Monday, February 3, 2014

Why, AZ? Whynot, NC?

Maybe you’re like me. First, I’m a big-time geography nerd. Give me a map, and I’m happy for hours. I don’t know if it’s my love of history, my love of names in general, or a mild case of Apserger’s, but it sure works for me.

Second, I love a good laugh.  I especially like anything that’s unintentionally funny.  Engrish.com, Cake Wrecks, News of the Weird, passiveaggresivenotes.com … sites like these make up the majority of my bookmarks.

I think it’s what keeps me sane. I mean, the real world is just so nuckin’ futs. If you can’t point it all out and have a laugh at it, you might as well just bang your head against the wall. And believe me, I’d much rather maniacal laughter came out of my padded cell than that monotonous dull thud.

So, admit it. You and I are a lot alike. Really.


Methodology

It feels funny putting that header in a blog. I’m an engineer by trade, and typically have a section like that in all my reports. It doesn’t seem quite right here, but it was important in this quest to have some basic ground rules.

1. Size Matters

There are a million teeny-tiny little crossroads and wide spots in the road in this huge country of ours. Chances are – if through nothing other than sheer numbers – some of them will have some pretty funny names. That said, I had to 1) put some limits on this thing, for my own sanity, and 2) limit it to places you could actually drive through (if you were so inclined) and actually realize you were there.

So, what I did was limit myself to a standard Rand-McNally road atlas. If your little hole-in-the-wall didn’t make it into there, I’m afraid it didn’t make into here either. Sorry, Buzzards Crossroads, NC. I apologize, Hot Coffee, AL. There's always plenty of room in "honorable mention" though.



I also wanted to limit the number of towns I’d cover per state – or this blog would get very big very fast. I figure the old “top 10” trope would work just fine. Once again, anything else goes into the honorable mentions.

2. Origins

A funny name is usually not enough. Inquiring minds usually want to know, how the %#&$@ did that come about?

Note, however, that this introduces a couple of problems. First, that info may simply not be out there, especially if your little Hooterville is no more than a post office and/or a gas station. Second, people love to make up stories to fill in the gaps. These are typically of the rather obvious, classically American, incredibly tall-tale variety. Believe me, you can usually spot these things from a mile off.

Whynot, NC, in my home state, is a perfect example. The usual story is that there was a meeting of the town folks and they argued back and forth about what to name their new metropolis. Some wag supposedly got tired of it all, and said “Why not this. Why not that.  Why not just name it ‘Whynot,’ and we can all go to bed.”

Turns out that Whynot is a family name. Variant spellings include Wynard, Winwood, Winnard, and others. It’s probably not even pronounced like “why not.”

I’ll probably include the apocryphal story. But as a true history buff, I do find the real story much more interesting, and will definitely give that preference when I can.



 3. Information & Pictures

The name’s the thing, and I’ll include your burg even if I can’t find a darn thing about it other than its location on a map. That said, it sure is a lot more fun if I can find a picture of the Boring Farmer’s Market or can discuss the Choccolocco Monster or whatever. And that’ll probably be the deciding factor if I’m trying to decide which hamlet gets star billing and which simply gets listed in the credits.


I do want you to appreciate, though, how much work this typically involves on my part. It seems that, no matter how small your little Podunk, there are no shortage of sites that take the name of the town, combine it with some other topic (weather, real estate, gas prices, dentists), and include a web page for it (whether it has dentists, gasoline stations, real estate, and weather or not). Here’s a sample (I am not making this up):

Portable toilet rentals in Eastaboga, AL can be tricky and expensive. The specialists at Quick Portable Toilets can help you with your rental for a reasonably low rate. Locating a porta potty rental business in Eastaboga you can rely on can be time consuming. We have the experience you’re looking for. Our company can serve as your “one-stop” source for all your portable toilet needs. To receive a cost-free estimate for your rental in Eastaboga, AL, contact 888-673-1110.

But that’s what investigative journalism is all about, isn’t it?  Anything for the truth, right?

Enjoy!




By the way, I entered these in alphabetically, over the span of about a year and a half. So, these are basically LIFO (last in, first out). If you want to start with Alabama, click right here.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Wyoming

Okay, I’ll be honest. I just don’t know that much about this place. Beautiful country, I understand. Rolling plains, majestic mountains. Wide skies. “Little dogies.” Maybe even a couple of people, who knows?

Well, I do know that they’ve got their fair share of pretty crazily named places. Here, let me show you what I mean …

10. Muddy Gap

I think it’s pretty safe to say that – no matter how descriptive – towns should never have the word “mud” in them.

Like me, Snowman0812 wanted to know a little bit more about this place. Elk Hunter was kind enough to help us both out:

“Well, Muddy Gap is in the middle of nowhere. It has a population of about 10. It's 77 miles from Casper and 43 miles from Rawlins. Casper is a good shopping meca [sic] where as [sic] Rawlins will only have the basics.”

WyoMama then added her two cents:

“Is out in the middle of nowhere, but I kinda' like it there. There ARE a couple of homes up on the hill to the east between Jeffry City & Muddy Gap - probably counting those. I can't IMAGINE what anybody would do there to make a living - I sure wouldn't live there & work anywhere else - too far - but is the best route to get from Rawlins to Cody in the winter - that trip from the Gap to Riverton even tho not many ppl on it, seems protected from the really bad snows. Have taken it several times.”

And baadsheep, of course, didn’t want to be outdone:

“Being that I live at Muddy gap. I figure I'm most qualified............ There is a gas station there and its [sic] open. The most active business is the Mormons have the Hand cart center at Devils gate. (you should see the number of busses come here on the average day!!!!!!!!!!). The wind is pretty fierce here especialy [sic] during the winter. There is about 20 people here (especialy [sic] if you count cats and dogs)!!!!!!!!”

