Commentaries Transportation

Downtown View: The Bridges of Suffolk County

The Government Center T station will close for renovation for two years on March 22. It certainly needs something done to it, although I’m not sure the approved design adds much to City Hall Plaza.

But I’d like to ask one thing: Could we change the name?

Government Center sounds like it should be the name for the wasteland in Albany, New York that actually has a better name of Empire State Plaza. Or it sounds like something those old Soviet engineers might have thought up.

Why not call it the City Hall T station? Or City Hall Plaza T station? Both tell you exactly where you are. Or what about Cambridge/Court Street? I’m not picky, just anything but Government Center, a 1960s name that ought to go away.

It makes me ponder some of the names we’ve given to various structures in Boston. Logan Airport, for example, turns out to have been named after a general, an Edward Lawrence Logan. Wikipedia says it was first called Boston Airport when it opened in 1923, and later was known as Jeffery Field. General Logan turns out to have served in the Spanish-American War, though why he is more worthy of recognition than thousands of other soldiers remains a mystery.

The Tobin bridge is another strange name. Maurice J. Tobin was a mayor and a governor. As the founder of Massport and the builder of the bridge, that name seems appropriate—at least until you realize that many people still call the bridge by its other name, the Mystic River Bridge. For a long time I thought the bridge was called the Tobin in one direction and the Mystic in the other, but that was apparently because I had been confused by the names of tunnels.

The Callahan is the tunnel that now is closed, but it seems to be on schedule for repairs ending in only a few weeks, and if you take Summer Street over the Fort Point Channel it is not hard at all to get to the airport using the Ted Williams Tunnel.

Until it closed most people couldn’t figure out which tunnel to and from the airport was the Lieutenant William F. Callahan Jr. unless they looked up as they drove into it. The lettering makes it definitive—the tunnel going to the airport is the Callahan.

The tunnel coming from the airport into Boston proper is the Sumner tunnel, named not after Senator Charles Sumner who was famously and almost fatally clobbered by a cane wielded by a very ungentlemanly South Carolinian congressman named Preston Brooks.

But, alas. The tunnel coming from the airport is named after the son of an early governor and Massachusetts Supreme Court justice. The son wrote a history of East Boston. Since the airport is in East Boston, that must have been the reason for naming the west-bound tunnel.

The Harvard Bridge goes to MIT, and the Anderson Bridge goes to Harvard. Is the North Washington Street Bridge actually the Charlestown Bridge? Or is it the other way around?

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge is an unpronounceable handle for a rather nice structure, and although some predicted that an eight-lane bridge would be too massive for Boston, we seem to have gotten used to it. But Charlestown folks aggressively call it the Bunker Hill Bridge, while others call it the Zakim Bridge and some, mollifying each side, call it the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge.

The only two names for crossings over or under water that make any sense are the Longfellow Bridge (please don’t call it the Salt and Pepper Bridge, or the Pepperpot Bridge, which some old timers insist it is) and the Ted Williams Tunnel.

At least these names are easy to remember, and we don’t have to remember which direction they are going, except for right now while the Longfellow is undergoing rehab.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at

3 Replies to “Downtown View: The Bridges of Suffolk County

  1. BTW, it would get the lyrics for the song back on track:

    Charlie’s wife goes down to the Scollay Square station
    Every day at quarter past two
    And through the open window she hands Charlie a sandwich
    As the train comes rumbling through

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