What’s in a Name? Communities and the People Who Have Passed This Way, Part One

The act of naming is sacred.  It harkens back to the story of Adam being charged with the responsibility of naming the animals.  Naming is important.

Not only do we name species and people, but we name places.  There’s something sacred about the names we give locations.  For instance, few people living in my family remember the names of the places on the old Smith farm down in the Bell Ridge community.  There were two prominent hills on the place which we came to call “Tater Knob” and “Chicken Ridge.”  The names weren’t as important as the fact they actually HAD names.  With designated names, it was easy to tell someone where we were, or where a stray cow had gone.  There was even a spot on the other side of one of those hills which the family had nicknamed “Egypt.”  I never got an explanation, but figured it meant if you came out of it you were delivered.  The people who own these places today know nothing of their names.

The land where I was raised had no name.  Across the state line from us (which we could see from the kitchen window) was the Tennessee community of “Morrison City,” named when the developing area had hopes of being something of significance.  If you drive through there today, you are wont to find any “city.”  But the houses are pretty close, and they are homes of the families who first came to Kingsport for work in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.  A few homes were built in later decades, but the community developed in those days.  Our side of the state line was given the name “Morrison City, Virginia” by the telephone company just to distinguish us from the southern Scott County communities across the river.  But we weren’t ever part of Morrison City.  Peter Morison was the pioneer whose name was left on that place, and his descendants never came to peace with the extra “r” that was added to his name.  The community was named after a contest held at a local store over on Harrison Avenue.  I would love to know what the runner-ups were.

Morrison City was located in a valley that has long been called “Carter’s Valley.”  The name goes back to colonial days, one of the oldest settlements in Tennessee (and was so designated when Tennessee was a mere extension of North Carolina).  It extends a little into Virginia, and the folks in the Virginia section of Carter’s Valley (East Carter’s Valley Road) as well as our neighborhood in the “State Line” settlement, shared the “225” exchange on the phone system, setting us apart from most of Kingsport, TN, but being a local exchange in Tennessee.  We had to call long distance if we called across the river to our classmates in the Scott County schools.

The counties of our area were named after Americans.  Earlier counties in Virginia reflected either Indian names or lofty names honoring the royalty in England.  The county in which I was raised was named after the hero of the War of 1812:  General Winfield Scott.  At one time Gate City was named “Winfield” after him.  That soon was changed as locals decided to honor a regionally famous justice, Benjamin Estill.  Estillville was the county seat until the late 1800s when the Post Office was having trouble distinguishing between Estillville and Esserville over in Wise County.  At that time someone suggested that as Moccasin Gap was the “Gateway” to the west (at least for some folks), the town should be known as “Gate City.”  Nearby Lee County was named after “Lighthorse” Harry Lee of Revolutionary War fame, and I shouldn’t have to tell you who “Washington” County was named after.  Wise and Tazewell Counties were named after state legislators who were fighting against legislation that would create those counties.  When their names got attached to the bills, they shut the heck up.  Southwest Virginians can put up with what they have to in order to get what they want.

The Possum Creek area where my family once lived was known as “Waycross.”  I’ve often wondered how that came about.  Nearby was a railroad yard known as “Frisco Yard.”  I don’t know who “Frisco” was, but somebody thought his name would be good for the area.  There’s a really dangerous one-way railroad overpass at Frisco Yard.  Thankfully not much traffic there anymore.

Weber City is the area nearest our family that grew up alongside of Morrison City and Kingsport, as another bedroom community of the big town across the state line.  It was named when some fans of “Amos and Andy,” the radio program, heard that their fictional home town was “Weber City,” so to be smart alecks, they hung that name on the gas station at Moccasin Gap.  The name stuck.  We’re not sure a Weber family ever lived there.  But in my earliest elementary school days, we were proud to be the “Weber City Spiders.”  They changed it to “Packers” but I’ll be a “Spider” till the day I die.  A community predated Weber City at the River Bridge, once called “River Bridge” and before that “Wilhelm.”  The Wilhelm family were our neighbors across the river.  A little cemetery is beside the main highway atop a cement wall today where many of them were buried.

