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Odd Wisconsin Archive

A Rosendale By Any Other Name


There are more than 2,500 cities and towns in Wisconsin, each with a name that tells a story. Mackford, for example, derived its name from one Hiram McDonald, "generally known as Mack, who was one of the early and prominent settlers of the area. In this section there was also a ford where the trail crossed the river and the section took its name from Mr. McDonald and the ford being known as Mack's ford; gradually the letter s was dropped." Cuba City was said to have first been named Yuba "as in "You b'damned" after a dispute between the two men who platted the city; later changed to Cuba, and finally to Cuba City." Some of our more inspiring place names were afterthoughts. Liberty, for example, "was first called Buchanan but the name was changed to Liberty in 1861, due to the dissatisfaction prevalent among the people regarding President Buchanan's attitude in relation to the question involving the north and the south." Others contain contradictions: "When Unity town was organized, Dennis Lawler felt he was entitled to the honor of having it named after him, but P.B. Williams, another early settler wished to have it called 'Unity,' which was the name of a town in Maine from which he came. Upon the suggestion of Noah Comstock, the matter was decided by lot, Mr. Williams drawing the longest 'cut,' won."

For many years, whenever librarians at the Wisconsin Historical Society stumbled upon the explanation of a town's name, they would quickly type up a card and drop it into a file near their reference desk. They always included the source in which the claim was made, such as a newspaper article or a county history volume. Over time, nearly 1,000 such cards were made. These have just been added to the ever-expanding Dictionary of Wisconsin History. We can't always vouch for the accuracy of the explanation that the original author provided, but we can promise you'll enjoy poking around to discover who made up the odd name you see on that highway sign as you pass. You can then look for historical information about the town in our online collection of local history articles and perhaps find pictures of it at Wisconsin Historical Images. If the place is named for a person, you'll probably find leads to more information about him or her in the Wisconsin Name Index.

And what about Rosendale? "In an early day the name of Rosendale was the most appropriate that could have been given to the tract of land constituting the town of that name. It was suggested by Mrs. George C. Curtis because it was such a perfect vale of roses," according to Butterfield's History of Fond du Lac County, p. 767
:: Posted in Curiosities on November 18, 2005

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