"I Before E Like in Milwaukie." If that phrase doesn’t grate on one’s nerves or otherwise sound completely wrong, it probably means the reader came from a location outside of the United States. Or came from Oregon. Because there is a Milwaukie in Oregon. I discovered that recently while examining the 12MC reader statistics. Someone visited the website from Milwaukie and it caught my eye because of its unusual spelling. The more standard variant, of course, would be Milwaukee with double-e as used in the large city of that name in Wisconsin.
Milwaukie Theater by Curtis Perry, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
There were two takeaways. First, anyone arriving on Twelve Mile Circle from an unusual location will always be fair game for a future article. Second, I felt compelled to learn whether Milwaukie and Milwaukee were somehow related to each other. That’s my nature and that’s always going to happen.
I’ll spoil the surprise right at the beginning. Yes there was a connection. Alright, everyone can go home now.
Wikimedia Commons in the public domain
Credit an early Western pioneer and entrepreneur, Lot Whitcomb, for the Oregon name. He founded the town in 1848 and without a doubt he named it for Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukie Historical Society of Milwaukie, Oregon issued a History of Milwaukie Oregon in 1965, basing it on an unfinished manuscript prepared as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The manuscript noted the etymology of Milwaukee, a "gathering place by the water" in various Algonquian languages such as Potawatomi and Ojibwe (Chippewa).
Milwaukee in Wisconsin was settled where three rivers converged, the Milwaukie, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic, forming a natural harbor immediately prior to entering Lake Michigan. Whitcomb admired the success of the Wisconsin city that he attributed in part to its favorable geographic placement and searched for a similarly-situated location in Oregon. He found such a spot along the Willamette river where "Kellogg Creek, Johnson Creek and many smaller branches fed by the multiplicity of springs in the vicinity" came together in a comparable fashion. Thus Whitcomb platted a new town and named it Milwaukee. Later the spelling changed to Milwaukie. The exact reason for the change was subject to various apocryphal tales. The History of Milwaukie Oregon concluded that the most likely explanation involved the Postal Service wanting to reduce postal mistakes. Less mail would be routed erroneously if the spellings differed.
Bing by mbgrigby, on Flickr
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Milwaukie’s primary claim to fame has been the Bing Cherry. That famous fruit also had a fascinating history.
Henderson Luelling traveled to Oregon with a wagon full of fruit tree seedlings and, in effect, delivered the tree fruit industry to the West. Henderson’s younger brother, Seth followed in 1850, settling in Milwaukie, Oregon, where he established a commercial tree fruit nursery (and curiously, changed the spelling of his name.)… Ah Bing was Seth Lewelling’s Manchurian foreman who oversaw 30 Chinese farm workers and helped run the nursery. Accounts differ as to whether it was Seth or Bing who developed the large black sweet cherry variety, but the Bing cherry was developed at the Lewelling nursery and named in honor of the Chinese foreman.
I never realized Bing cherries were actually named for a person. Also, why the fixation with spelling changes in that part of Oregon?
Finally I guess I should mention that Milwaukie is the home of Dark Horse Comics so nobody should feel a need to mention that in the comments.
Back to Milwaukee
I examined the Geographic Names Information System to see if there were other places named Milwaukee, Milwaukie or whatever other variations might be possible. There were very few and I found almost nothing more related to any of them. The Milwaukee in Pennsylvania, however, was featured in a YouTube video by a guy who randomly hit a map with a Sharpie while blindfolded and selected a tiny village near Scranton (map). He drove three hours to Milwaukee the next day to see a few homes and a pie shop.
Actually, the guy had an interesting premise called Here a Year, "to embody the three verbs (Live, Discover, Connect)." He let his readers select a state for him to live in for a year and the audience chose Pennsylvania. The Milwaukee video was one of many articles and videos he posted from March 2012 to March 2013 during his Pennsylvania year. I always find out about these wonderful ideas when it’s too late. I would have enjoyed following along with his adventures as they unfolded.
He selected another state afterwards, Nevada, and a few months later the trail ran cold. I have no idea what he’s up to now — probably got swallowed up in Vegas for all we know — and disappeared. I suppose I could fill-out the contact form on his website and see what happened although, well… that would entail effort. I’m sure he’s well.
Someday I’d love to undertake a year-long county counting journey. I’ll get right on that after I collect my lottery winnings.