Talk:New England town/Archive 1

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Archive 1 Archive 2

This archive includes threads from Talk:New England town from the page's creation until the present.

Initial comments

This article seems a tiny bit unbalanced in overemphasizing the differences between New England towns and midwestern towns/townships. Town/Township governments of states like Wisconsin and Michigan were modelled in large part on New England towns, although they probably drew influence more directly from New York, as many early settlers came from there. The concept however was borrowed as it existed from the late 18th and early 19th century. Since that time, the town/township forms of government in all of the places have diverged considerably. The basic concept behind a midwestern township is that it is the default local unit of government and cover the entire area of the state. The process described for town formation, In other parts of New England, it was not uncommon for “future towns” to be laid out along these lines (sometimes referred to as “townships”), but such areas would not be formally incorporated until they were sufficiently settled to organize a town government. In particular, much of the interior of Maine was originally laid out as surveyed townships., is nearly identical to how townships were organized in midwestern states. Note also that there is considerable variation in town/township governments among the states that use them.

Also, while technically "unincorporated" in that they are organized by the state legislatures rather than incoporated as municipal corporations, they are regarded as corporate bodies under the law. Unlike truly unincorporated areas, which are unincorporated because the sparse population makes civil government largely pointless administrative overhead, civil townships in some midwestern states are strong forms of participatory government, generally much more closely attuned to direct input from residents than municipalities like cities or even villages.

Don't get me wrong, I think there are important disctintions to be made and this article is a good start, but the article as is seems to have a lot of opinions and generalizations without offering much in the way of verifiable sources. olderwiser 21:38, 26 May 2006 (UTC)

similarity with other countries

I am not very familiar with the municipal layout of Europe, but from what I know, land in Europe is also completely subdivided into municipalities or communes, i.e. no unincorprated territory. I could be wrong though. One thing I am sure of is that Japan uses the same model -- everything is an incorporated city/town/village with no unincorporated territory. There are entities similar to counties but are essentially groupings of towns and villages for electoral purposes. Some comparisons with countries using a similar setup might be helpful in clarifying the difference between New England towns and usual places in other parts of the US. --Polaron | Talk 15:30, 30 August 2006 (UTC)

Having knowledge of France and, to some extent, other European social democracies, I can say that many European states have strong central governments, and that the towns, although incorporated, differ greatly from New England towns. Federal republics, like Germany, may be an exception, but, as I said, most of my experience has been with France. --AaronS 04:04, 23 September 2006 (UTC)

Comments from original author

As the original author of this article, which is currently flagged as being inaccurate and biased, I wanted to throw out a few comments to provide some background on this article.

I originally wrote this up in response to a suggestion on the Talk: Massachusetts page to add an article on this topic. I have some familiarity with how municipality structures are set up in different areas of the country, and had observed in the past that people from outside New England often seem to have a poor or incorrect understanding of how the New England system works. (Note that this is not intended to be an indictment of the intelligence of non-New Englanders; likewise, many people from New England have no clue that the rest of the country isn’t set up the same way as New England is, and aren’t sure what to make of it when they encounter a different system.) That there is a difference seems fairly apparent to me; I really had no idea that this would turn out to be a controversial subject.

Objections At this point, there appear to be two sets of comments raising objections to the page, one on the Talk page by “older≠wiser”, and the comments in the history section from “BKonrad”, who flagged the page with the comments “The comparison of NE towns with the rest of the country seems both inaccurate and biased”. It appears to me that “older≠wiser” and “BKonrad" may be the same person, as clicking on "older≠wiser" takes you to BKonrad's talk page, but I apologize if I misinterpreting that.

I understand the comments on the Talk page to express the opinion that there is less of a difference between New England towns and Midwestern townships than the article suggests (note, however, that I added the comparison section subsequent to the comments on the Talk page, in part to address some of his/her comments). I do not think he/she is raising much objection to the description of how the New England town system works.

From Bkonrad’s comments, I am unclear as to the extent of his/her objections. I am not sure if they are directed primarily at the Midwestern township issue, or if they suggest issues with how I have compared New England towns to systems in other parts of the country as well. I am assuming it is directed at the comparison with the Midwest (or possibly Middle Atlantic) states, since it seems quite clear that most states outside of those regions do not have “Minor Civil Division” local government entities, and thus nothing that really resembles a New England town at all.

Based on my understanding of the above comments, I will focus on the issue of how New England towns compare to MCD entities (i.e., townships) in the Midwest and Middle Atlantic states.

Distinctions between New England towns and other MCD entities

As I see it, there are three major differences between New England towns and towns/townships in Midwestern and Middle Atlantic states.

1) New England towns are considered to be incorporated, possess the exact same authority as incorporated cities, and are thought of by local residents as the equivalent of an incorporated city.

Outside of New England, the only two states where townships are considered to be incorporated are New Jersey and Pennsylvania, although there are a few other states where there are similar entities that are technically not considered to be incorporated, but possess a level of importance where they could probably be regarded as “de facto” incorporated. Towns in New York are one example; the “Charter Townships” (not regular townships) in Michigan are another.

I do not think there is any Midwestern state where townships are considered to be incorporated, possess substantially the same authority as incorporated cities, or are thought of by local residents as the equivalent of an incorporated city. Townships do perform significant local government functions, more so in some states than others, and this certainly distinguishes the Midwestern states from the rest of the country. But in terms of governmental function, I do not think they are quite the equivalent of a New England town.

2) In terms of civic identity, New Englanders generally identify very strongly with their towns, which they think of as single, coherent communities. Towns almost always include a downtown or “town center” with the same name as the town, and almost always include a post office with the same name as the town. If you ask someone where they are from, they will almost always responds with the name of the town, not of a section of village or CDP within the town (to be fair, there are certain “villages” not bearing a name related to their town which might be used as a response; Hyannis, Mass. is a notable example. But this is the exception, not the rule.).

In the Midwest, and even in the Middle Atlantic states, the above is sometimes true, but much less so than in New England. Place names and mailing addresses often bear little relation to the names of townships; sometimes, the same township name is repeated over and over in multiple counties, reducing the use of township names for civic identity.

Though there is some correlation between civic identity and township names, and some sense of townships as a “community”, I do not think that either of things is anywhere near as strong in any Midwestern state as it is in New England. Even in the Middle Atlantic states, while stronger than in the Midwest, it is still not at the New England level. To tie this in with #1 above, New Englanders think of their towns the same way a resident of an incorporated municipality would – because the towns are incorporated municipalities.

3) New England also differs from the Midwestern and Middle Atlantic states in that virtually all municipalities are based on the “town system”. In the Midwestern and Middle Atlantic states, in addition to the towns/townships, there are also extensive networks of incorporated municipalities based on the “compact populated place” concept, numbering in the hundreds in most if not all of these states. The “compact populated place” municipalities are generally considered to be of greater importance than the towns/townships, and in most of these states there are probably more residents who live in “compact populated place” municipalities than live in areas under direct town/township administration. In New England, by contrast, “compact populated place”-based municipalities only exist in two of the six states, and even in those states they are not very common and are clearly of lesser importance than towns.

In older≠wiser’s comments, he/she wrote “The basic concept behind a midwestern township is that it is the default local unit of government and cover the entire area of the state”. In New England, towns aren’t the “default”, providing services to areas that aren’t part of an incorporated municipality. They are, essentially, all there is. They are the incorporated municipalities themselves.

Even if there were no qualitative difference between New England towns and Midwestern townships, I would still argue that the New England system is different due to its near-complete reliance on entities based on the MCD concept, and near-complete absence of entities based on the “compact populated place” concept (even cities in the New England states are essentially a variation on towns; the vast majority of the incorporated cities in New England were towns at one time).

A rant, if I may.... (to be fair, neither of the comments noted above have claimed that anything I posted about the way the New England town system works – as opposed to how New England compares to other regions – is incorrect.)

<start rant> I do have to confess one bias: based on my past experience, I am a bit skeptical of non- New Englanders who claim to have an understanding on how the New England system works, especially those who “know” that it is very similar to the way Midwestern townships work. Because New England towns unquestionably have some similarities to Midwestern townships, and because the Census Bureau classifies both in the same category (MCDs), some people conclude that the two types of entities must be very similar.

I have seen many statements made about New England towns, both in print and on the internet, that are just plain wrong. One example that comes to mind is the introduction to the section of the World Almanac that has population figures for U.S. places. I don’t recall the exact wording, but if I’m not mistaken the text states that towns in New England are not incorporated. I have even seen Usenet discussions in which New Englanders have posted correct information about the New England system, only to have non-New Englanders who “know” how the New England system works step in and tell them that the New Englanders are wrong and don't understand how their own towns work.

There are at least three issues that seem to come up over and over again:

1) New England towns aren’t incorporated. Since they are MCDs like Midwestern townships, and since the Census Bureau doesn’t classify them as incorporated places, they can’t be incorporated. Delusional New Englanders may say that they are, but they’re not. There’s just no way they can be. In the rest of the country, you just wouldn’t incorporate something like that.

But they are incorporated. New England isn’t like the rest of the country. The reason the Census Bureau doesn’t classify them as “incorporated places” isn’t because they aren’t incorporated, but because they don’t fit the Census definition of a “place”.

2) New Englanders can’t possibly think of towns as single, coherent communities, just like any incorporated place in any other state. Since they are more the size of townships/MCDs, people must think of them in the same way as townships/MCDs. Delusional New Englanders may say claim to think of them as single, coherent communities, but that’s just not possible. It can’t be. In the rest of the country, you just wouldn’t think of something like that as a single, coherent community.

But New Englanders do think of towns as single, coherent communities, just like any incorporated place in any other state. Again, New England isn’t like the rest of the country.

3) Towns and cities in New England are two completely different things. The Census Bureau considers cities to be incorporated places, but towns are MCDs. Cities are incorporated, but towns aren’t. Cities are just like cities in other states, but towns are just like townships. Delusional New Englanders may tell you something about towns being incorporated or about towns and cities being pretty similar, but they’re wrong.

The only difference between a town and a city is the form of government, and even that distinction has become blurred over time. They are both incorporated, they are both thought of as single, coherent communities, they both have the same level of authority. The vast majority of cities are nothing more than former towns that changed their form of government. Again, New England just isn’t like the rest of the country.

<end rant>

Some source material Here are a couple of presumably neutral sources that provide some background on this subject. I don’t think that the content of these sources differs too much from the current content of the article.

1) The Census Bureau Geographic Area Reference Manual, Chapter 8 in particular. This document is accessible on the internet at Note that this document draws a distinction between New England towns and Midwestern townships, placing them in different categories (though it lumps the Middle Atlantic states in with New England to form what it calls the “Northeastern states”). A few excerpts:

“In the New England and Middle Atlantic States, the primary subdivisions of counties generally are called towns or townships. Most of these towns and townships are actively functioning units of local government and are very well known locally. Although not classified as incorporated places in the decennial census, they are legally incorporated units and have most or all the powers of incorporated places. Because of this strong functional aspect, the Census Bureau usually provides the same data tables for these MCDs as it provides for places, and also tables where MCDs and places are intermixed…In New England, the towns and cities, not the county, serve as the basic units of local government”.

