From Bardstown, Kentucky, to Winnie, Texas, take our tour of America's literary-named towns.
The second oldest town in Kentucky, Bardstown was established in 1780. While the name does sound pleasingly Shakespearean, the town was named for David and William Bard, brothers who procured the land and planned the town. Today, Bardstown has a population of about 12,000 and is most famous for its impressive production of bourbon. Every year the town hosts the week-long Kentucky Bourbon Festival, which consists of dozens of events celebrating the smoky-sweet spirit. Bardstown is also home to “My Old Kentucky Home State Park”, named for 19th–century songwriter Stephen Foster, who wrote iconic songs such as Oh, Susanna! and Camptown Races.
The Social History of Bourbon
by Gerald Carson
As of 2007, the population of Beckett was just over 5,200 people. Beckett itself is listed as an unincorporated area of Logan Township, of the County of Gloucester of New Jersey. It has a total area of 1.8 square miles, and no hotel, that we can find (so it seems unlikely that famed Irish playwright Samuel Beckett ever actually stayed there…perhaps its good citizens look out their windows and watch for him, forever waiting…waiting for Beckett). If you’re planning to travel to Beckett, apparently you have little chance of volcano activity, but a decent chance of being the victim of a tornado. Know your potential disasters before traveling!
Actually named for 19th-century clergyman and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher (of whom T.L. Miller, the town founder, was a big fan) (and not for Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe after all), Beecher is a wee berg in Northeastern Illinois, covering a total of 2.1 square miles. Its rich history includes the breeding of Hereford cattle and the 1869 construction of a railroad depot, still in Beecher to this day, and now home to the village’s historical society.
We all know about the marvelous Man Booker Prize for fiction, now over 40 years old and going strong. But has anyone ever told you the prize was named for Booker, Texas, a one-mile-square town just a few miles shy of the Oklahoma border? No, well, good, because that would be a lie. Regardless, Booker boasts a suitably bookish name, and we like that about it. It used to actually be IN Oklahoma, but moved seven miles south in 1919 to be closer to the new Santa Fe Railroad. And it’s been Booker, Texas ever since.
Dickens, Texas was neither named for the legendary English novelist, nor the exclamation "What the Dickens?!", but rather for J. Dickens, who died at The Alamo. We can’t tell you what the J. stands for. We can tell you, however, that fewer than 500 people live there, that it is the (unofficial) Wild Boar Capital of Texas, and that the city is tremendously proud of their two-storey, beautiful 1909 stone prison, which has a capacity for eight prisoners.
Esmeralda County, established in 1861 by a miner, was indeed named for the alluring French gypsy character from Victor Hugo's 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Esmeralda (the place, not the character) enjoyed a population upswing and economic boom in the early 20th century due to the gold mining explosion of the time. Folks wanting to take their chance on striking gold, still can, after a fashion – Esmeralda is located smack dab in the middle between Reno and Las Vegas.
Okay, you got us - Faulkner County actually has nothing to do with William Faulkner. But while there may not be much fury, there certainly is sound – the town was actually named for renowned fiddle composer Colonel Sandy Faulkner, who wrote "The Arkansas Traveler". And if you’re in the neighborhood May 4th – 6th, you can witness the World Famous Championship Toad Races. Kenneth Grahame would have loved that, of course.
It was not F. Scott, but rather a former Union army drummer boy named Philander H. Fitzgerald for whom the town of Fitzgerald, GA was named. Founded in 1896 by and for Civil War vets, the city now has a population of over 9,000. While it unsurprisingly boasts much in the way of historical Civil War tributes, Fitzgerald is also well-known for its Wild Chicken festival, which includes the Miss Wild Chicken Pageant, a Wild Chicken 5k Sprint, a Crowing Contest, and but of course, a famed chicken wing-eating contest.
The Chicken Health Handbook
by Gail Damerow
The wee 3-miles-square city of Gilt Edge is located in Tipton County, Tennessee and is home to fewer than 500 people. While the city does not seem to live up to its shining, golden name with much in the way of literary events, we were pleased to learn that if we stopped by to try to find a bookshop, we could also stumble upon the world’s oldest bar-b-que cooking contest, a festival of trees, and various equestrian events.
