WILLIAMSTOWN — In early September, the Cheshire Selectmen blessed a proposal to change the spelling of the river that flows through their town from the current Hoosic to Hoosac. They sent Historical Society member Barry Emory, whose idea it was, off to contact the state to try to make that happen.
That raises the issue of which state, given that the Hoosic flows 76 miles through Massachusetts, Vermont and, by far the longest stretch, New York. It flows through, as it happens, not just Cheshire but a dozen or more river communities, not to mention at least twice that number of towns in the Hoosic Watershed. Then there's the final authority, the U.S. Geological Survey, which creates the maps on which virtually all other maps are based.
What would be the historically correct spelling of Hoosic? Does it appear in a document attested to by the Mohican Indians — preferably in the English alphabet? That seems unlikely. More likely the name come to us through early European surveyors who interpreted what they thought Mohicans told them. And those 17th or 18th century Europeans weren't such great spellers, either.
Hoosic, by whatever spelling, was a Mohican word, same root as Housatonic, and thought to mean "beyond place," that is the Mohicans lived in the Hudson valley but journeyed into our hills, up the Hoosic River, for hunting. Or perhaps it meant something else.
Then there's the names Grace Greylock Niles at least thought were original, Mayonsook for the North Branch and Ashuwillticook for the south (hence the name of the rail trail). She titled her charming 1912 book "The Hoosac Valley: Its Legends and Its History," however, making no clear distinction between which parts are legend and which history — and not really explaining her sources for the material on the Indians.
That aside, Emory traced various spellings, flipping from Hoosuck to Hoosac, Hoosick and Hoosic through the years. So, presumably, the right spelling depends on what year.
Actually, most of those spellings are given pretty good play now. Although the Hoosuck Chapter of Trout Unlimited no longer exists, the hills east of North Adams are spelled Hoosac, a town in New York, Hoosick, and the river, throughout its length, Hoosic.
Perhaps the best approach is to make sure the entire river has one name and spelling, and allow different entities, such as hills, a high schools, and for that matter, a water treatment plant, different ones. Hey, that's the present situation. Should it be troubling that there's a Hoosac Valley High School in Massachusetts, a Hoosick Falls Central School there and a Hoosic Valley High School in Schaghticoke, N.Y.?
And speaking of schools, what about focusing instead on the truly weighty matters that lie before the Cheshire Selectmen and other Massachusetts towns in the Hoosac Valley or, if you prefer, the valley of the Hoosic. For example, the issue of how river students are distributed between Hoosac Valley Middle and High School and Mt. Greylock (once called Grand Hoosuck Mountain) Regional.
At least that's how it looks from the White Oaks.
A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.