“The primary MCDs in New York are called towns; in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, they are called townships. These MCDs share some of the legal and geographic attributes of the New England towns in that they all are significant, active, functioning governmental units (except for one inactive township in Pennsylvania). However, there are two major differences: (1) counties in the Middle Atlantic States have greater governmental and administrative significance than in New England, and (2) the local inhabitants do not always perceive the MCD as constituting a single community. An illustration of the somewhat weaker community identification of MCDs in the Middle Atlantic States is the large number of separately incorporated places (nearly 2,000) and CDPs (about 800) in these three States. Although some of these separate incorporated places have the same name as their parent MCD, the majority bear the names of other communities. For example, of the approximately 1,000 incorporated places in Pennsylvania, only about 200 have a name related to their parent MCD and, in some of these situations, it is the parent MCD that was named after the place”.

“The MCDs of the 12 Midwestern States evolved from the township and range system of survey townships. These survey townships, in turn, provided the geographic basis for organizing units of local government, which were called civil townships. Many civil townships consist of a single survey township. The MCDs of 11 Midwestern States use the term townships; Wisconsin uses the term town….These MCDs, for the most part, perform less of a governmental role and are less well known locally than their counterparts in the Northeast and the Middle Atlantic States. There are exceptions—the charter townships of Michigan, the urban townships of Minnesota, and the towns of Wisconsin—all of which have the legal capacity to provide all the governmental services associated with incorporated places. In most of the other Midwestern States, the primary governmental function of township governments is the building and/or maintenance of the local roads and bridges; however, some townships, particularly in Illinois, Kansas, and Ohio, may provide fire protection, refuse disposal, libraries, cemeteries, hospitals, zoning regulation, and other types of services.”

2) Another source is the Rand McNally Commercial Atlas & Marketing Guide, which can be found in many public or college libraries. Page 5-6 of the 2005-06 edition has a section which touches on the differences between municipality structures in different parts of the country. A few excerpts:

Following an explanation of what Midwestern/Northeastern townships/towns are (and using “township” as a generic term for MCD): “In some states, mostly located in New England, townships are of such importance that they essentially function as incorporated places. At the other extreme, there are states in which the townships have virtually no governmental significance and may be almost unknown to local residents”.

This is followed by a discussion of how the use of the term “town” differs in New England from the rest of the country, and that there are two general regions of the country where MCDs are of notable significance, the “Northeast group” (same definition as Census Bureau) and the “Great Lakes group” (IL, IN, MI, OH, WI). On the Great Lakes group: “In these states, as in most of the Midwest, most counties are divided into townships. However, these divisions are considerably less significant administratively and are less well known than in the Northeast group. Though they possess legal status, they are not usually thought of locally as incorporated”. It is noted that there are some exceptions to this; towns in Wisconsin are cited as one, which “retain much local importance” and are even called towns, just like in New England.

Rand McNally draws a couple of interesting distinctions which are worth noting:

--They only provide data in the atlas for towns/townships for states in the Northeast group (New England, NY, NJ PA) and Great Lakes group (IL, IN, MI, OH, WI). No data is provided for townships in other Midwestern states.

--They show which town/township a place is part of for states in the Northeast group, and for MI, OH and WI.

3) Another source I would note is the section of the World Almanac that has population figures for U.S. places, despite the incorrect statement in the introduction noted above. The Almanac lists population figures for New England towns, with their names italicized to distinguish them from “regular” incorporated places. It does not do so for Midwestern townships (unless they are coextensive with a CDP, in which case the CDP is listed).

I believe that all of these sources support the idea that, while there are certainly similarities between New England towns and Midwestern townships, they are not quite the same. In terms of local-government/civic-identity significance, they seem to indicate that there is a hierarchy of MCDs in which New England towns are on one level, towns/townships in the Middle Atlantic states slightly below them, towns/townships in a few other Midwestern states (MI and WI, maybe OH) on the next step down, and additional Midwestern states further down the ladder.

Moving Forward Does anyone have any further thoughts on this? Can older≠wiser, Bkonrad, or anyone else propose some ideas or revisions to make the article less “inaccurate and biased”? Can anyone provide an improved description of how Midwestern townships work relative to New England towns? MCT 20:49, 22 September 2006 (UTC)

I think the article as it is currently written does a pretty good job of explaining the differences. In fact, I would argue that is is somewhat too verbose. Making it into a table listing the key differences might be sufficient. One thing I would highlight, though, is that in New England, the town *is* the incorporated place even if it does not fit the Census definition. I don't see anything inaccurate or biased at all. --Polaron | Talk 21:11, 22 September 2006 (UTC)
As I said above, I think the idea for an article such as this is good -- this just seems to me a lot of unreferenced generalizations that seem to make rather a lot out of the differences and to overlook many similarities. Here's ust a few observations:
In Michigan and Wisconsin, and perhaps to a lesser extent in Minnesota, the distiction between incorporated and unincorporated is fuzzy. Every inch of Michigan is part of either a township or a city (or an Indian reservation, but that's another matter entirely). Same for Wisconsin towns and cities. There are some uninhabited areas of Minnesota that are unorganized and hence not part of any township, but that corresponds to the unorganized territory in Maine. There are other areas where the presence of town/township authority is so minimal as to be almost negligible, but they are nonetheless, according to the state laws, a part of the "body corporate" of their respective towns or townships.
Midwestern towns/townships in urban areas can have powers similar to those of cities. These urban towns/townships are for practical purposes indistinquishable from the surrounding urban areas -- there is a police force, fire department, trash is removed, leaves get picked up, zoning and housing codes are enforced. In uninhabited areas, the concept of incorporation is of no significance. In sparsely populated rural areas, townships provide for a minimalist form of governance with direct participation of the residents. In more urbanized or mixed areas, townships are more like cities in how they govern. In is difficult and usually misleading to make blanket generalizations about them.
The statement In New England, by contrast, the standard procedure is to organize all territory into incorporated municipalities -- if you substitute "organized" or "established" in place of "incorporated" the process is really quite similar to how towns and townships were set up in the midwestern states. In part, the NE town was a very profound influence for midwestern townships, since many of the early settlers were from NE states. Indeed, in Wisconsin, the term "town" is used rather than township. In Minnesota, and throughout much of the 19th century in Michigan, the terms town and township are used almost interchangeably. Much the same comments apply to the later paragraph about town organization in Vermont and New Hampshire, which, with slight modifications, could easily describe the organization of townships in Michigan and Towns in Wisconsin.
The article makes generalizations such as Residents usually identify very strongly with their town for purposes of civic identity, thinking of the town as a single, coherent community., even though there are many examples of communities within towns that have a readily recognizable identity. Category:Unincorporated communities in Massachusetts, Category:Unincorporated communities in Connecticut, Category:Unincorporated communities in New Hampshire. The later section describing Boroughs and Villages, could also apply with slight modifications to unincorporated communities in the midwest -- they have no legal existence, they receive services from the town/township (or sometimes county), they may be served by their own post offices.
Then there are such banal statements as Cities differ from towns only in their form of government. Does anyone really think that the only difference between cities like Boston or New Haven or Bridgeport or Providence and towns like Litchfield or Plainfield is the form of government?
Then there is the section that attempts to explain Census Bureau terminology with statements like Because they often do not represent single, compact, populated places, the United States Census Bureau treats New England towns differently from incorporated municipalities in other states. Rather than listing New England towns as “incorporated places”, the Census Bureau treats them as “Minor Civil Divisions” (MCDs), the same category into which midwestern townships fall. The Census Bureau does so because they feel that, from a population-distribution standpoint, New England towns are not really equivalent to, and cannot be fairly compared to, the “single, compact populated place” type of municipalities found in other states. The Census Bureau also treats plantations in Maine as MCDs. References anyone? What are the quotation marks quoting from?
Here is what the Census Bureau has to say for itself:[1]
New England towns In Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, the towns are different from the incorporated places called towns in most other States. Outside of New England, the term town usually refers to a built-up settlement or population cluster intermediate in size and governmental power between a city and a village. By contrast, the New England towns were established initially to provide government to an area rather than a specific concentration of population. Many New England towns are from 20 to 50 square miles in size, and often contain rural territory as well as one or more population concentrations. Therefore, the settlement pattern of many New England towns, except in the vicinities of the larger cities, more closely resembles that of the townships in many other States.
In New England, the towns and cities, not the county, serve as the basic units of local government. Since their establishment in the 17th century, many towns have elected their governing officials and managed their local affairs. The county was merely a grouping of towns, established primarily for judicial and penal purposes, and had minimal political significance. Connecticut abolished its county governments in 1960; the counties in Connecticut and Rhode Island serve only as administrative subdivisions of those States.'
Relationship of towns to incorporated places in New England All incorporated places in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island are cities that are independent of any town. All incorporated places (cities and boroughs) in Connecticut are dependent on the town in which they are located. One borough and all but one of the State’s twenty cities are coextensive with a single town, and exercise the governmental powers of both an MCD and an incorporated place in a single elected governmental body. The incorporated places in Vermont are either cities, all of which are independent of MCDs, or villages, all of which are dependent. Unlike Connecticut, none of the dependent villages in Vermont coincide with a town.
All in all, while there are many good points to the article, in many ways it reads more like an essay than a well-referenced article and in many places has a tone of boosterism rather than balance. olderwiser 02:38, 23 September 2006 (UTC)


Having grown up in New England, and having done some traveling, I can say that a lot of the generalizations made in this article are true, although they may be difficult to reference (although a bit dated, Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, has an excellent discussion regarding the New England town). Before I left New England, I had no concept of a piece of land that was not incorporated into a town or city and administered by a town or city government. I never understood the county government as having anything more than a historical meaning, and I had always thought that there was a sort of shared government between the town governments and the state government. The decisions that had affected my life the most were decisions made at Town Meeting, not in Boston, and not in Washington. Since then, I have traveled quite a bit, and I am no longer surprised (although it still seems foreign to me) by the idea of areas of a state that are not considered relatively sovereign and which are controlled by state or county governments. I can say, however, that many people from New England, who have not traveled as much, might still be surprised by this idea.

It's difficult to give a sense of authority to an article like this, since so little has been written on the subject. Also, it is just as much a cultural issue as it is a socio-political issue. While more references could be added, and while more research needs to be done, I think that the article, as it is, is not too inaccurate. --AaronS 04:12, 23 September 2006 (UTC)

Possible items of comparison

I'm listing various things that could differentiate towns/townships in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and North Central states.

  • Delineation of town/township boundaries -- New England, New Jersey, and possibly New York had their boundaries delineated based on population settlement patterns and where communities started to develop, and was extended to cover the entire territory of the state. For the North Central states, they were delineated based on the square grid of the original survey townships and have no bearing at all on where the population actually settled.
  • Fully functional municipal corporation -- towns in New England are not treated differently by law from the usual incorporated city. This is actually also true for New Jersey I think but not for the other states. New England towns can do everything that a city in any other part of the country is allowed to do, such as act as a corporate entity, levy taxes, eminent domain, maintain all local public works and services, handle public safety and environmental protection, regulatory powers, control economic development, and more.
  • Home rule -- Related to the above, New England towns are subordinate only to the State. In fact, there have been some legal arguments claiming that towns have inherent authority since many of them were formed prior to the creation of the state. Many of the municipal functions typically performed by counties are handled by the towns themselves. In both the Mid-Atlantic and North Central states, the town/township is subordinate to the county and have only those powers specifically granted to them by the state.
  • Lack of incorporated compact population centers -- In New England, only Vermont and Connecticut have incorporated places that are subordinate to the town. There are 10 out of 169 in CT and 39 out of 251 in VT. These are relatively few when compared with the villages, boroughs, etc. in the Mid-Atlantic and North Central states where they number in the several hundreds. Note that in NJ, PA, and WI boroughs/villages become independent of the township.
  • City = town -- Cities in New England are simply towns with large populations that decided to adopt a city form of government since large populations are not amenable to the Town Meeting form of government. There is no distinction or benefit granted by the state to cities over towns. I am not sure about other states but my understanding is cities have greater autonomy than towns/townships in general.
  • Civic identity -- as mentioned above, postal addresses always correspond to the actual municipality in New England. Even though there are named unincorporated communities in the New England states, residents of those areas are more likely to identify with the town rather than the unincorporated community name (as indicated here on p.22). Residents would say they are from Town X, rather than Unincorporated Community X. Town names are well-known locally in New England unlike town/township names in other states.
  • Hierarchy -- As mentioned above, in terms of degree of home rule and civic identity, one could rank the towns/townships as: New England --> Mid-Atlantic --> North Central. There are exceptions of course to these generalizations such as charter townships in Michigan, urban townships in Minnesota, and Wisconsin towns, which behave more like their Mid-Atlantic counterparts. Also, New Jersey townships now are more like their New England counterparts.

