Moscow Place Names  

Here is an article which tries to explain why places in the US were called Moscow. You can see that it is a very complicated task. I don't expect you to provide this level of details in Project #2, but do try to make some sense of the data. Enjoy the place name assignment.

U.S. Places Called Moscow
Irina Vasiliev, Department of Geography, Syracuse University

Paris, Berlin, London, Madrid, Geneva, Athens, Petersburg,... Moscow. All are venerable cities of Europe. All have been used as place-names throughout North America. And not just once each, but many times over. A Paris is in New York, Texas, and Ohio. An Athens is in Georgia and in Ohio. Madrid, New Madrid; London, London Bridge, New London. All of them, singly and together, evoke a time when young American settlements delineated their new identities by looking to the old established European cities and took from them what most easily brought to mind images of sophistication and permanence- their names, Each name is scattered through nearly all of the states of the Union. Looking at any one name, a geographer is tempted to see patterns, like a child's "follow-the-dots" pictures. But in what order are the dots to be connected? Are all to be connected, or are some not related to the pattern? Is there only one pattern? What is the Anal picture, if there indeed is one? This paper examines naming patterns for the Moscows in the United States. Since 1800, 49 populated places have been named Moscow in the United States. Many have disappeared or changed their names. Today, there are 27. Not all of the Moscows are connected to each other. Some belong to groups that relate to a central notion from which spokes radiate to each place. Others are linked by a form of place-name genealogy by which a linear structure describes the relationships among the Moscow points. For others, the links are unknown, but, even for these, the name Moscow summons the impression of a cultured, mature city, characteristics entirely lacking in the new Moscows of the l800s in the interior of the United States.

Napoleon's Influence

The l800's were a time of great growth and expansion in the United States as people moved west, settled into new villages and cities, and named or renamed their new settlements. One group of Moscows stretches from Maine to Alabama, and to Minnesota, and is linked by the single 1812 event halfway across the world-Napoleon's invasion of Russia and his subsequent defeat there. These Moscows are not connected to each other. Rather, they surround the idea of Moscow in 1812 and are linked to that central place and time by the impact of historic events there. Moscow was part of a global consciousness in the early 1800's that offered identity for places in need of names in a newly emerging nation. In that year, the inhabitants of the town of Northfeld in Somerset County, Maine, filed for incorporation. By the time the act of incorporation was passed, however, the name of the place had been changed to Moscow and the incorporation, in 1816, went under the new name. The news of the French advance onto Moscow, Russia, and Napoleon's consequent retreat in the year of the original incorporation filing had made a great impression on the residents of Northfeld, enough so that they commemorated the old city by taking its name (Varney 1881). Two states west, the Vermont village of East Calais (pronounced to rhyme with "palace"), in Washington County, is locally known as Moscow for a falling mill-stone's cracking sound that was equated with the ringing of church bells in Moscow, Russia, during Napoleon's campaign in 1812 (Swift 1977). Meanwhile, a disagreement between a number of townspeople in Livingston County, New York, and one Samuel Miles Hopkins was responsible for his building the village of Moscow to thwart those others. He had spent two years in Europe in the 1790s', "... witnessing the peculiar social, political and scientific conditions of an eventful period--the time of Napoleon's splendid Italian campaign" (Smith 1881, 43).

The mark left by his European travels was expressed in the name he chose for his village. ln 1917, however, the name was changed from Moscow to Leicester, to conform with the name of the township, post office, and train station. There is some indication that the Russian Revolution also played a part in this change (Mahoney 1976)-- a simple example of how events in another part of the world again affected a tiny dot on the map of the United States. During the years 1816 to 1817, after Napoleon's defeat, Louis Phillipe, the exiled king of France, lived in what is now Clermont County, Ohio. His presence there may have something to do with the naming of the village of Moscow by memorializing a major Napoleonic setback that, for Louis Phillipe, could have presaged his return home to France. Moscow, the village, was laid out in 1816 and became a prominent steamship center on the Ohio River (Crawford 1985). A firsthand witness to the diGculties in Russia, Count Lefebre Denouettes had, before becoming one of a village's leaders in Sumter County, Alabama, ridden in Napoleon's coach during the 1812 retreat from Russia, This event led to his naming the village Moscow (Foscue 1978).

And finally, the result of a large forest fire in Freeborn County, Minnesota, in the l85O's, was nicknamed the Moscow Timber because it reminded people there of the accounts of the burning of Moscow, Russia, during Napoleon's campaign. The village was platted in 1857 and named after the nearby forest (Upham 1969). Moscows of Russian origins, place-name linkage or lineage, in the form of a single-parent genealogy, can be found in a group of Moscows that transferred the name, as an offspring carries that of a parent, across the United States in a number of directions. Before William Seward achieved notoriety for his folly of purchasing Alaska in 1867, Russian fur traders had made their way down the western American coast and established trading posts and small communities. Russian names, such as Russian River (originally Slavianka), Fort Ross, Sebastopol, among others, are still evident in northern California. One of the small communities on the Russian River, inland from Fort Floss, and across from Duncan Mills, was called Moscow (Josephine G. Nattkemper, letter to the author, 24 August 1987). It disappeared from gazetteers in the 1940's.

