Virginia Silver and Gold

On July 19, 2015 · 2 Comments

Living in the Commonwealth for so many years I guess I’m predisposed to notice Virginia being mentioned in out-of-context situations. Such was the case with Virginia City, Montana which I saw while researching presidential counties. It was the seat of local government in Madison County named for James Madison, the fourth U.S. President. Madison had been associated with Virginia for his entire life. How fitting, I thought, that settlers arriving in Madison County named their primary town for the home state of the honoree. Except that wasn’t the case. It was a complete coincidence. However that led me to another string of coincidences, of places named Virginia related to silver and gold.

Virginia City, Montana

Virginia City

I searched for that Virginia/Madison connection and actually found a more interesting story. As noted by the Virginia City Preservation Alliance,

On June 16, [1863] …directors presented the charter to Dr. Gaylord Bissell (who had been elected as Judge of the Fairweather Mining District), the proposed name of the new town was "Varina;" honoring the wife of Jefferson Davis-president of the Confederate States of America. Judge Bissell, a staunch Unionist, declared that there was no way he would approve of a charter which carried this name. One of the charter’s proponents hastened to explain that, inasmuch as Mrs. Davis was the daughter of a prominent New Jersey family, her name actually represented a thoughtful compromise in sectional consciousness. Somewhat mollified-if not totally convinced-Judge Bissell responded by crossing out the proposed name "Varina" and writing in the name of the city as "Virginia."

It was a pretty bold move to try to name a Montana town in honor of the Confederate’s first lady while the Civil War raged on the eastern end of the continent. I’m surprised Judge Bissell even offered Virginia, seeing how it was the home of the Confederate capital of said conflict. Nonetheless Virginia City thrived for awhile as the gold mines prospered, and even served as Montana’s first Territorial Capital. The current population hovers around 200 residents although it has managed to build a thriving tourist industry attracted to the Virginia City and Nevada City Historic District

Virginia City, Nevada

Virginia City , Nevada

I’ve actually visited Virginia City, Nevada although it was many years ago. A different mineral — silver — attracted miners in the late 1850’s. This was the site of the famous Comstock Lode, with seven million tons of silver extracted in twenty years between 1860 and 1880. It’s the reason Nevada came to be known as "The Silver State."

That was a fine set of statistics although I wanted to see the connection to Virginia. It was tangential. The name derived from James Finney (or Fennimore), "Old Virginny Finney." In 1859 he may or may not have discovered the Six-Mile Canyon portion of the Comstock Lode. There were various competing legends explaining how his name came to be applied to the town. My favorite version involved his penchant for public intoxication:

"[O]ne midnight Old Virginia, going home with the boys and a bottle of whiskey," wrote Charles Howard Shinn in The Story of The Mine (1896), "after an unusually protracted revel, fell down when he reached his cabin, broke the bottle, and rising to his knees, with the bottle-neck is his hand, hiccoughed, ‘I baptize this ground Virginia Town!’"

He was a native of Virginia — thus the connection — and "probably Nevada’s oldest pioneer settler" as well as a "frontier hunter, and miner, a man of more than ordinary ability in his class, a buffoon and practical joker; a hard drinker when he could get the liquor, and an indifferent worker at anything." He died in 1861 after being thrown from a horse while intoxicated.

Virginia, Free State, South Africa

Virginia, Free State, South Africa

It was hard to follow-up a story like that although Virginia in South Africa’s Free State province deserved a special mention because of its sheer distance from its namesake. This Virginia was,

…named after the state in America by Louis Seymour, a mechanical and mining engineer who scratched the name of his birthplace on a boulder close to where a railway siding was subsequently built… Years later, after the discovery of gold in 1955 the emergence of a town took on the name of the railway siding. Life here revolves around the gold fields… Virginia’s claim to fame is it pipe-mine, the deepest on the planet, whilst the manufacture of sulfuric acid from gold ore and the mining of gold are what drives the town’s economy.

I’ve seen neither gold nor silver in my little corner of Virginia, although these colorful stories almost make me want to pull out a shovel and start digging in my back yard.

That Other Warsaw

On December 28, 2014 · 1 Comments

In the recent Not the City article I focused on Richmond among other places, not the city of course rather the county, and noticed that its local government was centered in a village called Warsaw (map). That seemed like an exceptionally odd choice. There wasn’t a large Polish diaspora on Virginia’s Northern Neck as best as I could tell. Why name a town after the capital of Poland in a place without any discernible Polish influence? I did discover the reason soon enough. Warsaw’s original name was Richmond Courthouse which must have been terribly confusing as the much larger city located elsewhere in Virginia with the same name continued to grow. Residents changed the name to Warsaw in 1831 in allegiance to events of the Polish–Russian War of 1830–1831.

I’d learned in Can’t Get Enough of Kossuth that citizens of the United States often associated personally with the struggles for freedom and democracy happening beyond its borders. These clashes mirrored some of the underpinnings of the American Revolution and resonated emotionally with many citizens of the early United States. This sense of solidarity even translated to the naming of towns. Warsaw was another example. While GNIS listed 51 Warsaw place names in the U.S., and while many of those were likely settled by Polish immigrants, a handful received their names in the same period as the Polish–Russian War and were likely named for it.

