BECKET — Beside Route 20 in Becket, a funky cairn of jumbled stones stands on the crest of a hill, capped with a granite block inscribed “1910.” That year, on Sept. 24, officials and motorists piled the stones here to celebrate the opening of the Jacob’s Ladder Trail and mark its highest spot. At the time, this “auto trail” was the nation’s first highway built to convey “horseless carriages” over a mountain range, or so its promoters claimed. Hailed as “the first of the great mountain crossovers,” the road’s official name alluded to a biblical story, Jacob’s dream of angels climbing and descending a stairway to heaven. This all seems grandiose today, considering that the road’s highest elevation — 1,775 feet — measures only thigh-high to the tallest of the White Mountains. But auto trails were designed to promote automobile tourism.
From the cairn, not much in the way of settlement or commerce interrupted the view of rolling woods and pastures in 1910. And that was the point: Taking a long car ride into the wilds of the southern Berkshires was a grand adventure.