Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's Behind a Name?

Hudsonians continue to wonder why and for whom the main street of our city was renamed Warren Street in 1799. As Byrne Fone told the story in Historic Hudson: An Architectural History, the change was sudden and unexplained: "One day, Hudsonians saw messages in red and yellow chalked on fences along the street summarily informing them that 'this street is no longer Main Street but called Warren Street by order of the Common Council.'" 

The naming of the pocket park in the 200 block of Warren Street was never so legislated. Instead, the nomenclature was more of a grassroots thing. Back in 1997, Historic Hudson and the Hudson Opera House collaborated to stage a garden tour called "The Secret Gardens of Hudson." The newly created park, on a vacant lot that had been used as a bocce court, was one of the stops of the tour. There, under the sparse shade of then very young Bradford pears, a stalwart volunteer read excerpts from Frances Hodgson Burnett's book The Secret Garden.  

For the purpose of the printed tour itinerary, the park needed a name, and tour organizers decided it would be appropriate to name the park for the Proprietor who had originally owned that piece of land. Some research revealed that the Proprietor was John W. Thurston. Hence the little park was dubbed John W. Thurston Park, or simply Thurston Park.

For fourteen years, people have been calling it that, and now it seems the name is catching on. In today's Register-Star there's a picture (strangely absent from the online version) with a caption (not absent) explaining that the picture shows Lisa Heintz "in front of a newly installed sign at the Thurston Pocket Park on Warren Street." The name Thurston Park has made it into the official vernacular. 


  1. Thanks for the update on the naming of the park Carole. I actually thought it was named for our Ellen Thurston for all her great work here in Hudson!

  2. Marty--It's a happy coincidence that we have a Thurston in Hudson again worthy to have a park named after her, and I certainly don't mind if people think the park was named for Ellen, but the actual story is as I told it. Norman Posner and I were the cochairs for The Secret Gardens of Hudson tour--he representing the Hudson Opera House, and I Historic Hudson. We came up with the idea for naming the park; I did the research to identify John Thurston.

  3. If the date of the change (1799) is correct, it would seem possible or the name was that of a Revolutionary War hero.

    However, the only two obvious possibilities are: (A) General Joseph Warren, who sent out Paul Revere on his ride and was soon killed at Bunker Hill; or (B) Mary Otis Warren, a well-known polemicist during that period. Both were best-known in Massachusetts, though, with no obvious Hudson connections.

    So maybe "Warren" was just the Mayor's dog’s name or something.

    (NOTE: The Ellis 1878 history says: “This street, which was laid out and intended as t he principal east and west thoroughfare of the city, retained the named of Main street until Oct. 10, 1799, when by an ordinance of the common council, it was changed to Warren street, as at present.” Looking up the ordinance, if it remains in the City's records, might clarify things, or else newspaper reports of the time—Hudson had at least one already at that time. It would be interesting to know Byrne's source for the red-and-yellow chalk detail.)

    --Sam P.

  4. (Correction: Mercy Otis Warren, not Mary.) --S.

  5. Sam--Byrne's source, I'm quite sure, was Anna Bradbury, but if I'm wrong, Byrne can correct me, since I know he reads Gossips.

    Although I haven't done so myself, others, I know, Byrne among them, have sought the answer to the question in the records of the Common Council and found nothing.

  6. You can read all about General Warren in Nathaniel Philbrick's new book about Bunker Hill. In the decades that followed Warren's death on Bunker Hill, dozens of streets, towns and counties were named for him. It was Warren, not Washington, who was expected to oversee the revolutionary military strategy.