HAVERHILL — It's a word that even diehard locals sometimes get wrong, but when it shows up incorrectly spelled on a major street sign, it's probably time to get it right.
The word is Merrimac, as in the Massachusetts town along the Merrimack River. But on the state highway sign in Haverhill's busy Monument Square, it's spelled Merrimack — next to a sign directing travelers to "Plastow," which is also misspelled.
Merrimac and Merrimack are local place names that are commonly confused, and Merrimac seems to bear the brunt of the confusion.
"It's funny that I never noticed it before," said Chang Sik Kim, who has a clear view of the signs from the front window of his dry cleaning business.
Merrimac Town Clerk Patricia "Pat" True said she's driven through Monument Square in Haverhill many times without noticing her town's name was misspelled.
She said there have been many instances where people have confused Merrimac for Merrimack, N.H.
"People who drive down (Interstate) 495 have gotten off the highway and have come into Town Hall looking for the brewery" in New Hampshire's Merrimack, she said. "They see Merrimac and think they're in New Hampshire. So we point them in the right direction."
People have come to the town of Merrimac in search of Merrimack College as well, True said.
"They think it's in our town and we tell them it's in Andover," she said.
True said the name Merrimack is so prevalent in this area that it can lead to confusion.
"It is kind of funny, but the state should know how to spell Merrimac correctly, and Plaistow too," she said.
Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for MassDOT, said that from time to time spelling mistakes are made during the manufacturing of road signs.
"Certainly we want to spell the name of each community correctly and we regret this error and will fix it as soon as we can," he said.
As an interim corrective measure, he said MassDOT planned to cover the letter "k" at the end of Merrimack with tape and would also correct the spelling of Plaistow. By rush hour Friday evening, green tape had been placed over the "k'' in Merrimack and tape completely covered the misspelled "Plastow.''
Verseckes said the state will eventually replace the sign.
"This was a fabrication error by the contractor and the signs will be replaced at no cost to taxpayers," he said.
He said these two signs are new aluminum signs that have a longer useful life than the plywood signs they are replacing.