Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Geez, what a boring state.  It seems to be all Springfields and Centervilles and Oaklands and This Park and That Grove.  Another common theme is just hijacking a name from someplace else: Columbia, Mt. Vernon, Princeton, Charleston, Paris, Monticello, Lexington, Trenton, Troy …

And some areas of the state just seem to show a determined lack of originality.  So, you’ve got a city named Round Lake, huh?  Well, why not add Round Lake Park, Round Lake Beach, and Round Lake Heights right next to it?  Think you’re already all set with Rockford?  Not so fast.  You’ve got Rockton, Rock Grove, and Rock City to add to the mix too.

It is a big state, though.  So, with a little elbow grease, here’s what I was able to come up with ...

10. Muddy

Geez, couldn’t this at least have been Muddy Grove?  Muddy Park?  Muddy Heights?  Muddy Landing?

This town of less than 100 is on the Saline River, in the southern part of the state.  It was originally built to house workers – mostly Slovakian immigrants – in a local coal mine.

Muddy’s main claim to fame is once having the smallest post office in the U.S.  A larger one was built in 2002, but the old one is still there.  The town’s also got an old Russian Orthodox church and an historic coal tipple (whatever the heck that is).

Small, old & obsolete

9. Oblong

Formerly called Rectilinear, the town’s name was changed purely for orthographic reasons.

Seriously, as far as I can tell, the town fathers platted this place on a little piece of rectangular prairie.  Continuing in that tradition, my Google search results show plenty of links to “oblong real estate.”  I also found a store called Oblong Auto Parts, as well as the Oblong Children’s Christian Home.  There is also an Oblong High School, whose teams are called the Oblong Panthers.

None of these, however, can compete with a famous headline, "Oblong Man Marries Normal Woman," that appeared in a local newspaper about 40 years ago.  (Normal is in the middle of the state, right atop Bloomington - see below.)

Go Oblong Panthers!

8. Grand Detour

Not sure what’s so exciting about a detour, but hey, who am I to judge?

Turns out “grand detour” is basically French for “big bend.”  Some early French traders and trappers named the location for a big cinch in the Rock River where they built a trading post.

Grand Detour is famous as the place where John Deere invented the steel plow, “the plow that broke the plains.”  The John Deere Historic Site includes an archaeological site, an exhibit hall, a blacksmith shop, Deere’s home and – of course – a GIFT SHOP!

Mr. Deere moved on (to Moline), so Grand Detour’s pretty sedate these days.  The town of 400-some people is in the northwest part of the state.

Available at the GIFT SHOP!

7. Humm Wye

“Why hum?”  “Why not?”  “Because it annoys the hell out of me.  It’s like one step above whistling.”  “Alright, fine.  Whatever.  I’ll stop”

As far as I can tell, a family named Humm lived along a Y in the road here.  We’re back down south for this one, practically across the Ohio River from Kentucky.  And that’s about all I can find out about Humm Wye.

6. Aroma Park

Hmm, they don’t say what aroma exactly …  I’m hoping it’s pizza.

According to Edward Callary’s Place Names of Illinois (University of Illinois Press, 2008), the town was:
founded in 1852 by Alvin and Slocum Wilber, who created the word Aroma by playing on the name of their friend and associate James L. Romer. Reportedly, possible confusion between Aroma and Aurora led to changing the name to Waldron in 1872. It was changed back to Aroma, and the word Park was added about 1915.

An unknown Internet denizen (“Moongrrl”) who lives there tells us:

In the summer, there's the sweet, cloying scent of corn pollen mixed with black dirt, freshly cut grass, and warm, stagnant water when the Kankakee is low. All year, it smells of car exhaust, both gas and diesel, plus greasy food from the local restaurant. Depending on the direction of the wind, it used to smell of pig manure, but not anymore (low pork prices drove the small farmers out of business in the late 1990's).

I think I prefer pizza.

It’s south of Chicago, at the intersection of the Kankakee and Iroquois rivers.  It’s got about 800 people, an elementary school, a fire department, and lots and lots of corn fields.

Did I mention the corn fields?

5. Downers Grove *

The town fathers kicked around “Bummerville,” “Bad Scene,” “Unpleasant Situation,” and “Depressing Experience,” but seeing as this was Illinois, they felt they just had to get “grove” in there somehow.

Yup, you guessed it.  This place was founded by some guy named Downer.  They’re very proud of their lack of an apostrophe, by the way.  “Apostrophe-free since 1873” is the unofficial motto. 

This depressing, apostrophe-free place just so happens to be a major metropolis.  I’m talking almost 50,000 people, plus corporate headquarters for such companies as Sara Lee, FTD, Pepperidge Farm, and Abercrombie & Kent (yes, Abercrombie & Kent – it’s a travel agency).  Of the 23 “notable people” listed on Wikipedia, I’ve actually heard of three of them: "wrestler" Randy Savage, comedian Emo Phillips, and “actress” Denise Richards. 

