Appalachia

Calling Places by People’s Names Who Are Long Gone On

old house

There’s something exceedingly nostalgic and at the same time reverent about place names that honor those who lived, loved, worked and hoped on a land they called home. Now long gone, the names of the places honor their memories and should give present-day wanderers (and wonderers) pause to seek and find who these people were. The commuinity where I grew up had these places (and still does). The very name of my birth community reminds us that Cherokee once dwelt threre: the Community (and political district) name–Choestoe–means, in Cherokee, “The Dancing Place of Rabbits.” This name could mean either the many rabbits that live there and come hoppping out to give pleasure to observers, even now; or it could mean that the Cherokee Rabbit Clan lived there in the days before the white man came to claim the land. There is the Collins place that harks back to my ancestor Thompson Collins who was there when Union County was formed in 1832; the same is true for the Dyer Place which remembers another ancestor, Bluford Elisha Dyer, Jr., another prior to 1832 settler to the valley. And I could go on: the Hunter Place, the Nix Place, the England Place, the Reece Place. Our poet, Byron Herbert Reece (1917-1958) memoralized this place-name tendency among Appalachian people by writing in his poem, “Choestoe”:

“Yes. Sprung from the hard earth,
nurtured by hard labor.
We know the names that built the fallen dwellings
going to ruin in old dooryard orchards.”

And there is much more in his poem “Choestoe” that speaks of a lifestyle still lingering in the stories we tell and the places we honor where the time apart can lead us to “Deep…coves…where noon is always twilit,” and where we can find “Peace…quiet and unhurried living, Something to wonder at in aged faces.”

It will always be home to me; the place I go in mind’s-eye, and heart-s-song, even if not in person as much as I would like. It is the place where its names speak volumes of my beloved Appalachian way of life.

—Ethelene Dyer Jones

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I hadn’t really given that any thought but now that I do think of it…places here are ‘the Allen’s place,’ or the ‘Smith house.’ Yes, even after people have passed for years, their name(s) are still attached to the places they lived… nice isn’t it?

—Madge @ The View from Right Here

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When I meet new folks in town, they always ask if I’m the one living in the old Young place. I’m ready to start saying, “I wish Mr. Young would pay his taxes, insurance and do better on the maintenance.” I’d like to thank Mr. Young for letting me live here for the past 23 years.

—Shirla

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Around here there is the ‘old Houser place’ house long gone, we pick asparagus there, ‘The Bailey log cabin’, a few logs and the rock cellar remain, as well as the iris, hidden behind a big blackberry thicket. Many others dot our hills, along with memories of those empty but not forgotten places. I sometimes wonder if some day in the future, someone will come along to the ‘Shipman place’, enjoy and appreciate the flowers from my yard, maybe harvest the fruit trees and berries. I surely hope so.

—Mary Shipman

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As I was growing up about every house place was referred to by the names of past residents. Many would eventually change to a more current resident but many never changed. The Old Morgan Place became the Verlin Place because my Great Uncle and Aunt raised much of their Clan there before moving west. There’s still the Old Hanse Place even though there hasn’t been a house there in my lifetime, the same holds for the Old Tom Hampton Place. I now find the younger generations looking at me with a blank stare when I use these names as references. All these places are now part of the Needmore Tract which Cresent sold to the Nature Conservancy which is managed by NC Wildlife Commission. They are all growing up and reverting to a wild state. It’s sad that the history of the region is being lost and the memories of all the rugged individuals who lived, loved and raised families on them will soon be be gone. The hikers and white water enthusiasts will be totally unaware of the history they are trampling over. Thank goodness there are a few of us “Bone Rattlers” whose interest in Genealogy helps keep their memories alive. This is our small effort to honor those who have gone before us whose Genes and the environment they faced helped each of us become the person we are.

—Bill Burnett

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Tipper

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    September 1, 2019 at 8:12 am

    Tipper what a great post and I enjoyed what everyone commented brought so many memories back of my childhood days

  • Reply
    Sheryl
    August 31, 2019 at 6:05 pm

    This post brings back wonderful memories. When I was a child, directions were always given using the names of long-gone residents – “Turn right at Miller’s.” Getting from one place to another required substantive knowledge of local history.

  • Reply
    James Hogg
    August 29, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    Love it

  • Reply
    Tamela
    August 29, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    A wonderful post made even more wonderful by your readers comments!

    For some reason it made me think of an old country road I used to drive on my way to teach school. I had driven it when it was a gravel road to take my kids to play with friends from their pre-school. As the years passed, “progress” came and didn’t like the way God laid out the landscape; so a large hill was moved 200 yards south and other areas smoothed out or shaped into swells “to make it pretty”. Roadkill on that road increased 10-fold as those bulldozers and long-arm diggers showed off their power. To give it “character”, the area now covered with apartment and office buildings and a large shopping center has been named “La Frontera”. . . .

