OTIS -- More than two centuries ago during the Revolutionary War, a Boston bookseller named Henry Knox traveled from Fort Ticonderoga, N.Y., to Boston to supply the beleaguered Continental Army with important weaponry.
History remembers his travels across New York and the Bay State as the Henry Knox Trail, but what’s less known is that a portion of the trail runs through south Berkshire County, including Otis.
Otis resident Thomas Ragusa has spent six years working to turn an 8-mile portion of the trail into a more publicized hiking route that would include signage to indicate historically significant stops. He’s in the "final stretch" before submitting his plans to town hall and the state.
"A lot of people are interested in the first history of the country. Right here in Otis is part of it," said Ragusa, who serves as the Otis Historical Commission chair. "It’s the beginning of how we got our freedom and how we got our government and our way of thinking from this trail."
Battling winter’s brutal cold, Colonel Knox, 25, organized and led the travel from Fort Ticonderoga through south Berkshire County to Boston in 1775 and 1776. He led the transport of 59 artillery pieces by way of ox sled to Washington’s army outside of Boston, according to the New York State Museum.
By the end of his travels, he had transported 50 canons.
In Berkshire County, the trail includes portions of Alford, Egremont, Great Barrington, and Monterey. Local historian Bernard Drew chronicled the trail’s history in a 2012 book titled, "Henry Knox and the Revolutionary War Trail in Western Massachusetts," and he said it had been used by indians, fur traders, and during the French Indian War.
"That section [in Otis] is most representative of what the south Berkshires was like [back then]," Drew said. "It’s been undisturbed and deserving of re-establishment in the public mind."
Ragusa painstakingly went through notes recorded by Nathaniel Austin to ensure the trail was indeed traveled by Knox. The east gate section of the trail would start near the intersection of Algerie Road and East Otis Road. There would be a western section near Cold Spring Road and Route 23.
The trail remains largely intact because it runs through state forest and uncultivated town land.
Ragusa has gone through archival material to identify 80 historical locations along the hiking trail that travels from West Otis to Sandisfield and East Otis. The historical items include Abiel’s Rock in Sandisfield and a Sugar Maple tree that will be tested to see if its as old as the Revolutionary War. There are also several locations in the area that had previously served as taverns.
Despite walking portions of the trail more than a dozen times, he remains impressed by what Knox had to overcome, and he hopes others will get a chance to appreciate it.
Ragusa describes the trail as the state’s "first interstate," a roadway that was developed before any Berkshire town was established.
"I wonder how many people died on the trail and what people had to go through at the beginning of the country and what they did for our freedom," Ragusa said.
Ragusa has spoken to town officials in Otis and Sandisfield about his plans to help the trail gain more notoriety. He hopes to secure recreational grant funding.
The town has endorsed the project, Selectwoman Roberta Sarnacki said.
"I think a lot of people aren’t aware it goes through town. They are aware it goes from Albany and Boston but they aren’t sure what towns it goes through."