What place names make the N.C. list?
by Rob Neufeld
It behooves every historian to rhapsodize about place names, and I’ve got a good excuse. Michael Hill, state historian, has collaborated with William S. Powell, editor of the original North Carolina Gazetteer (published 1968) to produce the classic reference “updated for a new generation.”
So, I’ve got a word to say about Suit and Vests, two towns in Cherokee County. They’re in both editions of the “Gazetteer,” with geographical info. To get the poetry of the place names, you’ve got to go back to the circa 1970 columns of the late John Parris, author of Roaming the Mountains.
“You can’t buy a suit in Suit,” O.C. Payne, former postmaster, told Parris. “If a man wants a suit he has to go to Murphy. And you can save yourself a trip across the ridge,” he added, “You won’t find any vests in Vest.”
The postmaster acknowledged the disappointingly undramatic origins of the names, but the truth was, the first postmasters had been a man named Johnston Suit and a family named Vests. This despite the region’s reputation for such colorful names as Sandy Mush, Turkey-fly-up, and Charlie’s Bunion.
The new edition of the gazetteer does add one fact to the “Suit” entry: “Served by post office, 1886-1955.” There’s poetry in this prosaic note.
Many of the new towns listed in the 2010 North Carolina Gazetteer have been added from a list of ghost towns once made post office-worthy by railroads and work camps. They appeared on D.C. Magnum’s 1901 map for Rand McNally, which Powell hadn’t used. One of Hill’s first additions is for such a town.
A is for “Adelaide, community in n Rockingham County served by post office 1883-1905.” A is also for Adams Run, a Henderson County town on Big Hungry Creek, with no post office stint to explain it.
I know where the Big Hungry spills into Green River just before “the Narrows”—the “section of Green River,” Hill’s new entry reads, “where rocks narrow to tight passageway. Favored by kayackers despite access difficulties.”
What about Adams Run
But I can’t find Adams Run. We can be pretty sure it’s not a new subdivision because Hill states his exclusion of them. “Some modern names do not belong in the book,” he writes in the preface. “This would include residential subdivisions, the kinds of communities that spell harbor with a ‘u’ and town with an ‘e.’”
I wouldn’t be so exclusive. History is history, whether it’s as romantic as “Fryingpan Gap” (near the Cradle of Forestry), “so named because a frying pan was left there at a common camping ground for the use of all comers”—or as Disney as Sherwood Forest.
But Hill had a constraint. UNC Press limited the expansion of the text to ten percent, or 1,900 new entries, a fraction of the possibilities.
Adams Run? That entry came from one of Hill’s expert local sources—specifically, his father, Ray Hill, a lifelong apple grower from Dana, just a couple of miles from Big Hungry Creek. Hill was also one of his own experts, and added this about Bat Cave: “Fans of 1960s ‘Batman’ television series coveted postmark.”
To Asheville’s relatively long entry, Hill added, “Historically a tourist and health resort, the city experienced a renaissance as a bohemian mecca in late twentieth century.”
I'll See Your Adams Run, and raise You a Uree
Please begin discussing place names here, then we'll move the discussion to a "People’s Gazetteer” on “The Read on WNC.”
To learn more about Powell's and Hill's book, go to http://uncapress.unc.edu.