Manhattan Week: Houston Street Pronunciation Traces Back to Revolutionary War Patriot
Tourists have been butchering the pronunciation of Houston Street for years, but the street's name has nothing to do with that city in Texas. NY1's Michael Scotto reports as part of his Manhattan Week series.
Ask any out-of-towner how to pronouce Houston Street, and you'll likely hear them say Hew-ston. But it is not pronounced like the Texas city, named for Sam Houston. It's pronounced How-ston.
It is not because New Yorkers don't know how to pronounce Sam Houston's name. It's actually named for someone else, a Georgian by the name of William Houstoun, who spelled his name H-O-U-S-T-O-U-N. Over time, the second "u" was dropped.
"William Houstoun was actually a prominent Revolutionary War patriot," said Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. "But it wasn't that that got him a street named after him. It was actually who he married."
Who he married was Mary Bayard, a member of a prominent family that traces its city roots to the Stuyvesants.
The Bayards owned a large farm in what is now SoHo and the Lower East Side. The southeastern boundary of that farm is now appropriately called Bayard Street.
Gerard Koeppel, author of "City on a Grid," says in 1788, Mary Bayard's father, in need of money, decided to carve up the western portion of the farm, now SoHo, into a grid.
"He figured the only way he was able to hold onto the land was to lay it out into a grid and sell it off in lots," Koeppel said.
The north-south streets were originally numbered before they were named for Revolutionary War generals such as Wooster and Greene. The street named for Houston was originally a block south.
"We're here on Prince Street, and in the original Bayard West Farm Grid, this street was called Houston Street," Koeppel said.
The current Houston Street has another distinction as well. It is the southern boundary of the famed 1811 street grid, which begins in earnest on 14th Street. That grid cut through hills and swamps.
But in the end, the street layout established by families such as the Bayards, and later the city, helped create the Manhattan we know today.