Category Archives: places


africa-corn-bread1the taxonomic study of place-names, including their origins & meanings; based on various etymological, historical, & geographical aspects,

e.g., hydronyms (water features), like “Oxford,” named after a river segment shallow enough to facilitate bovine transport, & “Schuylkill River,” from the Dutch literally meaning “hidden river” River;

oronyms (relief features), like the Welsh toponym “Bryn Mawr,” meaning “big hill,” which is not to be confused with “Bryn Athyn,” which is a “very tenacious hill”.

And of course, there is the not quite emergent neologistic sub-category of “gastronyms,” which might include Malta or “Island of Honey,” & this example of fried evidence which may help to solve the problematic etymology of the name “Africa” once & for all.


Bunhill Fields: Last call for those who don’t conform

Bunhill Fields (technically a burial grounds, not a ‘consecrated’ Church of England cemetery) – its name perhaps derives from a corruption of ‘bonehill,’ in reference to the bones carted away from St. Paul’s Cathedral to make room for new interments.  Located in the London Borough of Islington, the list of those there buried reads like a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ of 17th century Nonconformity. Robert Southey called it the “Campo Santo of the Dissenters,” literally the “holy field,” referring to the Pisan Camposanto Monumentale. It’s the last resting place for an estimated 120,000 bodies marked by 2,333 monuments, mostly simple headstones with the exception of a Victorian addition to Bunyan’s tomb. The cemetery was damaged during WW2 & reconstructed in 1960 to a design by Sir Peter Shepheard (late dean of the Graduate School of Fine Arts & emeritus professor of landscape architecture at the Univ of Pa).  cf. London Non-Conformist registers 1694–1921


  • Thomas Wilcox [c.1549 – 1608] – Admonition to the Parliament (1572)
  • John Owen (1616-83), Congregationalist minister, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Univ.
  • George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers) – in the Quaker Gardens, next to the Bunhill Fields Meeting House
  • Richard Cromwell (1626–1712) & Henry Cromwell (1628–74) sons of Oliver Cromwell
  • John Bunyan (1628-1688), author of The Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Daniel Defoe (1661-1731), author of Robinson Crusoe
  • Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John & Charles Wesley; John Wesley’s (founder of Methodism) City Road Chapel, home, & burial place are located directly across the street
  • Isaac Watts (1674-1748), “Father of English hymnody”
  • Thomas Bayes (1702–1761)  Presbyterian minister & mathematician, remembered for his theories regarding statistics & probability.
  • William Blake (1757-1827), painter & poet, & wife Catherine (1762-1831) whom he married in 1782.blakes-tomb

My wife wrote her Master’s thesis on Blake.  Imagine our surprise, as we sat nearby, wondering who would leave freshly cut flowers at his tomb, when the cemetery grounds keeper identified himself as the donor! [Although he had no formal advanced education, he enjoyed reading Blake, & was especially proud of his homeland’s (Ireland) literary tradition]



City Hall – topped by a 37-foot, 27 ton statue of William Penn, created by Alexander Milne Calder, (largest single piece of sculpture on any building in the world) is the tallest masonry bearing building in the world (548 ft), including the statue – no steel structural support – the weight of the building is borne by granite & brick walls up to 22 feet thick.  It was the tallest habitable building in the world from 1901-08 & the tallest in Philadelphia until the construction of One Liberty Place (1987) broke the informal “gentlemen’s agreement” that limited the height of tall buildings in the city. cf “The Curse of Billy Penn” [“Phillies go to the World Series! Curses?” Oct.16, 2008]

While at City Hall, lest Eagle fans forget the irony of Dallas, Texas being named after George Mifflin Dallas (1792-1864) – mayor of Phila & Vice President of the US, 1845-49

Chestnut Hill – highest point in Phila. is Summit St., 446′ above sea level; originally known as Sommerhausen; site of Henry Houston’s horse show from 1892 until it relocated in 1908 & became the Devon Horse Show. In the 1930s, Philo T. Farnsworth, one of the inventors of television, lived on “the Hill”

Garrison, James   Houses of Philadelphia: Chestnut Hill & the Wissahickon Valley, 1880–1930

Manayunk – Lenape name meaning “our place for drinking” as applied to the Schuylkill [River], not to the various drinking emporia.  The village (originally known as Flat Rock until 1824) was incorporated & eventually merged into the City of Phila, 1854.  At the turn of the 19th century, it had become known as the “Manchester of America” because of its heavy concentration of textile mills & workforce primarily comprised of British immigrants. cf. Shelton, Cynthia J. The Mills of Manayunk, 1787-1837 Balti.: Johns Hopkins, 1986

West Philadelphia – originally part of land purchased by William Warner. He settled there in 1677 & built a mansion called Willow Grove in the vicinity of what is now 46th & Lancaster Ave. To his holdings Warner gave the name of Blockley, after his native parish in Worcestershire, England. After being located in downtown Phila. (9th & Chestnut Streets) for more than a century, the Univ. of Pennsylvania campus moved across the Schuylkill [River] to West Philly in 1871.

Old City – Unfortunately, the building which served as the Executive Mansion from 1790 to 1800, while Philadelphia was the capital of the United States, no longer exists.  Most of the house had been demolished in the 1830s, but not before it was the “White House” of George Washington & John Adams.  The buidling stood on the south side of Market St., less than 600 feet from Independence Hall.  By modern numbering, the address would be 526-30 Market.  cf. Lawler, Jr. Edward   “The President’s House in Philadelphia: The Rediscovery of a Lost Landmark,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography (Jan., 2002)

For those interested in local Philadelphia neighborhood (Kensington, Fishtown) history, Kenneth W. Milano has a delightfully informative web site which includes selections from the column, “The Rest Is History,” he writes for the Firshtown Star.  A collection of those entries has recently been published in book form, Remembering Kensington & Fishtown, by The History Press of Charleston, SC.

Silcox, Harry C.  Workshop of the World: A Selective Guide to the Industrial Archeology of Philadelphia (1990). Workshop of the World Revisited (2007). Wallingford, PA: Oliver Evans Press

Princeton, NJ

Albert Einstein’s white clapboard house at 112 Mercer St. in Princeton, NJ, where he lived from 1936 until his death in 1955, has remained a private residence. For a time it was the home of Frank Wilczek, a Nobel laureate in physics. It later passed into the hands of Eric Maskin, who won a Nobel Prize in economics. Occupied by three Nobelists in succession.

Can’t get there from here

“Northwest Angle” – Angle Township in Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota, only part of continental US that is north of the 49th parallel. Like Alaska & Point Roberts, Wa., it cannot be reached from the rest of the U.S. without either going through Canada or crossing water, the Lake of the Woods (French: Lac des Bois) .