To do the job of newspaper editor correctly, you need to know something about the geography and history of your market.
There is a lot of both here, of course. This office is just east-southeast of Platteville’s square, designed in 1835, well before cars and parking for cars. To the east-northeast is the Mound, a monadnock (but you knew that already) that rises above the land that glaciers forgot.
My source for the history you’re about to read this week and in a future week (that’s what the literary types call “foreshadowing”) is The Romance of Wisconsin Place Names, a 1968 book by Robert E. Gard and L.G. Sorden.
Most people know Lafayette County was named for the Marquis of Lafayette (that is, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette), a French ally of the new U.S. against Great Britain. Iowa County is named after the Iowa Sioux tribe, not the state of Iowa.
Grant County is named for the Grant River, which in turn was named not for Ulysses S. Grant, but for a fur trader with no known last name who lived along what became the Grant River. Legend has it Grant was known for wearing his brass cooking pot underneath his coonskin hat. This proved useful when a brave (possibly one of the Iowa Sioux) decided to kill Grant, swinging his hatchet at Grant’s skull, only to produce a loud clanging sound. The brave became not so brave, yelled “Manitou!” (meaning “spirit”) and fled, or so the story goes.
(An aside: It seems illogical to me that Iowa County is not named Dodge County, since the county includes Dodgeville, which was named for our first territorial governor, Henry Dodge. It’s also illogical that Monroe is not in Monroe County, Green Bay is not in Green County, Portage is not in Portage County, and Rockville is not in Rock County.)
Like Grant County, Platteville is named for the Platte River. There is a larger Platte River in Nebraska, and “platte” is a French word for “flat,” which describes Nebraska but not this area at all. The E was apparently added to the word “platt,” a bowl-shaped mass of lead, which the local Indians smelted.
When settlers started showing up, the area was known as Platte River Diggings, which is probably far too long to fit on a road sign. When Major John Rountree petitioned for a post office, he and the other petitioners sought “Platte River.” Platteville is not named for the early settler Alonzo Platt. For part of 1928, it was called Lebanon, probably for a Biblical reference by someone who had never been to Lebanon.
The story of Potosi and Tennyson is interesting. Potosi is either an adaptation of Potosa, the wife of Julien Dubuque, or “plomo,” a Spanish word for lead. Potosi formerly was named Snake Hollow, either due to the direction of the valley between the bluffs or because of what slithers in the bluffs and valleys. Tennyson was apparently not named for Alfred Lord Tennyson, Queen Victoria’s poet laureate, but it was originally named Dutch Hollow for the origin of many settlers. There are no species of snakes native to the Netherlands, so apparently “Dutch Snake Hollow” was out as a possible name for the area.
The Town of Paris apparently was settled by Tou Le Jon, who came up the Platte River, tied his boat to a cottonwood tree where a stream flowed into the river, and staked out a city with Paris-like streets and public squares while his crew was making dinner. Which stream? Maybe the Little Platte River west of Dickeyville, or Indian Creek, or, given that there are roads there, the area near the West Banfield Road boat landing.
The Town of Lima was originally known as Head of Little Platt, then was changed to Lima for the lime kilns in the area. The Town of Clifton is named for settler Bosman Clifton, who owned land in the Martinsville Road area. Clifton apparently donated 1½ acres of land for a church after the death of his seven-year-old daughter, which probably is the Rock Church.
The name Belmont shows the area’s French influence, with “Belle Monte” referring to the three mounds within Belmont’s village limits. Dickeyville is named for the early settler named Dickey (first name unknown), and originally was named Dickeysville. Livingston, originally named Dublin, was renamed for farmer Hugh Livingston, who gave the railroad land for the railroad that ran from Montfort Junction to Galena. Rewey is named for J.W. Rewey, who platted his village in 1880.
Montfort is in the Town of Wingville, so named apparently because settler Marlin Burton once caught a pheasant with his bare hands. Montfort got its name for the fort settlers used to protect themselves during the Black Hawk War, though apparently the Indians never attacked said fort. Either Montfort or Wingville is probably a better name than another name for the area for a while, Podunk.
So much for the easy ones. Next time: Where is …