The Molly Stark Byway follows Harriman Reservoir (also known as Lake Whitingham) for more than a mile. Harriman Reservoir is over 8 miles long and features 28 miles of winding coastline. The shores of this scenic gem remain undeveloped and unbroken; wildlife sightings include the American Bald Eagle and Common Loon. Harriman Reservoir is the largest body of water entirely within Vermont's borders.
Flooding of mill housing to create Lake Harriman, 1924. Collection of Wilmington Historical Society.
Before Harriman Reservoir flooded 2,200 acres of surrounding farms and woodland, the meandering, uninterrupted Deerfield River wound its sinuous way through this fertile valley. The river's power was harnessed in the late 19th century by the creation of Mountain Mills Pond as a holding area for logs floated down from Somerset Reservoir. By 1912, the Mountain Mills settlement included a railroad station with a store, post office, a 6-bed hospital, brick office building, a boarding house, row housing, and a water tower. The rich Deerfield River valley farmland supplied the settlement with food.
In 1923, Lake Harriman was created by the New England Power Company as part of their hydroelectric system. Fifteen hundred men labored for one year to provide hydroelectric power for the Northeast, including workers from surrounding towns, Nova Scotia, Maine, Prince Edward Island, as well as many Austrian Italians, Canadians, and some Native Americans from Maine. The Harriman Dam at the south end of the lake is named for Henry I. Harriman, engineer for the New England Power Company. Three cemeteries were relocated and 14 miles of highways were discontinued. When the waters began to fill the lake, some residents of Mountain Mills had to hastily gather their belongings as the waters rose to their doorways to engulf their former homes and village. The submerged foundations of the mill and other buildings can occasionally be seen when boating. The maximum depth of the reservoir is 185 feet.
In the early 1900s, the New England Power Company began intensive hydroelectric development of the Deerfield River along its entire length in Vermont and Massachusetts. A massive earthen dam was constructed in 1912-13 to create the Somerset Reservoir. Somerset Reservoir is the largest wild body of water in the state of Vermont. For many years it has been a special destination for canoeists, kayakers, and fishermen who seek a quiet, wild place to be on the water. Currently there is no waterskiing or jet skiing allowed on Somerset Reservoir, and a 10 mph speed limit is in place.
Occasionally glimpsed by travelers on the Molly Stark Byway is a black tube that looks like a giant caterpillar crawling through the woods along the Deerfield River. This wood-staved pipeline conducts water from the Somerset Reservoir to the Searsburg Power Station, a small brick hydroelectric station (built in 1921) on the south bank of the Deerfield River near the Searsburg-Wilmington town line. Frequent travelers along the Molly Stark Byway will notice the seasonal drawdown of Harriman Reservoir in which the water line drops many feet and much of its coastline is revealed. This annual drawdown is now regulated to ensure the ecological health of local fisheries.
Logging on Mountain Mills Brook Pond, pre-Harriman Reservoir, c. 1900. Collection of Wilmington Historical Society.
- Wind Power
Completed in 1997, Searsburg Wind Farm became the largest commercial windmill power-generating facility east of the Mississippi River. Searsburg's 6-megawatt power plant provides emission-free, renewable energy and serves as an education resource for wind generation in cold climates and environmentally sensitive regions.
Green Mountain Power began "prospecting" for wind turbine sites in the late 1970s. Knowing that higher elevations have better wind, but are more environmentally sensitive, the challenge from the start was to find a windy site that would be environmentally acceptable and still economically feasible. After screening hundreds of potential sites in Vermont and Massachusetts, Green Mountain Power selected the Searsburg site because of its strong and persistent winds and its proximity to existing access roads and transmission lines. In addition, the area was away from population centers, yet not in an area of unique environmental concern. When completed in 1997, the Searsburg project became the largest wind power facility in the eastern part of the country.
- Woodford State Park
Woodford State Park comprises 398 acres located on a mountain plateau (2,400 feet, the highest of all Vermont's state parks) and surrounds Adams Reservoir. The high-elevation spruce/fir/birch vegetation provides an ideal setting for the park. Several lakes and ponds, as well as the vast Green Mountain National Forest, surround the area.
The campground has 103 sites including 20 lean-tos. The heavily wooded area surrounds the reservoir and offers great camping opportunities. Flush toilets, hot showers, and a dump station are provided. There is a small beach and picnic area near the dam with pit toilet facilities. Rowboats, canoes, and paddle boats are available for rent. There are several hiking trails, including a 2.7-mile trail around the lake.
- Oddest Place Names
A post office designated "surge Tank, Vermont" was established to serve workers building Harriman Dam, earning it one of the Oddest Place Names in the Postal Service. A site supervisor acted as Postmaster.
Did You Know?
... that the Deerfield River makes a rapid drop of 1,100 feet in the nine miles it traverses before reaching Harriman Reservoir?
... that the name of the Harriman Dam's enormous 160' spillway is the Glory Hole? It is called the Glory Hole because it is shaped like a gigantic morning glory.