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OKI Wanna Know: Why is Clermont County the only Clermont County in the U.S.?

clermont county seal
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Our feature OKI Wanna Know seeks answers for those nagging questions that might keep you up at night. This week, our focus turns to Ohio's eighth oldest county. WVXU's Bill Rinehart looks at the name of Clermont County.

David Fiora of Anderson Township wants to know why Clermont County is the only Clermont County in the United States. His question started after he was looking at a Reddit section devoted to maps.

"Someone posted one on the map subreddit that showed all the counties in America that have a unique name. Only one in the Cincinnati area that had a unique name was Clermont County, and I thought that was kind of surprising, that no other county in America was named Clermont County," he says. "It just wasn't something that I expected."

There are other Clermonts around the country, including eight towns, cities and unincorporated areas. And this doesn't even count places spelled differently from C-L-E-R-M-O-N-T. Around the world, you can find Clermont in South Africa, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Belgium, and France. And that's where the name comes from, according to Cindy Johnson. She's the secretary of the Clermont County Historical Society, and is reading from the History of Clermont County, written by Louis Everts in 1880.

"The name said to be taken from Clermont in France, derived from the French words meaning 'clear mountain.' "

There aren't any clear mountains in Clermont County and Johnson says there really aren't any clear connections to France. She says there was a Frenchman who moved to the area after the Revolutionary War and became a teacher, but she says that doesn't seem like a strong link.

"I cannot find a French connection to it. French trappers were no doubt in the area. Do you name a county after a guy who goes after beaver pelts? I don't know," she says. "It hasn't been recorded to my knowledge. There could be a record someplace that's better. To my knowledge, there's not a good reason for naming it French something."

Johnson says yes, there were trading posts along the Ohio River, including what is now the village of Neville, upstream from Moscow, Ohio. She says it was named after the man who owned the land, Presley Neville, who served as the aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette. Neville might be a French name, but Presley himself was born in Virginia and lived near Pittsburgh. He died the year Ohio became a state, in 1803.

Clermont County wasn't the first name for the land.

"Up until early 1799, all of the Ohio land between the Little Miami River and Eagle Creek in what's now Brown County was included in one large Hamilton County," Johnson says. "They called this parcel Anderson Township, which isn't even in Clermont County any more."

Johnson says at the first meeting of the First Territorial Legislature, in March 1799, representatives passed an act to draw up new counties. They took that land roughly between the Little Miami River and Eagle Creek, and they called it Henry County.

"The governor of the Ohio Territory at that time was Governor (Arthur) St. Clair, that the book describes as a 'stern old Federalist.' He came into the first meeting of the First Territorial Legislature appointed by President John Adams and just vetoed a bunch of bills, including those creating the new counties."

Johnson says the History of Clermont County book says St. Clair argued the power to create counties was a power reserved for the executive branch, and not the legislative.

On December 6, 1800, she says St. Clair announced the creation of Clermont County. Johnson says even then, it's not exactly clear why he chose that name. Even though St. Clair and Clermont aren't spelled alike, she has a theory.

"I personally think it was just arrogance on his part. He struck me as a tad arrogant."

Arthur St. Clair claimed Congress had no jurisdiction over the people who lived in the Northwest Territories, and that led President Thomas Jefferson to remove him as governor before Ohio became a state.

But before that happened he did give another place a name we still use today: Cincinnati.

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Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio in markets including Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio; and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.