Anyway, just my comments to add to the discussion. --Polaron | Talk 16:57, 24 September 2006 (UTC)

More substantial comments to come (soon I hope) -- though no major disagreements really--most of my objections to the article are to the rather overly broad generalizations it makes and the unreferenced essayish quality. Two question though about what you say under Civic identity -- first, what do you mean that postal addresses always correspond to the actual municipality in New England? Is Assonet, Massachusetts, Zip Code 02702, a municipality? How about Baldwinville, Massachusetts, 01436, or Southport, Connecticut, 06890, or Groveton, New Hampshire, 03582? Second, I don't see where page 22 of GARM Chapter 8 makes any mention of how residents of new England towns are more likely to identify with the town rather than the unincorporated community name -- what it presents are differences between MCDs in the Middle Atlantic States and New England states. What is does say is that residents of MA states are less likely to percieve the MCD (the town/township) as constituting a single community. That supports the notion that NE residents identify more strongly with the town (the MCD in census terms) than residents in MA states, it does not assert (at least not unambiguously) that residents of NE do not identify with unincorporated communities. But I agree that that's niggling details. I readily agree that residents of most NE towns strongly identify with the town as a place. The problem is with making generalization as universal assertions. While it may be true in general to say that about NE towns, and it may be a generally recognizable attribute of NE towns, we need to exercise care when make statements that imply it is "always" true or that is applies "every" case. olderwiser 19:50, 24 September 2006 (UTC)
A bit more. Re: Delineation of town/township boundaries -- as a broad generalization, this is true. However, the article itself point out that this was not always the case even in NE towns. And in Michigan (I'm not so sure about WI or MN), townships were delineated in response to population. When originally delineated, most MI townships encompassed the area of several survey townships -- sometimes entire counties were initially part of a single township. As population grew, the township was divided. And at least in the early stages, township names were based on the name of an existing settlement. The pattern of naming based on existing settlements was also followed in WI and MN, although in all three states, there came a point where the establishment of civil townships bore little relation to settlement patterns. So as a generalization, it is not quite accurate to say that for township delineation there was "no bearing at all on where the population actually settled" -- this is the case for many of the townships, but not universally. What is interesting about the relationship between population centers in the midwest and townships, and a significant departure from the NE model (although there are exceptions there as well), is that the population centers could incorporate as a village/city with a degree of autonomy from the town/township -- and often resulted in cities/villages with the same name as the surrounding (or nearby) township.
Which bring to my mind one of my other dissatisfactions with the present article, which for the most part emphasizes the differences between NE towns with the rest of the country and asserts the uniqueness of the NE town. But there are points of continuity as well--many early settlers to Michigan were from the NE states and this played a role in how many communities and townships were established in early MI history (I'm not so sure about WI or MN). Ultimately, MI adopted a model more influenced by the New York model of dual systems of local governance (county/township and city/village), but the influence of the NE model, especially in the early stages of midwest history, shouldn't be overlooked. That is, the towns/townships of the upper midwest states were at least in part inspired by the NE town model. They have since evolved into quite different types of entities, but there is a connection.
I think a part of my reaction to this article, in addition to the lack of references and essayish quality, is the implications (and I exagerate a bit here to make my point) that NE towns are different from everything else sometimes referred to as a town and there is indignation because the Census Bureau doesn't classify them as incorporated places. olderwiser 17:54, 25 September 2006 (UTC)

I’ve drafted a revised version of the article, in which I have attempted to clean up some of the language issues, in particular the “boosterism” that older ≠ wiser referred to. I definitely understand what you mean; the article was written with the assumption that readers would approach it with misconceptions about how the New England town system works, and needed to be convinced otherwise. I can't really argue with the point that this contributes to it having a non-encyclopedia-like tone. I’d be interested in getting some feedback on the draft. Should I post it here, or on my talk page or a test page somewhere? Or would it be appropriate to just put it out on the article page, and people could just revert it or modify it?

The most notable changes are as follows:

  • I have shortened the introduction, and added a “Characteristics of New England towns” section to follow, describing the typical features of towns. It has a lot of the same elements as Polaron’s “Possible items of comparison” above, although I actually wrote up the draft prior to viewing those comments. In writing the introduction, I borrowed some language from the introduction section to the Administrative divisions of Connecticut page that Polaron recently linked to this page – I thought that was a good short explanation that cuts out the "boosterism".
  • I have shortened and reorganized the sections that deal with non-town municipalities, cutting out a lot of the information on the history of cities, and providing a shorter explanation about how cities in Connecticut came to be (at least technically) a little bit different from in the other New England states, with less history and background. The eliminated information is at a level of detail that is probably unnecessary for an article dealing with New England as a whole. Cities and Plantations are now covered first, followed by Boroughs and Villages; I think the order makes more sense, as the former are on the same level as towns, the latter beneath the town level.
  • I have completely eliminated the Comparison with other regions of the U.S. section. I had only added this in response to older ≠ wiser’s original comments way up at the top of this page, and I don’t think anyone really likes this section as it currently exists, including me. If anyone else wants to take a stab at writing a new one, feel free.

I don’t think the draft really changes much of the substance of the article, but I agree with the sentiment expressed above that we’re arguing about a lot of niggling details but aren’t really too far apart when it comes to the big picture. I am in agreement with almost everything that Polaron wrote in the “Possible items of comparison” section. I would agree that there are some similarities between the Midwestern and New England systems -- the Midwest certainly has more in common with New England than, say, the South does -- but I still think the whole philosophy behind each is quite different. In describing each system, I think you have to use generalizations, because both have some variations between states, and in neither case are their characteristics going to hold true 100% of the time.

On the post office/mailing address issue and how it relates to civic identity: It is absolutely true that some "villages" with names unrelated to the town have their own post office, but residents of such areas usually still identify more strongly with the town. There are exceptions to this – one can even find a few towns here and there that don’t have “town centers” at all – but they stand out as exceptions and are certainly not the rule. As Polaron noted, if you ask someone where they are from, they will almost always tell you the name of the town, regardless of whether they live in the “town center” or whether their mailing address contains the name of the town. The "villages" are typically thought of more along the lines of neighborhoods.

By contrast, in towns/townships in the Middle Atlantic states, I think it is significantly more common for residents to have mailing addresses that do not correspond to the town/township name, significantly more common for residents to identify more with unincorporated communities/post offices/etc. than with the town/township as a whole, and significantly more common for towns/townships to not contain any places at all with names derived from that of the town. And in most if not all of the Midwestern states, these things are even more common than in the Middle Atlantic states.

On the settlement/boundary issue: It is probably an exaggeration to say that township boundaries in the Midwest were always laid out on a grid in advance with no regard to anything else, and that town boundaries in New England were always "made up as they went along" to reflect settlement patterns. But I think there is a distinction between the two; the former is much closer to the truth for most areas of the Midwest, and the latter is much closer to the truth for most areas of New England. Even in those areas of New England that were surveyed well before settlement, town boundaries are sometimes pretty irregular. Northern Maine is the only area of New England that was surveyed as townships on a standard grid.

older≠wiser, you made the comment that "What is interesting about the relationship between population centers in the midwest and townships, and a significant departure from the NE model (although there are exceptions there as well), is that the population centers could incorporate as a village/city with a degree of autonomy from the town/township". I think this is the biggest single distinction between New England and other parts of the country. Even if there were no other differences, I would still submit that this makes New England notably different. In New England, municipal structures are based almost entirely on the MCD concept, to the near-complete exclusion of the "compact populated place" concept that is prevalent everywhere else in the country. I understand why the Census Bureau doesn't recognize New England towns as "incorporated places", but I think their attempts to shoehorn New England towns into classifications designed with the "compact populated place" concept in mind have resulted in a lot of people misunderstanding how the New England system works.

Look at it this way: Imagine if tomorrow, the Census Bureau announced that it was going to start using two additional criteria to classify municipal entities. First, one of the criteria to differentiate MCDs from CCD would be that the former now needed to be classified as incorporated under the laws of their state. Second, incorporated places would now be defined as entities titled as either "cities" or "towns". Entities with other names, even if considered incorporated by their respective states, would be relgated to CDP status. (Note that these polcies would affect every Midwestern state, most in two different ways, but would not have a really significant effect elsewhere except for the Middle Atlantic states.) Sooner or later, you would start encountering people (most likely from outside the Midwest) who "knew", and might even argue with great insistence, that villages in Midwestern states are unincorporated, and that townships do not serve any local government function anywhere outside of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. MCT 20:23, 25 September 2006 (UTC)

Major revision of 4 October 2006

Not having received any response to the contrary, I'm going to go ahead and post the revised article to the main page. I'm posting it as originally drafted, taking into account one change made to the main page by another individual subsequent to the above discussion. MCT 22:05, 4 October 2006 (UTC)

It looks OK, for the most part. It still lacks sourcing, but nothing there really rings untrue to me. Main complaints: it's too long, and bit dense and wordy. I think the same points could be made with far more concise language. It seems to excessively belabor some points, and some other material verges on speculative commentary (e.g. the psychological/identity aspects between the town and its residents). It veers a bit into long tangents on cities, plantations (simply rehashes material in the "see also" plantation (Maine) article), boroughs/villages, and non-town areas. The Statistics and Superlatives section should be whacked off for sake of brevity, as the biggest obvious thing, IMO. Ripogenus77 23:26, 4 October 2006 (UTC)
A marked improvement in terms of a neutral presentation. But some additional references would be nice. I'm sure the Census GARM chapter was used for at least a portion of this, as well as the Census Bureau for the statistics. I'll have to re-read again more closely, but I suspect I'd agree with at least some of the comments from Ripogenus77. olderwiser 00:55, 5 October 2006 (UTC)
I grew up in New York State, lived for 8 years in California, lived for a couple of years in Illinois, a year in Germany, and have now lived in Massachusetts for a total of 9 years. As a trained geographer, I feel that I have a good understanding of the different ways of organizing local government, territory, and even community identity. That said, I must say that this article strikes me as accurate and unbiased. New England towns really are a unique entity. Certainly there are points of similarity to New York towns and Midwestern townships, but New England towns have a number of unique qualities, which this article elucidates. I don't think that the article deserves the warning flags at the top of the page. I think that it should probably refer to a published source or two, and I will undertake to find a couple at my local library. Once those are supplied, can we remove the tags? Marco polo 19:02, 11 October 2006 (UTC)
I agree that the article is pretty accurate and doesn't really deserve the warning flags. JBH23 19:43, 14 October 2006 (UTC)

further reading

I've added a few references that might be helpful to those wanting more detailed information. The links to the online versions probably require subscription or access through a library or educational institution. --Polaron | Talk 19:58, 5 October 2006 (UTC)

