing that he called Natur Teknik. It was very successful and the young corporation prospered.