And nothing says “major metropolis” 
like your name on a water tower

4. Mooseheart

Remember this movie?  You know, with Mel Gibson?  The one about William Wallace or Wallace Williams or whatever his name was?  You know, the guy who led our rebellion against George III?  He painted his face red, white, and blue, remember?

Actually, that explanation makes a lot more sense than how Mooseheart actually did get its name.  Turns out the Loyal Order of the Moose have a children’s home here.  Some local congressman, who just so happened to be a member of the group’s Supreme Council, got to name it.

Crazy name aside, it actually sounds like a wonderful place.  There was even a movie about it, City of Children

It’s just down the road from Downer’s Grove, by the way.  Almost forgot …  Illinois also includes a Buffalo Hart.

You knew this was coming, didn’t you?

3. Lowpoint

Am I detecting a theme here?  Amidst all those Pleasant Groves and Merrywoods and Sunny Glades, do you think there might be a subtle dark undercurrent to contemporary Illinoisan life?  Downers Grove, Lowpoint.  Downs and Lost Nation are out there too.  I’m just sayin’ …

According to an article in a local paper (thanks Facebook!), I learned that the town happened to be on the lowest point on an early stagecoach line.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything on how such a name might subtly affect the subsequent local inhabitants’ outlook on life … though you know it’s gotta take a toll.

It’s in the middle of the state, near Peoria.  Using Google Maps, I can spot a post office, a radio station, a junkyard, a bunch of houses, and not much else.

Hmm, if I didn't know better,
I'd swear we were in Aroma Park

2. Bigfoot

I definitely would have thought I’d find this one in Washington State.  Or maybe Oregon or Alaska or northern California.  Definitely not Illinois.

Turns out Bigfoot was a guy, a Native American guy – in particular, a chief of the Potawatomi.  A couple of interesting facts about Bigfoot the town:
  • It’s actually half in Illinois and half in Wisconsin.
  • Most people call it Bigfoot Prairie

And they say no remains have ever been found?!?!

1. Preemption

I think this was the one vocabulary word I missed on the SAT. 

According to Callary (see above), the name stems from "the preemption laws passed by the U.S. Congress that gave squatters the right to 'enter' (register) their land with the government and purchase it later when the tract became legally available for sale.  The preemption laws protected settlers from claim jumpers and from having to bid against speculators at open auction."  Now, use it in a sentence!

Preemption is in the northwest part of the state, at the intersection of 67 and 17.  It looks like we’ve got a post office, a barber shop, Hammond’s Cycle Works, and three additional streets, 171st, 266th, and 268th.

I’m a total sucker for old train stuff

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Junction, Stone, Rock, Big Rock, Flatville, Farmerville, South Standard, La Place, The Burg
  • A bad case of the cities - Farmer City, Valley City, Clay City, Illinois City, North City, West City, Standard City, Frog City
  • Short & sweet – Perks, Birds, Wing, Golf, Polo, Mode, Time
  • Just a little out of place – there are so many of these, it ain’t funny
  • Just a little off color – Effingham (“Hey Doris, where’d you put the effing ham?  Easter’s tomorrow!”), Woody
  • Numerically oriented – Third Lake, Eight Mile Prairie, First Pommier (French for “apple tree”), Half Day
  • Native American mouthfuls – Pecatonica, Oquawka, Oskaloosa, Kahokia, Kankakee, Kaskaskia, Kickapoo, Aptakisic
  • Atypical adjectives – Crisp, Normal
  • Abnormal nouns – Justice (world's largest stained glass window), Energy, Media, Metropolis (lots of Superman stuff), Bureau, Kinsman, Sandwich, Moonshine, Fishhook, Passport, Gays, Disco
  • Unconventional verbs – Roots, Boos
  • Fun to say – Iuka, Winkle, Boody, Matoon, Skokie, Keenlyville, Pinckneyville, Pankeyville, Mulkeytown, Vandalia, Dongola
  • Just plain weird – Romeoville, Future City*, Prophetstown, Papertown, Teutopolis, Illiopolis, Fancy Prairie, Enchanted Forest, Bible Grove, Lively Grove, Garden of Eden, Cornland, Foosland, Sailor Springs, Bone Gap, Blue Mound, Cave in Rock, Chicago Lawn, Bigneck, Hooppole, Timewell, Carlock, Grand Chain, America, Little America, Space Valley, Pluto Center, Goofy Ridge, Pinkstaff, Roachtown, and - of course - Chicken Bristle
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Ken Rock, Alan Dale, Carol Stream

* - author has visited

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