Draft (Oct 16, 2006) edited version of section Characteristics of the New England Town System

I would like to pare down the text to the Characteristics of the New England Town System introduction to make it more readable and scannable. I've removed a number of adjectives, intensifiers and adverbs and doubly or triply repeated qualifications. Mostly there are fewer words. Comments and objections invited. Yellowdesk 20:02, 16 October 2006 (UTC)

  • Nearly all territory of a New England state is incorporated within the boundaries of a town or other statutory municipality. Only sparsely populated areas of the three northern New England states (primarily the interior of Maine) have land outside of incorporated municipal territory.
  • Towns are corporations, function as an administrative division of the state, and have most powers that a city typically has in other states. Most towns are governed by a town meeting form of government.
  • Town territory is typically centered around a densely inhabited place, a town center with the same name as the town. Usually the town encompases a much larger area than the town center and includes a mixture of settled and rural territory. Since there is no unincorporated state territory, departing from one town implies entering another town or municipality. In most parts of New England, towns have irregular shape and size, and were not laid out on a grid (interior Maine is an exception, where the originally surveyed townships continue).
  • Since nearly all New England residents live within the boundaries of an incorporated municipality, residents receive most local services at the municipal level, and county governments are weak. In some states, county government has been abolished in whole or part.
  • Residents' civic identification is primarily their town, with few residents identifing primarily with a village or section of their town.
  • Other forms of municipalities besides towns exist in New England, most notably cities. Cities tend to be an extension of the statutory town concept; and are former towns that adopted a city form of government because their population had grown too large for effective town meeting decision-making. But other municipal forms based on the concept of a compact populated place, such as a village or borough, are uncommon and where one does exist, it remains legally dependant upon the parent town it is part of.

Some comments on this section. Some of these tie in with the comments I left below concerning the edit of the introductory paragraph (read those comments first):

  • In the last bullet, I think you need to qualify the statement that cities "are former towns" with "most" or "generally"; while it is certainly standard procedure for cities to have been towns prior to becoming cities, there are a few exceptions. In Vermont in particular, many cities are former villages, not former towns in any sense. There are also a couple of cities in the other New England states that were never towns first (Central Falls, RI, for one).
  • In the current article, the first bullet acknowledges that unincorporated territory does exist in New England, but that the existence of such areas is unusual in the New England system and that it is not standard operating procedure to have any unincorporated territory. I think the proposed revision downplays both the scarcity of such areas and how sparsely populated they tend to be. The revision could be interpreted to suggest that it is in fact fairly common for "sparsely populated" teritory in in the three northern New England states to be unincorporated (bearing in mind that the three states in question have a lot of "sparsely populated" territory). The reality is that there is very little unincorporated territory anywhere outside of the interior of Maine, and a large portion of it is virtually, if not completely, uninhabited.
  • In the current article, the second bullet tries to get the point across that New England towns serve as incorporated municpalities, unlike civil townships in most states where the latter exist. Could we word this as "municipal corporation" instead of "corporation", and "powers similar to a city..." instead of "most powers that a city..."? The revision language could be taken to suggest that New England towns somehow aren't "real" municipalities (and thus presumably aren't really that different from civil townships in the Midwest).
  • In the fifth bullet, could we add something to the effect of "rather than the town as a whole" to the end? I think that would provide a little more emphasis as to how this is different from states with civil townships.
  • In the current article, the sixth bullet tries to highlight the fact that the lack of "compact populated place" muncipalities in New England is very different from other parts of the country (in the earlier debate, this was one difference that everyone seemed to agree was definitely significant). The proposed revision seems to make this idea an afterthought. I think if we just take out the word "But" at the start of the second sentence, it comes across better in this regard.
  • The current article has two statements that have been retained in the revsion, but that I don't think are really necessary, especially if we want to make this section more concise. First, in the third bullet, I'm don't think the sentence in parenthesis at the end is really necessary, since the previous sentence is qualified by "most". Second, in the sixth bullet, I think everything after the word "uncommon" could probably go. (This is not directed at the revisions that have been suggested, but to present additional revisions that also could be made.)

I don't mean this to come across as too harsh; I like the proposed revisions overall, but I'm concerned that in some cases they de-emphasize some of the differences that typically distinguish New England towns from civil townships to the point where it isn't really clear to the reader that there is much of a difference. MCT 22:03, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

Draft (Oct 17, 2006) edit of introductory paragraphs

I find the introduction launches immediately into detail that is quickly recapitulated in the following paragraphs or sections. I would like to bring it to greater brevity and succinctness. This desire leads me to propose this example, with significant reduction in the introductory text. Again, comments and critique are invited. Yellowdesk 04:12, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

The New England town is the primary unit of local government in each of the six New England states. An institution that does not have a direct counterpart in most other U.S. states, New England towns are conceptually similar to civil townships found in some states, in that both were originally set up so that state territory is entirely divided into towns. New England towns tend to be of greater importance in local government than civil townships. New England towns have many powers that a city or county in other states typically have, and are municipal corporations. Because nearly all New England residents live within the boundaries of an incorporated municipality, county government in New England is typically weak or nonexistent; towns have much greater importance than the counties in New England, and this is the only region of the country where this is the case.

Looks good to me, except for one grammatical point: "a city or county in other states typically has" or perhaps more felicitous: "cities or counties in other states typically have". --JBH23 15:52, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

Overall it looks good. But I think a little has been "lost in translation", both here an in the proposed revision to the "Characteristics" section, concerning the differences between the New England system and those in other parts of the U.S. If you look at the earlier debate over this article, a lot of it was around whether New England towns were really that different from civil townships in the Midwest and Middle Atlantic states, and if so in what ways. The pre-4 October 2006 introduction, among other problems, was felt to put excessive emphasis on the differences. The current introduction was an attempt to balance out the results of that debate, noting how New England towns and civil townships are similar and how they are different. The proposed revision seems to come across as downplaying the differences. I understand the goal of brevity and succinctness, and I don't think the intent was necessarily to swing things in this direction, but I think someone from the Midwest who is unfamiliar with New England could read the proposed introduction and think to themselves "This is pretty much the same thing as a Midwestern township". MCT 21:16, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

  • I'll read over the entire talk pages again, more carefully--they're long--and attempt to incorporate the nearby comments for the draft sections on aother draft round.
  • It would be great to track down the population in VT, NH, and ME that live in gores, unorganized townships, and other irregular non-town territories. Does anyone know how to access the detailed census information for minor civil divisions (MCD) (New England towns), or for unincorporated areas census designated places (CDP) (usually sections of a New England town), and compare to the total county populations, and and extract the unincorporated populations?
Yellowdesk 03:44, 18 October 2006 (UTC)
You can try here (you'll need a spreadhseet to sort it out though). By my count, the population in non-town (and non-plantation) are (as of 2005):
  • Maine: 7,682 in 39 unorganized territories + 1 in 1 gore + 1,816 in 4 American Indian Reservations (0.7% of state population)
  • New Hampshire: 115 in 6 townships + 103 in 4 locations + 9 in 6 purchases + 19 in 8 grants (0.02% of population)
  • Vermont: 23 in 3 gores + 0 in 1 grant (0.004% of population)
--Polaron | Talk 04:18, 18 October 2006 (UTC)
Using figures from the 2000 Census, the population living in unincorporated areas is 9,522 in Maine; 236 in NH; and 84 in VT. These figures for NH and VT are higher than what Polaron came up with because there are actually several unincorporated "towns" or "townships" in those states as well. These are discussed at greater length in the main article; they are areas that were either "chartered" (according to the procedure followed in NH and VT) as "future towns" back in the 18th century, but have never developed enough permanent population to activate their incorporation; or areas that were once incorporated towns but disincorporated due to population loss. NH has seven of them (Cambridge, Dixville, Kilkenny, Livermore, Millsfield, Odell, Success) and VT has five (Averill, Ferdinand, Glastenbury, Lewis and Somerset). For some reason, the Census lists Livermore, NH and the ones in VT as "towns", and the others as townships. I believe that the Census GARM notes that they are all unincorporated.
ME also has many unincorporated "townships", but with the exception of one stray gore, the Census Bureau aggregates all of the unincorporated territory in ME, aside from organized plantations and Indian Reservation land, into "Unorganized Territories". As noted in the main article, ME seems to be much more liberal than NH and VT when it comes to allowing towns to disincorporate.
Note that CDPs in New England are *not* "unincorporated territory", so if you want to extract the unincorporated population of each state, you shouldn't be looking at the CDPs. The CDPs are unincorporated in the sense of "not separately incorporated", but they are invariably an integral part of an incorporated town (I am not aware of any CDP in New England that is not part of a town), no less "incorporated" than any other area of the town. See the discussion on Census treatment of the New England system in the main article.
MCT 14:53, 18 October 2006 (UTC)

Population density maps, 2000 census

I added the Maine population density map / image to the article, since it most graphically shows a significant low density area. Here's the list in a form that is clickable, and won't take up tons of space, six New England population density maps for the 2000 census, plus other non-New England states. Yellowdesk 00:26, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

  • Image:New_Hampshire_population_map.png [2]
  • Image:Massachusetts_population_map.png [3]
  • Image:Vermont_population_map.png [4]
  • Image:Rhode_Island_population_map.png [5]
  • Image:Maine_population_map.png [6]
  • Image:Connecticut_population_map.png [7]

Outside of New England:

  • Image:New_York_Population_Map.png [8]

Massachusetts section

I think the parenthetical discussion about varying categorizations of cities and towns should be re-aligned. The leading difficulty is that a number of municipalities that have a corporate name "The town of ......" are actually statutory cities. Greenfield is one, for example, and it became a statutory city in the last 25 or fewer years, I believe. The Secretary of the Commonwealth should be relied upon for this categorization. The Census department does not care about the delicacies of the form of government, and the article should simply note the Census categorization, for the Census's own statistical purposes. I say this, because the essence of this article is the statutory form of goverment that New England towns have, which implies the method of decision-making and the state authority that is devolved upon the New England town (and city). I speculate the one of several original motivations for the article is to clear up the Census's conflation of unincorporrated midwest townships with New England municipal corporate bodies. This town/city division is another Census conflation to untangle. After I (or someone) has a chance to compare the Secretary's categorization with the Census's, I would like to review and modify this section accordingly. Again, comment and critque invited. Yellowdesk 03:17, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

This is how the unmodified Massachusetts section is phrased as of October 18, 2006:

Massachusetts contains 40 incorporated cities and 311 incorporated towns. Collectively, these 351 municipalities cover the entire state; there is no unincorporated territory.

(Note: Different sources will quote varying numbers of cities and towns in Massachusetts, due to apparent attempts to classify certain communities that call themselves "towns" as "cities", based on having a form of government that is essentially a city form of government. While other New England states have towns with similar arrangements, only in Massachusetts has any attempt been made to classify communities along these lines. The United States Census Bureau claims that there are 45 cities and 306 towns; the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office claims that there are 50 cities and 301 towns. There are only 40 municipalities which consistently identify themselves as cities, however. For purposes of this article, only those 40 municipalities are recognized as cities.)

