The name of a given location is important. It denotes ownership and civic pride and establishes a sense of self for the residents. But how often do we consider why a particular name was chosen? I’ve lived in something like… ten different cities in my forty years on this spinning blue rock and I couldn’t really tell you the first thing about what their names meant. I’m fairly certain North Myrtle Beach came after Myrtle Beach which had something to do with myrtle trees? Tucson likely meant something in a Native American language that was mangled by settlers? This isn’t to say that I haven’t felt pride in any of the cities I’ve lived in but that I’m completely unobservant after I find a place to acquire food, buy books, check out books, work, and sleep. So, as I’ve been examining the history of Florence, KY, one of the first things that came to mind was “why is it called Florence?”
The location that became Florence was originally settled by escaped Hessian soldiers who fled south down the Ohio River through Cincinnati. (Escaped from whom and why? This, the book did not say but it sounds exciting, as if there should be buried treasure and a secret occult society somewhere in the story. My version will also feature a CGI bear voiced by Ryan Reynolds.) Two of the earliest names for the settlement were Pow-Wow, due to its status as a Native American trading post, and Polecat, a reference to a den of skunks that moved into the area. (Yes, Florence residents, you could have been Polecats. Opportunity missed!) The first English name for the settlement was Crossroads, for the obvious reason that it was located along the intersection (also known as a “crossroads,” a fact that is only relevant for those of you who are fans of the music of Robert Johnson) of the roads to Union and Burlington and what is now Dixie Highway. Crossroads then became Maddentown or Maddensville, after one of its prominent residents Thomas Madden, and then Connersville, after Jacob Conner for the same reason. There it would have remained except that the U.S. Post Office already had a town listed by that name in Kentucky. Several.
Again, why Florence? Well, since Connersville was out, the trustees held an election to choose a name for the town. The choices were between Florence and…. another name that wasn’t recorded. 16 out of 25 votes were for Florence and not…. whatever that other name was. What was the significance of Florence, you ask? Who knows? Maybe it sounded pretty? The only other reference I was able to find was that Florence was the basis for “Stringtown” in “Stringtown-on-the-Pike” by John Uri Floyd, who changed the name to Stringtown because he felt Florence “sounded too Italian.” According to Wikipedia, “Florence is a feminine English given name. It is derived from the French version of (Saint) Florentia, a Roman martyr under Diocletian. The Latin florens, florentius means “blossoming”, verb floreo, meaning “I blossom / flower / I flourish”.” Perhaps the name was meant to reflect the abundance of shrubbery in the area?
More to come as this story (that hasn’t been relevant in centuries) continues.
Kevin Wadlow is 100% a real human being and definitely not a murder of crows wearing a person suit. He is an avid reader of horror, tabletop gamer, and drinker of coffee who enjoys drawing things of strangeness along the way. When the zombie apocalypse comes, he will probably be eaten first after saying something about how he fully expected to go out like this.
This should have been written before the re-branding of our Minor League Baseball Franchise! The Florence Polecats would be 100 times stronger than the Y’alls, a name that doesn’t strike fear in competitors’ hearts. I can hear them on the bus to Florence now, “We’re playing the Y’alls? What does that name even mean?”
The Polecats, though! That’s an animal that everyone runs from.