Not many people know that the city of Marlborough was once known as “Whip Sufferage.” Or that the southern part of Shirley used to be called “Stow Leg.” Or that Plainville was nicknamed “Slackville.”
A closer look at Massachusetts maps reveals plenty of places with unusual names. There are ominous landmarks like Mount Misery in Lincoln and Bloody Bluff in Lexington. There are intriguing watering holes, such as Spy Pond in Arlington, Chicken Brook in Holliston, Laundry Brook in Newton, Sucker Brook and Pork Barrel Pond in Pepperell, and the curiously titled Long Sought For Pond in Westford.
The area is also home to fun-sounding places like Cheesecake Brook in Newton, and spiritual summits like Gospel Hill in Hudson.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office maintains a lengthy list of names of neighborhoods and villages in Massachusetts, some of which are no longer in use.
Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Galvin’s office, said the state has maintained the list for many years. He said someone who reads a text from centuries ago may come across a place he or she has never heard of, and be inspired to track it down. The list, a repository for all place names of the past and present, has been “compiled for the benefit of the citizens,” said McNiff, and can serve as a handy reference tool.
The list includes some interesting locales, such as Honeypot in Norfolk, Darlings in Milford, Dog Corner in Needham, and Fiddler’s Green in Bolton. There are also darker, more mysterious monikers, such as Gravesville in Hudson, Hungry Plain in Woburn, Rockbottom in Stow, Piety Corner in Waltham, and Crooks Corner in Bellingham.
And who could forget Pill Hill in Brookline? The venerable enclave of homes overlooking Leverett Pond received its prescription-like nickname in the late 19th century.
“Pill Hill was named because lots of doctors lived there,” said Jean Innamorati, preservation planner for the town. “It was so close to the area hospitals. It was favorite neighborhood of the medical community.”
Down the southwest corner of Pill Hill is another neighborhood with its own quirky nickname. The community of modest homes between Cypress and Franklin streets became known as the Point, as an abbreviated form of its original moniker.
“In the past it has been referred to as Whiskey Point . . . because working-class people lived there,” said Innamorati. The nickname originated in the midst of the 19th century temperance movement, and the term was coined by “the more established people” in town — the same folks who likely said “no Irish need apply,” she said.
Area communities have plenty of hills, many of which are named after animals: Snake Meadow Hill in Westford. Turkey Hill in Arlington. Pigeon Hill in Waltham. Rabbit Hill in Plainville. Wild Cat Hill in Ashland. Rattlesnake Hill in Bolton.
Others are derived from Native American words. According to the US Geological Survey, Westford’s Kissacook Hill comes from a word meaning “steep slope,” and Punkatasset Hill in Concord is from one meaning “pondy places in a meadow.”
There are villages and neighborhoods named after other states and countries, such as Nebraska Plain in Natick, Little Canada in Lowell, French Hill in Marlborough, and Oregon, which is a village in Ashland.
William P. O’Donnell, register of deeds for Norfolk County, recalled that parts of the town where he lives, Norwood, were nicknamed after the immigrants who settled there: Cork City, Swedeville, Dublin.
“South Norwood is called the Flats, supposedly because there are a lot of triple-deckers, and when you looked at it from a higher point they all looked flat,” said O’Donnell. “That’s the lore, anyway.”
While some place names linger, others fade away with time. Such was the case with “Slackville,” a nickname given to Plainville long ago. A
1930 booklet published by the Plainville Board of Trade explained that in those early days, the community was called Slackville “not from any lack of energy, but from the fact that Mr. Benjamin Slack was one of the largest landowners at that time.”
Stow Leg appears on the state’s list as an “archaic name of Shirley.” It actually refers to the southern part of Shirley, which became part of the town in 1765, according to the Shirley Historical Society.
The state’s list describes Whippsufferage as an “archaic name of Marlborough.” This obscure 17th-century name appears sporadically in history texts and records, often under different spellings. The city’s website recalls it as “Whip Sufferage,” and says it was inspired by a Native American term.
The passage of time shrouds the linguistic origins of some places, such as Long Sought For Pond in Westford. “It’s been called that forever . . . for as long as we have records for it,” said Penny Lacroix, museum director for the Westford Museum & Historical Society.
Intriguing stories lurk behind many other addresses. Bloody Bluff in Lexington, for example, got its name from the Revolutionary War’s first day of battle; according to the US Geological Survey, it was where British troops regrouped on their retreat from Lexington and Concord.
A granite marker stands at the base of a small rocky hill, to the north of Old Massachusetts Avenue at the intersection of Route 2A, commemorating the events that took place nearby. It states: “This bluff / was used as a rallying point / by the British / April 19, 1775 / After a sharp fight / they retreated to Fiske Hill / from which they were driven / in great confusion.”
In Bellingham, Crooks Corner refers to the intersection of South Main Street (Route 126) and Pulaski Boulevard. Its namesake is Jeremiah Crooks, who operated a tavern there centuries ago.
In Needham, Dog Corner is a grassy area at the intersection of Great Plain and Central avenues, across the street from 1453 Great Plain Ave., the former site of the McIntosh tavern. Its canine-inspired name emerged in the 19th century because dog owners would leash their pets there.
In Waltham, the area around Lexington and Bacon streets and Totten Pond Road is called Piety Corner.
According to Massachusetts Historical Commission records, this righteous name originated from “the many church deacons who lived in the vicinity during the eighteenth century.” Their religious reputation lives on in modern times, as Piety Corner is now a recognized historic district, and the Piety Corner Club, founded in 1886, calls itself the oldest neighborhood association in North America.
About 2 miles away, on the south side of Waltham, are two more neighborhoods with unusual names — “The Bleachery” and “The Chemistry.” Both titles are relics of the city’s once-booming textile industry, with one section named after the Waltham Bleachery and Dye Works, while the other neighborhood was once home to the Newton Chemical Co.
Although the factories have long since closed, “The Chemistry” and “The Bleachery” still appear on today’s Google Maps, and Wayne T. McCarthy, copresident of the Waltham Historical Society, said many people in the city still use those terms. (“If they’re from Waltham,” he added.)
Local industry served as inspiration for naming many other villages and neighborhoods in the area. Such is the case with Paper Mill Village in Groton, Harness Shop Hill in Concord, Rocklawn Mills in Westborough, Factory Village in Medway, and Bush Factory in Norfolk.
In Concord, the area around Cottage and Crest streets was called Harness Shop Hill because that’s where Boston Harness Co. employees once lived. Their boss, Harvey Wheeler, subdivided farmland and created the streets to provide housing for his workforce.
In Westborough, Rocklawn Mills was on Flanders Road, according Carolyn Mulrain, president of the Westborough Historical Society. Rocklawn workers ground corn and wheat, sawed wood, pressed cider, and later, ground limestone into fertilizer and lime.
“It was a big ol’ mill,” said Mulrain, that dated to the late 1800s. Few people in town still refer to that part of town as Rocklawn, she said.
“The old-timers do,” said Mulrain. “The new people don’t know what you’re talking about.”