I cleaned off my desk today. Thrilling, no? I have an old roll top desk with a variety of pigeonholes and other built in storage spaces which means that I periodically have to go through and re-sort the materials inside. Whilst organizing, I came across some items that may be of interest to my readers, including a few early 19th century maps I had misplaced and a c. 1870 or so photo of the reservoir which used to be behind the Statehouse on Beacon Hill.
Buried under a number of other books I found A Record of Streets, Alleys, Places, Etc. in the City of Boston, published in 1910 in an edition of 2500 copies. My regular readers know that I've used the 1894 version of this document extensively so I've never needed to crack open the 1910 edition. I bought the 1910 edition because it included a facsimile of a broadside printed in 1708 which listed all the streets in Boston in 1708 (there are 110 streets listed, by the way). However, the 1894 edition is getting a little beat up--the binding is leather and the covers are detached--so I thought this might be the time to switch over to the newer and more durable clothbound edition. The preface also indicates that the 1910 edition had been updated, so I thought I would look up Washington Street, the subject of a few recent entries.
In my original post on Washington Street I had wondered why there were different names for different sections of the road that ultimately became Washington Street, a question that had bothered me since the first time I saw John Bonner's 1722 map. I posited it might have been a way of remembering the locations of houses and businesses at a time when buildings weren't numbered. A reader commented that it was because the people of Boston thought of them as separate streets. That didn't sound right to me, for reasons I outline here. When I went to look up the Washington Street entry, I didn't expect to find any new information. After all, Washington Street was the most important street in Boston. What new information could the city have possibly found in between the 1894 and 1910 editions? Well, they found at least a partial answer to my question, that's what.
From A Record of the Streets, Alleys, Places, Etc., in the City of Boston (Boston, 1910).
Washington Street, Boston, Roxbury, and West Roxbury, 1788; from Haymarket Square to Dedham line, thence through Westwood, Norwood, Walpole, Foxboro', Wrentham, North Attleborough, Attleborough and Pawtucket to Providence, R.I.; in the first book of the Town's Records called the "High Street," or "the way leading towards Roxbury"; (italics mine).
So the road initially had a single name; was broken into four
sections with different names by 1708; the section from Orange Street,
where the town had its fortifications, to Roxbury was named Washington
Street in 1788; the section from the fortifications to Dock Square was
renamed Washington Street in 1824; and the city extended Washington
Street to Haymarket Square in 1872.
The renaming in 1708 (or thereabouts) now becomes the puzzle. My hypothesis is that the name changes occurred in the 1690s and were merely confirmed by the broadside published by the town in 1708. Beginning in 1687, Massachusetts began a transformation from a colonial government to a royal colony and in 1691 the William and Mary Charter superceded the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter.
The only problem with this theory is that town records show a small portion of the road (the portion closest to Roxbury) with the name Orange Street in 1663. Why? I don't know. But I am willing to bet that the
association of William and Mary with the House of Orange provided the impetus for naming more of Boston's most important road
in honor of William's lineage in the 1690s. An added bonus no doubt was that
William, a Protestant, replaced
James II, a secret (or not so secret) Catholic, whose faith would have been
anathema to the Boston Puritans. John Churchill, the First Duke of
Marlborough, aided William in his coup, which would add Marlborough to
the naming mix. In the 1690s Boston's market house (the site of the present
day Old Statehouse) faced onto Cornhill, also the name of an
important trading street in London, so that portion of
the road may have been known as Cornhill for a number of years prior. Present day State and Court Streets are shown on John Bonner's 1722 map
as King and Queen Streets respectively, another possible tie to the
ascension of William and Mary. King and Queen Streets meet at Cornhill. The old name of Queen Street was Prison
Lane, with the earliest recorded appearance of the new name being the
1708 broadside, but the name was likely in common use before that
date. As to the naming of the Newbury Street section, I am still
researching possible links.
I'd again like to thank the individual who left the comment which
spurred further investigation into the Washington Street naming issue. Despite my comment in the second post, where I state that the logic of the naming of the streets might be lost to us, I think I've got a handle on it. If anyone has thoughts on Newbury Street, please email me or leave a comment.