Nahmetawanzik, Ames Hill, Brattleboro, VT – a summer house on the south side of Ames Hill Road around the turn of the past century.
A photograph by Porter C. Thayer, circa 1905.
A sociocultural trend began in the late 19th century – continuing well into the mid-1900s – of dubbing summer camps and cabins with Native-inspired names, many of dubious origin and/or translation. This movement sprang from the influence of the work of educators, scientists, authors, and social activists following the stifling Victorian era, individuals such as G. Stanley Hall, Ernest Thompson Seton, and Daniel Carter Beard, meshing with the progressive social reforms of the time. Mixing recapitulation theories of adolescent development, the romantic idealist’s adoption of the noble savage, nationalism, a newfound mobility, and the financial ability to indulge in outdoor recreation, America took to its reclaimed, appropriated, whitewashed roots with enthusiasm. The proliferation of Camps Hiawatha – Keewaydin – Weehawkin – Runamuck – Thunderhawk – Kootenay was a wonder to behold. On a smaller but more prolific scale, private vacation cabins and cottages followed suit. Some of these names were deliberate fabrications, evoking a fancied Indian motif or alliteration. Others had a more authentic origin, or attempted to emulate such.
The house on Ames Hill seems to fit into the latter category. At this point, we don’t know the identity of the property owner or their intentions, but it is possible to make some educated guesses, based on both word structure and its practical application. The word Nahmetawanzik demonstrates several basic Algonquian language characteristics: first personal possession or action with the initial “n”, small compounding morphemes, and a locative ending with a “k”. Although we can by no means assume that the word was derived from the indigenous language of this land Aln8ba8dwaw8gan/Western Abenaki, it actually corresponds quite closely. I put the question out to members of a Western Abenaki language forum. This is what came back:
Jesse Bruchac: Sounds like “one sees something” from “namit8zik” a bit to me on a first pass . Is there a good view there?
Rich Holschuh: Without going out there to see if it’s still standing, I can’t say exactly. But Ames Hill Rd. does have grand views east in general. And this seems to be one of a number of summer houses that were/are up there. Awesome first pass, Jesse !
Marge Bruchac: Or it might be a pseudo-Indian invented name, which was the fashion among white folks building summer homes in the era (and in the northeast in general). Other camps in the same area (also photographed by Porter C. Thayer) include Quiturkare (quit your care) and Welikeit (we like it).
Joseph Joubert: I totally agree with with Marge Bruchac. This is a fictitious name. However, I also agree with Jesse Bruchac. I am seeing another word there – “wan” – lost, hidden away. This is my take on it. Remember this is not a word in the Abenaki Language of Odanak. “Something inanimate seen hidden away”. I am also getting “wild turkey” out of it – ha ha! That is why I say it is a fictitious name conjured up without the knowledge of the Algonquin grammer. “zik” is what tells me it is something inanimate. Jesse, I think “pazombwôgan” would mean “view”.
There were (and still are) several summer places on Ames Hill Road, rising from Brattleboro to Marlboro as it heads west and climbs into the foothills of the Green Mountains. It’s a beautiful landscape, open to the east and south, rolling forested hills with meadows and orchards, and little brooks and springs tumbling down the slopes. Wantastekw Wajo/Mount Wantastiquet stands tall and abrupt in the mid-distance, about 5-8 miles away to the east, along the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River. So, it’s not much of a conjecture to suppose that the homeowner, or an acquaintance with some knowledge of the area’s Abenaki heritage, came up with a fitting descriptor to the effect of n’namit8wanzik – “I see the lost place” – (the Wantastekw/Lost River/West River mountain). Or simply, as Jesse suggested, namit8zik, “one sees something” – the pronunciation of the Abenaki vowel “8” can suggest a “w”sound between syllables. This phrase might also poetically signify a romantic view back to the “vanished and noble” Native heritage. I will keep looking for more clues to this pictorial mystery… the structure’s site, the original owner, their disposition and motivations.