This video provided a basic overview of the November Uprising and the Battle of Warsaw. Accompanying text is in English and most of the imagery requires no direct translation so 12MC readers should be fine after getting past the early part spoken in Polish. I guess it’s Polish. I couldn’t tell what language it was even though I’ve been to Poland and should know better (even went to Hel and Back). It’s definitely from somewhere "over there" though. No matter, you’re all bright people and you’ll figure it out.

For those who don’t want to sit through nine minutes of video, let me see if I can provide a very brief synopsis. A portion of Poland under Russian control gained a modicum of independence after the Napoleonic Wars. The Czar granted its Polish province authority to establish its own constitution and congress, allowing it to run its own courts, form its own army and establish its own treasury. Russian control remained mostly hands-off at the start and then began to gradually tighten, becoming increasingly autocratic. Frustrations reached a tipping point in November 1830 when the Polish army broke into rebellion, and support spread to the rest of population. This uprising soon broke into an actual war involving large armies. Decisively, Russian forces assaulted and crushed resistance at the Battle of Warsaw in September 1831. Things went badly for the Polish people afterwards.

Fryderyk Chopin monument
Fryderyk Chopin monument by Bartosz MORĄG, on Flickr (cc)

Thousands of Polish elites fled Poland and spread throughout Europe. This included many of its citizens with education, money or special talents. One example was the composer Frédéric Chopin (Fryderyk Chopin) who fled to France. Poland never forgot its cultural heritage however. Today, Warsaw’s Royal Baths Park (Łazienki Park) includes the Chopin Statue (map) which was cast in 1926, destroyed by Germans in World War II and re-cast in 1958 using the original mold. I’m not sure how I got down that tangent although I found it interesting. Let’s get back to places in the United States named Warsaw that were likely named for the uprising and the ensuing war.


Welcome to Warsaw
Welcome to Warsaw by J. Stephen Conn, on Flickr (cc)

Kentucky’s Warsaw (map) was named as such in 1831. Originally it had been named Fredericksburg. However Kentucky already had a Fredericksburg so this newer one was changed to Warsaw to avoid confusion. Events from Poland were still fresh in the news at that time.


Warsaw Shrine Club
Warsaw Shrine Club by Patrick Hoesly, on Flickr (cc)

In Missouri, a brand new town was platted in 1837 and it became Warsaw (map). I didn’t find conclusive evidence to tie its name back to the Polish–Russian War although the year of establishment made it plausible. Rather, it had been attributed to honoring Tadeusz Kościuszko, a hero of the American Revolution who was from Poland. He was best known for constructing American defensive fortifications including West Point.


Warsaw Public Library ~ Historic Building ~ Kosciusko County
Warsaw Public Library ~ Historic Building ~ Kosciusko County by Onasill ~ Bill Badzo, on Flickr (cc)

Indiana followed a similar pattern and its Warsaw (map) was established in 1836 at the same time its home county was formed, Kosciusko County. It’s now the "Orthopedic Capital of the World."

The Warsaw, Indiana-based orthopedic cluster is unique in the business world. Its rise to global prominence started serendipitously when Revra DePuy began his company in Warsaw in 1895. It was assured when DePuy employee and area native J.O. Zimmer launched his own company in 1927

That same source attributed Warsaw with $11 billion in orthopedic sales, one third of the orthopedics sales in the world, and employing 45% of the Kosciusko County workforce.


Warsaw, Ohio, USA

I didn’t find much about Warsaw, Ohio. It was a tiny place with only about seven hundred residents. Its website said merely, "Our Village of Warsaw was laid out in 1834 and was named after the Polish capital, a country then endeavoring to secure her independence. The village is among the youngest in Coshocton County." The time period seemed just about right and the town history implied a connection.

Not the City

On December 24, 2014 · 8 Comments

I examined a stack of family files online and I learned that a distant relative lived in Houston, Texas. That wasn’t completely unexpected because I’ve traced numerous family members back through there. However the records didn’t make sense as I read through them. Geographic identifiers seemed unfamiliar and out of place. I slowly realized that they referenced Houston County, not the City of Houston. Wouldn’t it make sense for Houston, the city, to actually reside within Houston County? Yes it would although that wasn’t the case. The City of Houston fell more than a hundred miles away in Harris County.

There were a handful of other instances where counties and major cities that shared their names in the same state failed to overlap. I examined the top 100 cities by population in the United States and found six occurrences, Houston included. The cities had more inhabitants than the same-named counties in every example, usually considerably larger and sometimes ridiculously larger. Invariably the counties were prefaced by "not to be confused with…" when described by sources, such as in "Houston County, not to be confused with Houston."

I attempted to rank the six examples based on two factors, the percentage difference in their respective populations and the physical distance that separated them. Then I focused my attention on the counties because they were so much more obscure than the cities. Each one had at least a single bit of interesting trivia.

