Column – After much diligence, another map error is fixed

Published 7:49 pm Monday, November 28, 2022

Map makers have always performed a vital service. Be it political boundaries, topography, soil type, ocean and coastal navigation or a variety of other data, civilization as we know it depends on an understanding of the world around us, and mapping that world has been crucial since the earliest civilizations emerged.

One piece of vital information that maps dutifully record is place names. It is those names, however, that most often get map makers in trouble. Every now and then, despite the best efforts of the map makers, an error will show up. Once a name is incorrectly attached to a location, getting that name corrected can be a gargantuan task.

The U.S. government is the recorder — and thus, the protector — of place names across the country. It does so through the U.S. Geological Survey, which has a Board on Geographic Names. Piggybacked on that are state agencies. In Virginia, the Virginia Board on Geographic Names works in concert with USGS to try to make sure local names are accurately used.

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The latest local mapping mistake appears to be “Mogarts Beach,” which showed up sometime during the 20th century on USGS topographical maps of the northern sliver of Isle of Wight and Mulberry Island, across the James River.

Harry Dowsett of Aldie, Virginia, saw the mistake at some point and submitted it to the USGS board with a proposal that it be corrected to Morgarts Beach, the historically correct name.

An impressive amount of research went into making sure that the change would, in fact, correct what appeared to be a simple typo.

The Isle of Wight Historical Society presented documentation supporting the name Morgarts, which recognized J.A. Morgart, an original investor in the Days Point Land and Improvement Co. and the man who built and operated the Morgarts Beach Hotel, a two-story summer resort that attracted early 20th century vacationers from throughout Virginia.

USGS researchers noted that a geological formation in the area was named the Morgarts Beach member of the Yorktown Formation.

The government found a USGS bulletin mentioning a well at Day’s Point owned by J.A. Morgart, and there were numerous references to the Morgarts Beach Hotel.

To cut to the chase, the name was corrected this year, and Mr. Morgart’s contribution to Isle of Wight’s early development history has been preserved.

It took somewhat longer for Isle of Wight historian, the late Helen King, to have the name Morris Creek erased from local topographic maps and navigational charts.

The tiny creek, which today separates Moonefield from Gatling Point, was named by and for Capt. John Moon, the first English colonist to own what has historically been known as Moonefield. How the “e” got added, no one seems to know, but it has stuck and remains in the name.

Mrs. King worked for two years, looking for documentation of the name. She located a map dated 1827 that bore the name Moon Creek, and that, plus a pile of anecdotal evidence, sealed the deal.

A street — Morris Creek Circle — was briefly known by the mistaken creek name, but that was corrected. The name Morris endures, however, with Morris Creek Landing Apartments, located on the west side of John Rolfe Drive. Developers are known to use names that may or may not be historically accurate. Researching them can use up valuable time.

As I’ve noted in several Short Rows over the years, place names have a life of their own. Country stores become the name of the crossroads where they are located, and often the store owner who operated them. Some, like Berryman’s, became enshrined in maps, while others are lost to history after a couple of generations have passed. All of them are important in their time and help to define where we and our forebears have lived, worked and loved. It’s good that those charged with protecting them take their task seriously.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is