MG is also the place setting for this
and a couple of other romances by the same author
(at least I think this is a romance - and not gay porn)

9. Saddlestring

Saddle soap? Silly string? Saddle shoes? Superstring?

So, first of all, there is something called “saddle string.” It sounds like it’s just long pieces of leather, used to lace things up (like chaps) or tie something to your saddle. Now, why you’d ever want to name your town after it is another story entirely (and, alas, one I could not uncover).

The “town” of Saddlestring is in the north central part of Wyoming. In fact, it looks like it might be one and the same with a ranch located there, the HF Bar Ranch. This place is one of the oldest dude ranches around, and has hosted movie stars, Supreme Court justices, and “captains of industry.”

Available on culturedcowboy.com

8.Medicine Bow

Why, a bow for your meds, of course. Why do you ask?

Actually, it’s from the Medicine Bow River. And that came about as follows:

“Along the banks of the river, the Native Americans found excellent material for making their bows. To them, anything they found good for a purpose was called ‘good medicine.’" (from the town site)

This enormous metropolis of almost 300 people is in the south central part of the state. It owes its existence to the transcontinental railroad, which came through in 1868. At one point, it loaded the largest number of cattle per day on the whole line. MB is also on the old Lincoln Highway. Finally, the town is the site of The Virginian, a novel that many consider the very first western.

A house made of fossils -
believe it or not!

7. East Thermopolis

Now, Thermopolis all by itself probably wouldn’t have made it onto this list. Adding that “East,” though, definitely moves the needle on the silly meter enough to make this a real player.

And, yes, this does indeed mean “city of heat.” Now, why did they call themselves the “city of heat”? Well, would the world’s largest hot springs do it for you?

And, yes, there is a just plain old Thermopolis. In fact, that’s where the springs are. East Thermopolis itself doesn’t have a lot to crow about. At 250 citizens, it’s got less than one tenth the people of Thermopolis. It does, however, have the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. By the way, the two places are separated by the Bighorn River, and are in the north central part of the state.

Live on the side of this hill; work shooting buffalo;
prosper in this dry, dusty land

6. Spotted Horse

You know what comes up first as a suggestion when I type “spotted” into Google? Hint: it’s not Spotted Horse. What we get instead is “spotted dick.” And that is an English dessert – i.e., not what you had in mind, you dirty bugger.

Curiously, Spotted Horse is not a dessert, but a small town near the Montana border. And when I say “small,” I mean small. Wikipedia’s got SH down for a population of two. Two!

The name? It’s after some Native American dude.

Downtown SH – a bar (and nothing else)

5. Crowheart

Another Indian dude? Well, in a way, yes. Here, let Wikipedia explain:

“According to legend, following a five-day battle for rights to the hunting grounds in the Wind River Range, Chief Washakie of the Shoshone and Chief Big Robber of the Crow agreed to a duel, with the winner gaining the rights to the Wind River hunting grounds. Chief Washakie eventually prevailed, but he was so impressed with the courage of his opponent, that rather than scalp him, he instead cut out his heart and placed it on the end of his lance.”

Wow! That’s quite a story. In fact, that might be the best name origin story in this whole darn blog. In addition, it also sure beats calling your town Big Robber, am I right?

Crowheart has 140 people, and is on the Wind River Indian Reservation. 

See, somebody put it on a piece of wood 
– it must be true

4.  Jay Em

A white guy. A white guy with the initial J and M. In particular, one white guy named James Moore, who owned a ranch here.

JM is near the Nebraska border, close to – pretty much like everything else in this state – absolutely nothing. We’re talking about a whopping 80 people here. The center of town – which is half abandoned – is actually on the National Register of Historic Places. 

It’s historic!

3.  Chugwater

If you can make any sense of the following story of how this place got its name (from Wikipedia), then you’re a better man/woman than I:

“Some historians hold that the name ‘Chugwater’ is derived from a Mandan account of a bison hunt. According to this narrative, a chief was disabled during the hunt and his son took charge of the hunt or ‘buffalo jump.’ Under his direction, hunters drove the bison over nearby cliffs; when the animals reached the ground below, a sound of ‘chugging’ was heard by the hunters. The story concludes with an etymology: since a stream was near the base of the cliffs, the site of the stampede has been called ‘the place’ or ‘water at the place where the buffalo chug.’”

Chugwater has about 200 people. It’s not too far from Jay Em.

It’s main claim to fame is being where Clayton Danks played cowboy. Don’t know Clayton? Well, he and his horse Steamboat were the models for Wyoming’s famous state symbol. 

Look familiar? I thought so.

2. West Thumb

Interestingly, there is no Thumb. Nor is there an East Thumb, a South Thumb, a Fort Thumb, Thumb Junction, or anything to do with the first digit.

This one does, though, have a pretty reasonable explanation however. West Thumb is actually perched on a little bay off Yellowstone Lake, a bay that looks a little bit like a thumb (if you’re feeling particularly imaginative, that is), a bay that happens to be on the west side of Yellowstone Lake. Et, voila!

So, WT is indeed part of Yellowstone Park. In fact, it looks like West Thumb might be no more than some geysers and a big parking lot. In other words, no postcards, postmarks, or signage for this one.

Though more strangely colored water
than you’ve probably ever seen in your life

1. Ten Sleep

I think we all can guess where this one comes from (it took 10 days to get here from somewhere else). That said, it’s still a beaut.

As for the town itself, it’s got about 250 people. It’s basically a ranching community, but with plenty of tourists as well. The latter are attracted to beautiful Ten Sleep Canyon, as well as a rodeo and the Nowoodstock music festical. Some of the touristically-oriented establishments in town include the Crazy Woman CafĂ© and Pub and Dirty Sally ‘s Gift Store. Hmm, am I detecting a theme here?

