I noticed an interesting aside on a Wikipedia entry for Moscow, Idaho while I examined background information about the University of Idaho for the recent What State U article:
It was reported by early settlers that five men in the area met to choose a proper name for the town, but could not come to agreement on a name. The postmaster Samuel Neff then completed the official papers for the town and selected the name Moscow. Interestingly, Neff was born in Moscow, Pennsylvania and later moved to Moscow, Iowa.
I couldn’t let an utterly fascinating tidbit like that go unchallenged without examining it further. One would imagine that something so precisely-stated would withstand a little scrutiny and basic fact checking. At the risk of spoiling the surprise, Samuel Neff existed, he very likely suggested the name Moscow and he did live in the states of Idaho, Pennsylvania and Iowa. The part labeled "interestingly" was bogus though, in my opinion.
Feel free to come back in a couple of days for a new article now that I’ve revealed the punchline, or follow along as I unravel the strings.
Most online sources and even the City of Moscow itself repeated a variation on that same theme. Allegedly Neff was postmaster and filed a permit circa 1877 requesting a new post office named Moscow in Idaho because he came from Moscow, Pennsylvania (and in many other versions also once lived in Moscow, Iowa). Most of these sources seemed to have copied directly from each other with or without attribution, and converted verbiage to fact.
The Idaho State Historical Society took a slighly different twist. In its version, Neff sold his farmstead on a site that would subsequently become Moscow to Asbury A. Lieuallen, and it was Lieuallen who filed the new name with postal authorities. Thereupon, "S. M. Neff, who previously had lived in Moscow, Pennsylvania, and Moscow, Iowa, took credit for suggesting that Lieuallen’s townsite on his farm be named Moscow."
I’ll note that this topic has inflamed passions and led to spirited Intertubes discussions on a number of fronts. The ones I reviewed focused on the timing of the founding of the various Moscows and ignored Neff. I examined both.
I reviewed the "History of Luzerne, Lackawanna, and Wyoming Counties, Pa" (Google eBook). On pages 483-484 it noted, "This village the principal one of the township was so named by Henry W. Drinker from the fact that there were living here a number of natives of the famous Russian city of that name" and referenced the first home as that of one belonging to Rev. Peter Rupert, a log house build in 1830. This explanation of etymology has been questioned because of a lack of physical evidence (e.g., lack of Russian surnames in the population, lack of appropriate architecture) that cast doubt upon the existence of early 19th Century Muscovites in northeastern Pennsylvania. Nonetheless Moscow, PA existed prior to Moscow, ID, and that’s what really mattered. I could search for Neff there.
I had to make sure I looked in the right place so I consulted the Newberry Library’s Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. It confirmed that Lackawanna County, where Moscow can be found today, did not exist until 1878. It was part of Luzerne. U.S. Census records produced zero matches for Neff or any logical variations of that surname including soundex for anywhere in Luzerne County between 1840 – 1860.
Moscow existed in Iowa during the requisite period as noted by the Muscatine County GenWeb page. Moscow "was one of the first townships organized in 1842." The Newberry atlas confirmed the county boundaries. Nonetheless, I found no signs of Samuel Neff. I did see a single Neff family in various records for Muscatine over several decades, the household of George W. and Rebecca Neff and their children, however they were from Ohio not Pennsylvania and none of them were named Samuel.
The Migration of Samuel Miles Neff
SOURCE: The Spokesman-Review, Sept. 30, 1957,
via Google News
Several sources converged to identify Samuel Miles Neff, son of John Neff and Mary Grubb, born in 1841 in Pennsylvania, married to Josephine Adline Terhune in 1883, and died in Puyallup, Washington in 1927, as the likely Samuel Neff of Moscow, Idaho. A wildly exaggerated version of the Moscow, Idaho origination story printed in a 1957 newspaper article confirmed my theory. It was based upon family folklore as told by one of Neff’s daughters to the person who wrote the article. It never mentioned the other two Moscows, and believe me, it was so over-the-top that it most certainly would have made such a claim if it was even remotely true.
Federal census records showed that he resided in Indiana Township, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania in 1850. That’s nearly 300 miles (480 kilometers) (map) from Moscow, Pennsylvania. State census records showed that he then lived in Iowa, appearing in Jackson County first in 1852, a place where his father remained until at least 1880. That was 80 miles (129 km) (map) from Moscow, Iowa. He might also be the same Samuel M. Neff who appeared in the Civil War Draft Registrations Records in Mahaska, Iowa, even farther away from Moscow.
