A town by any other name


If you spend a day in Holmes County, you’ll hear the names. Open a map, and there they are. Wander along the beautiful backroads—or even the state routes, for that matter—and you’ll happen upon communities like Saltillo, Trail, Charm, and Winesburg. Maybe you’ll enjoy lunch in Walnut Creek, or do some shopping in Berlin. And while you’re ambling along, you might say to yourself, “Hmmm. I wonder how this town got its name.” If you did, you would not be alone. In fact, many of the county’s residents wonder the same thing.

While tracking down answers, lifelong resident and local writer Ed Schrock and I did some digging. Ed knows (and is related to) just about everyone in the county, so I sent him out to scare up some leads with the locals. In the meantime, I hit the books—local history resources and a smattering of articles from various papers. Before long, Ed had names, and we went visiting in search of answers for why there’s a Gypsy Springs, Seven-Lick Hill, or Limpytown. Time and again, what we learned was that most of these monikers hold more mystery than meaning. Many locals simply scratch their heads when asked about Possum Valley, Skunk Hollow, or even Mount Hope. One thing we found for certain was this—most current names happened thanks to a single entity.

Walnut Creek, for example, used to be called New Carlisle, but when residents applied for a post office in the early 1840’s, they found there was already a town by that name in Clark County. So, because of the creek lined with walnut trees and the fact that the township already bore the name, they chose Walnut Creek. Not very imaginative, but certainly appropriate. Word has it that residents were reluctant to give up “Carlisle” and continued calling it that for quite some time.

And then there was the community called Indian Trail because, like Walnut Creek, a so-named stream and trail meandered through the village, serving as a highway between the Wyandotte and Mohican Indians and providing a path for Swiss and Irish immigrants to settle there. Out of all the communities we researched, this had the most interesting bits of history, from resident John W. Miller’s building of a steam automobile, to the making of our beloved Trail Bologna, to Trilby, a mystery man who arrived from who-knows-where in the late 1800’s, made his home in Trail, endeared himself to the community, and spent the remainder of his life there. It was also in the late 1800’s that the village opened their first post office. The postal service insisted the existing name was unnecessarily long, so they eliminated “Indian,” and adopted “Trail.” Ironically, “Indian Trail,” just like “Walnut Creek,” has 11 letters.

So it goes with many places throughout the county that acquiesced to the postal service’s insistence that names or spellings be changed for one reason or another. Like Middletown, though no one knows why its current name of Mt. Hope was chosen. And Farmerstown, formerly Farmersville because, well, it was a farming community. And Winesburg, founded as Weinsberg in honor of the strong women of Weinsberg, Germany who, while under siege in 1140, negotiated surrender if they could take with them whatever they could carry on their shoulders. The king agreed, and so the women hoisted their husbands. The postal service changed the Ohio town’s spelling to present-day Winesburg in 1883, and if you head southwest from there on 62 toward Berlin, you’ll encounter Seven-Lick Hill, which reportedly takes seven licks of the whip to get a horse to the top.

Not far from Farmerstown is the little community known as Limpytown. According to several sources, a man in that area liked to help himself to his neighbor’s things. One night, as he was sneaking out of a neighbors’s smokehouse, a vigilante took aim and shot him in the leg, leaving him with the mark of a thief in the form of a permanent limp. Of course, like other stories, this one is hearsay, with no names given and no official account recorded about the incident.

Stevensville and then Stevenson, was originally named for Stephan Yoder, an Amish farmer and early resident. Stevenson already existed in Ohio when the post office was established, so a town jeweler and watch repairman, Joni Yoder, suggested the name of Charm, because it was fashionable to wear large “charms” on watch chains. One local Amishman doubts the story, pointing out that such charms should show up in auctions but they don’t.

No matter, though, because locals refer to Charm as Pootchtown. While several stories circulate, the most popular is that a visitor to the little area remarked, “Ess iss isht uhn glennah pootch!” Or, “It’s just a small clump!” That small clump is growing rapidly, with fabric, craft, furniture, and sports shops, eateries, bakeries, and, Keim, the area’s largest hardware store. Regardless of how the name came to be, it’s now written in stone above the door of Charm School, so it’s likely here to stay.

Though it’s only a crossroads, one tiny town did keep its name, but not its post office. Saltillo sits 9 miles southeast of Millersburg along County Road 19 and Country Road 68, or Port Washington Road, which made its debut as a buffalo trail before becoming Ohio’s first state road and an important path to the Ohio-Erie Canal. Like most other town names, this one remains a mystery. Some say a soldier witnessing a saloon brawl said the place reminded him of Saltillo, Mexico, during the war. Another story goes that a Spaniard traveling through salt-poor town remarked how the meals lacked seasoning, “sal” meaning “salt,” and “illo” indicating the diminutive. Whatever the reason for the name, Saltillo was set to be a major town, maybe as big as Cleveland, with its stockyard, grocery/saloon, public house, blacksmith shop, and more. It was a busy place, and people traveled from miles around each summer to see the gypsies camping by the spring. But then the railroad came to Millersburg and Baltic in 1852, thus dashing the importance of Port Washington Road, and of Saltillo. Now stands a small community, a lot of legends, and a bucolic one-room Amish parochial school, Gypsy Springs, giving homage to days gone by.

Even the source of Holmes County’s name itself is unconfirmed. A local judge and historian during the early 1900’s, William S. Hanna, wrote, “Usually there is not much in a name. Around the…places cling a history that indicates the circumstances and conditions of their origin. Whether our county was named for the Major [Andrew Holmes], the Captain [Joseph Holmes], the Judge [Alexander Holmes], or the Scout [Jacob Holmes], it does not matter much, for each was worthy of the honor our ancestors sought to bestow.”

And so it is with our town names. Whatever their origins, they are beloved to us, and evoke meanings and memories for our own time among them. And then, we simply call them “home.”