Quod est demonstratum

Honorable Mention: 
  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Lake, Valley, Canyon, Halfway
  • Short & sweet – Orin, Urie, Orpha, Uva, Otto, Acme, Alta, Alva, Almy, Elmo, Jelm, Ulm, Lusk (monument to slain madam in the middle of nowhere), Vore 
  • Native American mouthfuls – Wamsutter, Meeteestse
  • Just a little out of place – Midwest, Dayton, Buffalo, Albany, Jamestown, Atlantic City, Bordeaux, Eden
  • Just a little off color – Fannie
  • Orthographically challenged – Merna, Ranchester (T-Rex museum in guy's house), Linch, Baggs, Savery
  • Numerically oriented – Four Corners, Centennial
  • Abnormal nouns – Wolf, Sunrise, Shell, Encampment (two-story outhouse), Freedom, Reliance, Recluse, Emblem (formerly Germania Bench), Banner, Basin, Boulder, Battle, Pavilion, Colony, Node, Story, Riddle, Downer
  • Atypical adjectives – Sage, Superior, Veteran, Federal
  • Unconventional verbs – Burns
  • Fun to say – Calpet, Lingle, Yoder, Smoot, Quealy
  • Just plain weird – Lookout, Lonetree (population: 1), Redbird, Greybull (Museum of Aerial Firefighting), Little Bear, Sundance, Boxelder, Cokeville, Burntfork, Hat Creek, Powder River, Point of Rocks, Lost Cabin, Big Sandy, Sand Draw, Hamilton Dome, La Barge, Old Faithful, Little America, Tie Siding, Ucross, Mayoworth, Bigtrails, Bar Nunn, Dull Center, Dumbbell, Pitchfork, Devils Tower, Hells Half Acre
  • Just plain weird, elks – Elk, Elk Mountain, Elk Basin, Moose (ah, what the heck)
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Bill, Byron, Buford (population: 1), Daniel, Douglas, Egbert, Opal, Cora, Hanna, Ryan Park, Jenny Lake, Shirley Basin, Jeffrey City
  • Ghost towns – Gebo, Jireh, Hecla, Rudefeha, Carbon, Sunrise, Rambler, Dines, Sublette, Fort Fred Steele, Mormon Row, Miner’s Delight (girlhood home of Calamity Jane), Tubb Town


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wisconsin

Cows. Cheese. More cows. Cheese curds. Badgers. Cheeseheads. Packers. Brats. Snow. Blatz. Cows. Cheese.

10. Fence

It’s rather hard to believe, but there is an actual explanation for this one:

The community name stems from [a] hunting method used by Indians. They would build two fences, one of brush and the other of pickets; when deer jumped the first fence, they landed on the sharp points.

This town of 230 is in the far northeast part of the state, into the UP. It looks very flat and farmy.

This just scares me

9. Praire du Sac

Literally, this one means “prairie of the sack.” (“Cul-de-sac” means “bottom of the sack,” by the way). 

But the French also used "sac" to refer to the Sauk Indians. So, really, this is really no more imaginative than “Sauk Prairie.” 

PDS is in the south central part of the state, and claims 3,000 citizens. It’s practically twinned with Sauk City, which has 3,400. Just in case things weren't confusing enough already, the two usually go by the name of Sauk Prairie. Both are right along the Wisconsin River.

Reminding us that it was the French who originally settled this area, Wisconsin also includes:
  • Eau Claire – “clear water”
  • Lac du Flambeau – “lake of torches”
  • Prairie du Chien – “prairie of the dog” (i.e., the prairie dog) 
  • Butte des Mortes – “mound of the dead people” (i.e., an Indian burial mound)
  • Eau des Chiens Mortes Flambeaux – “flaming water of the dead dogs” (okay, I made that last one up)

PDS is also home to the
Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw

8. Baraboo

More Frenchie. This town is named after the nearby river, which was in turn named after an early settler named Jean Baribault. 

I think I much prefer the American spelling. I mean, why do the French even bother to put all those letters at the end of every word? It’s not like they actually ever pronounce any of them, right?

Baraboo’s pretty big time. I’m talking over 12,000 Baraboobians … um, Baraboobers … er … inhabitants. It’s in the south central again, just 20 minutes away from Prairie du Sac.

Baraboo’s main claim to fame is being the former home of Ringling Brothers Circus. Currently, it’s the home of Circus World Museum. Not content to rest there, Baraboo’s Wikipedia entry also mentions the International Crane Foundation and Aldo Leopold’s Shack (but why didn’t they mention the International Clown Hall of Fame???). It also lists 25 famous sons and daughters – none of whom I have ever heard of before (including Aldo).

WTF?

7. Poy Sippi

As I recall, “Mississippi” means something like “many waters.” So, I guess this one means “lots of mashed taro root paste.”

I’m sorry. What we’ve got here is instead something along the lines of “Sioux waters.” It’s from the Potawatomie, and is shortened from poygan sippi. The term was originally applied to the Pine River, which flows through the town.

This petit burg of almost 1,000 is just a little north and east of Prairie du Sac and Baraboo. 

By the way, spell check keeps insisting I change this to “Poignant Sips.”

Wilstar SS Dixierose-Red-ET 
Unanimous All-American Fall Yearling in Milk
Wilstar Holsteins, Poy Sippi, WI

6. Packwaukee / Peewaukee / Pensaukee

Well, we’ve all heard of Milwaukee, but where the heck did these other ones come from?

Now, Milwaukee may mean several things – “pleasant land,” “gathering place by the waters,” and “some misfortune happens.” Huh, whuh? Can’t tell if that last one is a joke or not.

Packwaukee was named after a “friendly chief of the Ho-Chunk tribe.” That name may, in turn, mean something along the line of “thin land.” It’s got 2,500 people, and is “located in the heart of Wisconsin on the shores of Buffalo Lake.”