Wichita County, Kansas

Grain Elevator
Grain Elevator by Eric Crowley, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Wichita County (map) had a population of 0.5% of the City of Wichita, and was located 262 miles (422 kilometres) away. That was by far the biggest difference in population and distance. Wichita won.

Kansas was notably violent in the Nineteenth Century along a lawless frontier. Fights often broke out in the western counties as they were being drawn, settled, and placed within a governance structure. Money could be made or lost based on a location where a county seat might or might not be established. The dispute in Wichita County was called the "Bloodiest of Them All." A history written as part of a Depression-era project of the Works Progress Administration, Kansas, a Guide to the Sunflower State, described the situation:

With the organization of Wichita County in 1886, the two towns became bitter rivals for the county seat. As usual, both factions resorted to extralegal measures. Gunmen were imported "to preserve order." From Dodge City the Coronado partisans brought a former sheriff while Leoti sent to wild and wooly Wallace for a crew of "fun-loving" cowboys who terrorized all law-abiding citizens… On the eve of the county seat election Coulter and six or seven other young men from Leoti loaded a case of beer into a rig and drove over to the rival town… A burst of gunfire precipitated a pitched battle in the town’s main street.

Perhaps that’s one reason why Wichita County still prohibits the sale of alcohol by the drink even though Kansas amended its Constitution to allow that about thirty years ago.

Houston County, Texas

Houston County -- First County Created Under Republic of Texas, June 12th 1837
Houston County — First County Created Under Republic of Texas, June 12th 1837 by bk1bennett, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Houston came in second place in my analysis so let’s go ahead and talk about it. Houston County (map) had a population of 1% of the City of Houston, and was located 116 miles (187 kilometres) away.

The ever-useful Handbook of Texas became indispensable once again. It noted that Houston was the first county created in the brand-new Republic of Texas in 1837. Sam Houston, President of Texas, signed the order. He won the war so he could name anything after himself, and he did. The City of Houston was founded in the same year, obviously also named for Sam Houston. The city did better, about a hundred times better at least by population.

Austin County, Texas

Old Austin County Jail, Bellville, Texas 0130101401BW
Old Austin County Jail, Bellville, Texas by Patrick Feller, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Texas had too few heroes from the Revolution for its very large geographic footprint, it seemed, and only so many names to share. I found a similar situation for Stephen F. Austin. Austin County (map) had a population of 3% of the City of Austin, and was located 114 miles (183 kilometres) away. The area that became the County of Austin played an important role during the years immediately prior to Texas forming into a republic in 1836. Although Washington-on-the-Brazos became the initial capital of an independent Texas upon the establishment of its constitution (as 12MC described in One Star Many Centers), San Felipe had served that same purpose as the provisional capital immediately prior to and during the revolution. San Felipe (map) was the focal point of the original Stephen F. Austin colony and it was located in what later became Austin County.

Lincoln County, Nebraska

Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center, North Platte, Nebraska
Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center, North Platte, Nebraska by David Becker, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Lincoln County (map) had a population of 13% of the City of Lincoln, and was located 226 miles (364 kilometres) away. It had a fairly sizable town — North Platte — so that pushed it farther down on the list. North Platte was noted for the world’s largest rail yard at Bailey Yard. Lincoln County displayed a justifiable sense of pride in its monstrous rail yard and erected the Golden Spike Tower, "an eight-story building which overlooks the expansive railroad staging area" (map). This must be nirvana for rail fans.

Boise County, Idaho

Horseshoe Bend Idaho
Horseshoe Bend Idaho by Richard Bauer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Boise County (map) had a population of 3% of the City of Boise, and was located 27 miles (43 kilometres) away. The downfall of Boise County in my calculations was that it practically abutted the City of Boise, pushing it way down on the list. Boise county had two major towns, Idaho City and Horseshoe Bend. I used the term "major" loosely as neither had more than a few hundred residents. Nonetheless the fine citizens of Horseshoe Bend, being the larger of the two, attempted to grab the county seat of government by wrestling it away from Idaho City. They made at least two recent attempts, in 1974 and in 2004. However, unlike their counterparts in Kansas a century ago, their weapon of choice was a petition for referendum rather than a gang of drunken cowboys with guns. Their attempts failed. They might have had been more successful with drunken cowboys.

Richmond County, Virginia

Richmond County Courthouses
Richmond County Courthouses by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Richmond County (map) had a population of 4% of the City of Richmond, and was located 52 miles (84 kilometres) away. Interestingly, the two Richmond places in Virginia represented different things. Richmond County, formed in 1692, derived its name from Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond. The City of Richmond, founded in 1737, was named for the town of Richmond in the southwestern part of London, England. I’m sure if I tried hard enough I could probably connect those two Richmonds together somewhere back in English history. I took a basic glance and followed threads back from both directions and grew tired of the task. Someone with more patience than I should feel free to give it a go.


I’ll mention two other possibilities that I discovered and discounted: Baltimore City vs. Baltimore County in Maryland and St. Louis City vs. St. Louis County in Missouri. Those were both instances where a city split from a county and became an independent entity. Those didn’t feel like the same situation presented elsewhere.

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