The community of “Bloomingdale” across the state line in Tennessee, and in the next valley to the south from Carter’s Valley, was named by Professor Joseph Ketron after he had gone up to Bloomington, Illinois for a graduate degree right after the Civil War.  Professor Ketron was a huge influence in that area, having established the Kingsley Seminary to educate the youngun’s over there.  It was named after a bishop of the Northern branch of the Methodist Church during the Civil War period.  The names “Vermont” and “Arcadia” also were from the Ketron family during those days.  The Ketron family hailed from Germany originally and came down the valley of Virginia during the 1700s, settling first at Wytheville, Virginia, then coming to Sullivan County, Tennessee rather early.  They established “Ketron’s Campground” at what is now known as Arcadia United Methodist Church.  They later took their name off it and called it “Reedy Creek Campground” prior to the name change to Arcadia.  Reedy Creek runs alongside Highway 11-W from near Bristol to the Holston River at Kingsport.

Lynn Garden was the community that grew up between Morrison City and Kingsport, among some hills, and near the “40-Acre Field,” where most of the houses went.  Harrison Hill was over at the west of Lynn Garden, connecting it with Morrison City near Bell Ridge.  This was where early roadsters would test the power of their vehicles.  If it could climb Harrison Hill without losing speed, they were proud.  When Lynn Garden Drive was built, Kyle Hill was the local landmark.  We had an old truck that would wheeze and groan and sputter going up Kyle Hill, giving it everything it had, and could almost get up to 35 mph.  When you passed the old Outlaw house (named after a family whose name was “Outlaw”) you knew you had just about cleared Kyle Hill.

Tranbarger Hollow was the little valley that Tranbarger Drive runs through, connecting to Virgil Street in Lynn Garden.  The Tranbarger family once lived there and farmed the land before development.  Tranbargers are of German extraction as well.

Named after a Scottish family, McKenzie Hollow was a short piece from Bell Ridge, and was watered by McKenzie Creek.  It’s mouth flowed into the North Fork of the Holston at the Baldwin place (where descendants of an early Baptist preacher, Noah C Baldwin, had lived).  Where McKenzie Hollow cut of to the right, you could also go left.  The house at the intersection was my great-grandparents’ home, and is still standing, with logs exposed.  The road to the left cut back in front of the old Galloway home, by the Price place, to connect with Long Hollow Road, where it comes out by Bear Town and over to “Stone Drive” just above “Fort Robinson.”

The earliest names of Kingsport were “Christiansville” and “Rossville,” named after men who capitalized on the land near the banks of the Holston at the convergence of its north and south forks.  William King won out when his salt trade fueled the flat-boating business that grew up along the river in front of Netherland Inn.  Later when the industrial developers planned the modern city of Kingsport, they took the name from the old Riverport town, but most of Kingsport’s modern town was laid out in Peltier and Lovedale, communities to the east of the old town.  I have an old envelope addressed to my family at “Peltier.”  That was somewhere near the Lynn Garden community of today.  Lovedale was where the Kingsport Laundry building used to be.  I was told Grandpa Galloway “stole” his future wife from a window of a log house that once stood there as they rode off on horseback into marital bliss.

There were people before us who called these places by different names.  Holston River was “Hogoheegee.”  The Clinch was “Pellissippi” and the Powell River was once the “Bear-grass River.”  In fact, it is an Indian (Yuchi) word describing the convergence of the waters at the Long Island of the Holston, an ancient place where treaties were made, “tana-see” which meant “Meeting Place” that gave the state of Tennessee it’s name (according to one source).  What folks will call these places in coming years and centuries, we know not.  But one thing is certain, the naming of a place gives it identity and reminds us that others have been here before us.

About Brad Scott

An Appalachian CrossFitter who loves Jesus and is happily married to Tammie. I have a son and a fine little grandson. In the peak of middle age, trying to figure out the rest of this journey.
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2 Responses to What’s in a Name? Communities and the People Who Have Passed This Way, Part One

  1. Doug Kretzer says:

    As with all your writings this is excellent( & informative). Thanks, Doug Kretzer in KY

  2. kalabalu says:

    Names are important and the history, how and why it got named is always interesting.

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