'One of the state's most gracious citizens'
Genevieve L. Hutchinson claimed to have only walked a small portion of the Appalachian Trail, herself, picking wild flowers once on Bald Mountain. But the Washington resident was a legend in her own time for being what is now known as a "trail angel," hosting thousands of AT hikers in her home on Main Street, across from the former Town Hall.
She began hosting hikers in 1921 and continued for 53 years, until her death in February 1974.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Aug. 10, 1883, she graduated from Hartford Public High School in Hartford, Conn., in 1900 and graduated as a deaconess of the Methodist Church from the Lucy Webb Hayes Training School, Washington, D.C. in 1904. She married Frederick W. Hutchinson June 28, 1905, and they subsequently moved to the town of Washington. A poet, she published several volumes, including "Memory and other Poems" (1947) and "Substance" (1953).
Appalachian Trail guidebooks often directed hikers to Hutchinson's home from a lean-to about a half-mile away. Ronald Fisher, a noted writer for National Geographic who hiked the AT and later recounted his adventure in his book, "The Appalachian Trail, " devotes a section to Hutchinson, calling her "one of the state's most gracious citizens." He adds her home "is half a mile from a lean-to in the October Mountain State Forest. She is mentioned in the trail guidebook: 'Brook in rear of lean-to unsafe for drinking; obtain spring water from Mrs. Hutchinson's home 0.67 m. north.'"
Upon arriving at her two-story frame home, Fisher was welcomed with "no-nonsense cordiality" and brought to a cozy living room with lace curtains, a fire crackling in the pot-bellied stove and walls displaying Hutchinson's watercolors of wild flowers. After being served cookies and coffee, she showed Fisher a scrapbook and register she had been keeping since 1938. In the register, thru hikers were marked with a red star; the scrapbook held postcards, letters and clippings from hikers she had met, and photographs, many of them of her with pack-laden hikers. Fisher persuaded her to read from her memoir, "Home on the Trail," which was not for publication, as she put it, but "for my family, so they'll know what it has meant to me to live here on the Trail."
Ben Montgomery, in his "Grandma Gatewood's Walk," also mentions Hutchinson. Emma Gatewood, another legend on the AT, was in her mid-60s when she began her hike in 1955. No women — and only five men — had ever hiked it continuously. She encountered Hutchinson as a hurricane bore down on the Northeast. "The rain clouds parted momentarily the next morning and Emma hiked into Washington, Massachusetts, where Mrs. Fred Hutchinson started to fill her canteen, thinking she was a berry picker, until Emma spoke up and got herself invited to dinner, then to a nap on the couch, then to the obligatory newspaper interview, then to a night in a bed."
Gatewood thru-hiked the A.T. a second time in 1957 and a third in 1964.
"It will not last forever," Hutchinson told Fisher, gazing at her house as he continued his journey on the AT. "Any more than I will. Or you. Or anyone else."
But her legend and her home live on. A blogger and trail angel, Carol Lew of Washington wrote in February 2016 about hosting the well-known hiker, The Real Hiking Viking, in her home — the very house that Hutchinson had welcomed so many hikers so many years before.
— Margaret Button, The Berkshire Eagle
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