This is my understanding of the history behind the "quasi-cities" in Massachusetts:

--Prior to the 1960s, the only way for a town in Massachusetts to become a city (or make any other modifications to an open town meeting form of government) was to obtain a new municipal charter from the legislature. As of the 1960s, there were 39 municipalities in Massachusetts that had become cities by this route.

--At some point in the 1960s or 1970s, the legislature gave municipalities greater "home rule" powers to define how they would be governed. Under this route, a number of towns went so far as to abolish the types of institutions that had traditionally defined town government, such as a town meeting and board of selectmen. At some point in time then or thereafter, it was decided that such communities were legally cities, even though they continued to call themselves towns. I don't know exactly when this was done or why, but I would guess that a situation may have developed where a question came up as to whether certain state laws specific to cities or towns applied to these municipalities, and it was decided that the city laws were the ones that were applicable.

--The Secretary of State's office currently has a map up on their web site identifying eleven such municipalities as cities. However, I believe that all but one of these communities (more on the exception in a minute) actually calls itself a town in its charter and is typically referred to as a town by local residents. Moreover, other branches of state government often refer to these communities as towns; all are listed as towns in the "Commonwealth Communities" section of the state's web site, and on the state legislature's web site one can find numerous acts that refer to such communities as towns. In some cases, I don't think there is any official state or municipal source anywhere that calls these municipalities cities except the Secretary of State's office.

--The one exception to the above is Easthampton. Easthampton consistently calls itself a city, and identifies itself as a city its charter; the state legislature even passed an act confirming the charter change. Curiously, though, Easthampton is no more universally referred to as a city by state government than the other communities to adopt such forms through home rule; the "Commonwealth Communities" page, for example, calls Easthampton a town.

--Through the 1990 Census, the Census Bureau listed all of the communities in question as towns, reflecting what they titled themselves as. For the 2000 Census, it listed some of them as cities, but some as towns. Even in current Census materials, there are still some that are listed as towns. I have absolutely no idea what criteria the Census is using. There appears to be no rhyme or reason as to why they list certain of these communities as towns and certain as cities. I suspect that someone clued them in to the fact that some of these communities are legally cities, but they don't have a complete list or just don't understand the issue.

--In the other New England states, especially CT and RI, there are undoubtedly numerous towns that would be considered cities under the Mass. Secretary of State's standard. However, I am not aware of any authority in any other New England state that has attempted to say, "even though everyone calls these municipalities towns, including the municipalities themselves, they're really cities".

Anyway, my thoughts on this:

1) I am not so sure that one can simply say "these communities are cities", with no further qualification, based on the Secretary of State's determination. Even the map on the Secretary's web site has some kind of disclaimer on it. I think the Secretary of State's determination merely means that these communities are to be treated as cities for purposes of state laws that differentiate between cities and towns. As noted above, other branches and agencies of state government do not universally follow the Secretary of State's determination, and with one exception, I don't think any of the municipalities themselves actually identify themselves as cities. Are the titles that appear in municipal charters any less logical of a determinant than the Secretary's map?

2) I think the most important thing is not so much whether we ultimately classify these municpalities as towns or as cities, but that some explanation is provided as to why there is ambiguity and why one may find them referred to as either one in various sources. I think it is equally confusing to the reader to refer to these communities as cities without acknowledging that they officially title themselves as towns, or to refer to them as towns without acknowledging that the Secretary considers them to legally have a city form of government.

3) I agree with you that the Census classifications are of little relevance in deciding how to classify these communities, in part because the Census clearly has no authority over such matters, and in part because the Census classification of these municpalities makes no sense anyway. However, the Census situation may be useful in illustrating that there is some ambiguity around whether these communities are towns or cities. In addition, so many people rely on the Census for this type of information that if it isn't mentioned, sooner or later someone will come along saying "Greenfield isn't a city. The Census Bureau says it's a town".

4) Since this page deals with New England as a whole, I think it's also worth noting that, while there has been a movement towards towns adopting these forms of government all over New England, only in Massachusetts has any attempt been made to classify municipalities that have such arrangements (but call themselves towns) as cities.

MCT 04:40, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

Just noting that West Springfield is now listed by the Census Bureau as a city (46 total). The other four cities are currently CDPs but I suspect they will eventually be reclassified as incorporated cities. --Polaron | Talk 05:28, 19 October 2006 (UTC)
The four municpalities that the Secretary classifies as cities but the Census still calls towns are Amesbury, Greenfield, Southbridge and Weymouth. I don't think there is really any significance to the fact that each contains a CDP. The only one of the four where the CDP is coextensive with the town (thus treating the entire municipality as a Census "place", as the Census does with cities) is Weymouth; in at least the other three cases, I'm pretty sure that the CDPs have been around for decades, long before the whole "is it a town or is it a city?" debate sprang up. I think the Census simply hasn't figured out that these communities are legally cities like the other six.
I believe that the Census Bureau gets its information about geographic changes through a survey that it sends out to local government officials. It be may that officials in those four communities haven't understood that the Census switched back in the '90s from classifying Massachusetts municpalities by what they oficially title themselves to what they have legally been determined to be by the Secretary of State, and it just hasn't occurred to them to tell the Census that their communities are cities. (I suppose it's also possible that these communities are just really adamant about being identified as "towns", and don't want the Census to list them as cities, but I think that's less likely). I agree that if the Census ever figures out that these four communities are legally cities under the Secretary's definition, they will change them to cities in the Census materials.
On its web site, the Census Bureau has lists of geographic changes that took place between 1990 and 2000 (although the list seems to peter out in the late '90s, as if they stopped maintaining it as the 2000 Census approached), and since the 2000 Census. The 1990s list notes the reclassification of five of the affected municipalities as cities, and the 2000s list has a sixth, West Springfield. For each, the Census shows the date that the municipality became a city. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these; it's not clear to me exactly where the Census got the dates from -- the municpalities themselves? Someone in state government that tipped them off that these municpalities were legally cities? (Presumably it wasn't the Secretary of State's office, or they would have given the Census all of the affected municpalities, not just some of them). Those dates are as follows:
  • Methuen 1973
  • Agawam 1973
  • Franklin 1979
  • Watertown 1980
  • Barnstable 1989
  • West Springfield 2000
The explanation for West Springfield having switched over subsequent to the 2000 Census may be that West Springfield wasn't actually a legal city at the time of the 2000 Census.
MCT 14:30, 19 October 2006 (UTC)
You're right about the survey. There is a Census of Governments (see Appendix C) that the Census Bureaus periodically sends out and I believe the determination of whether one is a town ("township government") or a city ("municipal government") depends on the answers provided by the town/city authorities. It is not clear what criteria are used by the Census to differentiate a town from a city though. For this particular article though, we should probably stick to the state government classification. In any case, the general statutes don't seem to differentiate between a town and city anyway (although more specific laws might) so it really makes no big difference. --Polaron | Talk 14:56, 19 October 2006 (UTC)
As far as the criteria the Census uses -- Prior to the 1990s, the criteria that the Census used was clearly what each municipality titled itself as, with no further inquiry into what the municipality in question might "really" be. Since the 1990s, I think the Census is trying to use the Secretary of State's criteria -- at the very least, they seems to have picked up on the idea that some communities in Massachusetts that call themsleves towns are "really" cities -- but for whatever reason they have not been able to capture all such communities. There does not seem to be any criteria that would explain why they classify, say, Watertown as a city but Weymouth as a town; depending on how one wants to look at it, either they're both towns or they're both cities.
I agree that it is the state and/or municipal governments that decide what a municipality is titled as, and what it "really" is, not the Census Bureau. But I don't think it's 100% clear that the "state government" unequivocally considers these communities to be cities. At the very least, they have forms of government that are legally a city form, but I don't know that this necessarily means "they are cities", period. As discussed above, some of these communities don't seem to be identified as cities by anyone other than the Secretary, and I don't know that the Secretary is the final authority on this. Even the map on the Secretary's web site stops just a little bit short of simply saying that "they are cities": "There are eleven communities that have applied for, and been granted, city forms of government, though they wish to be known as “The Town of”. They are: AGAWAM, AMESBURY, BARNSTABLE, EASTHAMPTON, FRANKLIN, GREENFIELD, METHUEN, SOUTHBRIDGE, WATERTOWN, WEST SPRINGFIELD, and WEYMOUTH. [On the map, their names are shown in a unique manner, different from either cities or towns]".
In the eyes of the law, there is definitely little difference between a city and a town in Masschusetts, but there are at least a few statutes out there that differentiate between the two. One that I'm aware of is the notorious law that restricts anyone from holding more than three retail liquor licenses in the state (which explains why relatively few supermarkets in Massachusetts sell alcoholic beverages, but there are tons of independent package stores and small package-store chains with two or three locations). It further restricts license holders to no more than one license in any one town or no more than two licenses in any one city (or at least it used to). Even beyond that type of thing, one could picture an irate resident of one of these communities who wanted to be a thorn in the side of the town government showing up at town hall demanding to be allowed to run for selectman or claiming the town was depriving them of their right to particpate in a town meeting.
It would be interesting to know what prompted the Secretary of State to make the ruling that such communities are legally cities, especially because this just doesn't seem to be an issue in other states. The state laws of Connecticut, for example, seem to allow a town to adopt a form of government that would have traditionally been considered a city form without needing to change its title to "city" or have someone come along and say, "it calls itself a town but it's really a city". The same is true of boroughs in New Jersey. This seems to be a quirk unique to Massachusetts -- for that reason alone, I think the situation merits some mention in the article, whether these municpalities are ultimately coutned as towns or cities.
MCT 19:31, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

Here's one listing, with interesting text indicating the courts are in agreement with the Secretary of the Commonwealth: A Listing of Counties and the Cities and Towns Within Yellowdesk 19:35, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

Cities are in capital letters. * indicates County Seat. There are 14 Counties, with 50 cities+ and 301 towns.

+ There are eleven communities in Massachusetts which have applied for, and been granted, city forms of government, though they wish to be known as "the town of". They are: Agawam, Amesbury, Barnstable, Easthampton, Franklin, Greenfield, Methuen, Southbridge, Watertown, West Springfield and Weymouth. This list shows them as cities, as that is how the courts recognize them.

The reference to the courts is interesting. I wonder if a court case is what originally touched this whole issue off? I'd really like to know.

On the other hand, the MA courts aren't any better than the rest of state government (outside of the Secretary's office) at sticking to the party line that these municipalities are cities, not towns:

One other comment: in both the quote from the map and the quote above, it is stated that the communities in question wish to be known as "the town of". While this is true for most of the municpalities on that last, I don't think it is really true of Easthampton; Easthampton seems to want to be called a "city":

If the consensus is to count these municipalities as cities per the Secretary, I will defer, but I think there is sufficient ambiguity and inconsistency that one cannot simply say "these municipalities are cities" without providing some explanation of the situation. (Some explanation should be included even if we were classifying them as towns; as mentioned above, that this whole issue seems to be a quirk unique to MA is in and of itself part of the story of how municipalities in MA are organized.)

