Of Of

On August 19, 2015 · 8 Comments

Mouth of Wilson. I used it as a waypoint during my recent county counting quest and otherwise put it out of mind as I drove through an expansive rural corner of Virginia. It came to mind once again as I passed a sign for another town about an hour farther north and east, Meadows of Dan. How unusual, I thought, to encounter two locations in relatively close proximity to each other with the word "of" embedded in their names. I remembered a similarly concocted town a few miles away from my childhood home called Point of Rocks, sitting just across the Potomac River in Maryland. I tucked the notion away until my return. Interestingly, all of them became known predominantly for something other than the piece-parts of their oddly constructed names.

Mouth of Wilson

Waterfall in Mouth of Wilson Virginia
Waterfall in Mouth of Wilson Virginia by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

Mouth of Wilson presented a couple of obvious questions. Who was Wilson and why the preoccupation with his mouth? Fortunately answers revealed themselves quite conveniently in Grayson County: A History in Words and Pictures.

When the Frye [sic.]-Jefferson party surveyed the line between Virginia and North Carolina in 1749, a young surveyor named Wilson died. His body was carried to the bank of a nearby creek for burial, hence the name Wilson’s Creek.

Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson surveyed uncharted corners of Virginia including its border with North Carolina, resulting in the definitive map of the colony from that era. Apparently Wilson, whoever he was, never got to see the fruits of his labor. He lived-on in a way many years later when a town grew at the confluence of Wilson’s Creek and the New River. That spot marked the mouth of Wilson’s Creek and the name shortened nicely to Mouth of Wilson.

Nobody much remembered Fry or Jefferson or especially Wilson, although maybe some people had heard of Peter’s son Thomas Jefferson. If by chance people ever caught wind of Mouth of Wilson it had nothing to do with 18th century cartographers. It was for basketball. Here, nearby Oak Hill Academy (map) built a basketball dynasty over three decades. The school never had more than about 150 students at a time and yet it produced a crazy number of professional basketball players. The school’s utter domination of the sport at the high school level continues today (e.g., "The Middle of Nowhere: Oak Hill Academy, the Best Basketball Program on the Planet").

Meadows of Dan

Mabry Mill in Winter
Mabry Mill in Winter by Sheila C. on Flickr (cc)

Flowing waters also underpinned the etymology of Meadows of Dan although there wasn’t ever some guy named Dan to serve as an inspiration. There were beautiful meadows however, and they were found near the upper reaches of the Dan River. One part of the name derived from a 1728 expedition mapping the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina (prior to Fry and Jefferson who improved and extended the line) led by William Byrd. According to the Danville Historical Society,

The surveying party began marking the line at the mouth of the Currituck River on the coast of Virginia, and went westward toward the mountains. When they reached this area, Colonel Byrd and his party encountered "the South Branch of the Roanoak River the first time, which we call’d the Dan."… Colonel Byrd never explained his choice of name for the river. However, the biblical limits of Canaan were "From the Dan to Beersheba." Because the northern limit of North Carolina was in question, "Dan" seemed to be an appropriate name for the river which at that time fixed the boundary in this area between the two colonies.

That likely explained Dan. The meadows portion joined the name much later, as explained by the community of Meadows of Dan,

This broad high mountainous area was settled in the early 1800s, mostly by German and Scotch-Irish settlers that traveled down from Pennsylvania… The Langhorne family, one of the few of English descent in the community, held a land grant that contained much of what is now considered Meadows of Dan… The Langhorne patriarch is credited with giving the area the name "Meadows of Dan". He settled on the headwaters of the Dan River, and grist mills in the Langhorne name were built along the stream.

Few people would know much about Meadows of Dan if it weren’t for two fortunate happenstances. First, Edwin Boston Mabry, a local resident built a wonderfully iconic mill in 1903 (map). Second, the Blue Ridge Parkway ran directly past the mill after its construction as a Depression-era jobs project in the 1930’s. Maybry’s Mill quickly became one of the most heavily visited and photographed spots along the entire parkway.

Point of Rocks

Point of Rocks, Maryland
Point of Rocks, Maryland by Bob Wilcox, on Flickr (cc)

I didn’t need to conduct any research to determine the source of the rocky point inspiring a town called Point of Rocks in Maryland. Literally, just west of town stood a point of rocks that I’d seen many times with my own eyes. The cliff might be a notable landmark for bikers on the C&O Canal trail, or to boaters on the Potomac River. Most everyone else would remember Point of Rocks for its nostalgic train station (map), built in 1873 at an important junction where trains routed either to Baltimore or Washington. Of course I’ll always remember Point of Rocks more for the drive-through liquor store of my youth.

Upon Further Consideration

It occurred to me that there may be many more "of" towns. Yet, I couldn’t find them using my usual search techniques and I couldn’t recall any others from memory. Sure, there were a billion examples tied to geographic units, for instance the City of London, District of Columbia, Commonwealth of Virginia, United States of America and the like. Those were all too mundane even to mention. I wasn’t interested in finding more of those. I wanted additional mouths and meadows and points and other strange yet appropriate descriptions of things. I imagined there were probably many very obvious instance that somehow fell into my mental blind spot. What am I missing?

On August 19, 2015 · 8 Comments

8 Responses to “Of Of”

  1. Andy says:

    One of my favorites is Head of Grassy, an unincorporated community in southern Lewis County, Kentucky. It is named for its proximity to the head of the Grassy Fork, but to me, I prefer to envision a Chia Head.

  2. David says:

    It’s very common in Scotland. Back of Keppoch, Bridge of Allan, Mull of Kintyre, etc.

    For North America perhaps look in places with lots of Scots history? Maybe Irish too.

    Semi related is Of Alley near Villiers Street in London (since tragically renamed)

  3. wangi says:

    We them a lot round here… Water of Leith, Firth of Forth, Carse of …,

  4. Dan Sachs says:

    The famous “Islets of Langerhans”.

  5. Cary says:

    King of Prussia, PA, Lakes of the Four Seasons, IN, Isle of Palms, SC, Isle of Hope, GA, Head of the Harbor, NY, Lake of the Woods, CA, Chain of Rocks, MO. There are plenty of others 🙂

    And of course we can’t forget South of the Border, SC

    • Joe says:

      As Cary mentioned, there is a village of Chain of Rocks in Lincoln County, Missouri on the banks of the Cuivre River. However, many people in eastern Missouri know the phrase Chain of Rocks not from the village, but from a 2 bridges and a canal each called Chain of Rocks in reference to a, well, chain of rocks in the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis. The canal eventually rerouted river traffic away from the danger. The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge carried Route 66 over the Mississippi River and still serves as a pedestrian/bicycle bridge (see link below for more information). The second Chain of Rocks Bridge carries the St. Louis bypass, I-270, across the Mississippi River with the Canal Bridge about 3 miles east of there crossing the Chain of Rocks Canal as well.


  6. Rhodent says:

    Neither of these is an actual town, but here in North Carolina there’s an area between Raleigh and Wake Forest known as Falls of Neuse and a state park south of Goldsboro called Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. Predictably, the former is near a waterfall along the Neuse River and the latter is centered around some cliffs along the Neuse River. The Falls of Neuse area itself isn’t nearly as well known among locals as Falls of Neuse Road, which is one of the major north-south arteries in North Raleigh. Also please note that it is Falls of Neuse, not Falls of the Neuse, although a lot of people in the area say Falls of the Neuse anyway.

  7. Fritz Keppler says:

    The Settlement now called Seneca Rocks WV to the west of the eponymous outcrop was until the early 80’s called Mouth of Seneca, where Seneca Creek flows into the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River.

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