History of the Kancamagus Highway in NH

The Kancamagus Highway region is rich in history that dates back to the Indian Tribes of the 1600’s. Along the Kancamagus Highway you will find informational postings about the area you are visiting, many times they will offer some history about the area you are in as well.

The mountains surrounding the Kancamagus Highway (and the Kanc itself) are named after some of the earliest and most notorious residents along the Kanc, like:


Kancamagus “The Fearless One” was the grandson of Passaconaway.


Passaconaway “Child of the Bear” was Kancamagus’s grandfather. Passaconaway passed along his offers of peace to other tribes and united over 17 Indian tribes within central New England in 1627. This unification formed the later known Penacook Confederacy. Passaconaway ruled the Penacook Confederacy until he passed away in 1669. He turned over the Sagamon of the Confederacy to his son “Wonalancet.”


Wonalancet ruled the Confederacy until 1684 when Kancamagus became the 3rd and final Sagamon of the Penacook Confederacy.

Kancamagus tried to keep his grandfather’s dreams of peace for the confederacy but around 1690, the white Englishmen brought war and violence to the region. Kancamagus led the Penacook Confederacy and left the area heading North to the now Canadian border region of New Hampshire.


Paugus “The Oak,” was chief of the Pequawket Tribe along the Saco river in Conway, NH. Mt. Paugus can been seen in the South of the Kancamagus Highway, West of Mt. Chocorua.


Chocorua (who is believed to be chief of the Ossipee Tribe) was thought to have died at the peak of the now named “Mt. Chocorua.” Mt. Chocorua can be seen in the South of the Kancamagus Highway, just East of Mt. Paugus.

Some common towns and mountains are named after native American Indians:

The town of Conway NH gets its name from Passaconaway.
The town of Penacook NH gets its name from the Penacook Indians.
Ossipee NH gets its name from the Ossipee Tribe.
Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire gets its name from Chocorua.
And of course the Kancamagus Highway gets its name from Kancamagus, the grandson of Passaconaway.

Many towns and mountains in New Hampshire are named after famous Indians and Indian tribes.

The Russell Colbath House

The Russell Colbath House was built in the early 1830’s. For over 100 years, these early settlers used the land for farming and logging. They also took in boarders in the Summer months. The logging industry peaked around the year 1900 here.

The Russell Colbath House is now used by the US Forest Service and offered as an historic site for public viewing and an information center. The house is open in late Spring through the Fall foliage season daily.

The Kancamagus Highway today…

The Kancamagus Highway started as two small town roads. One in Lincoln, NH and the other in Passaconaway. The road to Passaconaway was completed in the year 1837. 100 years later in 1937, these two town roads were extended in both directions, East and West from Passaconaway and from Lincoln NH and were connected. The Kancamagus Highway opened 22 years later to through traffic in 1959. The Kancamagus became so popular, and was somewhat dangerous as a dirt road, so it was recommended it be paved. The paving of the highway was approved and was paved in 1964. Even though it was paved, the Kanc was closed in the winter months until 1968 when it was plowed for the first time.

The Kancamagus celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009 with a few special events.

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Sally Martin

I really feel calling the kancamagus the kanc is an insult to the Indian and people that it was named for! Learn how to pronounce it!


Oh relax. It’s not that big of a deal.

suzi r

I agree, Sally. The Dawnland People, the Penacook Abenaki, who lived here before us–and the ones who still do–deserve our respect. Our culture has learned so much from theirs.

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