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    August 29, 2019 at 11:25 am

    This post is touches me deeply because I spend so much time thinking about, trying to document, and preserve the past in my area. Nothing is so interesting as people and the things they do. I spent much of my free time for a year documenting the old homeplaces and events on Hurricane Mountain in Haywood County, but there is still so much to do. Today a large part of the mountain is government owned so the changes are minimal. A lot of people hunt, hike, and ride three wheelers there, but I am sure many of them have no idea the colorful history of the place. I also spend time trying to find the places where my great grandparents lived in neighboring counties. Somehow, it feels like I know them better when I am in the same place where they lived. I imagine all the fascinating stories I’ve been told and look for the places where they happened. As I drive along unfamiliar roads I see familiar names on road signs. Oh, the stories I could tell.

  • Reply
    tmc
    August 29, 2019 at 11:10 am

    Funny, when I first started work with the Coop the older guys went by names instead of map numbers, or meter routes, theyd come on the radio and say something like, hey I believe that fuse is out at jesse stewart place, or the 3phase breaker is out at charles mclemore’s, and you’d know where to go, this was the days before a central dispatch system like we have today.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 29, 2019 at 10:53 am

    Tipper,
    A couple miles down the highway, my Grandparents lived known as the Roper place, Tommy and Toots Higdon lived across the road from them. Another uncle and his Family lived not far from us.

    My 1st cousin wrote me awhile back and mentioned Howard. She called him Rohnn, Lordy, I hadn’t heard that name in several years. Almost everyone of us had a silly name, instead of the real name. On daddy’s side of the family, almost everybody had nicknames, daddy was the 2nd oldest and his brothers called him “Jew”. Boots was the daddy, but Mom was called Mom. Judson was the oldest and was called Juck. Frank fought in WW2, and me and Harold helped carry him to the gravesite. We never felt so Proud. At the funeral, the preacher mentioned Colly, that’s what his brothers called him. Eldie lived in Franklin and she had the blackest hair I ever saw. Toots was the only other Girl and her real name was Iris. Howard was Rhone. Ray had the boot store and we knew him as Tobe. Carl became a Baptist Preacher, after making Moonshine and running it for years. Almost everyone had a nickname. …Ken

  • Reply
    Dee
    August 29, 2019 at 10:31 am

    Growing up in Northern Illinois, I didn’t hear places called by previous owner’s names but I sure did every year we went back to my grandparents in MS. There was the old John McCauley store and home place even though he had been deceased for many, many years. One time I took my father up to our pioneer Kennedy cemetery. After visiting my great-great grandmother’s grave, I pulled back out on the gravel road, my father looked over to the right side of the road, which looked like a forest of pines and said, “that’s Josie Holler.” That was back in 2002, I didn’t ask who was Josie and now there is no one left to ask. Bouncing down that old gravel road, we came to a bend in the road and my father always called it the Gaines/Carpenter Place although for the 50 years I passed it no house place stood there. Years later that area was clear cut and my father said there was a cemetery back in there so my father, brother and I traipsed back and found it. A grave or two was encased or covered over with cement but no names and others had rocks piled as headstones. I always felt a reverence for places like that. One of my ancestors rested in that cemetery.

    Then there was the Molly Harmon Spring where my father’s family and mother’s family would walk to and get the best drink of COLD spring water. When my Mother was a young girl Molly Harmon lived there and if a storm came up she would come to my mother’s home and spend the night. Molly Harmon was raised on the hill above the spring. I was told she and her brother was sent to school. Her brother became a doctor living in another town but she loved the old place in the hills where she was raised so she returned to her birthplace. She and her parents are gone now but people come from all around the area and NW AL to get a drink of COLD delicious spring water and today a sign on a tree by the spring identifies it as “Molly Harmon Spring.”

    Roy, just wondering if your “Pipes Branch” happened to be in Limestone County, Alabama? I saw one there near the Stinnett Place.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    August 29, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Place names are one of the finest ways we have of honoring our heritage, whether it involves the use of an individual or family name or one bestowed by our forebears, like some of Bill Burnett’s folks who named the place he grew up “Needmore” – a section of the county which had Licklog Creek, Wikle Branch and Gap, Ammons Branch and Knob (Blind Pig reader Ed Ammons’ folks), Breedlove Mountain – and on and on.