Hedwig Village, so named for the 19th-century German immigrants who settled it (and not, sadly, for Harry Potter’s clever and moody snowy owl), is in East Texas, and part of Harris County. While Hedwig Village might be geographically small at less than one square mile, and their postal addresses must use ‘Houston’, they do operate their own police force. Safety first, after all.
There are so many small, barbecue towns with big, literary names, and Hemingway is no exception. Located in the Central Eastern region of South Carolina, is home sweet home to fewer than 600 souls, calls itself the Barbecue Capital of the world, and is known for its annual BBQ-Shag Festival, Tupperware (a leading industry in Hemingway), and its rich history in tobacco and cotton farming. It gets its name from one Dr. W.C. Hemingway, and not from Papa Ernest.
Huzzah, a real literary reference! While Huxley, Iowa was not actually named for Aldous Huxley, it was named for his grandfather, famous English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, after his nephew, S.S. Merrill, who planned the village. Huxley was known as "Darwin’s Bulldog" for fiercely supporting Darwin’s theories of evolution. Today, the city of Huxley is a brave new world known as the Heart of the Prairie and puts on an annual 3-day shindig known as Prairie Fest, with live music, a parade, vendors and much more.
Well, you won’t find many Saxon lords in the Virginia version of Ivanhoe. But if you’re looking for several horse-themed attractions like a horse camp and an equestrian campground, or a vineyard and winery, or an herb farm, or a heritage museum, Ivanhoe, Virginia, situated on the New River in the Appalachian Mountains may be just the ticket for you.
If you’ve ever read any of Dean Koontz’s novels, you’ll be very relieved to know that the town is not, in fact, named for him. And thank goodness – unspeakable horror should not be the basis for a town. Rather, Samuel Koontz, who owned a nearby mill and had the foresight to build a dam on the lake to power it, was the namesake for this four-mile town in Northwest Indiana.
Melville is a hamlet (hey, more literary references!) located on Long Island in New York state. It used to be known as Sweet Hollow, but became Melville in 1854. There has been speculation and debate as to the history of the name – while Herman Melville, famed author of Moby Dick was being published at the time, others point to the wealth of honeybees found in the area as a source – the latin name for honeybee is close to "Melville".
In Orwell, Vermont, there are cameras on every building, recording 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the citizens of the town must daily take part in the Two Minute Hate… okay, not really. In fact, the 49-square-mile town turns 250 in 2013. Among other attractions, tourists can enjoy seven miles of hiking and history at Mount Independence and learn about being a Revolutionary War soldier, all while being joyfully free from the Thought Police. Perhaps 'Orwellian' need not be a bad thing.
Othello was originally just a post office, established in 1904. But when the town was incorporated in 1910, they kept the name. Today Othello is a modern city known for its farming, particularly of potatoes, alfalfa, wheat, cattle, apples and mint. Attractions in the area include Potholes State Park, The Columbia Nationa l Wildlife Refuge, and more. Just don’t mention the town Othello is always feuding with, Iago, Oregon...
Called “The Biggest Little Town in the Desert”, Page, Arizona fancies itself an adventure town where you can find boating, off-roading, cycling, hiking, and whitewater-rafting. No mention of reading, though, despite the bookish name, so you might want to bring your own books to be sure your downtime needs are met. With its stunning red rocks and beautiful Western scenes, many films have been shot in and around Page, including Superman 3 and Planet of the Apes.
With all apologies and due respect to the undoubtedly lovely and charming population (approximately 3,000) of Pagedale, in Eastern Missouri, we could find almost no information about what to expect were we to go there. However, there is at least one bookstore – Mystic Valley Bookstore – so we expect we’d be happy as clams in Pagedale. I imagine we would be welcomed with scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and a porch swing with a cat on it. And stacks and stacks of books, of course.
I’m picturing an idyllic, 50s-style landscape with picket fences, and when it rains, it rains the pages of books, and everyone in town scrambles to collect them and put them in order. In actuality, Pageland, near the North Carolina state line, has been flourishing as a town since a railroad put down tracks in 1900. The railroad executive who chose that location was named Adolphus High “Dolly” Page – and the town became Pageland in gratitude. Nowadays, Pageland throws a heck of a Watermelon Festival every July.