Peewaukee means either “dusty water” or “lake of shells.” It’s basically a suburb of Milwaukee, and comes in at 13,000 inhabitants. Its Wikipedia entry lists eleven people I’ve never heard of.

Pensaukee means “inside the mouth of a river.” That’s fitting as it is indeed located where the Pensaukee River empties into Green Bay. We’re talking about 1,200 people here. Its main claim to fame seems to be getting wiped out in an 1877 tornado.


5. Oconomowoc

Ock-a-nama-wanna-waka … Ock-o-nama-wama-mama-nocka …  Ock-o-nama-mama-wanna-waka-jama … Ah, forget it. (But do check out this great video of Texans trying to pronounce this and other WI gems.)

Would it help if I told you it was originally Coo-no-mo-wauk, and that’s Potatwatomi for “waterfall”? I didn’t think so.

Well, would it make it any easier if I told you it was a thriving city of 16,000? No? Just a little west of Milwaukee? Sister city of Dietzenbach, Germany? Nah? Ah, heck with it.

By the way, this (unpronounceable) place’s main claim to fame is premiering The Wizard of Oz. Continuing the cinema theme, it’s also the setting of an eponymous film:

an absurd comedy about Lonnie Washington, a confused adult who moves back in with his boozing mother and reluctantly teams up with his friend's mishandled t-shirt business in hopes of finding a little direction

I think this goes without saying

4.  Menomonie

Carl Sandburg thought that the most beautiful word he ever heard was “Monogahela,” which just so happens to be a river in western Pennsylvania. He must have never have run across “Menomonie.” To me, at least, it’s pure poetry.

It comes from an Indian tribe of the same name (which explains why there is also a Menomonee in Michigan as well). The name means “the people” … in Menomonee.

It’s another big one, coming in at 16,000-plus. It’s located at the other end of the state, though – in the northwest, just west of Eau Claire. M-town’s Wikipedia entry features sixteen people I’ve never heard of, some of whom sound very interesting indeed:
  • Wilson Hall – half of the comedy duo God’s Pottery
  • Aaron Yonda – comedy video producer, co-founder of Blame Society Productions
  • Harry Miler – "the greatest creative figure in the history of the American racing car"
  • Luke Helder – local college student who attempted to create a smiley-face on the US map with pipe bombs

Almost forgot … There is also a Menomonie Falls in the Badger State.

Open July 3rd thru July 5th

3.  Oshkosh

More poetry. In that it rhymes. Not in that it’s a beautiful use of language.

Another chief. This one’s name means “claw.” Accordingly, this little blurb will now substitute the word “Claw” whenever I would otherwise be tempted to use the word “Oshkosh.” Here goes …

This metropolis of 66,000 is just a little southwest of Green Bay, on the rather large Lake Winnebago. As befits such a huge place, Claw can claim a couple of big-time corporate citizens:
  • Claw B’Gosh – cute kids clothes
  • Claw Corp. – trucks and other heavy equipment

Claw is also home to AirVenture, the world’s largest airshow. Finally, Claw features 53 famous sons and daughters, two of whom I have actually heard of, but you probably have not (Lewis Hines and Carl Laemmle).

Old-timey postcard of Claw

2. Spread Eagle

I won’t say any more about this one save to say that it’s definitely naughty.

The place is way up in the northeast. It’s even closer to the border with Michigan than Fence. 

The name is after the Spread Eagle Chain of Lakes. They, in turn, get their name from how the lakes look like a spread eagle. Hmm … Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a shred of photographic evidence of this on Google Images, or on Google Maps.

In general, there doesn’t seem to be a whole heckuva lot on SE out there. Fittingly, though, I did find a strip bar, the Gold Nugget. 

By the way, there is also an Eagle, WI.

I don't know, do you see it?
(BTW, I’m sparing you the other images I found)

1. Sheboygan

If “Menomonie” is pure poetry, then “Sheboygan” has got to be the exact opposite. I mean, honestly, could there be a less mellifluous combination of syllables? 

This one possibly means “passage between the lakes,” in Chippewa.

So, we’ve got about 49,000 Sheboyganeers, Sheboyganees, or whatever they’re called. The place is right on Lake Michigan, about halfway between Milwaukee and Green Bay.

Sheboygan’s Wikipedia entry actually says that it’s “well-known for its bratwurst.” It’s also “well-known” for the Dairyland Surf Classic, “the largest lake surfing competition in the world.” Finally, I count about 50 famous sons and daughters, including two that I – and maybe even you – are actually familiar with,  comedian Jackie Mason and basketball coach Rick Majerus.

The Sheboygan: burger, brat, cheese curds,
and probably an extra millimeter of plaque on all your arteries


