September 22, 2016

Sixth Street may sound familiar to a local’s ear, but it wasn't always that simple. Pinckney Street and many others in Lawrence have transformed over the years.

Lawrence was first surveyed in October 1854 by A. D. Searl. Upon receiving the information in Boston, a map was drawn up, and the unique-to-Lawrence street names were established.

Katie Armitage, a Lawrence historian, explained that the Lawrence street names can be traced back to one person.

“The streets were named by Dr. Thomas Webb, secretary of the New England Aid Society,” Armitage said.

Lawrence currently features streets that are labeled by numbers. However, this was not always the case, according to Steve Nowak, the director of Watkins Museum of History.

“The numbered streets were originally named for important public figures, mostly from New England. For example, 6th Street was Pinckney Street,” Nowak said. “The names were changed to numbers in the early 1900s to make navigating downtown a little easier.”

As for Lawrence’s main street, Massachusetts Street, Armitage thinks that having a historical name is unique to Lawrence.

“The people who printed this map in Boston, they named our main street Massachusetts,” Armitage said. “It’s quite unusual really. You go across the country, and the traditional business street is often called main street, just a generic name, but we have a state name, because of our founding.”

Geographically, Massachusetts Street is larger than the others due to the founders' decision.

“Massachusetts Street is Lawrence’s main street and is wider than the rest of the streets,” Nowak said.

The remaining streets are named after colonies and states, according to Nowak.

“East of Mass. Street, the streets are named after the other 12 original colonies, starting with New England, then the mid-Atlantic colonies, and finally the southern colonies,” Nowak said. “West of Mass. Street, the streets are named for the states of the Union, in the order in which they achieved statehood.”

— Edited by Matt Clough

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