Neff seemed to slip between the most obvious records as he dropped briefly into Idaho (he slid in between the 1870 and 1880 Census). There were plenty of other sources that placed him there so that didn’t bother me too much. I feel quite confident that he was in Moscow, Idaho upon its founding.
Neff Was Here; Puyallup, Washington
He spent the second half of his life in Washington state. By 1920, the tail-end of his life, he resided in Puyallup at 315 2nd Street Northeast. Today that’s the home of Yellow House Yarns. Consider that for a moment as we ponder the paper and digital trails we leave behind us in the modern age.
Samuel Miles Neff was a real person who lived in Idaho, Pennsylvania and Iowa. He has been credited with providing a name to Moscow, Idaho, although the extent of his involvement in the founding of the town and the reasoning behind his recommended name may never been known. The true history has been obscured by an overabundance of embellishment, oral tradition and fanciful tales, some likely started by Neff himself in his old age as he spun yarns in a home that later became a yarn store.
It is unlikely that Neff ever had a connection to three different Moscows. He did own land that became Moscow, Idaho. It is doubtful that he was born or lived in Moscow, Pennsylvania or that he lived in Moscow, Iowa.
And I so wanted the Triple Moscow nexus to be true.
I began to consider confluences while pondering the Confluence Brewing Company during my recent Geo-BREWities exercise. Maybe I should credit Google Map’s auto-completion function for the suggestion after I typed the brewery name into an address bar. It noted that at least one town of Confluence existed. A quick check of the Geographic Names Information System uncovered two more although the occurrences in Kentucky (map) and Alabama (map) barely registered as pinpricks.
By comparison, Pennsylvania’s Confluence was a veritable metropolis, and home to several hundred residents nestled in the hills of the southwestern corner. Confluence was even large enough to justify its own Tourism Association.
The Confluences of Confluence, Pennsylvania, USA
Confluence, the town, recognized a couple of distinct riverine confluences. First, Laurel Hill Creek flowed into the Casselman River. A few hundred feet later a slightly-enlarged Casselman River flowed into the Youghiogheny River. Truly this Confluence represented the facts on the ground. Abundant water descended from neighboring hillsides and joined near a common spot where a settlement sprouted.
(A) Fallingwater (B) Kentucky Knob (C) Town of Confluence (D) MDPAWV Tripoint (E) PA Highpoint
The situation went beyond those literal confluences as I considered the surrounding landscape. Confluence, the village, offered a gateway to a confluence of interesting historic and geographic features within remarkably close proximity.
Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob
Fallingwater, photographed by Chun-Hung Eric Cheng on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Fallingwater (aka the Kaufmann Residence) — Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1935 architectural masterpiece — perched on a hillside nearby. This was arguably one of the most visually recognizable homes ever built, an iconic symbol certainly within the United States and perhaps beyond. The unusual cantilever design constructed over a natural waterfall has been hailed as a masterpiece.
Lesser known, Wright designed another home only seven miles (11 km) away, Kentuck Knob (aka the Hagan House). This property remains a private home, owned by Lord and Lady Palumbo of the United Kingdom who reside there part of the year. It has become available for limited tours only recently.
Great Allegheny Passage
Great Allegheny Passage Trail Outside of Confluence
The Great Allegheny Passage bicycle and walking trail blazed directly through Confluence. This Rails-to-Trails project followed the path of several lines abandoned by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, Union Railroad and Western Maryland Railway. Someone could bike 150 miles (240 km) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland on the Great Allegheny Passage, and from there pick-up the C&O Canal Towpath all the way to Washington, DC, stretching the ride to more than 330 miles (530 km).
Maryland-Pennsylvania-West Virginia Tripoint
Confluence and the MDPAWV Tripoint
Government officials drew artificial lines all over the eastern side of the continent during Colonial times and tweaked those boundaries in the early years of the newly-independent United States. That resulted in a tripoint for the current states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia very near where Confluence later grew. The MDPAWV Tripoint should be a readily-approachable waypoint for those fascinated by borders and boundaries. It maintained additional historic significance as a marker along the famed Mason-Dixon Line.
Mount Davis Observation deck by David Fulmer on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
As an added bonus, nearby Mount Davis marked the highest point of elevation for Pennsylvania at 3213 feet (979 m). Summit Post said,
Views from the top are nice, especially with the very tall observation tower, that allows for expansive views in all directions. You are surrounded by mountains, and you can also see modern wind turbines on a nearby ridge.