Honorable Mention:
  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Mountain, Valley, North Prairie, Prairie Farm, Bay Settlement, Plainville, Newville, Centerville, Junction City, Midway, Wisconsin Rapids
  • Short & sweet – Iola, Ella, Lebo, Lodi, Alto, Atma, Omro, Okee, Hika, Juda, Yuba, Boaz, Cato, Cobb, Plat, Pell, Dane, Lund, Urne, Nye, Rio
  • Native American mouthfuls – Onalaska, Kewaskum, Taycheedah, Ashippun, Mazomanie, Wonewoc, Wandawega, Weyauwega (Indian for “old woman”), Manitowoc (“place of the spirits”), Manitowish, Mukwonago, Winnebago (“greenish dirty water”), Ashwaubenon
  • What’s with all the wau’s? – Waupun (“first light”), Waukau, Wausau (“far away place”), Waupaca, Waubeka, Waukesha (“little fox”), Wauzeka, Waunakee, Waumandee, Wauwatosa (“place of the small ball”)
  • Just a little off color – Gays Mills, Beaver, Beaver Dam, Beaver Brook 
  • Orthographically challenged – Arkansaw, Tichigan, Monico, Pardeeville
  • Numerically oriented – Two Creeks, Two Rivers (birthplace of the ice cream sundae), Twin Bluffs, Twin Lakes, Three Lakes
  • Abnormal nouns – Winter, Avalanche, Arena, Atlas, Almond, Blueberry, Pound, King, Luck, Spirit, Siren, Range, Cable, Gurney, Institute, Bowler, Bloomer, Husher, Hustler, Cataract, Calomine, Chili, Cream, Disco
  • Atypical adjectives – Loyal, Polar, Rural, Plain
  • Unconventional verbs – Dodge, Retreat, Strum, Breed, Embarass
  • Fun to say – Oostburg, Avoca, Algoma (“snowshoe”), Muscoda, Kenosha (“northern pike”), Wabeno, Basco, Borth, Blenker, Ringle, Kempster, Herbster, Stitzer, Crivitz, Clarno, Cleghorn, Cazenovia, Mishicot (“hairy leg”), Neopit (“four sitting”), Peshtigo (halfway to the North Pole), Pulicifer, Boscobel, Van Buskirk, Ixonia, Zenda
  • Hard to say – Trempealeau (Fr. for "plunge into the water"), Lake Nebagamon (world’s largest ball of twine), Beloit (world’s largest collection of angels)
  • Just plain weird – Lead Mine, Redgranite, Beetown, Moose Junction, Elk Mound, Blue Mounds, Coon Valley, Plum City, Wild Rose, Rising Sun, Sun Prairie, Fairplay, Dairyland, Egg Harbor, Tunnel City, Combined Locks, New Diggings, Superior Village, Sugar Camp, Soldiers Grove, Liberty Pole, Iron Belt, Black Earth, Little Black, Big Flats, Rib Lake, Random Lake, Little Chute, Little Suamico, Slinger, Spooner, Starks, Humbird
  • Just plain weird, -villes – Janesville (two-story outhouse used by Lincoln), Franksville, Shortville, Downsville, Footville, Stangelville
  • Just plain weird, falls – Pigeon Falls, Clam Falls, Jim Falls
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Alvin, Nelson, Milton, Byron, Sheldon, Seymour (birthplace of the hamburger), Arthur, Edgar, Elroy, Earl, Tony, Waldo, Ruby, Irma, Alma
  • Ghost towns - Bluff Siding, Pokerville, Crusher


By the way, I got most of my Indian names from this site.

Friday, January 10, 2014

West Virginia M-Z

West Virginia has got more than its share of crazily named places. It’s too bad that many of these are so small that I can’t – under the rules of this blog, at least – honestly include them here. Here’s a small sampling of the nuttiness we’re missing out on:
  • Festus
  • Shock
  • Cutlips
  • Scary
  • Black Betsey
  • Hoo Hoo
  • Lick Fork
  • Big Ugly
  • Booger Hole

Ah well. We’ll just have to carry on with the following.


10. War

Sounds violent.

And it is. War was named after the nearby War Creek, the site of a battle between local Indians. It was also in the news recently for the murder of the mayor by his daughter-in-law, for drug money.

War’s got about 900 people, and is the state’s southernmost city. They’re definitely counting on you tourists out there, as evidenced by this classic line from the town website:

Some call War the "Gateway to Recreation" and say that Berwind Lake is a portal to the gateway.

Got that straight? Gateway, portal. Don’t mix ‘em up, okay?

By the way, War is where some of the film October Sky was filmed.

See, just like I said

9. Man

The explanation for this one, from this wonderful site, isn’t really helping out all that much here:

from the last syllable of the name of Ulysses Hinchman, member of the House of Delegates from Logan County

I mean, why didn’t they just call it Hinchman? Or even just Hinch, for that matter?

Well, I guess that’s just the way they do things in West Virginia. Man has 750, um … er … men? 

There is a Man High School. They’re the Hillbillies. Too bad. I kind of like the Man Men myself. The Hillbillies name is suiting, though, as this is prime Hatfield-McCoy country.

Redneck Santa 
(Man, WV)

8. Nitro

Yup, this one owes its name to nitroglycerine. A large federal explosives plant was established here during World War I. When the town was incorporated in 1923, Nitro seemed like a perfectly reasonable reasonable thing to name the place, I guess.

The town continued to be a large producer of chemicals up until the current day. And that means, well …  I kind of like the way Wikipedia puts it: “Due to manufacturing activities, Nitro was becoming known for a distinctive chemical smell.”

This town of 7,000, is close to Huntington, in the western part of the state. It’s along the Kanawha River.

Some famous sons and daughters include baseball star Lew Burdette and C&W singer Kathy Mattea. Clark Gable actually spent half a year here as well, working in the ammunition plant as a teen.

Of course you do
(available on Zazzle)

7. Replete

Adj. filled to satiation; gorged. “Me and the boys were pretty dang well replete after all them wings and pizza and beer and crap.”

Actually, there is another definition: “abundantly supplied; abounding.” I’m assuming that’s what they meant here. 

Replete is in the center of the state – next to, um … absolutely nothing. Ironically, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to Replete either. I count a couple of farms along some twisty mountain roads.

Now available at sears.com

6. Smoot

Isn’t this what they call that grey, dingy looking snow that sits in parking lots until March?

Surprisingly, it is not. In fact, this one comes from some poor schmoe’s last name. Yup, Smoot the surname is from the Dutch Smout, and means someone who sold fat, or lard. Hey, you heard it here first …

Looks like a dozen buildings or so right off of I-64 (i.e., in the southern half of the state). And that’s about all I could find out on Smoot.


5. Pie

Apple? Cherry? Banana cream? Shoo-fly? Whoopie? Beef and kidney? C’mon! Don’t leave us hanging.
According to the internets, this one was named “by postmaster Leander Blankenship (b. about 1870) because he liked pie (information from Kathy Deskins, his granddaughter).” Personally, I can totally understand where he was coming from.