Actually pronounced REH-ding, we of course prefer REE-ding, whether we’re in Pennsylvania or anywhere else. We learned something, though – apparently the “Reading Railroad” in the Monopoly game is also pronounced REH-ding, as that is where the city took its name. Reading has been known as “The Pretzel City”, as it one time had an inordinate number of pretzel bakeries, and as “Baseballtown” because of its long and diverse history with the sport. Reading is also famous for its involvement in the railroad industry. Modernist poet Wallace Stevens hailed from Reading.
Forgotten Tales of Pennsylvania
by Thomas White and Marshall Hudson
Readington Township, New Jersey is home to a once-active volcano shaped like a ring called Cushetunk Mountain. Made up of 17 villages, the township comprises just under 48 square miles of land. Today the area offers visitors the chance to visit properties known as The Readington Museums, dedicated to the promotion and preservation of early New Jersey history. Farming practices, early textiles and other examples of young New Jersey culture can be celebrated here.
Located in Bremer County in the Northeastern region of Iowa, Readlyn has a sense of humor. Visitors to the town will be greeted by a sign reading “857 friendly people, & one old GRUMP” with an illustration of a frowning curmudgeon. The town hosts an annual event, “grump days”, in which among other things, one lucky citizen will be elected Grump. The event takes place over a weekend, with the crowning of the Grump typically taking place on the Friday evening.
It was for an early landholder, John Reade, that Readsboro was named. Events in and around the town of over 800 include a tea-tasting, a winter carnival, and more. But there is another pleasingly bookish association besides the town’s name – singer and guitarist Nick Zammuto is from Readsboro, and he and cellist Paul de Jong are the founding members of the eclectic and popular musical duo The Books. No word on whether Zammuto's growing up in Readsboro contributed to the naming of The Books.
Legend has it that in 1589, William Shakespeare visited what is now the site of Romeo, Colorado in search of a rare form of ink said to be virtually impossible to smear. Whilst there, he fell ill with a terrible fever which caused night terrors, profuse sweating, and – most astonishingly – an overwhelming case of lovesickness. The story goes that every doctor and nurse who visited Shakespeare’s bedside immediately became the object of the Bard’s most ardent and embarrassing affection. None of this is true, of course, but fact is so often less interesting than fiction.
On the Eastern bank of the Hudson River, the village of Sleepy Hollow is home to just shy of 10,000 people. Sleepy Hollow cemetery, where Washington Irving (who of course wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the terrifying tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman) is buried, resides in the village. Sleepy Hollow was originally known as North Tarrytown, but residents voted to change it in 1996. These days, visitors can enjoy all manner of Washington Irving-related events and tours, including visiting his graveside, if they promise not to lose their heads.
by Washington Irving
The motto of Ulysses, Kansas is "A city on the move". But they’ve never moved as far as Ireland, and the name has nothing to do with James Joyce. Perhaps it means they’re going on an Odyssey of some kind. But there is plenty going on in Ulysses (and it sounds much more cheerful than Dublin – it seems to be a mecca for golf, camping and shopping).
Wharton used to be known as Port Oram, but was changed by referendum to Wharton in 1902. But Edith wasn’t there currying favor or buying votes or anything – the new name came from Joseph Wharton, well known in the mining industry at the time. It’s not a town without its legend – Kirk Alyn, the first man to play Superman onscreen, in 1948 – was born in Wharton.
At first we were disappointed to learn that Whitman was not named for Walt, but rather Augustus Whitman, a man who grew up in the area. But disappointment went out the window when we learned what Whitman is best known for – being the birthplace of the chocolate chip cookie, invented at the Toll House Inn by one Ruth Graves Wakefield. Wakefield made a deal with Nestle: they printed her recipe on their chocolate packages, and she got a lifetime supply of chocolate. Delicious. The town also enjoyed a longtime boom in the shoemaking industry, at one time home to over 20 shoe factories.
Shoes: The Complete Sourcebook
by John Peacock
Not named for Winnie the Pooh/Winnie the Bear, but actually for Fox Winnie (which still sounds like a great children’s book title), a railroad contractor, Winnie, Texas nonetheless sounds like a town worth visiting. Home to a somewhat famous monthly flea market and the annual Texas Rice Festival, if that isn’t enough to draw you in, Winnie also lays claim to one of the world’s tallest structures – the Winnie Cumulus Broadcasting Tower at nearly 610 meters tall.