There are 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, and my friend and fellow journalist from the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, Bill Ballou, has visited every one of them.
That means he’s traversed from the tip of Provincetown in the east to the westernmost point of Mount Washington, the northern point of Amesbury on the New Hampshire border to the Connecticut neighboring town of Southwick.
And let’s not forget ferry trips to the towns on Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and the island of Cuttyhunk.
I am constantly amazed when I pick up a map of the state, or an atlas, and scan the different towns and cities I have never heard of, much less never visited.
So, to make you feel a little smarter, here is just some miscellaneous trivia regarding the cities and towns that comprise the Bay State.
By the letters: Of the 26 letters of the alphabet, there are no Massachusetts town names starting with the letters V, X or Z. For four other letters, there is only one town – Ipswich, Kingston, Quincy and Yarmouth. Alphabetically, Abington would be listed first and Yarmouth last.
Long and short of it: The town with the most letters in its name is Manchester-by-the-Sea (18 letters). There are 10 towns of four letters: Avon, Ayer, Gill, Hull, Lynn, Otis, Peru, Rowe, Stow and Ware. However, the shortest name with only three letters is Lee.
Oldest and newest: In terms of settlement, Plymouth is not only the largest town in the state by area (134 square miles), it is also the oldest, incorporated in 1620. Followed close behind are Weymouth (1622) and Gloucester (1623). The newest town came 300 years after Plymouth – East Brookfield (1920). It is one of only two towns incorporated in the 20th century, the other is Plainville (1905).
Large and small: Boston is obviously the largest city with a population of 695,506, while the smallest city is Palmer with 12,140 residents. The smallest town is Gosnold in Dukes County, home to 75 people. Nahant is the smallest in area at one square mile.
Um … ham: There are many communities that end in the three letters “ham” derived from Old English – ham meaning “home” or “homestead.” However, depending on where you live, their pronunciation either uses or holds the ham. Towns pronouncing the ham: Ashburnham, Bellingham, Eastham, Framingham, Oakham, Tyringham, Wareham and Wilbraham. Leaving it at “um” are Chatham, Dedham, Hingham, Needham, Wenham and Wrentham. And there’s “sam” as in Petersham (hold the “h”).
Presidentially speaking: In the western part of the state are towns that share the names of some of our earliest presidents – Washington, Adams and Monroe. The town of Holden has the village of Jefferson, while other towns sharing presidents’ names are Clinton and Lincoln.
Homonyms: You remember your grammar lessons – cities and towns that are spelled differently but sound the same: Air, Barry, Born, Row and Where.
States and countries: Within the confines of Massachusetts, you can travel to Florida and Washington, as well as Holland, Peru and Wales.
Sir or madame: It has become common practice by some parents to name their children for towns or cities. Many of them are common names.
Boys: Chester, Clinton, Dalton, Dennis, Douglas, Dudley, Erving, Everett, Franklin, Gill, Granville, Heath, Holden, Hudson, Lawrence, Lincoln, Lowell, Maynard, Milton, Montgomery, Otis, Quincy, Randolph, Russell, Spencer, Sterling, Upton, Warren, Wendell and Weston.
For the girls: Beverly, Chelsea, Hadley and Sharon.
And for both: Lee, Lynn, Marion and Shirley.
Sorry if I left out the name of your grandson, Egremont, or your niece, Aquinnah.
The burg is the word: In the German language, “burg” means castle or fortress, though so many towns grew up around castles that it almost came to mean city, and is incorporated into many placenames – such as Clarksburg, Fitchburg, Lunenburg and Williamsburg.
Hitching up the boro: Many towns also end with either “borough” or “boro,” which is an Anglo-Saxon term for towns surrounded by walls or forts. Those towns would be Attleboro, Boxborough, Foxborough, Lanesborough, Marlborough, Middleborough, New Marlborough, North Attleborough, Tyngsboro, and Northborough, Southborough and Westborough (but no Eastborough).
By the ton: Many towns also end with the letters “ton” (i.e., Hubbardston, Templeton, Royalston, Princeton) of Anglo-Saxon origin, eventually evolving into “town.” Other communities simply incorporate town into the name like Belchertown, Edgartown, Freetown, Georgetown, Provincetown and Watertown.
Let’s bury it: Eventually, word pronunciations varied in towns using “borough” at the end, where it was shortened to “bury,” as in Millbury, Newbury, Shrewsbury, Shutesbury, Sudbury, Tewksbury.
What’s new: There are five two-word towns in the state that begin with “New.” They are New Ashford, New Bedford, New Braintree, New Marlborough and New Salem. And while there is also a Bedford, Braintree, Marlborough and Salem in Massachusetts, there is no town named Ashford.
So, now do you feel a little smarter than before you started reading this column?
Comments and suggestions for The Gardner Scene can be sent to Mike Richard at [email protected] or in writing to Mike Richard, 92 Boardley Road, Sandwich, MA 02563.