Not just in some textbook, geologic sense of glaciers, fossils, & continental drift. It is an ancient place of generation after generation of people & their intimate relationship with the place we all live out our daily lives.
Long before the small village was re-named after an English city, before Amerigo Vespucci’s name was attached to any map giving name to these continents, where we live was home, both shelter & provider of sustenance, to the Algonquian Nipmuc.
What is most incredible is that the names that the land gave to them are still here all around us and we use them every day, but usually without thinking about the old relationships they describe between them and their home.
Quinsigamond is the name of a lake, a river, & a village for us today. For the Nipmuc it was the location of a village, or sachem. More importantly it was a place of fishing for pickerel as food. The Nipmuc word for pickerel is bound up in the lake’s very name!
Asnebumskit today is a road & a major hill in central Massachusetts, with radio towers for WTAG & WSRS, as well as incredible views of Mount Wachusett, Mount Monadnock, & Mount Watatick (all Algonquian place names as well!). The hill is so large that it comprises portions of Holden, Paxton, & Worcester. For the Nipmuc it was a source of “small stones” & the second of the three sachems of what is today’s Worcester. They lived on its south-eastern flank in Tatnuck, & the area indeed is full of small stones.
The village of Tatnuck & the brook that runs through it in north-west Worcester is also a Nipmuc place name. Lincoln Kinnicutt, in his Indian Names of Places in Worcester County Massachusetts, has Tatnuck as “at the place of the great hill,” with that hill being the largest in these parts, Asnebumskit. Even today we gather around the base of Asnebumskit and live along the waters flowing off of that hill.
Packachoag is home to Holy Cross College, the playing field for the Tornadoes, & a major curve in Interstate 290. For the Nipmuc it was a “turning place” as well, but for the river at its base. Today’s Middle River & the hill it curves around were both called Packachoag. This was the third, and the largest, of the three sachems of Nipmuc in today’s Worcester.
These are some of the names we use day in & day out for where we live, & they still describe those places in surprisingly useful ways. If we think about them & reflect on them, our relationship with the land around us is richer & more makes more sense.
There are more Nipmuc place names for where we live, ones that aren’t used as much, & we might be better served to bring them back into common usage. Our Blackstone River was once called the Kattatuck, or “great river” of these parts. It still is our great river.
Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Holy Name High School, & the wind turbine are all up on a ridge and that ridge’s name is Sagatabscot. Sagatabscot is “the place of the hard rock” and we still heartily agree as we have named the street that runs its length Granite Street!
There are more of these place names, and if you get the chance stop by the library and look for Mr. Kinnicutt’s book! But more than that, use the old names knowing that they are more than randomly assigned labels. These places are where we live & speak to how the land impacts us & our lives every day.