Woog's World / Playing Westport's 'what's-in-a-name' game
Updated 8:18 am, Monday, May 13, 2013
A few days ago, I learned how Richmondville Avenue got its name. This had not kept me up nights -- to be honest, I'd never even thought about it -- but when I read on the Westport Family Y blog that the area (once a complex of factory buildings, workers' cottages and the owner's home) was named for David Richmond, who in 1815 erected an eight-foot tall dam on Lees Pond (the punctuation is correct; the family name is Lees, not Lee) to help turn out cotton yarn, I stuffed the nugget in my Westport memory bank.
It now shares brain space with the fact that Hillspoint Road is not named for a point on a hill, as you and I and everyone in the world naturally assumed, but for the Hill family that once owned the land. Technically, then, the road should be Hill's Point Road, but due either to confusion or laziness or some clerk lost long ago to history, it is now Hillspoint Road.
Confusion certainly reigns over Greens Farms. That section of town has a similarly named road, train station, church, public school and private academy. The road is now officially Green's Farms. Not that everyone has gotten the message that it is many farms, named for farmer Green. But did one guy really own multiple farms? Shouldn't it be Greens' Farms, for his entire family? Inquiring minds may want to know, but other people -- particularly those who don't live in Green's Farms -- really don't care.
Just as we don't care whether it's "Minute Man" or "Minuteman." The statue seems to be written as two words -- most of the time, anyway -- while the Hill (as in, land mass, not land-owning family) appears to be one word. Minuteman Hill was not named until 1950 or so -- before that it was just the backside of Compo Hill -- so perhaps writing it as one word was a willful, post-war way of modernizing the spelling. Or maybe just a casual, thoughtless typo.
Today, of course, it would be rendered as "MinuteMan," with a capital letter sticking up very awkwardly but definitely coolly smack in the middle of the world. Though if one of Westport's many branding and marketing companies got hold of it, they would turn it into MinuteMan! With a stupid, but eye-catching, explanation point at the end!
The Minute Man is almost as famous as Staples. That would be Horace Staples, the farmer/merchant/lumberyard owner/banker who, in 1884, got tired of seeing Westport's best and brightest youngsters troop off every day to Norwalk or Bridgeport for school. So he "put up" his own building, and -- hey, he was 80 years old, and had no idea he would live for another 15 years -- had no objection when people began calling it Staples' High School.
Sometime in the early 1900s, the apostrophe fell away -- perhaps it ended up with the Green family -- and Westporters began referring to Staples High School. This was fine up until 20 years or so ago, when "Staples" started to mean not only a high school and things to clip papers together with, but also a humongous office-supply chain, and a basketball arena in Los Angeles.
So, after a century or so of no confusion whatsoever, folks began asking if Westport's award-winning, pretty famous, getting-lots-of-kids-into-top-schools school was named after, sponsored by or otherwise affiliated with a big box retailer best known for its moronic advertising slogans, "We got that!" and "That was easy!"
It would be much easier, I suppose, if we'd used the guy's full name and called it Horace Staples High School, just like Brien McMahon, Daniel Hand and St. Joseph do. That would also make it clear that we are not Samuel Staples Elementary School in Easton, nor are we named for Mary Staples, like Samuel an ancestor of Horace's, but unlike Samuel or Horace, a woman who was burned in 1692 as a witch.
Which brings us, somehow, to Witch Lane. I don't know about you, but I'd feel spooked telling people I live there. Groucho Marx wannabes might wonder "which lane?" while pragmatic homebuyers would worry they'd never be able to sell their house (when the time came) to evangelical Christians.
But all this "what's in a name" back-and-forth pales in comparison to one of my favorite local examples. I've written about it before but it bears repeating, both because I've got new readers all the time, and because I still have 60 or so words to fill in this column.
It's this: There's a West Branch Road off Cavalry Road (alert readers: remember the Minuteman?). Branching off from West Branch is another street, cleverly or stupidly-- depending on whether you live there or not -- called West Branch Road West.
So yes, it is possible to get your mail delivered to West Branch Road West, Westport.
Thankfully, it's not in the Green's Farms section of town.