What's in a Harford name? All sorts of people, critters and things, really

A postcard from the Harford County Historical Society shows a scene from Forest Hill, Hickory Avenue in 1911. The crossroads community was briefly called Highland Grove in the mid-1800s.
A postcard from the Harford County Historical Society shows a scene from Forest Hill, Hickory Avenue in 1911. The crossroads community was briefly called Highland Grove in the mid-1800s. (Photo courtesy of Harford County, The Aegis)

Some places in Harford County are named for early postmasters and postmistresses (Benson, Norrisville, Jarrettsville), millers and farmers (Carr, Pyle, Bond, Bynum), even a onetime sheriff (Carsins).

Others draw their names from the Bible (Joppa, Calvary, Jerusalem), Latin (Lapidum), the British Isles (Aberdeen, Blenheim, Cardiff, Darlington and Dublin) and an abundance of flora (Magnolia) or fauna (Frogtown, Otter Creek, Deer Creek).


Still others are named for daughters of prominent residents, such as Fanny Archer (Lake Fanny) and Madonna McCurdy (Madonna), and distinguishing topography (Level, Fountain Green) or climate (Pleasantville).

Others started out as something else: Highland Grove became Forest Hill, while Bush River may have gone by several names, including Willoughby River (courtesy of the British explorer John Smith).


These and other origins of Harford County names can be found in "Harford County Place Names - Past and Present," the 10th book in Henry Peden and Jack Shagena's Harford County's Rural Heritage Series.

The authors, Bel Air residents and active members of the Historical Society of Harford County, say their latest book grew out of their research on their prior books about local tinsmiths, blacksmiths, barns, springhouses, mills, churches, bridges and the Ma & Pa Railroad.

"Much information about forgotten settlements, tributaries, hills, ridges, ponds, structures, farms, parks and landings was unearthed, but it did not fit nicely into the subject being addressed," Peden says.

According to the authors, their challenge was how to provide this information in an interesting way.


Shagena says he suggested the format of a place name book, as the arrangement brought under one title a diversity of generally unrelated Harford County information.

Somewhat serendipitously, he noted, in 1998, Peden had pulled together the first comprehensive Harford County place name collection, which was published by the Historical Society of Harford County in its Harford Historical Bulletin as volume 78 in the fall of 1998 and volume 79 in the winter of 1999.

The two bulletin editions contained about 600 entries, some with complete coverage, others with abbreviated descriptions, Shagena said.

Peden's work became the starting point, and the two said they began reviewing their files and other documents for bits of almost forgotten information that would contribute to the effort.

Peden took the lead in researching the text for the book, while Shagena searched for images that would illustrate a number of the places mentioned.

The authors' research included numerous articles from The Aegis and its predecessors, C. Milton Wright's definitive "Our Harford Heritage," other editions of the Harford Historical Bulletin and other Harford-centric books, the Maryland Historical Society and Christopher Weeks' definitive "An Architectural History of Harford County, Maryland."

The result is a two-column 8.5 by 11-inch book of 250 pages that includes about 3,000 place names and hundreds of images.

The front cover of the book is the Harford County portion of the Dennis Griffith 1794 Map of the State of Maryland, while on the back cover the authors placed a sampling of some the unusual place names, including Buckwheat Patch, Buzzard Rock, Muttonsburg, Piss Ant Hill, Queechy, Stave Ford and Woodpecker.

The book is a logical starting place for someone curious about a place in Harford County, the authors explained. By using the citations included with each entry, they said, it becomes an informed point of departure for further investigation.

They also noted the browsing reader is likely to be fascinated with the book's collection of off-beat places and unusual names that are described.

"For example, who knows where Flatiron Corner is located in Bel Air or what Helltown is called today?" Shagena said. "The format makes learning about the county an entertaining and rewarding experience." (Thousands of cars negotiate the Flatiron Corner daily, while it appears at some point the inhabitants of Helltown opted for a more "rural" name for their village.)

"Harford County Place Names - Past and Present" is available at The Historical Society of Harford County, 410-838-7691, or by emailing DirectorHSHC@verizon.net.

The cost is $20 plus tax, with historical society members receiving a 10 percent discount. Books can be mailed, including $6 for postage and handling.

For those visiting, the historical society, at 143 N. Bond St. in Bel Air, is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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