In Ohio Is Stringtown?
It's a simple question. Somebody claims to come from a very small place. He says it's a hamlet with only a few houses, and it's called Stringtown, Ohio. So you ask your Midwestern geography expert, "Where in Ohio is Stringtown?"
Unlikely as it may seem, there's no easy answer to that question, because there's more than one Stringtown, Ohio. In fact, there are ten of them scattered across the map!
Here are their locations. The northernmost is near the town of Shreve, the southernmost outside the town of Ripley, and the westernmost in the suburbs of Dayton.
How can this be? How can a single state have multiple places with the same name? And how are we supposed to tell them apart?
I didn't become aware of the problem until I moved out of state and had to make the drive to Pennsylvania. Just 12 miles after leaving my old hometown, I turned at a familiar crossroads called Norton. But then a hundred miles later, near Akron, I passed the exit for a city also called Norton. Apparently there's one Norton, Ohio, in Delaware County and a larger one in Stark County.
I next encountered the phenomenon in 1990, when Nat Brandt published The Town that Started the Civil War. This book recalls the abolitionist history of Oberlin, Ohio, where I went to college. Oberlin was a center for the Underground Railroad, an informal organization that helped escaped slaves reach safety in Canada. Nowadays, the town's role is memorialized by this sculpture on South Professor Street.
Relating an 1859 incident, Brandt wrote, . . . Anson Dayton intercepted the two Kentuckians on their way to Cleveland at a train stop outside the city and took them into custody on the basis of the federal warrant . . . . But in a note he observed, In an odd mistake, Dayton noted that Jennings and Mitchell were served the warrant at the Rail-Road Station of Orange, on the C.C. and C. Rail-Road in the County of Delaware in the Northern District of Ohio. Orange is in Cuyahoga County, but Delaware County is north of Columbus in Central Ohio.
Obviously Brandt wasn't aware that there were Oranges in both Cuyahoga and Delaware Counties. His source was likely correct. The warrant was served at Orange in Delaware County, nine miles north of Columbus, where Orange Road crosses the tracks opened in 1851 as the C., C. & C. (for Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati). My father and I found the spot. Trains still go through, but there's no railroad station there now, and no town.
Then a few years ago, while driving through northeast Ohio, I heard a Chagrin Falls radio station identify its location as Bainbridge-Cleveland. Bainbridge? I know where that is. That was the hometown of Sally Flowers. It's in southern Ohio, 60 miles east of Cincinnati. How could a radio station serve both Bainbridge and Cleveland, on opposite ends of the state? Is there another Bainbridge near Chagrin Falls?
So I got out the 1987 edition of the DeLorme Mapping Company's Ohio Atlas & Gazetteer. This book has 64 pages of highly detailed maps at a scale of 1:150,000, or less than 2.4 miles to the inch, and it also has an index.
I was amazed to discover that not only are there two Nortons, two Bainbridges, and three Oranges, but the state has a total of 295 duplicate place names that are used by 701 different locations!
Here are the 232 names that appear twice. Ready?
The following 40 names appear three times each.
There are 14 that appear four times.
Two names appear five times.
Four names appear six times.
One name appears seven times.
And the co-champions are two names that each appear ten times.
Now I'm not claiming that all of these are major cities. At some time in the past, they acquired place names which have been passed on to DeLorme's cartographers, but no more than one of the duplicates has been incorporated as an official city or village. Any other places that share the name do so unofficially, because they aren't incorporated.
Comparing DeLorme's list to the census data of Ohio municipalities, I find that about a third of the shared names belong to one official municipality plus one or more unincorporated places. The other two-thirds are not listed in the census, as they are used only by unincorporated places.
I remember driving through one of the six Midways, the one in southern Madison County, and seeing the sign "Midway (Sedalia P.O.)." Apparently to avoid postal confusion, those Midwayians have to use the address Sedalia, OH 43151.
Not all of the names that I found may be in current use. The map shows these six other places within 5½ miles of the village of Richwood, where I grew up:
When I lived there, I could have told you where Claibourne and Essex were, but not the others. Four of them are, at best, crossroads. Only Centerville and Essex actually have an additional street.
In more remote areas, many locations named on the map are even less than crossroads. They're what my mother used to call a wide spot in the road.
But at one time each of them must have had at least a couple of houses, or a one-room schoolhouse, or a general store something that led the local folks to bestow a name. And not infrequently, it was a name that had already been used by some other folks a few counties over.