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Where Did the Name Roast Meat Hill Road Come From?

By Thomas L. Lentz - Killingworth Historian

It is one of the more unique road names you'll ever come across. Have you ever wondered where the name Road Meat Hill Road came from? Patch wanted to find the answer, so we turned to town historian Thomas Lentz:

The oldest road in Killingworth is most likely Roast Meat Hill Road. 

The road was originally a trail used by the Indians to travel between the shore and their village to the north. The Indian village was located south of the Union District cemetery, around the junction of Roast Meat Hill Road and the long-abandoned Wolf Meadow Road. 

Some of the first houses in present Killingworth were located along or near Roast Meat Hill Road. Reference to Roast Meat Hill, a low ridge running west of the road and south of Stevens Road, occurs in the records as early as 1746, although it was probably named earlier by the settlers in the southern part of town.

The Clarkson subdivision is located on the northern part of the hill. The highest point at about 350 feet above sea level, fortunately undeveloped, is just to the west of the Heman Franklin house. Beginning at its northern end, originally at Route 80, the road extended southerly close to its present route.  Above the Clinton line, it began to run southeasterly to join Ben Merrill Road in now Clinton which extended southeasterly to Ironworks Road. 

According to tradition, Meetinghouse Hill in Clinton and the shore were reached from the north over the Cream Pot Road. In the south, the Cream Pot Road runs along the Indian River. In the north part of Clinton, the Cream Pot Road (northern part abandoned) followed a branch of the Indian River and connected with the Ben Merrill Road.  It is likely the Indians would have followed the river north from the shore. The old Indian trail most likely ran along the Cream Pot Road, upper Ben Merrill Road and Roast Meat Hill Road to the northern village. 

When the Killingworth-Haddam Turnpike (now Route 81) opened around 1817, a short road called the New Road was built from the lower end of Roast Meat Hill Road southwesterly to the Turnpike, providing a more direct route to the south.

There are several explanations, most fanciful, of the derivation of the name Roast Meat Hill.  Most involve intentional or accidental roasting of livestock or game.  One such story is that lightning struck a hay cart pulled by oxen causing the hay to burn and roast the oxen. A similar story is that a barn caught fire and the fire spread so quickly that the cattle were unable to escape. Another is that an early settler was so pleased with the abundance of his crops one year, and wishing to celebrate the occasion, butchered a steer and prepared a sumptuous roast for his relatives, friends, and neighbors. Another version of the same story is that a huge stag was roasted. Another explanation, purely speculative, has been offered by W. David LeVasseur, a former first selectman and municipal historian.  According to LeVasseur, it may have been that a party of surveyors while exploring came across the Indian camp and observed the fire pits and scattered bones of animals that had been cooked by the Indians. Thus, they named the site “Roast Meat Hill”.

A similar explanation is in Hommonossit Plantation by Susan Balestracci (1967). Mabel Stevens related that as a child she was told the Indians would gather together on the Hill. The men would bring game which they would cook over fires. Thus, the name Roast Meat Hill was assigned to the site. This explanation seems possible, as an Indian Village was located somewhat to the north of the hill.

Another explanation is in a manuscript on the Union District written by Earl Kelsey who lived in Killingworth at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. He relates a tradition that after the early settlement of the town, an Indian living in a makeshift shack on the north side of Wolf Meadow Road at its junction with Cemetery Road (now the part of Roast Meat Hill Road north of Route 80) died of smallpox during an epidemic.  Native Americans had no exposure and thus no resistance to smallpox. As a result, they were highly susceptible and were decimated by the disease. Epidemics occurred periodically in the seventeenth century and in 1729 and 1755.  The disease was also greatly feared by the settlers who took action to contain epidemics.  In this case, the Town Fathers decided to dig a large pit.  Oxen then dragged the shack with all of it contents including its occupant into the pit.  Before filling the pit in, the contents were burned and hence the origin of the name “Roast Meat Hill.”  The date is unknown, but the 1729 epidemic is the most probable.  There is also a local oral tradition from descendants of early residents that an Indian burial took place in that area. While the Indian burial probably occurred, the actual hill is some distance to the south.

The “hills” in Killingworth are mostly low ridges running running north and south. When standing east of Roast Meat Hill and looking west, the hill appears as slightly elevated mound. Perhaps this reminded an early settler of a roast and hence the name Roast Meat Hill.

Because there are so many explanations for the name Roast Meat Hill, and no real evidence to support any of them, it seems likely the true reason for the name will never be known.

©2011 Thomas L. Lentz

Joan Hinchcliffe October 19, 2011 at 02:58 PM
At this point, Roast Meat Hill Road should be renamed the Indianapolis 500. It's nothing more than a race track!

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