Detail of "A plan of the town of Boston with the intrenchments &ca. of His Majesty's forces in 1775, from the observations of Lieut. Page of His Majesty's Corps of Engineers, and from those of other gentlemen" by Sir Thomas Hyde Page (Image from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection)
John Keith over at Boston Real Estate Blog has a post about the "Ladder District" in downtown Boston and a couple of his commenters asked about the origin of the "Ladder District" name so he sent me an email and asked if I had any idea where the name came from. I don't have a clue, but that won't stop me from writing a post about the importance of a good name in selling real estate in Boston.
The map above was created in 1775 by a British officer stationed in Boston. A number of points are immediately familiar: Cambridge Street, Boston Common, Beacon Street, Beacon Hill, West Street, and Winter Street have all survived as place and street names to the present day.
But what's that to the left of Beacon Hill? Mount Whoredom, that's what, the approximate location of which (at least as far as I can tell) is better known today as Louisburg Square. Can you imagine trying to sell a house on Mount Whoredom? Mount Whoredom used to be taller, but was cut down and dumped into the Charles to make some of the land west of Charles Street. Mount Whoredom wasn't used to create the Back Bay (a much later endeavor) but it did become the flats of Beacon Hill.
On a related note, a book about "inflammatory toponyms" has recently been published and you can read an essay by its author here.
J.L. Bell over at Boston 1775 writes about British officers and their habit of referring to the area as "Mount Whoredom" and a certain future president's delicate sensibilities, which leads me to believe that Ray Charles really knew what he was talking about when he sang "Greenback Dollar Bill": "Whenever you're in town and looking for a thrill/if Lincoln can't get it, Jackson sure will."
Update: I'd like to thank the emailers and commenters. I didn't make myself clear. I know that the "ladder district " (sometimes known as the "ladder blocks", which appears on this BRA map of the area) suddenly appeared around 2000 as a way of designating the streets running between Tremont Street and Washington Street from Stuart to Winter Streets. What I'm unclear about is whether or not there is a historical precedent for the name, which was the claim in 2000. I'm skeptical that it is simply the reappearance of historic name. There was a brief period of time when the area was known as the "Midtown Cultural District" in city planning documents, but this name seems to be used primarily by planners.
Click on the image below for a closer look for those who may not be able to read the map above: