Split the Name

On February 12, 2012 · 1 Comments

United States counties don’t split frequently anymore. There was a time, however, when it happened regularly as populations spread from the east coast into the hinterlands. Typically, a territory or state would begin with a handful of very large counties. These would be carved into increasingly smaller units until reaching some natural balance with the number of residents settling an area. A decreasing area bearing the original county name often carried on the legacy — the so-called State of Wayne in southern Missouri and it’s remaining diminutive vestige comes to mind — with each new unit carved from it designated by a completely new name.

There are surprisingly few instances where an original county name carried forward to two successor units with a directional notation. I suppose, technically, it doesn’t happen in any counties because the instances I found are located in Louisiana and Alaska which have Parishes and Boroughs respectively. They tend to operate as counties by a different name and are counted as such by the U.S. Census Bureau so I’ll try to not get too hung up on the semantics.

Today I’ll discuss Louisiana.

East and West Carroll

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A single Carroll Parish existed from 1832 when it was carved from Ouachita Parish until its split into East Carroll and West Carroll in 1877. I had trouble locating a definitive source to explain the split although the reasons can be somewhat inferred. That was typical of my attempt to research the histories of Louisiana parishes. There just didn’t seem to be much information available online as compared to other areas I’ve investigated.

The eastern side of Carroll relied more heavily on a plantation economy during the antebellum period prior to the Civil War. The western side attracted a larger population of white settlers of European descent. This resulted in a demographic and economic difference that formed the basis for a future split. The original Carroll Parish became East Carroll and West Carroll Parishes, cleaved along that approximate demographic line. It’s readily visible a century and a half later. The 2010 Census showed that 69.0% of East Carroll residents were African-American and 81.8% of West Carroll residents were white.

East and West Baton Rouge

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The story of East Baton Rouge and West Baton Rouge is a little more complicated. The name goes all the way back to 1699 when Sieur d’Iberville led a French expedition up the Mississippi River. The explorers spotted a pole erected by local Native American inhabitants, possibly serving as a boundary marker between tribes, with animal parts attached to it. The location became "le bâton rouge" (the red stick) after the grizzly post.

The area was already split into two parishes when Louisiana joined the Union in 1812, with the Mississippi River serving as a dividing line. Curiously, the two parishes were named Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge. It’s perhaps self-evident why "west" was later appended to the first one. The rapidly growing city of Baton Rouge began to dominate and it was located in East Baton Rouge Parish. It quickly became the tail wagging the dog. It’s fascinating to watch the name and boundary changes on the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries for Louisiana.

The difference between the two remains today and and it’s readily visible in the density of the road infrastructure displayed in map, above. The eastern side of the river because the Louisiana state capital. The western side remained rooted in agriculture, particularly sugar cane, and lived in its neighbor’s shadow.

East and West Feliciana

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Feliciana Parish existed as a single entity when Louisiana joined the Union but it split into eastern and western components about a decade later. If someone tells you they need to go to their happy place then they should probably travel to these parishes. One often associates Louisiana with French and Cajun influences, but that’s not monolithic. Feliciana was actually named during an era when Spain ruled. It’s based on the Spanish word for happy ("feliz"). This corner of Louisiana had a complicated history as it passed between the control of Spain, France, and England multiple times during the turbulent era of the West Florida Territory.

I’m partial to West Feliciana Parish. It has an interesting little exclave like it’s neighbor further to the south (Split in Two: St. Martin Parish). However, I doubt inmates in nearby Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola get much of a chance to ponder their proximity to that anomaly.

On February 12, 2012 · 1 Comments

One Response to “Split the Name”

  1. Fritz Keppler says:

    Baton Rouge is a translation of the native Choctaw name Istrouma, meaning the same thing. The latter name remains as a high school there in the city, as well as the name of the local Scouting council.

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