The 1830's were active years for naming Moscows by Russians or those with sort-of-Russian origins. The village of Moscow in Clay County, Missouri, 16 kilometers (10 miles) north of Kansas City, and long since absorbed by it, was so named because the first store was run by a Russian (Ramsay n.d.). Early in that decade, Germans who had lived in Russia for generations began coming west to America. By 1894, a post office in Cavalier County, North Dakota, named Moscow was opened (Williams 1966). The community serviced by this rural post office consisted of Mennonites of German-Russian origin. It is curious to note that Moscow is in Waterloo township; immediately to the west is Moscow township. The Napoleon connection might have extended to these northern reaches, as well. At the same time as German-Russian Mennonites were influencing naming patterns in North Dakota, a group of German-Russian Lutherans settled in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, an early haven for those persecuted for their religion. The community was started by the Reverend Rupert (Murphy 1928). It soon became known as Moscow and still carries the name.

Moscows of American Origin

The rest of the transfer Moscows have origins internal to the United States and have no Russians responsible for their names. In the 1870s, when Paradise Valley, Idaho, was petitioning for a post o6ce, and needed a new name, the decision of what new name to choose fell to Samuel Miles Neg. This man had been born near Moscow, Pennsylvania. He traveled west with his family, first settling near what is now Moscow, Iowa, and finally arriving in Idaho. He chose Moscow (Otness 1980). Moscow, Iowa, through which Sam Neff had passed, was laid out and named in 1836. Its early settlers are from Clerrnont County, Ohio-where there already was a Moscow and parts of Indiana.  At this same time, Alonzo Kits was moving to Hillsdale County, Michigan. He hailed from Moscow, in central New York, which had only recently, in 1824, changed its name from Moscow to McLean, in honor of a newly appointed Postmaster General (Harris 1984). Kits was instrumental in naming his new home in Michigan after the old (Portrait and Biographical Album, Hillsdale County, Michigan 1888). Migration was not confined to movement north and west from the eastern culture hearth. Moscow, Tennessee--so named for no reason but the misunderstanding of an Indian word that means "between two rivers" (Slier 1985)--boasted a favorite son who, in 1846, moved himself and his family to Polk County in eastern Texas. David Grigs Green built a house and opened a blacksmith shop; soon others moved to the area, originally called Greenville.

When the village became large enough to have a post office, the name had to be changed because another Greenville, in Texas, already had a post office. So, in memory of David Green's home in Tennessee, the post office was named Moscow (Heritage 1978). The follow-the-dot pattern is fragmented for these transferred Moscows one or two-maybe three-places linked to each other at a time. Not a very cohesive group as a single unit but certainly a group of similar stories deserving of a classification category of their invoking the image of Moscow of the rest of the Moscows, a large group was named simply for the Russian city. Often in the l9th century, exotic names were popular as many new communities popped up across the country. Post office regulations required that there be only one of each place name in a state (Stewart 1970).

Other times, a foreign name was assumed to bestow prestige on its community, thus attracting new settlers. The name Moscow served this purpose a number of times.
* In Kemper County, Mississippi, Moscow was settled in 1800. It is not far from Petersburg, which was also named for a city in Russia (Jackie Ratclige, letter to the author, 21 July 1987).
* The Jefferson County, Arkansas, Moscow was chosen either from a geography book or a newspaper (John L. Ferguson, letter to the author, 12 February 1986).
* Volume 12 of the Dead Town List of the Kansas Collection at the University of Kansas in Lawrence guesses that the Moscow in Cavity County was named for the city in Russia.
* Moscow Mills in Lincoln County, Missouri was named in the 1870s for the foreign city (Ramsay n.d.).
* All that is left of Moscow in Woodward County, Oklahoma, is a Moscow Church, the remnant of a village named after the Moscow River (Shirk 1965).

As with the Napoleon group, all of these places are linked not to each other, but to the central idea of the original Moscow. The dots are again connected to a central dot, their order indicated by the date on which they were named, none related to any other. Moscows of mistaken identity:   a few other Moscows are connected to nothing, not to each other and not to any central notion. Like Moscow, Tennessee, they are mistakes; they were never meant to be the name of a Russian city. Moscow in Stevens County, Kansas, was meant to be named for an officer in Coronado's southwest expedition, a man named Moscoso. The residents, in their application for a post ofllce, had shortened it to M-O-S-C-0. A postal clerk in Washington, upon receipt of their petition, being in a helpful spirit, and thinking the hay-seeds in the west did not know their spelling, added a W to the name, changing its meaning completely (The History of Stevens County and Its People 1979).


After this short survey, the question remains: Is there a comprehensive picture completed through the follow-the-Moscow-dots method with which this excursion began? On one hand, there is no picture containing all of the Moscows connected together in a single image, recognizable as belonging to one coherent design. On the other hand, it is possible to see them as together exhibiting a phase of the geography of movement and place-naming in the United States, something that reveals an underlying character of a young country's personality. The people involved in each place's name were integral to the development of the country's identity.

Each "Moscow" links the new place to a historic event, acknowledges the prominence of an old idea, or, in the cases of the mistaken identity, engenders a story that identifies the new place and is remembered in the passing years. The name bestows a sense of place and time. Rather than being linked to each other, the Moscows are, more importantly, connected to the elements of geographic growth that made the Moscows possible in the first place--migration, frontier settlement, and information diffusion.

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Created by Ingolf Vogeler on February 1, 1996