Place names can add confusion to travelers
By Gene Kemmeter
What’s in a name? Many times we ask, ‘How did someone come up with that moniker?’ Some places have puzzling names, or even two different names. There are strange names like Nothing, Ariz.; Why, Ariz.; Nowhere, Ariz.; Why Not, N.C.; and Boring, Ore.
Portage County is the home of one of those places with two names. A Wisconsin Department of Transportation official working on a construction project for Highway 10 in eastern Portage County several years ago admitted he was puzzled. A sign in Portage County identified the Tomorrow River, but when the water got to Waupaca County, the river was called the Waupaca River.
The explanation is simple, but the confusion remains. The Native Americans called the river “Waupaca,” a name that means “tomorrow,” and early settlers in the Waupaca area adopted that name, which was also the name of a chief. Settlers in the Amherst area and eastern Portage County, many of them Yankees from the Northeastern states, used the English translation and called the body of water, the Tomorrow River.
So the river is called the Tomorrow from its start between Polonia and Rosholt in Portage County through Nelsonville and Amherst until it reaches the Waupaca County line. That segment of the river is 22.1 miles. The Waupaca River stretch is longer, 44.8 miles, as it flows through Waupaca and Weyauwega before joining the Wolf River in eastern Waupaca County.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has avoided stepping into the fray about the names, referring to the river as the Tomorrow/Waupaca River.
The story about the selection of the name is Native Americans needed 24 hours to travel its full length so they could not reach the end until the next day, hence the journey would end “tomorrow.”
Motorists traveling on Patch Street in Stevens Point also find themselves ending up on Industrial Park Road after crossing the Plover River Bridge. This road’s double name has a more modern explanation for its confusion.
Patch Street was named after the Rev. Jacob Patch, a Presbyterian minister in Stevens Point who lived nearby. The street ended on the west bank of the Plover River, but after the minister moved away and Stevens Point became a railroad hub, soiled doves inhabited the area, selling their wares to railroad workers and passengers.
When the bridge over the river was constructed in the 1980s, making Patch a through-street to the east bank, business owners on Industrial Park Road lobbied the Stevens Point Common Council to allow them to retain the road’s name, saying they didn’t want the expense of an address change and confessing they didn’t want their businesses on the same street associated with the houses of ill-repute.
Most place names in Portage County come from famous individuals, surrounding characteristics or other cities, but three have variations of famous names.
The town of Buena (Bew-nah) Vista is a mispronunciation of Buena (Bwe-nha) Vista, the site of an American victory in the Mexican-American War in 1847. A tavern-house in the town’s main community was named after the battle and was a popular gathering spot.
The town of Linwood west of the Wisconsin River was originally named Linden after the linden or basswood trees in the area, but residents petitioned the County Board in 1857 to change the name to Linwood.
Mispronunciation also plays a role in the small community of Peru in the town of New Hope. The name of the community continues to be pronounced “pee roo” by residents instead of the more common pronunciation given to the South American country.
Whatever the name, or the pronunciation, it stands for something, and it’s always interesting to hear someone question it or mispronounce it. You know they’re either a newer resident or a visitor.