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Shifting Street Names is Portsmouth Tradition
 Music_Wall_WayHISTORY MATTERS

City councilors recently nixed a name change to Chesnut Stret. Was that decision an act of hsitoric preservation, or merely an exercise in nostalgia? History Matters explores the way we name (and rename and remane) or streets and talks to "Road Warrior" Nancy Grossman. (read full article below)

Preserving history is not just about keeping old things old. In fact, that is rarely the case. When we save an historic house or create a museum exhibit or build a monument or restore a bridge, we are actually making old things new. We are retooling the past to fit our modern needs. As those needs shift, so does our interpretation, and it is fair to say – so does history.

Music Hall of Portsmouth, NH / Courtesy photoThe Portsmouth City Council’s decision to reject the renaming of a portion of Chestnut Street last week offers a fresh excuse to consider what we mean by historic preservation. The Music Hall proposed renaming the one-block long street Music Hall Way. As representatives of the Music Hall pointed out, Chestnut used to be called Elm Street. Before that it was Prison Lane because, as one might guess, the old city prison stood where the restored 1878 Music Hall stands today. Chestnut used to run from Congress Street to Court Street until it was split into two pieces by a parking lot. Both non-contiguous pieces are now called Chestnut Street.

Having two Chestnut Streets one block apart, the Music Hall argued is confusing to theater patrons. Undeniably, it is. The whole point of naming and numbering streets is so we can find our way from one location to the next. I briefly drove a taxicab in Manchester and was almost fired when I sat around waiting for a fare on Brown Street only to discover that an angry customer was waiting for me on Brown Avenue at the other end of town.

Nix Chestnut Change to Music Hall Way

According to a news report in the Portsmouth Herald, "history won" when city councilors shot down the proposed change by a vote of 6-to-2. I’m not so sure we historians won. Even a quick glance at Portsmouth history shows that changing the names of streets is a grand tradition here. Congress Street, for example, was once part of Creek Street, then King Street until the American Revolution tossed out all things royal. The original New Street became Queen Street, then Buck Street, then Broad Street, and is now State Street. Portions of Court Street have been called New Highway, Low Street, Jaffrey Street and Pitt Street. To make matters worse, Court Street has shifted locations.

CONTINUE STREET NAME HISTORY

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Sunday, November 19, 2017 
 
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