OKI Wanna Know: Why Do So Many Ohio Places Share Names But Not Locations?

Dec 23, 2020

OKI Wanna Know is a chance for you to ask the questions you were always afraid to ask, or didn't know who to ask. In this episode, we return to the popular field of place names, and where they come from.

Listener Anne Skove points out there are a lot of cities and counties in Ohio that share a name. "You've got Hamilton County, which doesn't have Hamilton the city in it. There's Montgomery County, but there's a Montgomery here (in Hamilton County). Warren is way off on the other side of the state, and there's a Warren County, but they're nowhere near each other."

Her theory: famous people get things named after them. "Washington State and Washington D.C. are nowhere near each other either, but you know, Washington. Famous," she says.

It's not a bad theory. Steve Lucht is curator at Dayton History. "Pretty much all the major cities in Ohio are not named after places. They're named after people."

Lucht says Montgomery County was formed in 1803, and named after Richard Montgomery, who was in the British Colonial Army until the colonists declared independence. Then he joined the revolution, and was killed during the battle for Quebec in 1775.

Lucht says there's a story the name suggestion came from Dr. John Hole. "He was an assistant surgeon in the Continental Army and he was in Quebec City when General Montgomery was killed. He moved to Dayton around 1797 after the war. When Montgomery County was formed in 1803, it's said that Dr. Hole suggested that the county be named after General Montgomery."

Lucht says it's reasonable to say people in Montgomery County were aware of the community of Montgomery in Hamilton County. It was founded in 1795, according to Janet Korach, curator of the Wilder Swaim House. It was also named for Richard Montgomery, but in a roundabout way. The settlers came to Ohio from Montgomery, New York.

"They originally had another name, Ward's Bridge. After the Revolutionary War, they renamed their city in honor of General Montgomery," Korach says.

There are a number of Ohio counties and cities that share a name, but not space. Too many to include in this story: There's Franklin and Hamilton, Harrison, Monroe, Fairfield and Butler, just to name a few.  There's also Warren.

Anne Skove asked the question, and provided the illustrations.
Credit Provided / Anne Skove

Warren County Historical Society President John Zimkus says 29 of Ohio's 88 counties, including his, are named for a Founding Father.

"We're named after Dr. Joseph Warren, who's often referred to as the 'forgotten Founding Father.' He's the one who sent Paul Revere on his famous ride," Zimkus says.

Warren County was formed in 1803, a few months after Ohio became a state. The city of Warren, Ohio, was founded earlier, in 1799, Zimkus says, by people who came from Connecticut. "It could be a totally separate honoring of Dr. Joseph Warren without any connection between our Warren and their Warren."

He's partly right.

Meghan Reed is director of the Trumbull County Historical Society in Warren, Ohio. She says the city was named for a Warren, but not the Revolutionary War hero. It was named for a surveyor, Moses Warren.

"A lot of people would assume it was named after Warren Harding. There aren't a lot of Warren connections in Ohio, generally, but ours is a local connection. Moses Warren was hired by the Connecticut Land Company, which owned this land in the Connecticut Western Reserve in northeast Ohio," she says.

Reed says when Efram Quimby purchased land in the area, he named it after the surveyor. She says it was not uncommon for land owners to name places, but there's no indication why Quimby chose Warren's name.

Both Hamilton and Hamilton County were named for Alexander Hamilton, while Franklin and Franklin County were both named for Benjamin Franklin.  Why they share names but not jurisdictions is still anyone's guess.

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