You Live Where?!

Happy Groundhog Day. The rodents saw their shadows so there’ll be six more weeks of winter. Has spring ever come to New England before mid-March?

The mention of Huntington and Burnside in yesterday’s blog reminded me again of a topic I had intended to address some time ago. Alas, it lost itself to various and sundry other things. I had received another prompt about village names when I wrote “My New Atlas” (January 21). Those two were Gildersleeve and Goodrich Heights.

Most of these places have pretty much disappeared off the face of the earth except on Google maps. Only Huntington still has its own post office.

I’ve been fascinated by these disappearing hamlet names ever since I wrote my first book Can Anything Beat White?: A Black Family’s Letters.

Aunt Lou and Uncle Harry spent one summer in a place called Beckley. I knew it existed because there were envelopes with that stamp cancellation, and Helen used it as a return address on her letters. I searched high and low and finally came up with a Beckley Road in Berlin, but I couldn’t get any further. Most searches put me in West Virginia. Finally after much digging around I was able to ascertain that the Beckley Quarter had been part of Wethersfield and was eventually absorbed into Berlin, where it may have been called Beckleyville. It’s gone now.

Connecticut is filled with such anomalies. The names occupy twelve pages of double columns in the Connecticut State Register and Manual. Among my favorites are Satan’s Kingdom (part of New Hartford) and Sodom (part of Franklin) and Bedlam Corner (North Windham). Since most people outside of Connecticut have probably never heard of the actual towns, I’d be surprised if the hamlets and villages had any following.

How these names came into being continues to fascinate me.

Turns out that Huntington did not follow the usual practice by naming itself after the founder of the town. In fact the place had already undergone one name change. When it went from parish to town it took the name of Samuel Huntington, the governor of Connecticut and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Gildersleeve, however, did take its name from the family of boat builders who settled in the area north of the main part of Portland.

I haven’t been able to learn anything about Goodrich Heights, except that it’s a “populated place.” I’m beginning to think that it was a made up name to give some cachet to the tree farm and golf course across the street. Same with Burnside, except that it is also a “historical post office” and a current or former railroad station.

Satan’s Kingdom (I think) takes its name from the rugged terrain in the area, though there is a story that a minister new to town prayed for the destruction of Satan’s kingdom and a resident of the area took it personally. This place may be an exception to the anonymity since hikers on the Appalachian Trail come near it.

As for Sodom, I hope it happened because someone opened the Bible and pointed (as they used to in selecting names for children.)  And I have no clue on the derivation of Bedlam Corner, but a road exists with that name.

Another of my favorites for entirely different reasons is Middle Haddam, which does have its own post office and is part of the town of East Hampton. The Middle Haddam folks, however, generally deny their affiliation because of differences of class and income. It used to give me great satisfaction to write “the Middle Haddam section of East Hampton” in the newspapers where I worked because they didn’t recognize these places as separate entities.

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