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Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
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‘What’s in a name?’
Exploring the origins of community names in Franklin County

Friday, July 11, 2014

By EMILY WOOD - News-Post Intern

The origin of many names of places and things are often obvious, based on family names or distinguishing features.

Franklin County has its share of those, including the county name itself, which was given in honor of Benjamin Franklin and officially established in 1786. Many of the county's early settlers came from Pennsylvania, where Franklin was elected governor in 1785.

Another name, Rocky Mount, also has a logical explanation. It was named in 1783 because of the stony hill and mountain formations throughout the district.

Dorothy Cundiff, executive director of the Franklin County Retail Merchants Association and local historian, provided some other sources for names, some easily explained, others more obscure.

Snow Creek officially received its name in 1832 because some early settlers there, first recorded in 1741, had to get water from the creek that runs through it. The water was always very cold, and they would say it was as cold as snow.

Glade Hill received its name in 1836 because of the hill's close proximity to the open grassy "glade" area of Glade Creek.

Other places were named after early residents of the area.

Callaway was named after the family of the powerful James Callaway Sr., who resided in the area and owned much of its land in the late 18th century, including the land on which the courthouse was constructed. Callaway was the county lieutenant and served in the Revolutionary War.

Cahas Mountain was named for the Cahay family that settled in the area many years ago.

The Wirtz area was named after a man named Samuel E. Wertz, a 53rd Virginia Infantry Confederate soldier who owned most of the land in that area. The officials who decided to name the village and train station after Wertz around 1893 misspelled his name, which is why it is now known as Wirtz.

Gogginsville was named after methodist preacher Thomas Goggins who built Gogginsville Church in 1855.

Sydnorsville got its name from Beverly Sydnor, the builder and postmaster of the first post office there in 1832.

It has been rumored that Boones Mill was named after and founded by one of Daniel Boone's uncles, Jacob Boone, around the start of the 19th century.

But according to Betty Naff Mitchell's "A Little History of Boones Mill," that is not the case.

The mill was owned by Jacob Boon, no relation to Daniel, and "Boon" eventually became "Boone."

However, legend also has it that Daniel Boone did stop at Jacob Boon's flour mill home overnight on one of his journeys from North Carolina to Kentucky, and that is a distinct possibility.

The mill was in operation until the 1920s.

Redwood was originally named Guizot in 1880 after a foreigner who had settled there, but locals had difficulty pronouncing the name and wanted it to change. The name Redwood was decided by a man who had visited California and admired its redwood trees.

Union Hall was named after the building that is now the post office in which various town meetings used to be held.

Burnt Chimney got its name due to a structural fire in the 19th century. The chimney was the only part of the building that survived the fire, and a sign was placed on the site. The chimney is no longer standing.

The Great Wagon Road got its name because it was traveled by many of the immigrants coming from Pennsylvania around the 1740s. The trail reached as far south as the Carolinas.

Other communities in the county have less obvious name origins.

According to historian Edith McGhee Sigmon, the early engineers of the Southern Railway Company were interested in the source of iron ore of the area and opened a mine south of Ferrum, just beyond the Summit Cut, where the ore was worked during the earlier days of the railway.

The first president of the Southern Railway Company was a Colonel Houston, who was general manager of the Crozier Iron Works of Roanoke.

Although prior to the building of the railway through the valley, there existed a post office known as Sophronia, located on the headwaters of Story Creek and housed in the store of George Turner. The naming of the railway depot in about 1892 was in response to a suggestion made by the Rev. Thomas P. Duke.

The suggestion, Cundiff said, was that because much of the iron industry took place in the area of present-day Ferrum, which is the Latin word for iron and why iron is abbreviated as Fe on the Periodic Table of Elements.

There is some confusion on how Endicott got its name. The name Endicott means "beyond the cottage," when translated from Old English, and a man named John Endecott founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is possible a settler there had the same name.

Present day Penhook is located where tobacco buyers would come through by an old railroad. These buyers were known as pin hookers by the tobacco farmers, who often believed they had been cheated, or "hooked." As with Wirtz, the name was misspelled. Edward C. Murphy, who established a post office there in 1854 didn't dot the "i" in Pin Hook, so it was mistaken for an "e." The two words eventually became one.

The area around Jacks Mountain Road is believed to be named after a big bear that used to wander along the mountain. Early settlers nicknamed the bear Jack and would often warn people to "watch out for Jack." It became known as the bear's territory.

Cook's Knob got its name because people used to say a giant lived there and the blue haze that hung over the knob was smoke coming from his cooking. Legend says that the giant would get very angry if anyone tried to climb the knob.

The areas of Patti and Sontag are believed to have been named by Dr. John Henry Greer, a surgeon, after his two favorite famous opera singers, Adelina Patti of Koblenz, Germany (1843-1919), and Henriette Sontag of Madrid, Spain (1806-1854).

Greer had become acquainted with their music while pursuing an acting career in New York before going to medical school in Philadelphia.

The Sago area is also believed to be named after a New York performer admired by Greer.

(Editor's Note: Anyone with additional information about origins of names in Franklin County is encouraged to contact the News-Post for future articles.)

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