W Towns Outside Boston

Reader "HH" brought an interesting situation outside of Boston, Massachusetts, to my attention this week. He discovered this many years ago and has been wondering about it every since. On the surface it doesn’t seem like much, just a ride along U.S. Route 20 although it does have a bit of historic importance in its own right, forming a part of the old Boston Post Road. Hold on though, it soon become an addictive geo-oddity.

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The stretch between Boston and Springfield, the highlighted section included, formed a part of the Upper Post Road specifically. It was based on yet an earlier trail called the Old Connecticut Path, and prior to that had been used by Native Americans long before the arrival of the first colonists. People have followed this route for many centuries and it’s ancient by New World standards. The early European settlers adopted this existing path as they pushed westward from the coast, forming historic colonial towns along the way that still exist today.

That’s all fascinating and I’d love to travel along here in person some day but that’s not what prompted HH to highlight it.

You might have noticed something peculiar if you followed the line I drew. The title of the article gives the answer away but it may have escaped your attention. The pattern doesn’t become glaringly obvious until it’s compared against a map of minor civil divisions. None of the interactive map sites on the Intertubes includes these divisions as far as I know. Google doesn’t even include county boundaries for the United States, much less the next level further down so it’s not going to be helpful.

Minor civil divisions go by several names. Massachusetts and some of the other New England states call them towns. I’m more familiar with the Midwestern variant, the Township. Other places may call them Precincts, and in still others the concept simply does not exist at all. It’s rather confusing. Politically they can range anywhere from forming the basis of a strong, fundamental unit of local government to representing nothing depending on the State.

Massachusetts has more than three hundred towns and cities that divide the state and its counties into a complex mosaic of tiny slices. Wikipedia has a great public domain map of this, and I’ve created the image below from that source.

Sequential Towns Starting With the Letter W

That’s a lot of background material but if felt it would provide proper context to help understanding the remarkable nature of what HH discovered. By driving solely along U.S. Route 20, a traveler will follow the historic main streets of four sequential, contiguous towns starting with the letter W — Watertown, Waltham, Weston, and Wayland — until Sudbury breaks the pattern. That’s a distance of only about ten miles so it demonstrates the diminutive size of these minor divisions.

Travel away from Route 20 south of Weston and there’s actually a fifth contiguous W town, Wellesley.

HH wondered, and I didn’t know, if there are any other places that can equal or better that pattern. I conducted some very cursory checking of map resources available to me and I couldn’t find anything similar. I wanted to throw the question out to the larger Twelve Mile Circle audience to see what you know already or can uncover with a little checking.

I’d also like to broaden the search as well — it doesn’t have to be the United States and it doesn’t have to focus on a single letter of the alphabet. I’m looking for unusual patterns, if not the same letter of the alphabet then maybe a contiguous sequence of letters (e.g., a, b, c, d, e) or the same number of letters, or simply random weirdness in general. The U.S. Census Bureau provides maps of minor civil divisions in the United States to help get you started. I’m sure other nations provide similar resources within their borders.

I’ll start looking closer at this question between articles and during my spare time. I hope you will too. Maybe this could become a recurring topic if we start to find some interesting patterns.

Thanks HH.


16 Replies to “W Towns Outside Boston”

  1. Lake County, Ohio has five contiguous “W” towns: Willowick, Willoughby, Willoughby Hills, Wickliffe and Waite Hill.

    Cuyahoga County has ten contiguous towns with “Heights” in the name: Cleveland Heights, University Heights, Shaker Heights, Warrensville Heights, Bedford Heights, Maple Heights, Garfield Heights, Cuyahoga Heights, Newburgh Heights and Brooklyn Heights. There’s also Parma Heights, Middleburg Heights, Richmond Heights, Mayfield Heights, Highland Heights and Broadview Heights.

  2. The former Route 24 in New Jersey does something similar. It goes through Madison Borough, Morris Township, Morristown Borough, Morris Township again, Mendham Township, Mendham Borough, and Mendham Township again, all without leaving Morris County. Morris Plains Borough is also contiguous. There are probably other similar cases elsewhere in New Jersey, as it’s common practice there to have adjacent (or even enclaved) boroughs of the same (or similar) names as townships in that state, so a series of four or more there is much more likely than in states without the township/borough duality.

    I suspect one of the south-western states must be hiding a string of S’s, simply because of the number Spanish religious toponyms; but the Census Bureau’s map of California hurts my eyes! And the ultimate in trivial cases must be virtually any road in Louisiana. Most (all?) of their county subdivisions are called “District [number]”; so there is probably a string of several dozen D’s there.

  3. Don’t know if city districts count but in Los Angeles you can travel east through Brentwod, Bel Air, Beverly Glen, the city of Beverly Hills, and then Beverly Grove.

  4. There is a slightly different pattern in the Canadian Prairies, but it’s rather extensive. Beginning in the middle of southern Manitoba and continuing through Saskatchewan all the way to Jasper, Alberta, towns lying along the Canadian National Railway line are named in alphabetical order – 93 towns and cities in all!