MCT 20:34, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

Another useful list for reference, courtesy of the Secretary of the Commonwealth Massachusetts City and Town Incorporation and Settlement Dates
Yellowdesk 00:19, 20 October 2006 (UTC)

Interesting that the dates for the "quasi-cities" don't always match up with the dates that the Census has, although they're not usually off by more than a year or two.
One of the sources cited is a 1997 edition of "Historical Data Relating to Counties, Cities and Towns in Massachusetts". I've seen some older editions of that book; it has a very detailed accounting for each municipality in MA of dates of incorporation, changes from town to city (or in some cases, from district to town), annexations and boundary changes, name changes, etc. I don't think any of the editions I've seen contained any mention of the "quasi-cities" being cities, but the most recent edition I've ever seen was from the mid '70s, and this info may have been added to newer editions (it appears that the earliest of the "quasi-cities" to adopt such a form of government did so in the early '70s, and whatever prompted the Secretary to feel that it was necessary to classify these municipalities as "legally cities" may not have even happened yet at the time that mid '70s edition was published).
A bit of trivia that is not addressed on the Secretary's page (but I'm pretty sure is in the "Historical Data..." book): Methuen became a city in 1917, but changed back to a town in 1921 after the act creating its city charter was declared invalid by the MA state supreme court. I believe it is the only municipality in MA ever to become a city, then go back to being a town. Methuen would of course later become one the "quasi-cities".
MCT 02:58, 20 October 2006 (UTC)

I don't have the citation to statute, but there are operating features that matter for distinguishing a city from a town in Massachusetts. Topic to be developed. Apparaently all town bylaws need to have the approval of the commonwealth, via, I believe, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, but city ordinances have a different process and may not require this approval and acceptance. This makes a difference, and is part of why the cities calling themselves "town of ___" are carefully considered cities from the commonwealth's perspective. These particular perogatives and authorities that cities have are desirable to research and state...eventually. -- Yellowdesk 06:01, 19 January 2007 (UTC)

Historical Population Figures for New England Towns

Those of you who have taken an interest in this article may also be interested in looking at/editing a series of articles I've posted with county-by-county municipal population figures for the New England states. You can find them by following the link in the New England town article to the List of New England towns. I have MA, RI, CT and NH done back to 1900. I'm working on VT but haven't posted anything yet, and will then move on to ME next. I have data back to the first U.S. Census in 1790 and plan to eventually add pre-1900 data to the articles as well.

MCT 04:50, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

First subsection

"Most towns have traditionally been governed by a town meeting form of government." I would like to suggest that all towns have traditionally been governed (or legislated) by town meetings. 02:11, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

I believe some careful research may reveal (in Massachusetts) some statutory towns that diminished the town meeting, creating under their home-rule petitions to the state legislature (and in the approved revised town charter), "town council" structures. I believe Greenfield in the 1980s may possibly be one of these (bearing in mind that the Secretary of the Commonwealth now considers that municipality a city; Greenfield may have had several charter revisions in the last three decades). - Yellowdesk 07:52, 7 December 2006 (UTC)

My understanding is that, in the beginning, the town meeting form of government was used by all towns. Of course, over the years, many towns adopted different forms of government like the mayor-council or council-manager type. But still, even today, I think a majority of towns (at least in Connecticut), use the town meeting. --Polaron | Talk 14:26, 7 December 2006 (UTC)

My point was in relation to the anonymous post, that "all" may not satisfy. - Yellowdesk 15:10, 8 December 2006 (UTC)

This Article Can't be for Real

This article assumes and proposes that New England towns are somehow distinct from the United States. We know this to be false. Other states may use other names, but it is all same. This article seems to have been created for the sole purpose of fictionalizing New England as a separate entity.—Preceding unsigned comment added by Mrcee (talkcontribs) 06:28, March 23, 2007

I've lived all over and never seen anything like a New England town. For one thing, as opposed to the South and West, there is no "unincoporated" land anywhere. The original settlers saw this as a benefit. I'm not so sure today, but it is a fact.
Most towns, and they are mostly all towns in Vermont, can't do anything without guidance from the citizens. As oppposed to cities where we are constantly throwing the rascals out because they've done something the population didn't like. You don't have that disconnect in a town. The selectboard is simply a place to discuss what the board can do with the guidance it has received from the townspeople. Selectboards tend to continue forever in office as long as they are willing to do so. The pay is miniscule.
Most of the town offices are filled by essentially unpaid volunteers. These people often have real authority and undergo training at their own expense - property appraisers, for example. These jobs would all be filled by paid bureaucrats if the county ran things.
The major drawback in New England is the lack of coordination between towns that you get with a county government. Roads don't always run the right way. You can't get there from here. Don't have that in most other places. Tiny school boards for that town alone. A teacher's services become unnecessary to a district, s/he has to go elsewhere and look for a job, there is no "county school board" to reassign her/him. Elementary schools are always placed within a town. Unthinkable to do otherwise. Tiny towns are frustrated as to when to build new schools - it would be a lot easier with the help of other towns, but then the school wouldn't be close. Libraries are tiny and have lousy hours. Definite drawbacks.
Yes, you can point to some of the same features in other rural areas, but in NE these are built into the system. Elsewhere, they are purely voluntary.
So I think the article is necessary. Student7 11:32, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Not to mention, the US Census Bureau defines New England towns * town areas differently (NECTA v CBSA)Drhamad (talk) 21:42, 18 December 2007 (UTC)

Number of towns in Maine

JackME, I have a question on the edits that you made:

In the “statistics and superlatives section”, you changed the number of municipalities in Maine, raising the number of towns by two. The article now says that there are 434 current towns, and that there were 436 at the time of the last federal census in 2000. Previously the article showed 432 current towns, with 434 as of the 2000 Census.

I double-checked my lists, and I’m still only coming up with 432 current towns, with 434 as of 2000 (two towns have disincorporated since the 2000 Census, so the number of towns has defintely dropped by two since then). I understand that a new town called Chebeague Island is to be incorporated in Cumberland County on July 1, 2007, but (1) it hasn’t actually incorporated yet (2) that’s only one town, not two and (3) based on the fact that you bumped up both the current figures and the 2000 figures, it wouldn’t seem that you are referring to any towns that newly incorporated sometime recently, since any such towns obviously didn't exist in 2000.

In an attempt to figure out where the discrepancy is, here are the numbers that I have, broken down county-by-county. (These numbers are towns only, no cities or plantations.)

  • Androscoggin: 12
  • Aroostook: 53
  • Cumberland: 24
  • Franklin: 17*
  • Hancock: 36
  • Kennebec: 25
  • Knox: 16
  • Lincoln: 18
  • Oxford: 34
  • Penobscot: 52
  • Piscataquis: 17
  • Sagadahoc: 9
  • Somerset: 27
  • Waldo: 25
  • Washington: 40**
  • York: 27

(*was 18 of the 2000 Census (Madrid has since disincorporated))

(**was 41 as of the 2000 Census (Centerville has since disincorporated))

Unless I’m doing the math wrong, that adds up to 432. Can you clarify where you’re coming up with two more towns?

I also found a document (, on the Maine Municipal Association’s web site showing that there are 492 municipalities of all types (not just towns). However, it lists three Indian reservations, and it also still lists Centerville. Take them out, and you're left with a total of 488 towns, cities and plantations. This is the same as what had previously been shown on the page before you increased the number of towns by two (it now says 490).

MCT 23:43, 26 February 2007 (UTC)

I am reverting the number of towns in Maine back to 432, because, as stated above, I believe the figure of 434 currently shown on the page to be incorrect. If JackME or anyone else has documentation to the contrary, please post it here and modify the article as appropriate.
MCT 16:12, 5 March 2007 (UTC)
Sorry I could not respond sooner.
You are correct that I made an error in the totals. (And we don't agree on the number of towns for Aroostook--you 53 me 54-- or Washington--you 40 me 39--) As near as I can reconstruct it, it seems likely that in adjusting and compensating for the changes, and for errors in the listing on the State of Maine website, I inadvertently added the 3 reservations back into the total number of towns. At the Maine State website, the former town of Centerville is still listed, but the current organized municipality of Baring Plantation is omitted. (That is a real error which I have reported to several responsible parties, but which has not yet been corrected.) As you note, the Maine Municipal Associations PDF, even though dated July, 2006, also still includes the former town of Centerville, but in that file Baring Plantation is included as it should be. So their figure of 492, should be adjusted down to 491. After checking the math several times, here is what I have for a breakdown:
    • 14 organized municipalities; Towns: 12; Cities: 2; Plantations: _; Reservations: _
    • 67 organized municipalities; Towns: 54; Cities: 2; Plantations: 11; Reservations: _
    • 27 organized municipalities; Towns: 24; Cities: 3; Plantations: _; Reservations: _
    • 21 organized municipalities; Towns: 17; Cities: _; Plantations: 4; Reservations: _
    • 37 organized municipalities; Towns: 36; Cities: 1; Plantations: _; Reservations: _
    • 29 organized municipalities; Towns: 25; Cities: 4; Plantations: _; Reservations: _
    • 18 organized municipalities; Towns: 16; Cities: 1; Plantations: 1; Reservations: _
    • 19 organized municipalities; Towns: 18; Cities: _; Plantations: 1; Reservations: _
    • 36 organized municipalities; Towns: 34; Cities: _; Plantations: 2; Reservations: _
    • 60 organized municipalities; Towns: 52; Cities: 3; Plantations: 4; Reservations: 1
    • 19 organized municipalities; Towns: 17; Cities: _; Plantations: 2; Reservations: _
    • 10 organized municipalities; Towns: 9; Cities: 1; Plantations: _; Reservations: _
    • 33 organized municipalities; Towns: 27; Cities: _; Plantations: 6; Reservations: _
    • 26 organized municipalities; Towns: 25; Cities: 1; Plantations: _; Reservations: _
    • 46 organized municipalities; Towns: 39; Cities: 2; Plantations: 3; Reservations: 2
    • 29 organized municipalities; Towns: 27; Cities: 2; Plantations: _; Reservations: _

