Mason County, like a lot of other places, has hundreds of place names tied to our geography and history. When you get down to it, virtually everywhere in our county is named after something, someone or somewhere in our past. We’re just so used to these names, having used them every day of our lives, that we tend to forget their origins.
Of course, we have some that we don’t forget. Point Pleasant was named in 1770 when George Washington commented that the meeting place of the two rivers was a “pleasant point.” Around that same time, early settlers adopted the Iroquois names for the rivers, Kanawha meaning “transport way” and Ohio meaning “good river” or “beautiful river.” Letart and Letart Falls were named for the first settler in that area, French Huguenot fur trader James Le Tort, who established his trading post near the falls in the 1740s. But, for every name we remember, there are dozens we use every day and don’t even think about.
For example, it’s fairly obvious to most people that know U.S. geography that our New Haven and Hartford are probably named after the larger cities of the same names in Connecticut. The interesting part is why. It’s because both towns, though settled as early as the 1790s, weren’t legally incorporated until George Moredock built his Hartford and Union salt furnaces in the 1850s. Moredock, having come here from Connecticut, named his new towns after his home cities. He also gave one of the roads in Hartford’s original town layout (above the bridge) its own name, Healey Street (the post office road) after his brother-in-law, rather than 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Front, etc. like the rest are named.
Other towns in the county were named after Revolutionary War veterans, some of the first settlers in the area. Gibbstown after both the Gibbs family and the first of their name, noted scout Luman Gibbs. Henderson after the Henderson family and the two brothers that had settled there, Lieutenant John Henderson and his brother Samuel. Arbuckle after William Arbuckle, early settler, soldier, and brother of famed frontier scout Mathew Arbuckle. Greer for John Greer. Mercer’s Bottom for General Hugh Mercer, whose children were granted that land by General Washington’s after Mercer’s death at Princeton.
The same can be said for nearly all of our county’s 10 districts. Waggener for Major Andrew Waggener, French and Indian War veteran and original land grantee. Robinson for frontier scout Isaac Robinson. Lewis for, of course, General Andrew Lewis. Cooper for noted frontiersman Captain Leonard Cooper. Arbuckle for the same William Arbuckle. Clendenin for Revolutionary War veteran and settler Captain William Clendenin. Hannan for noted scout and trailblazer Thomas Hannan. The other three districts are Graham (for early settler Reverend William Graham), Cologne, and Union.
Even our county was named after a Revolutionary War veteran. Mason County, as many of us know, was organized in 1804, just ten years after our county seat was chartered. There was quite a bit of debate over the name for the new county. Some suggested naming it after one of the rivers, but Ohio and Kanawha were already taken. Others suggested Pleasant County, but that one didn’t stick and was later used for another. Quite a few people preferred naming it after a president. Jefferson, who was president at the time, was already taken, but Washington and Adams weren’t. All of these possibilities were made moot when one of Virginia’s senators passed away in office, and the name was given as an honor to him.
Many people hold that Mason County was named for Founding Father George Mason. However, they tend to forget that another county in Virginia already held his name. Mason County (Kentucky) was created while still in Virginia in 1788, just after George Mason’s famous opposition at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Following the political logic of the time, if another county was going to be named after it him, it would’ve been the current Grayson County, as that was the first one following his death in 1792.
Mason County, as it stands, was instead named after Stevens Thomson Mason. He was an aide to Washington during the Revolutionary War, a delegate in the Virginia Legislature and at Virginia’s convention to ratify the Constitution, one of Virginia’s senators in Congress, and the nephew of George Mason. He also, importantly, died in 1803, right before the successful petition to create our county was submitted to the state legislature. Again, following the political logic of the time period, they would have chosen the name of someone who had just done something important or died, not somebody who had died 11 years ago and already had a county named after him.
Next week, now that I’ve covered the county and towns, I’ll get into some of the more obscure and odd place names around the county.
Information from the research of Keith Biggs, the writings of Virgil Lewis and other early state historians, the writings of Mildred Gibbs, and Hamill Kenny’s “West Virginia Place Names.”
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.