We’re back in southern West Virginia, in the interestingly named Mingo County. As you can imagine, there are lots of competing links for this one – bakeries, pizza parlors, recipes, bake-offs, charts, Don McLean … It does appear that there was some pretty serious flooding here just recently.

Mmm, my favorite flavor
– unincorporated!

4.  Paw Paw

Named after your grandfather, this tiny town …

Actually, this place is named after the fruit. Yup, some stuff called “paw paw” grows on trees in the area (and all over the eastern United States, by the way). It’s actually quite good, but has never been commercially successful as it ripens too quickly and bruises too easily to be reliably transported. By the way, the name is a corruption of the word “papaya,” whose fruit the paw paw resembles.

Paw Paw the town is on the Potomac, in the very upper northeast part of the state. Across the river is the well-known 3100-foot Paw Paw Tunnel, built for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal back in 1835, and one of the major engineering accomplishments of its day. The author has ridden through it on his bike! If you’re thinking about going yourself, make sure to bring a flashlight. At the middle of the tunnel, it’s pretty darn dark.

By the way, there are seven other Paw Paws in the U.S., in five different states.

It’s usually not that bright in there

3.  Pee Wee

Formerly called Herman, this town commemorating the famous entertainer was forced to change its name after the town fathers learned that that one was already taken …

Haven’t a clue where this one (really) came from. In fact, there’s not a whole lot out there on it – mainly just obits, real estate listings, and stuff about youth sports teams. I did find some references to a school and a post office, though both are listed as “historical.”

There is a possibility that it’s from a bird, the eastern wood-pewee (Contopus virens). I do know that the town’s in the northwest part of the state … and that some neighbors include the wonderfully named Zachville, Sunflower, Windy, and Rover.

BTW, there actually isn’t a Herman in WV. There is a Harman though. And yes, I did find a link tying the television star and the Mountain State together during my searching.

Ray Palmer, teacher,
outside Pee Wee School, 1954

2. Odd

Odd? You bet!

Here’s one story (from Wikipedia) how this all came about:

According to one story, a group of people gathered at the post office to name the town. Several names were suggested, and to one suggestion, someone in the group responded "That's odd." And so the name of Odd was adopted for the town.

Another story revolves around some interaction with the Post Office with one of the parties asking that the name be something “odd” (i.e., unusual).

My personal theory – with absolutely nothing to back it up – is that this place probably has something to do with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. This is one of those fraternal benevolent associations, like the Elks or Moose or Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes (Fred Flinstone, Grand Poobah). It was pretty popular a number of years ago – probably about right when the town was founded. 

I do know the town is in the southern part of the state – very close to one of my favorite skiing places, Winterplace Resort.  I might have to visit it next time I’m up there.


1. Nutter Fort

I thought, perhaps, that reversing these two might take care of the problem. Which would give us Fort Nutter. Which means I was totally wrong.

The Nutter part comes from an early settler, one Thomas Nutter. He and some other early settlers erected a fort there, to stave off Indian attack. It was called Nutter’s Fort, which probably explains the unusual word order.

This one is right off I-77, in the northern part of the state. I remember getting a kick out of it as a kid, traveling between Pittsburgh and the Carolinas. 

It’s basically a suburb of Clarksburg (wait, Clarksburg has suburbs?!?!) and has about 1,600 inhabitants. It’s the site of the West Virginia Blackberry Festival.


Honorable Mention: 
  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Rock, Mountain, Midway
  • Short & sweet – Sago, Sias, Yolyn, Wana, Zela, Zona, Poca, Coco, Uler, Orgas (for the Orange Gas Co.), Orma, Omar, Ona, Oka, Metz, Mace, Tams, Webb, Wick, Rand, Ramp, Rock, Runa, Rio (pronounced RYE-oh), Rig (for Elmer Riggleman), Page, Pike, Pax*, Poe, Van, Neal, Sun, Sod
  • Native American mouthfuls – Powhatan, Naugatuck, Matowaka (an alternate name for Pocoahontas), Okonoko, Pocatalico
  • Miscellaneous mouthfuls – Spanishburg, Spurlockville, New Vrindaban (Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold), Orleans Cross Roads, Red Sulphur Springs, Salt Sulphur Springs, Sam Black Church, Three Forks of Williams River
  • Just a little out of place – Raleigh, Williamsburg, Washington, Newark, New England, New Haven, Orlando, Miami, Montana Mines, Toronto, Peru, Oxford, Vienna, Volga, Troy, Rangoon, Manila, Shanghai, Pluto, Paradise 
  • Orthographically challenged – Munday, Mabie, Prenter, Procious
  • Numerically oriented – Secondcreek, Three Churches, Tenmile
  • Abnormal nouns – Sundial, Surveyor, Zenith, Queens, Prince, Pear, Pool, Pigeon, Panther, Victor, Ranger, Reader, Romance, Toll Gate, Tariff, Trout, Spice, Sparks, Speed, Power, Carbon, Petroleum, Saltpetre, Pipestem, Whirlwind, Medley, Mud
  • Atypical adjectives – Quick, Swiss, Mossy, Shady, Vulcan, True, Widemouth
  • Unconventional verbs – Points, Shanks, Revere, Rumble, Sully, Pinch, Widen
  • Fun to say – Tioga, Tribble, Ruddle, Slagle, Sharples, Smithers, Mabscott* (for Mabel Scott), McCorkle, Monclo, Mingo, Nimitz (for WWII Adm. Chester Nimitz), Unger, Uneeda, Uffington, Purgitsville
  • Just plain weird – Quiet Dell, Old Fields, Wolf Pen, Star City, Redstar, Red House, Rosbys Rock, Tunnelton, Triadelphia, Rocklick, Needmore, Slatyfork, Sleepy Creek, Strange Creek, Slab Fork, Mink Shoals, Midkiff, Pickaway, Summerco, Red Jacket, Upper Tract
  • Just plain weird, towns – Normantown, Steptown, Stumptown, Pruntytown
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Milton, Wilbur, Rupert, Sidney, Sherman, Shirley, Myra, Mona, Nettie, Ruth, Sarah Ann (Hatfield Cemetery), Mozart
  • Ghost towns - Michigan, Sunnyside, Royal, Nutallburg, Pearlytown, Red Ash

* - author has visited

Looking for more WV towns? Look right here for A-L.

