WaterfallTownSP

Huzzy Brook, formerly known as Negro Brook, in Townshend State Park

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TOWNSHEND — A state panel on Tuesday unanimously approved renaming Negro Book in Townshend in honor of local early Black settlers.

The brook, which is on Bald Mountain and runs through the Townshend State Forest before emptying into the West River near the Scott Covered Bridge, will now be named Huzzy Brook on all state documents in honor of Susanna and James Huzzy. This is the second time the measure was recommended, with the first suggested name in 2021 — Toby Brook — being dismissed as racist, as well.

The Vermont State Board of Libraries, which is in charge of such geographic name changes, voted unanimously for the change.

Lynne Shea of Townshend, who spearheaded the second initiative to change the name, told the board that she and others had worked with the community to build their support of the name change.

They gathered signatures on a petition, they worked with the Townshend Select Board and the Townshend Historical Society, and then they asked the state Board of Libraries for the official name change. The earlier effort was spearheaded by people from Burlington and fell apart during a confusing and contentious meeting in June 2021. It was a victim of misunderstanding, Shea said.

The 2022 petition had the support of the Townshend Select Board and the Townshend Historical Society, according to Select Board Chairman Sherwood Lake and Historic Society President Charles Marchant.

The original petitioners didn’t want to use the name Huzzy, Shea said after the vote, because they believed it cast a negative light on Susanna Huzzy, since her last name sounded too much like “hussy.” Shea said any possible negative connotation associated with the word hussy was “fairly archaic.”

But using Susanna Huzzy’s maiden name Toby was even more objectionable, as “toby” was often used as a pejorative for Black people, and the 2021 effort was rejected by the board.

Shea said she was elated with the vote of support by the state board. “I was really happy. It seems like it’s been going on forever,” she said. “Everyone was in favor of changing the name.”

She said that James and Susanna Huzzy had a long history in Townshend, and Susannah Huzzy had died at age 104 in 1854. They lived in what was then called the town of Acton, Shea said, which was located between Townshend and Grafton; it was later annexed to Townshend. Shea said the couple had six children, and James Huzzy served as a soldier during the American Revolutionary War, as a substitute for his owner’s son’s service. He died in 1822. The couple is believed to have moved to Vermont in 1810.

Shea said she had consulted with Marchant, who had suggested naming the brook after the couple, using both their names and not just Susanna.

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But guidelines for renaming, she said, emphasize brevity for the practical reason of fitting names on crowded maps, thus the simpler Huzzy Brook.

Vermont Board of Libraries Chairman Tom Frank of Williston said Vermont is not alone with facing the issue of ridding its geographic locations of offensive names. He said a summer trip to the coast of Maine revealed a Negro Island, noting that state likely would soon face some changes.

Negro Brook is believed to be the last such offensive name in Vermont place names, as others have been changed.

Shea, a Townshend resident and a professor at Landmark College in Putney, said she immediately started work last year after the state Board of Libraries rejected the Negro Brook name change, and she gathered support for the Huzzy name.

Several state library board members who were involved in the 2021 contentious board vote praised the work of Shea and her group for their research and work to garner support.

And people said that the Indigenous community also supported the change to Huzzy, even while the land is part of the Elnu tribe of the Abenaki Nation heritage. Also supporting the change during Tuesday’s meeting were Shalini Suryanarayana of the Vermont Office of Racial Equity and Wichie Artu, vice president of the Windham County NAACP.

Shea said her group’s work took off from the earlier historical research done by the first petitioners. They did much of the research to support the name change, she said. “They got the ball rolling,” she said.

The federal process of changing the name is still pending.

Jennifer Runyon of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names participated in the virtual meeting, and said the Vermont change would be formally noticed, and that federally recognized Indigenous tribes would be given 60 days to weigh in.

Shea said that the state already had removed any sign of “Negro Brook” from the state forest, and she said there were plans to put up a plaque commemorating the Huzzys.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.