What’s in a Name? Alpha, Alta Vista, Arlington, and Aurora. Many of us are proud of the Northeast Iowa towns we live in, especially those of us who were born and raised here. But if any of you are anything like me, you’ve often pulled out the Atlas or opened up Google to see what other towns in the U.S. bear the same name as your hometown. Are they anything like the place we’ve decided to call “home?” In this series, I’ll attempt to answer that question.
Let’s start with the A’s… Did you know that in the United States, there are eleven towns, villages, or communities named Alpha? The most populated of the eleven is Alpha, Illinois. Its population was 671 at the 2010 census. Alpha, Michigan follows and then Alpha, Minnesota… both are home to just under 200 people. The other eight Alphas, including Alpha, Iowa, are all currently listed as “unincorporated.” Alpha, Iowa, like several others, was named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet. Why?
It was the first community on Crane Creek. Just like Alpha, Ohio which was named because it sits on the site of the first mill in its county. Only two of the towns got their names elsewhere. Alpha, Kentucky, which was named after its second postmaster and Alpha, Wisconsin, which was named after the postmaster / local butter-maker’s Alpha brand cream separator. Are you ready for some other interesting Alpha facts? Alpha, Illinois’ zip code is 61413, which is Pi in reverse. Alpha, Wisconsin is home to the Burnett Dairy Co-op, which claims to produce the world's finest string cheese. Other states not mentioned that are home to an Alpha include North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.
There are only six towns in the U.S. with the name, Alta Vista. Altavista, Virginia is the largest with the population of 3,450. Next in line is Alta Vista, Kansas with 444 people, Alta Vista, Iowa with 266 and Alta Vista Township in Minnesota which had a population of 212 at the 2010 census. Both Alta Vista, California and Alta Vista, Colorado are unincorporated. Alta Vista, Iowa was first named Elk Creek, but was changed to Alta Vista which means “high ground” in Spanish. Two Alta Vistas have sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In Altavista, Virginia, the Avoca Museum and Altavista Downtown Historic District are listed. In Alta Vista, Iowa, the George Darrow Round Barn is listed.
On to Arlington. Oh Arlington! Can you believe that there is a city, town or village named Arlington in twenty-five of the fifty United States? That’s right. You’re not alone Arlington, Iowans. In fact, according to the 2010 census, more than 443,000 people can say they live in Arlington. Have any of you been to the theme park, Six Flags Over Texas? If so, you were also visiting the most populated Arlington where over 374,000 live. Just five of the twenty-five Arlington’s are listed as unincorporated. Other interesting Arlington facts? Arlington, Illinois was home to a famous mine shaft fire that killed 259 miners in 1909. That same disaster influenced early workers compensation laws and labor practices in the coal mining industry. The same city was destroyed by a tornado in the 1950s. Many people moved away from the town at that time. Today Arlington has a population of less than 200. Many of the businesses and most of the homes have been shut down, deserted, or demolished. Speaking of deserted, Arlington, Missouri is listed as a ghost town located along a county road that was once U.S. Route 66. By 1946, the town was in decline due to re-routing of a widened U.S. 66. All that remains of the once-booming town is many abandoned buildings and an RV park. Arlington, Massachusetts might be another place to visit. I
It was once named Menotomy, and there was a famous battle there on the first day of the American Revolution. You can still visit a museum that remembers the twelve Americans killed in the battle back in 1775. Also, two feature films have been shot partially in Arlington, Massachusetts: The Out-of-Towners, starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, and Once Around, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter. Our final “A” town in NE Iowa is Aurora. There are twenty cities, towns, or villages named Aurora in the U.S. The largest is Aurora, Colorado with over 325,000 people. You’ve likely heard of this city as it was the location of the 2012 shooting when a gunman opened fire during the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in a movie theater, killing twelve people and injuring seventy others. Many of the cities were named after the goddess of dawn. Aurora, Iowa, however, was laid out on land donated by a Bishop Warren and is named after Warren’s birthplace East Aurora, New York. There is also a ghost town named Aurora in Nevada. At one point, it had a population of around 10,000 thanks to mines that produced nearly $30 million worth of gold in the 1800s. However, violence was a major problem in the town. Most men carried guns and knives during daily life and armed conflict was not rare. These conflicts often ended in death. The gold and silver in the area had been completely mined by 1870. Many people deserted the area but left all buildings, stores and homes intact. Eventually, these buildings were stripped for their bricks to be used for fireplaces in California.