Friday, January 3, 2014

West Virginia, A-L

Poor West Virginia. Around these parts, it seems WV is the butt of all jokes. 

Let me explain. I-77 basically funnels any West Virginian looking to relocate down South straight through Charlotte. My hometown is bright and bustling and shiny and often ends up as someone’s brand new home.

Unfortunately, Charlotte is just a little bit too, um … er … sophisticated and cosmopolitan for some of these newcomers. 

Okay, enough background. Let’s take a look at some of the places these folks are hailing from.

10. Burnt House

Surely, there was more to this place than this. A nice meadow perhaps? Some body of water of some sort? How about two roads that crossed? I mean, anything other than a burned down house, right?

Well, there is a pretty good story at least. It involves a tavern, a slave mistress, some disappeared lodgers, a terrible fire, and a dancing ghost.  

What’s there now? Well, not a whole lot. Mapquest shows me a string of buildings along a state road a little southeast of Parkersburg. The place has got some great neighbors though – Nobe, Goffs, Slab, Thursday, Racket, and Fonzo.

I'm sure there's a Burnt Church
out there somewhere too

9. Lost City

I’ve heard this used before. You know, the lost city of the Incas, the lost city of Atlantis, the lost city of Sheboygan …

This place is along the Lost River. Fittingly, both are in the middle of absolute nowhere (i.e., far eastern WV).

That’s not, however, where the name comes from.  The Lost River actually disappears, at a place called the “The Sinks,” then reappears 10 miles later (but, this time, as the Cacapon). 


8. Left Hand

How sinister.

This has to be the left hand, or fork, of some creek, right? Sure enough, the town is right along Left Hand Creek. 

I’m afraid I couldn’t find a Right Hand Creek though. I did, however, find another little “unincorporated community” with the wonderful name of Big Right Hand. Not that it’s anywhere near Left Hand …

LH has 350 people, but looks like no more than a handful of houses and an elementary school. Maybe they just counted the kids. It’s just a little up I-79 from Charleston.

Left Hand is also sometimes refered to as Lefthand, Justices, and Knights. 

From Mrs. Reynolds’ homepage,
Left Hand Elementary School

7. Blennerhassett

That’s fourteen big ones, folks. B-L-E-N-N-E-R-H-A-S-S-E-T-T.  Fourteen!

Would you believe it’s some poor guy’s name? Some poor Irish guy? Yup, Harman Blennerhassett settled here at the very end of the 1700s. He sounds like quite a character.

B-town (I ain’t typing that in again) is a “census-designated place.” I have no idea what that is, but I assume it’s a step up from an “unincorporated community,” as B-ville has over 3,000 people. It’s just down the Ohio from Parkersburg.

Harman’s reconstructed manse

6. Boomer

I had no idea there were so many boomers out there, including:
  • An adult male kangaroo
  • The mascot of the Indiana Pacers
  • An advocate for the opening of the Unassigned Lands of Oklahoma Territory for settlement
  • The redhead tomboy from the Burger King Kids Club
  • An anthropomorphic tug boat from the 1989 TV series Tugs
  • A fictional synthetic life form developed by Katsuhito Stingray in the anime series Bubblegum Crisis
I’m guessing it’s the last one. 

Seriously, Boomer is also a last name, and that’s what I’m guessing is the real source. We’ve got two possibilities for this one. It could be Dutch, and signifying someone who worked a boom, or gate, on a canal. The other possibility is German, from the name Baumer, which basically means a customs official.

Boomer is an old coal company town. It’s got about 200 people, and is on the Kanawha River, about 30 miles from Charleston. It has a fair amount of Italian-Americans, including one Dominic Pesca, who mined 52 tons of coal in one day.


A Boomer is also “a bloated infected that can spit vision-impairing bile on the Survivors, attracting hordes of infected, and explodes on death, spewing more bile in the immediate area. They emit burping and vomiting like sounds when close by.” (from Left 4 Dead, a video game)

5. Bozoo

It’s after Bozoo the Cloon, of course. Why do you ask?

Well, actually, I haven’t a clue what it’s after. There are some poor people with the last name of Bozoo out there, so maybe that’s it.

Bozoo the toown is in the far, far southern part of the state. Actually, it looks like it’s about a mile and a half or so from the border with Virginia. It’s on a ridge above the New River. I count about a dozen buildings of some sort or other. 

This place is known for one thing, though, and that’s rock climbing. So, here’s some valuable advice I found on a climbing site for any of you out there who are interested in tackling the heights of Bozoo:

This route is a classic, with awesome bouldery moves. Start below a large obvious hueco about ten feet up. Very powerful moves lead you out of the roof, but into difficult campusy moves before reaching a few good left hand side pulls. A cruxy move out right to a crack gets you a good hold...but it [sic] not over yet ...

Now, if I could only figure out what language this is in, I could probably translate for you.

I don’t know if this the bouldery,
the campusy, or the cruxy part

4.  Cucumber

You know, I think they’re really ought to be more towns out there named after vegetables. I, personally, think cauliflower and eggplant should be so honored – not to mention the brussel sprout.

We’re back in the southern part of the state again, maybe ten miles from VA this time. There are about 100 Cucumberians … er, Cucumberites .. um, Cucumberers? Big time coal country.