    Most of the land was unsettled when the railway came through, and the railway needed a quick method of naming its stations, so it chose an alphabetical method (e.g. Undora, Venn, Watrous, Xena, Young, Zelma, Allan, Bradwell, Clavet). Towns grew up around the stations, and the rest is history.

    1. That’s amazing. I think this might be the winner.

      Thanks for the comment — It led me to your blog for the first time, and I immediately subscribed to the RSS feed. You have great content going on there!

  5. Here is one from Australia. It is not alphabetical or geographical but is a lexical oddity. There is a railway line in the State of Victoria where three consecutive sidings have double-barrel names. Nerrin Nerrin, Pura Pura and Vite Vite. See google map here

    (Zoom in to the railway and you will see the sidings marked by google as railway stations).

    Double-barrel names appear occasionally in Australia, being of aboriginal (koorie) derivation, however they are not particularly common. So three consecutive examples is quite extraordinary.

    The rationale for repeating words is to indicate plurals or extreme quantities as apparently these languages contain no words for quantities or amounts.

    Extraodinary extraordinary!

  6. Another one from Australia.

    Our largest river – our little Mississippi – is the Murray. It flows westward from the Australian Alps, forming the border between the States of New South Wales and Victoria, then into the State of South Australia before reaching the ocean at Goolwa in SA.

    Along its length are a number of towns and cities, but of note to us are three which are completely unrelated to each other, but have remarkably similar names

    Barham, Barmah and Barmera.

    See google map here showing Barham at top left and Barham at bottom right.

    Barmera is further west in SA here http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=-34.222023,140.600281&spn=0.545051,1.347198&z=10

    To confuse things even more, both Barham and Barmah are destinations of daily bus services from the city of Melbourne. Both buses are operated by the one bus company (Vline), they depart from the same bus station, they depart from adjacent bus bays, and on weekdays they depart ONE minute apart. How many people get on the wrong bus? No matter if you do, because though the buses travel via different routes, they get to the intermediate town of Heathcote at the SAME TIME, then wait for 10 minutes then head off to Barham or Barmah – so you can swap buses there.

    Designed to confuse?

    Here are the bus timetables for the detail minded:


  7. I’ll think about your larger question, but I wanted to issue a warning:

    If you take yourself up on the insane offer to drive Route 20 someday, I suggest you do it at perhaps 3AM. Otherwise,the typical endless 3 mph crawl on 20 will cause you to punch inanimate objects and derail your from blogging for several weeks.

    And we can’t have that.

  8. MA 10 as it heads north from the CT border passes through:

    Hitting all 4 cardinal directions in 5 towns. And Westfield and Southwick don’t have any related towns (unlike the -hamptons)

  9. It’s not on the same scale, but San Francisco has 3 distinct sets of streets with alphabetical names within its city limits. The best known is the Richmond and Sunset Districts, which start Anza, Balboa, Cabrillo, get interrupted by Golden Gate Park, then pick up with Irving, Judah, Lawton, etc. (They skip X on the way to Yorba). The cross streets are the numbered Avenues – 1st through 48th. However, the Bayview has alphabetical street names in both directions of its grid. Going south on 3rd Street (which is nowhere near the numbered *Avenues*), one crosses Burke, Custer, Davidson, Evans, Fairfax, Galvez, etc through Wallace and Yosemite before it starts over with Armstrong, Bancroft, Carroll, through Le Conte and Meade before the series ends. These streets are crossed by (somewhat irregularly due to the steep hill and industrial development in the area) Donahue, Earl, Fitch, Griffith, Hawes, Ingalls, Jennings, through Selby (underneath I-280, mostly) and Toland. I think the ABC streets of this set got eaten by the former Naval Shipyard in the area.

  10. A little more than 10 miles south of Route 20 is Route 109, a (Massachusetts) state highway.

    One can drive, in consecutive order, east to west, from Medfield to Millis, followed by
    Medway and Milford. Route 109 ends at Route 16 in Milford. Just west of Milford along 16, there
    Is the vertically-narrow town of Hopedale, followed by Mendon. A little more than one mile is all
    that separates Milford and Mendon.

    Bordering Mendon, to the southwest, is Millville. So, almost six “M Towns” in a row!
    Darn you, Hopedale.

  11. Well I’ve wondered about this geographic oddity myself. I would point out that technically Wellesley borders on Waban. Then to the north of Wayland we have Lincoln and Lexington. Well, if you pronounce those as a three-year old might do, we would have ‘W’incoln and ‘W’exington. That keeps the contiguous W towns going. From Wexington north we have Winchester, Woburn, and Wilmington. If you want to stretch this a bit further, Wilmington borders on Reading and North Reading (which technically I would disqualify). But if we go with the three-year old rule again we have at least got “W’eading, which is fortunate since Weading borders on Wakefield.

    So I the get contiguous count up to 6 with Waban (added to Watertown, Waltham, Wellesley, Weston, and Wayland), and (with the three-year old rule) up to 13 (‘W’incoln, ‘W’exington, Winchester, Woburn, Wilmington, ‘W’eading, Wakefield).

    I’d say it’s a pure accident. Wots of wuck to you all.

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