County place names revistited

Published 6:25 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2016

    A question that finds its way to my desk (or voice mail) periodically is “Where the heck is Lawson?”

    The query invariably follows a significant weather event in which some television weather person talks about as storm passing through Isle of Wight and potentially passing through Lawson.

    Without repeating a lot of history that was discussed in a Short Rows column back in June 2011, let me say simply that Lawson is a place name in roughly the location of what we now know as Blount’s corner. It was named for a prominent “come here” who arrived in Isle of Wight after the Civil War and won some local acclaim as a doctor and politician.

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    That and other now-generally-forgotten names found their way into history when they were used to significant locations pinpointed by the U.S. Geological Survey, which was ordered by Congress in 1879. They included crossroads, churches and other landmarks that were provided by local people as the cartographers plied their trade. The maps created by the survey are still updated and used for a variety of purposes, and many of the place names that were originally used remain today even if they are no longer recognized locally. Lawson is one.

    Lawson, however, is a relative newcomer to the local catalogue of place names. There are some that date back to the earliest days of English colonization here and some that appear to have their roots in the county’s pre-colonial history.

    One name that I find fascinating is Bows and Arrows Swamp. I never knew it existed until the county, guided by several local historians, including the late Helen King, began officially attaching names to county roads. Ms. King, who spent much of her late life poring over ancient county records. She found that the swamp, located near the southern tip of the county, was named in a 1695 will. Today, the swamp is known as “Duck’s Swamp,” but to commemorate the historic name, the road running near it was designated Bows and Arrows.

    One of my favorite local names has always been “King of All Places.” Wow. And it apparently was, in the eyes of Captain John Moone who named it. The location is on the Cypress Creek and afforded “high ground” out to the creek and a deep water channel adjacent to it — a regal site indeed at a time when virtually all goods were shipped out of Smithfield and northern Isle of Wight by water.

    A name that continues to be a mystery is Kinsale Swamp along the Carrsville Road in the southern end of the county. It was mentioned in the will of Peter Best dated October 10, 1692. Ms. King speculated that it could possibly associated with a similar name in Westmoreland County, which, by tradition, came from the Gaelic name of Ceann Saile, meaning at the head of salt water. In all due respect to Ms. King, that would seem a stretch, given its location.

    That’s a few of our unique place names, most of which will never show up on the evening weather but that collectively form a rich part of our lore.

    (Helen King’s book is a “must have” reference book on Isle of Wight history. Isle of Wight County has reprinted the book and it’s available at the Isle of Wight Museum, Boykin’s Tavern and Historic St. Luke’s Church.)