How Dead Horse Valley Got Its Name

Jason Graziadei •

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The small hill in Mill Hill Park has been a destination for generations of Nantucket kids when it snows. But how did it get its morbid name?

There isn’t much definitive information out there about the origin of "Dead Horse Valley" so we went to the experts. “It’s one of those Nantucket mysteries,” island historian Fran Karttunen said. “It used to be very much on the edge of town, and getting rid of large, dead animals, that’s likely where they were taken.”

According to Nantucket Historical Association records, the area was known as “Dead Horse Valley” as early as 1844, so it was likely called that for many years prior.

The NHA’s chief curator and Obed Macy research chair Michael Harrison told the Current: “Edouard Stackpole, the late Nantucket historian, told a government researcher in 1980 that Dead Horse Valley was a horse burial ground, but I do not think this is quite correct; it appears to be more accurate to say it was a horse dumping ground. The reference we have to it being a horse dumping ground comes from the memoir of Joseph Farnham (1849-1933), ‘Brief Historical Data and Memories of My Boyhood Days in Nantucket’ (published 1915, second edition 1923).

Farnham’s memoir reads, in part: “...southwest from the mill, was a slight depression which bore the rather uncanny name ‘Dead Horse Valley.’ It is a fact, as I remember, that its name was no misnomer; for there many a dead horse was taken and permitted to decompose and emit stench, the while the crows and other scavenger birds sat and feasted upon it.”

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