For a lazy highpointer such as myself, I noticed that a visitor could drive almost all the way to the very top and reach the summit with a short, easy hike.
Now that I’ve considered it more, I think I’ll have to put Confluence on my list for a long weekend. This should be a feasible itinerary for anyone living in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Someday maybe I’ll take this trip and report back to the 12MC audience.
I kicked-up a lot of material as I researched Audubon, Iowa in the recent For the Birds. Originally I’d hope to feature several Audubon towns in the United States — and I do believe they are found only in the United States — and was completely overwhelmed by wonderful delights in rural Iowa. Today I present the rest of the story, or at least a trio of standouts amongst the 213 different Audubon features listed in the Geographic Names Information System. Actually, a case could be made that I’ve featured three-and-a-half. One spawned another in a specific instance.
Audubon Mill Grove House by Montgomery County Planning Commission
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
I began with Audubon, Pennsylvania since that particular spot had a genuine, tangible connection to John James Audubon through a property called Mill Grove. He moved there in 1803 when he was 18 years old. Only weeks earlier he’d been known as Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon — He adopted his anglicized name as he boarded a ship to immigrate to the United States. The young Jean-Jacques started with a bit of stigma during his earliest years although he flourished once he arrived at Mill Grove, as the National Audubon Society explained,
Audubon was born in Saint Domingue (now Haiti), the illegitimate son of a French sea captain and plantation owner and his French mistress… he was sent to America, in part to escape conscription into the Emperor Napoleon’s army. He lived on the family-owned estate at Mill Grove, near Philadelphia, where he hunted, studied and drew birds, and met his wife, Lucy Bakewell. While there, he conducted the first known bird-banding experiment in North America, tying strings around the legs of Eastern Phoebes; he learned that the birds returned to the very same nesting sites each year.
The National Audubon Society now manages the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove and operates a museum on the historic site.
Mill Grove, Audubon, Pennsylvania, USA
The adjacent town of Audubon served as a fitting tribute, with streets labeled for birds that starred in Audubon’s artworks: Lark; Owl; Sparrow; Thrush; Cardinal; Wren and so on.
Audubon Park, New Jersey
Audubon Park, New Jersey, USA
Audubon Park also had historical significance albeit of a much more recent vintage, and completely unrelated to John James Audubon. The United States government constructed Audubon Park to house workers employed at the nearby New York Shipbuilding Corporation’s shipyard in Camden during the Second World War. The United States needed ships and workers needed a place to live. Audubon Park offered a solution.
Audubon Park was a part Audubon Borough until the borough held a referendum in 1947 and voted Audubon Park out of Audubon. As New Jersey’s Courier-Post explained,
Secession from Audubon was Audubon’s idea, with the cost of educating Audubon Park’s children a point of contention. Politics, though, was really at the heart of the move… Audubon Village was Democratic while Audubon leaned Republican. Audubon outnumbered its neighbor at the polls and the referendum passed.
Apparently the thought of commingling with blue-collar shipyard workers was too much for original residents to bear. Audubon Park got the boot and became its own borough.
Like the Audubon in Pennsylvania, Audubon Park in New Jersey featured numerous streets named for birds. I counted about twenty five different species.
Audubon, Minnesota, USA
Similarly, the Audubon located in Minnesota hid an interesting origin assuming its true. Audubon was one of the many towns that emerged along railroad tracks in the latter half of the 19th Century America. An old book, A Pioneer History of Becker County Minnesota (1907), described How Audubon Received its Name when railroad officials traveled through the region investigating potential routes.
About the middle of August, 1871, Mr. Thomas H. Canfield came through on a tour of inspection, and with him was quite a party of aristocratic looking people, and they camped where the Audubon depot now stands. The prairies were then covered with flowers and lilies, and there were several ladies in the party who were filled with admiration at the beauty of the surrounding country, and I remember that one lady asked Mr. Canfield if a railroad station could ever be established there that it be called Audubon. Another man took out a memorandum book and noted down this request. I afterwards learned that the lady was a niece of John J. Audubon, the great American naturalist.
I have my doubts about the accuracy of an anecdote recalled a quarter-century after the fact from something someone "learned" from someone else. Maybe John James Audubon had a niece who traveled through Minnesota in the 1870′s. I don’t know. I couldn’t find any such niece after a perfunctory Intertubes search for whatever that’s worth. It still made a great story though.