Not totally sure where this one came from. My personal guess, though, would be the cucumber tree (magnolia acuminata). By the way, Cucumber is the only community In US with that name.

Get your letter stamped right here

3.  Droop *

So, there are multiple towns in the U.S. with the name of Droop???

This barely-there crossroads is in the southeast part of the state. Much more famous than the town, though, is nearby Droop Mountain, site of the last significant battle of the Civil War in the state (the Yankees won).

The town derives its name from the mountain. And the mountain was originally called Drooping Mountain. And to droop means to “sink, bend, or hang down.” So, I guess it all makes sense …

Either a park ranger
or a member of the Taliban

2. Big Otter / Big Chimney / Big Isaac

And I thought everything was big in Texas

Big Otter is along Big Otter Creek. And, yes, there is a Little Otter and a Little Otter Creek as well. There actually seems to be some people in Little Otter (unlike in Big Otter), so Little Otter is actually bigger than Big Otter (which is littler). Both Otters, Big and Small, are in the center of the state.

Big Chimney is just a little west of Big and Little Otter. Unlike those, though, it really is big time. I’m talking 600-plus people, as wells as a “fast-food restaurant, a drug store, hardware store and grocery store” (that’s from the Wikipedia entry). The name comes from the tall chimney of a former salt works.

Big Isaac is a little further north. Like Big Otter, Big Isaac doesn’t look too big. What little there is appears to be on the wonderfully named Meathouse Fork Rd. Not sure where this one comes from, but – yes – there is a Big Isaac Creek as well.

Sorry, this big otter is actually
in Fergus Falls, MN

1. Forks of Cacapon

So, we’ve already established that there is a Cacapon River (see #9, above). Further, any time we see “forks” in this blog, we can safely assume we’re talking about the branches of a river – and not silverware. So, I’m assuming we’ve got a town along the Cacapon River where said river forks. 

Yup, this tiny hamlet is indeed where the Cacapon and North Rivers meet. By the way, it looks like there are more ways to spell this one than there are people in this place:
  • Capon 
  • Cacopon
  • Cacapon 
  • Cacapehon 
  • Cackapohon 
  • Capcappin
  • Capecapon
  • Cape Capon 
And it looks like Microsoft Word wants me to change all of them to “cacophony."

Sound like there’s some good paddling and fishing nearby. Oh, almost forgot … However you might spell it, “cacapon” means “medicine waters.”

Ouch, that’s gotta hurt!

Honorable Mention: 
  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Flat Rock, Hilltop* (Hank Williams’ last stop), Borderland, Central Station, Center Point, Centralia, Junction, Hometown
  • Short & sweet – Fola, Boaz, Czar, Chloe, Clio, Coco, Coit, Asco, Ajax, Ada, Amma, Alma, Alto, Alvy, Avon, Enon, Eglon, Etam, Jolo, Halo, Hico, Hix, Hines, Bays, Boggs, Dunns, Dink, Dott, Duo, Gem, Gill, Glen, Glace, Cass*, Kirk, Leet, Linn, Bud, Buck, Bim*
  • Mouthfuls – Arnoldsbrug, Hubbardstown, Amherstdale, Horse Shoe Run (tiny church), Green Sulphur Springs *, Blue Sulphur Springs, Camden on Gauley
  • Just a little out of place – Cleveland, Buffalo, Bunker Hill, Arkansas, Dallas, Denver, Hollywood, Greenland, Ireland, London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Berlin, Genoa, Athens, Bethlehem, Israel, Cairo, Congo, Eden
  • Just a little off color – Fraziers Bottom, Beaver, Hookersville
  • Orthographically challenged – Curtin, Alkol
  • Numerically oriented – Big Four, Four States, Century, Hundred
  • Abnormal nouns – Justice, Guardian, Hurricane, Cyclone, Core, Cotton, Crystal, Cranberry, Clothier, Canvas, Cabins, Booth, Beard, Bias, Brink (after Brinkley M. Snodgrass), Frame, Flat Top *, Gypsy, Institute, Heaters, Auto, Job, Joker
  • Atypical adjectives – Grassy, English, Frank, Friendly, Gay, Junior, Given, Extra, Dingy
  • Unconventional verbs – Levels, Exchange, Echo, Duck
  • Fun to say – Bemis, Kegley, Eccles, Erbacon (for E.R. Bacon), Gamoca, Alpoca (for the Alpha Pocahontas Coal Co.), Algoma, Ameagle (for American Eagle Colliery), Arbuckle, Smithers, Fenwick, Follansbee, Burgoo, Cumbo, Muddlety*, Gormania, Dorcas, Dingess
  • Hard to say – Hubball, Cuzzart, Lizemores
  • Just plain weird – Lead Mine, Mount Carbon, Cool Ridge, Green Bank, Jumping Branch, Letter Gap, Crab Orchard, Elk Garden, Elkwater, Gassaway, Dellslow, Clemtown, Kansooth, Kanawha Head, Ikes Fork, Knob Fork, Bald Knob, Cheat Neck, Fort Gay, Hacker Valley, Great Cacopon, Crum, Looneyville, Smoke Hole
  • Just plain weird, villes – Fellowsville, Jerryville, Jetsville
  • Company towns – Craneco, Fireco, Havaco, Clearco (Clear Creek Coal Co.), Charmco (Charleston Milling Co.)
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Leon, Lester, Chester (world’s largest teapot), Kermit, Gilbert, Filbert, Albert, Arthur, Calvin, Carl, Adolph, Leopold, Helen, Ethel, Eleanor, Lynn Camp, Jane Lew *, Clifton Mills, Glen Daniel, Glen Rogers, Glen Jean *, Glen White, Bob White, Cinderella
  • Ghost towns - Alaska, Export, Elmo, Gaymont

* - author has visited