Not many people know that the town of Whitman was once known as “Little Comfort.” Or that the first residents of Dedham wanted to name
their community “Contentment” (which didn’t happen, but that’s why the word ended up on the town seal). Or that Norwood was almost called Queertown (you won’t find any mention of that on the town seal).
A closer look at the map south of Boston reveals plenty of places with unusual names. There are ominous watering holes, such as Bloody Pond in Plymouth, Never Touch Pond in Middleborough, Bad Luck Pond in Rehoboth, Devil’s Brook in Sharon, and the oxymoronic Dry Pond of Stoughton.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office maintains a lengthy list of names of neighborhoods and villages in the Commonwealth, some of which are no longer in use, like Donkeyville, which was a section of west Foxborough (it’s since been renamed Lakeview), and Yellow Town, which once referred to a part of Wareham (more specifically Warr Avenue, where the Franconia Iron Works boarding houses, painted yellow, were located).
The list includes fun-sounding names, like Spotless Town in Randolph; Happy Hollow in Brockton; Harmony in East Bridgewater; and Shoestring Village in Carver. There are also darker, more mysterious titles, such as Sodam in Hanson, Poverty Point in Plymouth, Bull’s Eye Crossing in Middleborough, and World’s End in Hingham.
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 they’ve never heard of and think, “What the hell’s that?” 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.
In his role as register of deeds for Plymouth County, John R. Buckley Jr. has come across many odd-sounding places documented in property records. “Every town has a few of these,” he said. He pulled out a large atlas, more than a century old, and began leafing through the pages, pointing out some of the more interesting monikers, such as Glad Tidings Plain in Hingham and Mungo’s Corner in Scituate.
“A lot of the corners were named for people who lived in the neighborhood,” he said.
There’s Belcher’s Corner in Stoughton. Allen’s Corner in Walpole. The point where Canton, Stoughton, and Sharon all meet is known as Cobb’s Corner. Brewer’s Corner in Quincy was named after Frank Brewer, who owned a store at Garfield and Granite streets.
William P. O’Donnell, register of deeds for Norfolk County, said that parts of the town where he lives, Norwood, were named 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.”
In Rochester, the junction of Mattapoisett Road and New Bedford Road was dubbed “Wheel of Fortune Corner” because of a speakeasy-like tavern that once stood there. The origins of the “Wheel” are explained on the Plumb Library’s website. It says that back when Rochester was a dry town, customers looking for a drink would place their money on a Lazy Susan-like rotating tray that “would turn into a hidden back room.” After a spin, their money disappeared and an alcoholic beverage would appear in its place. According to local lore, many farmers lost their fortunes at that corner, spinning that thing.
Local industry served as inspiration for naming many villages and neighborhoods south of Boston. Such is the case with the Stone Factory district of Canton, Tack Factory in Middleborough, Furnace Village in Easton, its doppelganger Furnace Village in Freetown, Knife Works Village in Sharon, and, in Carver, Shoestring Village and Ellis Furnace Village.
Other neighborhoods bear the flags of other countries in their titles. There’s a section of Bridgewater called Scotland. You can find Germantown in Quincy, New Dublin in Randolph, and England Corner in Wareham. Egypt is in Scituate. Jerusalem and Madagascar are in West Bridgewater.
“You can see Jerusalem, Scotland, and Egypt all in one day if you visit Plymouth County,” quipped Buckley.
One of the most extraordinary names in the region belongs to a parcel of land in Plymouth called “Shall I Go Naked Pasture.” It’s in the area of Braley Lane, between Route 3 and South Street, across from the Plymouth Public Library. The notoriously named pasture was so well known at one point that Henry David Thoreau wrote about it. According to one local history book, the land was once occupied by a poor woman who would go to the town elders for assistance, and whenever they turned her down she reportedly replied, “Shall I go naked?” Continued...