Did You Know The USA Has A Thames Too?

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 23 months ago

Last Updated 22 July 2022

Did You Know The USA Has A Thames Too?
an old illustration of the thames in connecticut, spanned by a bridge
A vintage postcard showing the Thames River in Connecticut. Image: public domain.

From its source in Norwich, the Thames River stretches 15 miles to New London, passing Happyland en route, and flowing under a grand total of three bridges.

No, this isn't a disturbing glimpse into the future; we're talking about the Thames in Connecticut, USA. That's right, London's famous river has an American cousin.

It's 'Thames River', not 'River Thames'

two industrial looking bridges cross the river
Gold Star Bridge and Amtrak bridge - two of the three crossings on the entire Thames River. Image: Creative Commons.

Connecticut's Thames wasn't always named so. In its time, it's been called Frisius, Little Fresh, Mohegan, New London and the Pequot River (after the Native Americans who lived here). Then, in the mid 17th century, European settlers rocked up and decided a rebrand was in order. They renamed the town New London after, yep, London. So it stood to reason that they called the river the 'Thames' (Although why not 'New Thames' we don't know.)

Over time, Connecticut's river came to be known as the 'Thames River', rather than the 'River Thames', as is the custom in the USA.

Striking similarities

people skate and sleigh on the frozen thames river, on an old picture postcard
An ice fair on the Thames River, around the winter of 1903-4 (although note how the postcard here says River Thames). Image: public domain.

Here are two very different rivers. The River Thames undulates for 315 miles through nine counties, passing under over 100 bridges. The Thames River flows for just 15 miles from Norwich to New London, passing under three bridges. Turns out not everything in America is bigger.

However, the history books do point to a few similarities between our two rivers. Both have a rich maritime past. London had Deptford Dockyard — and later the Royal Naval College at Greenwich — not to mention a knack for building and launching a slew of behemoth war ships, and, of course, Brunel's SS Great Eastern.

flagship HMS St Albans, being launched onto the Thames at Deptford in 1747, depicted by John Cleveley the Elder
HMS St Albans, being launched onto the Thames at Deptford in 1747, depicted by John Cleveley the Elder. Image: public domain.

New London easily competes; its answer to Greenwich is the world's first submarine base, which, in 1954, was the launch site of the Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine. (You can still go and see it today, which is more than can be said for the Great Eastern.)

While the River Thames hosts the university boat races between Oxford and Cambridge universities, Americans gather on the banks of the Thames River each summer, to cheer on competitors in the annual Harvard-Yale Regatta. A lovely little coincidence.

a black, shiny sub paritally submersed in the waters of the thames
The USS Nautilus permanently docked at the US Submarine Force Museum and Library, Groton, CT. Image: Creative Commons.

Another correlation — although perhaps we're clutching at straws by this point. Frost fairs were, famously a thing in London back when the Embankment was yet to be built, and the flow of the river was less intense. Well, frost fairs happened on the Thames at Connecticut, too — at least, according to postcards from the early 1900s, where locals are shown pulling horse-drawn sleighs across the (hopefully thick) ice.

Still, such similarities are few and fleeting. In fact, even the way you pronounce the two rivers' names is different. While we're used to chiding our transatlantic friends for their squiffy English, you've probably been thinking the word 'Thames' incorrectly throughout this article. In Connecticut, you rhyme it with 'James'.