    As Bill noted, some place names stick long after there’s no home there. The USGS Bryson City and Clingmans Dome quadrangles denote the Jenkins Place and Bryson Place; it’s been almost 90 years since anyone lived in either place since they were included in the land taken for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

    Sadly, the appreciation of history embedded in place names isn’t universal. There’s a local real estate fellow who bought a building in Bryson City which was erected well over a century ago and promptly placed a placard atop it naming it “The Bartlett Building” in honor of……himself.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    August 29, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Some tragic event sometimes caused a place to be remembered. Such a place existed in the neighborhood where I grew up.
    A lawman by the name of Garfield Hoss went to serve a warrant on Henry Perry. The story was that Henry told Gar that if he, Gar, opened the gate he, Henry, would kill Gar. Gar opened the gate and Henry shot Gar dead. Henry then turned around and walked up on his front porch and killed himself with the same weapon. The old house was always known as the “Hen Perry” place. The place was suspected to be “haunted” by the old timers which scared the younger generation into not hanging around that particular unoccupied house. The house has long since disappeared, but any time I drive by the place, the story automatically comes to my mind.

  • Reply
    Aaron Patterson
    August 29, 2019 at 9:10 am

    Here in Taliaferro County Ga. where I live there are lots of abandoned places I would love to know the history of but not being from here it’s hard to learn about them. (we are the least populated county in Ga. And the 2nd least populated county east of the Mississippi River: 1,700 souls) I can walk Just down the road and sit among the rocks that ROBERT GRIER would lay on at night and study the stars (Grier’s Almanac). The church around the corner was attended by the Vice President of the Confederancy; and Georgia’s oldest Catholic Church is 2 blocks away. Here in Sharon we have about a hundred people; down from over 2,000 around 1900; so lots of abandoned homesites here. I hate seeing these old homes decaying and just falling in. But we are saving at least one of them by living in it and doing what we can afford to fix on “retirement wages”.

    • Reply
      Tommy C
      August 29, 2019 at 6:53 pm

      Km

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 29, 2019 at 8:53 am

    Many places I’ve hunted are known by family names and nobody has lived on them in my life time. Some of the homesites can only be identified by old dug wells which you have to keep an eye out for. The old well gums are completely rotted away leaving a dangerous open well. A couple of these places hold a lot of interest to me. One Dad called the ole Ben place located on our family farm. His Aunt and Uncle lived there and there is no sign anyone ever lived there. A half mile up the holler is the Hunnicutt place. You can tell someone lived there and had cleared the land by all the large black pines growing there now and an old well at base of hill that is filled almost to the top from run off. Cecil Hunnicutt lived there and he was one of the men accused of turning in some moonshiners to the law and was told to leave Elliot Co. KY. or die. He refused to leave and was shot in the back while chopping wood. I guess Dad told me that story ever time we grouse hunted in there and pointed out the hill the killer shot from.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    August 29, 2019 at 8:48 am

    Amen Miss Cindy….Progress is swallowing up our history. Even in rural areas we see developments covering our farms. I understand it is easier to sit behind a desk in an air-conditioned office than to work a field in the heat of July. I hope in future generations some folks are willing to make the sacrifice.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 29, 2019 at 8:20 am

    You punched some of my buttons today. I am a big fan of gleaning ecological information from geographic place names. And I enjoy the old names also for the cultural history such as who liver where. The old names were ‘plain’ and simple and usually closely tied to place, as seen in the common use of “_________ place” for each farmstead. No flights of fancy, just down home talk.

    I have posted about this before but where I grew up it is common for the deep hollers along the west side of the Cumberland Plateau in Kentucky to have the name of a family; Jones Holler, Coffey Holler, Steele Holler, etc. And there is a stream with my wife’s maiden name, Corder Branch.

    Probably though we are past the day when those kinds of names will be added. It will all be 911-type naming with ever more unrelatable names.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    August 29, 2019 at 8:16 am

    I am so pleased to see that post from Ethelene Dyer Jones. This may be unique only to Appalachia and to the homes that have a little patch of land attached. It does not seem to happen in subdivisions where there are no deep roots. The mountain where most of my young life was spent was and is still called Conner Mountain. It was once long ago called Peter’s Gap, and History seems to show it in the1800s to have been an area where old roads converged. There is speculation that it was a huge meeting place for churches, thus a small community springing up in the area. On the mountain there is a lonely old house still called the Thornton house. Most everybody thought it was haunted. Most of that family long gone, but still bearing their name after others have lived there. I cannot go back for a visit, because frankly it saddens me to no longer see all the wonderful people, including my parents, who are no longer there. Mom said once long ago a man showed up inquiring about the Conner family, then left with tears on his face. Yes, they sometimes are where we claim our roots, but many over many years past have also left their hearts there.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 29, 2019 at 7:21 am

    It is part of our heritage to remember and honor the past and out ancestors. I think that as generations grow farther away from what we consider ‘our roots’ they grow farther away from the earth, literally. They live in cities in high rise dwellings way above the earth and what earth that is around the buildings in covered with concrete. It’s called progress.
    I love the old home places I see around me and am glad to live in a rural area where they still exist!

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    August 29, 2019 at 6:16 am

    Where my Grandpa once owned a home and farm there is, just across the road, Pipes Branch. The farm and Grandpa re is long gone, but I enjoy driving by “Pipes Branch.”

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