  • -----------------------------------
    • TOTAL TOWNS: 432
    • TOTAL CITIES: 22
Check this over and report if and where you disagree. If not, I will make the appropriate corrections everywhere I had included this information. JackME 19:51, 7 March 2007 (UTC)
Excluding the reservations, which I didn't include in my municipality count, I can see two counties where we're off. In both cases, the discrepancy is in the number of municipalities classified as towns vs. the number classified as plantations. After checking my numbers against the lists on List of New England towns, I believe that your data is correct in both cases:
  • As discussed in my earlier comments on the Talk:List of New England towns page, I had Baring counted as a town, when it should be a plantation. I was showing Washington County with 2 cities, 40 towns and 2 plantations, but it should be 2 cities, 39 towns, and 3 plantations, as you stated above.
  • I had Aroostook County as 2 cities, 53 towns and 12 plantations. The error is that I had Wallagrass counted as a plantation, but it is actually a town. So it should be 2 cities, 54 towns and 11 plantations, as per your figures. As with Baring, it looks like the root of the problem is that I originally used the 1990 Census to create my list of totals, and I had failed to update information that may have been incorrect as shown in that Census to begin with. The 1990 Census showed Wallagrass as a plantation, but I have from another source that it incorporated as a town in 1986. The 2000 Census does have it as a town.
Because I created the lists on the List of New England towns page using the 2000 Census, rather than updating information derived from the 1990 Census as I had done for the number of municpalities in each state on the New England town page, the lists on the former page did not have the above errors. But my two errors in the latter cancelled each other out, so my overall counts for the state as a whole were the same in both places. I think we're in agreement that the numbers that were originally up on the page (and are currently back on the page) are correct, 22 cities, 432 towns, 34 plantations, 488 total not including reservations? (See my comments on the Talk:List of New England towns page regarding reservations -- the page currently doesn't address them at all, but perhaps they should be added?)
It's so much easier keeping track of the other New England states, where plantations don't even exist and there are hardly ever any changes in municipality rosters. :)
MCT 22:20, 7 March 2007 (UTC)
Yes, no doubt the problems we both have had with the numbers is in the specific number of each type of municipality and then the total of the combined. It gets confusing, and more so when there are these errors of omission (by the Maine State page) and the continued inclusion of no-longer organized towns. (Still don't know why Madrid was properly removed, but Centerville still shows up!)
Well, I guess Madrid was disincorporated longer ago than Centerville. Maybe we're not giving them enough credit; they're only four years behind, not seven....MCT 23:13, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
This is likely true, although as a citizen and user of the web page, I would have expected that these corrections be made as immediately as the status of any listed town, city, plantation, or reservation changed. There WAS an excuse in the pre-web printed book day when cost and practicality dictated waiting for a new print run, but with the State's web page, there isn't any excuse for delay, IMO. JackME 20:35, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
As to the 3 reservations, since the Maine State Webpage DOES list those along with the towns, cities, and plantations (and not with the UN-organized townships) I definitely think they need to always be included in any article or reference to the state's organized municipalities. After all, they ARE organized, and self-governed as much as any town, city, or plantation, and maybe more so eh?
I definitely agree that they should be included in the explanation of the New England/Maine municipal systems on the New England town page. And they probably are even more self-governed than any town, city or plantation, since the state doesn't really have much authority over them. However, to your point about drawing the distinction that if something is called a "city" or a "plantation" then it's not a "town", I'm not sure that a "reservation" is typically regarded as one of the forms of a "municipality".MCT 23:13, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
Much of this discussion, here, and on the other page, may simply be a reflection of the need to clearly and specifically define, and agree upon, the meaning of the words used (if your last comment here was serious). What is defined by municipality for example? As I've been using that "word", it is a generic term for the organized entities, as opposed to he UN-organized territory of the state. Ergo, towns, cities, plantations, and reservations in the state of Maine. My use of that word carries no implication of type or style of government within, or specific method of incorporation or organization.JackME 20:35, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
One final comment, it's obviously a simple typo of transposed figures, but I'm pointing it out to further illustrate how difficult it can be to keep all these numbers correct when dealing with different types and drawing from different sources. In the above comments you say that there are 423 towns, but of course you meant 432, right? Glad to see I'm not the only one who screws up! heheh. Thanks for bringing this issue to my attention so we could correct it.JackME 03:56, 8 March 2007 (UTC)
Rephrased the introductory comment in Maine's superlatives section to eliminate the unnecessary and potentially misleading reference to the number 454. also reverted my change to the reference to Monhegan. That is one of the few plantations in Maine which are known by only one name, and do not normally use the word Plantation in common reference (although it's name is Monhegan Island Plantation). JackME 21:57, 13 March 2007 (UTC)


Can't find a reference but in the old days, the first article on the warning was "Shall we vote to tax ourselves and if so how much?" Needless to say this took up a bit of the discussion, but the implicit idea of maybe not taxing "ourselves" this year always seemed a bit puckish to me! Student7 12:41, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Status of the Isles of Shoals

There is a small group of islands along the coast of NE known as the Isles of Shoals that are legally part of Maine and New Hampshire. Though they have no permanent population today, they did at one time (the NH portion was incorporated as the town of Gosport). The big question I have is, how are they legally treated by the states WRT their incorporation status. Are they treated as unincorporated land? If so, they should be listed in the listbox for each state under the appropriate heading? Or are they part of towns? It would appear that, based on the nearest towns, they should be adminsitered as parts of New Castle, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine. How do these states treat these areas? Just something that was bothering me about the completeness of this and other articles at Wikipedia on the subject. --Jayron32|talk|contribs 06:07, 23 June 2007 (UTC)

The Maine portion is adminstered as part of Kittery while the New Hampshire portion is part of Rye. New Castle does not have any islands within its boundaries. --Polaron | Talk 13:40, 23 June 2007 (UTC)
Thanks. Cleared that up! --Jayron32|talk|contribs 01:51, 26 June 2007 (UTC)

see also link to unincorporated area

What is misleading about the See also link to Unincorporated area (New Jersey). That is exact same definition for entities like Hyannis. I will restore it unless someone can argue that the particular definition in that article (i.e. not separately incorporated) does not apply to New England. --Polaron | Talk 23:12, 8 January 2008 (UTC)

Hyannis is a unique situation. There are very few situations like Hyannis. Hyannis is a village within Barnstable, a unique sort of town with seven separate villages. There are few if any towns that work like that. To claim a commonality based on a single exception seems spurious. --Jayron32|talk|contribs 23:16, 8 January 2008 (UTC)
Note that villages are not a valid political body in Massachusetts; the smallest possible municipality is the town. Note that the town of Barnstable provides all the services to "Hyannis". I think it is inapporpiate and misleading to call it an "unicorporated village" when it incorporation is impossible to begin with. With this logic, however, Manomet and Cedarville in Plymouth, MA; Bryantville in Pembroke, MA; and Weymouth Landing in Weymouth, MA could be considered "villages" to simply because there is no legal definition or capacity to be incorported. I plan on copying this on the "unincoparted area" page to nominate for deletion. Comments? Dexta32084 (talk) 23:09, 19 October 2008 (UTC)
What about Dixville Notch and all the other entries in Category:Unincorporated communities in New Hampshire? There are many similar cases throughout New England. --Polaron | Talk 23:19, 8 January 2008 (UTC)
Actually, outside of Maine, there are very few. MUCH less than 1% of the population and about 1% of the land area in New Hampshire, and NONE of Massachusettes, Connecticut, or Rhode Island meets that definition. Most of the places like that in New Hampshire and Vermont are simply accidents of history; they were surveying errors that no one felt like dealing with and have come down as odd exceptions. They are not a significant portion of either population or land area, and exist purely as a curiosity. --Jayron32|talk|contribs 23:25, 8 January 2008 (UTC)
Actually, looking at that category again, most of those are "villages" which ARE parts of incorporated places, but this is a rather small list, given the number of towns (compare the list you gave to Category:Towns in New Hampshire, which are ALL incorporated towns) and you'll see what I mean. --Jayron32|talk|contribs 23:28, 8 January 2008 (UTC)
I guess you could say there are two different meanings of "unincorporated". The first is "not separately incorporated" (which is the category Hyannis belongs in), the second "not incorporated at all" (Dixville Notch). In most parts of the country, the second is the typical meaning. But in New England and New Jersey the first is often what's intended, since the municipal layouts of those states allow for many examples of communities that meet the first definition, but few that meet the second (in NJ, MA, CT and RI, there are literally none). There is a section of this article devoted to the "not incorporated at all" areas in New England, which as already noted are not at all standard operating procedure in the New England system, although some such areas do exist. The section on boroughs and villages addresses the matter of places that are "not separately incorporated". Category:Unincorporated communities in New Hampshire seems to be mixing together places that meet either definition of "unincorporated", which is confusing. --MCT (talk) 18:46, 9 January 2008 (UTC)

New Jersey unincorporated areas still not the same idea. Read both articles again

The Unincorporated area (New Jersey) is not an identical concept to a New England town. It is related to a New England village, which is an unincorporated area within a town. New Jersey has true unincorporated areas, which lack any self-governance. This situation, with a few very tiny and insigificant exceptions, does not exist in five of the six New England states. While New Jersey has towns, they are civil townships which are NOT the same a New England towns. A New England town is a unique construct, and does not have analogues in other places. Even if you are trying to claim that the Unincorporated area in Jersey is equivalent to a "village" in New England, its not that good of an analogy, since Villages are separate urban compacts within an incorporated town; think of it as two downtowns within a single city. The very definition of on the page you are linking, "Unincorporated areas in the state of New Jersey are well-defined communities that are part of one or more incorporated municipalities but are not independent municipalities in their own right." is patently NOT similar to a New England town, since all New England towns ARE independent municipalities in their own right. --Jayron32|talk|contribs 23:14, 8 January 2008 (UTC)

No, you are mistaken. New Jersey has no unincorporated areas. While New Jersey has a municipality type known as "townships" and were originally simple civil townships, in modern times, they are now full-fledged incorporated municipalities. See Township (New Jersey). --Polaron | Talk 23:17, 8 January 2008 (UTC)
Fair enough. Even so, the link should say something like this: "Unincorporated area (New Jersey), which is similar to a village in New England." To equate an unincorporated area as defined in the New Jersey article with a New England town is patently wrong. It is equivalent to a New England "village". --Jayron32|talk|contribs 23:18, 8 January 2008 (UTC)
I like your wording -- much clearer and less confusing than mine. Thanks. --Polaron | Talk 23:22, 8 January 2008 (UTC)
Polaron is correct about New Jersey townships being incorporated. New Jersey townships are probably the closest thing to a New England town that you'll find in any other state, although they're certainly not exactly the same. The two biggest differences are that the townships are often carved out by incorporated boroughs, and there is probably somewhat less of tendency for residents to think of the township/town as a single coherent community and somewhat more of a tendency to identify with "unincorporated areas"/"villages" than in New England. I agree that an Unincorporated area (New Jersey), as described in at the link, is very similar in concept to a (not separately incorporated) "village" in New England. Along the same lines, New York's system is likewise somewhat similar to New England, and the term "hamlet" is used there for the same. Since a NJ "unincorporated area" and a NY "hamlet" are like a New England "village", though, not a New England town, would it make more sense to work this into the discussion of villages rather than have it as a "See" reference at the end? --MCT (talk) 18:46, 9 January 2008 (UTC)
For the record, this article was just linked in Government of New York for having similarly structured towns. That is, the phrase was already in their article. Someone just linked it! Student7 (talk) 12:34, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

Remaining incorporated villages in Vermont

There are currently a few notations on the main page regarding the statement that most of the remaining incorporated villages in Vermont are very small. My original purpose in writing this was to drive home the points that incorporated villages are, as an institution, 1) less important than towns, and 2) in decline. Not only are there fewer villages than in the past, but those that remain often serve very small numbers of residents. One of the current notations suggests that while many of the villages that remain are very small, many of those that have folded were also small. I have to concede that there is some truth to that, and I wouldn't object strongly to this line being deleted if others feel that it is misleading. But if you look at the numbers, I think that, over the years, a disporportionate number of larger villages have ceased to exist.

By my count, there were 39 incorporated villages in Vermont reported in the 2000 Census. 26 of them (66.7%) had populations of less than 1,000. Of the 13 that were larger, 8 (20.5%) were between 1,000 and 2,000; 2 (5.1%) were between 2,000 and 3,000; 2 (5.1%) were between 3,000 and 4,000; and 1 was (2.1%) larger than 4,000. The lone entrant in the last category is Essex Junction, which is by far the largest incorporated village in Vermont today.

For comparsion, I went back to 1930, which is the earliest census for which village data is included in the "Historical U.S. Census Totals" articles. I count 66 incorporated villages reported in that Census. 41 (62.1%) had populations under 1,000. Of the 25 that were larger, 15 (22.7%) were between 1,000 and 2,000; 5 (7.5%) were between 2,000 and 3,000; 2 (3.0%) were between 3,000 and 4,000; and 3 (4.5%) were larger than 4,000. While not that dramatic of a difference, there was somewhat more of a slant towards larger villages in 1930.

Looking at a list of the largest villages in existence back in the '20s or '30s, though, I'm struck by two things. First, the anomaly of Essex Junction aside, the largest villages of that era were larger than any villages today. The top five in the 1930 Census were all bigger than any village today except for Essex Junction. Second, hardly any of the largest villages from the '20s and '30s still exist today. Only three of the ten largest villages in the 1930 Census still exist today. Further, there were two additional large villages that ceased to exist during the '20s; both would have ranked among the four largest villages in the 1930 Census had they still existed (this would have left none of the top five still in existence today).

In 1930, the five largest incorporated villages were St. Johnsbury (7,920), Bennington (7,390), Springfield (4,943), Bellows Falls (3,930) and Windsor (3,689). The only one of these that still exists today is Bellows Falls. If you go back just a few years, you could add Brattleboro (disincorporated in 1927, had a population of over 7,000 in 1930) and Winooksi (became a city in 1921, had a population of over 5,000 in 1930) to the list. Three of the five villages with 1930 populations between 2,000 and 3,000 have disincorporated as well (Fair Haven, Proctor and Middlebury). --MCT (talk) 22:35, 18 March 2008 (UTC)

This is an excellent summary. Wish we could find a way to use this in the Vermont History!
Having said that, it seemed to me that the phrase "very small" was pov-ish, trying to imply that no village worth it's salt would stay incorporated. Or that is was the last refuge or subterfuge, perhaps, of pretention (or something not stated, just implied). Something shameful about it!
The villages today have been villages for all, or most of Vermont history. Villages have disincorporated for several reasons. Populations have left for the city - probably the main reason. St. Johnsbury outgrew the limits of their charter. They could either incorporate as a city or disincorporate, thereby taking over the town, in effect. I don't know. It was a unique solution. Others became cities. Others disbursed their population, not to cities but into the town itself to take "advantage" of the "ten acre" rule of Act 250 whose purpose, ironically, was to slow sprawl.
Villages are threatened, no doubt. Most are at least discussing disincorporation. But the smallest villages have already ceased to exist IMO. Only "strong" villages have been able to make it to this point.
I haven't liked adjectives that are not supported by a reference. I have routinely deleted them! The question here is "what, exactly, are the parameters for a village being termed "small." Having seen many smaller villages that never incorporated or are now disincorporated, my standards may be a bit higher than yours!Student7 (talk) 23:47, 18 March 2008 (UTC)

Ready for forking?

The section on unincorporated areas seems a bit long. Maybe it can be forked? The beauty of forking is that then state articles can more easily link to sections. The drawback is that then newbies start adding everything to the main article not realizing that it is already in the forked one!  :) Student7 (talk) 12:13, 5 April 2008 (UTC)

Only if it is called New England unincorporated areas. Most of the area of the the U.S. is unincorporated. -- Yellowdesk (talk) 20:43, 3 May 2008 (UTC)

Towns are gathered around town center

This can't have been written by a New Englander, can it? The towns were laid out first by the proprietors. People moved there and eventually most coagulated inside a village inside the town limits, but towns only group themselves around a populated area outside of New England where the entire county is unincorporated, never in New England! Right? This should be reworded. Student7 (talk) 02:31, 2 October 2008 (UTC)

That may be the case in the northern New England states, where towns were chartered before being settled and organized. In Connecticut, and likely in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, compact settlements came first, which were later formalized as towns. Subsequent settlements within these early towns later developed and broke off from their parent towns as the need arose. --Polaron | Talk 04:15, 2 October 2008 (UTC)
This makes sense. It does suggest that a generalized statement about towns and population centers can't be made for all of New England. Section needs rewriting anyway....Student7 (talk) 12:25, 2 October 2008 (UTC)
I'm the one who wrote the original language, and I have to say that I like the revised language a lot better.
The original language wasn't necessarily intended to suggest that the town centers came first and the towns were then constructed around/named after them, just to note the existence of the "town center" phenomenon, which I think is connected to the stronger civic identity that New England residents typically have with their towns. At least in my area (central Massachusetts), it seems like the early towns always had a town center around which the town common, Congregational Church, town hall, any commercial activity etc. were built. This location almost invariably came to be called "[name of town] Center". Whether or not the town center pre-dated the incorporation of the town, and however you want to characterize the relationship between the two, a town center was almost always present. I think this really is something which distinguishes New England towns from towns/townships in the Middle Atlantic and Midwestern states. In those states, there is much less of a tendency for towns/townships to contain a place with the same name as the town/township, and even when such a place is present, I don't think there is nearly as strong of a "town center" concept. If one visited the town of "Wikipedia, Connecticut", one would be surprised to not enounter a place called "Wikipedia" or "Wikipedia Center", or a "Borough of Wikipedia" within the town. If one visted "Wikipedia Township, Ohio", one would be much less surprised to find that there was no populated place in the township called "Wikipedia".
The only minor quibble I have with the revised language is the comment that towns "usually, but not always" have a town center. A non-New Englander reading this could take it to mean "more than 50% of towns contain populated places bearing the same name as the town, but it's fairly common for towns to not contain a populated place of the same name", which doesn't sound all that different from the situation with towns/townships in some Middle Atlantic and Midwestern states. In reality, I'd say that the percentage of towns in New England that have town centers is more like 90-95% (although the town center isn't always the largest place in the town). A town that doesn't have one is very unusual, though not unheard of. "Almost always" might be a better way to put it. MCT (talk) 18:28, 7 October 2008 (UTC)
Point well taken, so I changed it. I can think of a couple of examples in New Hampshire, but your estimate of 90-95% sounds right to me. --Ken Gallager (talk) 19:20, 7 October 2008 (UTC)
This is a matter of what you mean by town center. In Massachusetts I always hear "town center" defined as the area where the town hall is located. Usually some other town offices are located there, but my town has little else there, and town offices are not that big. There are a couple of "squares", one of which effectively acts like a town center and contains the post office, but it is not called the town center. A couple of the neighboring towns contain a large commercial (retail not industrial) district in the center. BTW, I mean town in the colloquial sense. Some of these towns are legally cities, and the distinction is not always clear. (talk) 22:42, 9 November 2009 (UTC)

Annexation Policy

I re-wrote the section on Census Treatment of the New England town system. In doing so, I removed the following text:

"Because virtually all land in New England is covered by incorporated municipalities, it is extremely difficult for cities to annex new territory. As a result, most large cities in the region are much smaller in terms of land area than those in other parts of the U.S. where annexation is more common. For example, both New Haven and Hartford contain only about 18 square miles, and Boston only has 48 square land miles, so these cities have extremely high population densities, along with very low per capita incomes. If these cities were in the South or Southwest, they would rank among the largest and richest cities in the country, as they would likely include the very wealthy and densely populated suburbs that surround them".

I don't disagree with any of the above, but it didn't really seem to fit the section. This isn't really something driven by Census policy, and it isn't even really unique to New England (though it certainly is an issue for cities in New England, and the town system is definitely the root of that). I couldn't come up with a good way to work it into the article elsewhere. I tried putting it into the Historical Development section, which already mentions in passing that municipal boundaries are relatively fixed and boundary changes rare, but it didn't seem to fit there either. The point of all this is that I cut this text because it didn't fit, not because I thought what it says is inaccurate. If others feel that that this text should be included in the article, and can figure out how to do that (even by putting it back into the Census Treatment section), feel free to do so. MCT (talk) 16:51, 23 October 2008 (UTC)

Good removal. Also, it should be noted Boston has annexed several towns or parts thereof over time; Roxbury, Brighton (including Allston), Charlestown, and Dorchester were all once independent towns, though all of these were annexed in the 1800's. I can't think of any more recent annexations, though I agree that the demographic interpretation was both uncited and did not belong in the article. 17:30, 27 October 2008 (UTC)

Districts (Mass.)

With regard to the wording, "and there have not been any districts anywhere in New England in over a century" in the section on Plantations, Massachusetts still has districts of sorts. Fire districts and water districts still exist in some towns (and seem to function independently of their towns), and I'm sure there are other types. I don't know enough about the district system to write on it, but I don't think it's correct to say there are no districts remaining. Sahasrahla (talk) 23:51, 24 October 2008 (UTC)

These refer to an older concept similar to the Connecticut borough or the Vermont incorporated village and is not related to the modern special-purpose district. I do agree that this should be clarified as it is going to be a source of confusion. --Polaron | Talk 01:26, 25 October 2008 (UTC)
"District" does not have any fixed legal meaning in Massachusetts. A water district always contains a whole number of cities and towns. They may be run by either the state or by their municipal governments acting collectively for that specific purpose. A fire district is just a how a city or town plans where to put its fire stations. It is subject to constant change. As the need arises, fire engines from other districts within a town can and do go to other districts, in fact with something called mutual aid, fire and police may be called in from a neighboring town (or even a few towns away) as the need arises. Sometimes they may even cross state lines.
Warning, if you commit a crime in one town and hop over the line into a neighboring town, police from both towns can arrest you. (I apologize if this is the case in the whole country. I have never lived outside New England.) (talk) 22:42, 9 November 2009 (UTC)

Statistics on Area and Population

Excellent use here of statitics on area and population (especially population) to show how arbitary the distinctions between "towns" and "cities" are, despte the Census treating them so differently. I think a crowning addition would be some stats about density of population. I'm sure the most densely populated towns have a considerably greater density than the least densely populated cities.

Tommymic999 (talk) 05:06, 24 December 2008 (UTC)


One characteristic of Vermont, New Hampshire and perhaps other NE towns is the numbering of "town highways" by number which has allowed renaming of roads without messing up pre-existing surveys. But perhaps this exists outside of NE as well. I do not know. But if unique to NE, it should be here I think. Student7 (talk) 02:06, 24 September 2009 (UTC)

I'm not sure how it works in Vermont, but in New Hampshire "town highways" are not numbered for public use. Some towns may use an internal numbering system, but anyone who has driven anywhere through most of New England has noted how roads change name at town borders. New Hampshire Route 3A, for example, is "Webster Street" in Hudson, "Charles Bancroft Highway" in Litchfield and "Brown Avenue" in Manchester, but during that whole trip the actual roadway is continuous, with no noticable change to indicate that you were leaving one "road" and starting another, just random name changes at each town border. That sort of thing happens all over, so I am not sure what numbering scheme you are referring to, because I have not run across it in any states I am familiar with (NH, Mass, and Conn. mostly). I am not even aware of towns maintaining their own "highway" networks; towns are far too small to have such "highway" networks, local roads are often town maintained, but unless a local road is part of a state highway, then it isn't numbered at all, usually. --Jayron32 02:23, 24 September 2009 (UTC)
Numbered town highway networks are probably unique to Vermont. Connecticut doesn't have them. Massachusetts has an internal number for some non-state route arterial roads but is not used except as an inventory number. I think New Hampshire has something similar called O-roads but again it's just an internal number. I don't know about Maine and Rhode Island. --Polaron | Talk 18:35, 24 September 2009 (UTC)
New Hampshire has them too. Like most states, this number is not generally publicized. In Vermont, I happened to go into a town where the "TH 7" sign was attached below the current road name, but this is rare. Your town clerk will tell you about "Town Highways!" (or: check your survey if you own property!) I just wondered if they existed outside these two states. They must else how would surveys have kept up pre-GPS, with road names changing? Student7 (talk) 12:43, 26 September 2009 (UTC)


There seems to be no place to discuss offices unique to New England. Town clerk is mentioned in passing, but that is about it. Nothing about listers, or the Grand List, or Grand Juror, or Fence Viewer; While some of these are unique to Vermont only, some must be shared with (most likely) New Hampshire or Massachusetts.Student7 (talk) 13:44, 27 November 2009 (UTC)