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December 2004
Mt. Sterling and London, Ohio
 

   Driving on I-71, just south of Columbus, youíll encounter an exit for London and Mt. Sterling, Ohio Route 56. This is pretty flat country so you might be excited at the prospect of a Mount Sterling. But if you go off in search of that mountain, youíll be disappointed: itís not anywhere near. Mt. Sterling, Ohio, was named for Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, where presumably there is a mountain, somewhere.

    In the early years of the Ohio country, there were many places to name: towns, counties, rivers, creeks, hills, valleys. Sometimes the name given to a particular location was descriptive, for example, Richland County, which I-71also cuts through, was named because of its rich lands.

    But sometimes place names were chosen less for descriptive than for promotional reasons: to advertise benefits of this area to potential settlers. We find an early example of this practice in the annuls of the 10th century Norse chieftain and explorer, Eric the Red. He came upon a great big  island that was mostly ice. Eric the Red claimed this land for Norway, but that claim wasnít going to stick unless Norse settlers arrived and put down roots. So how to convince people to travel across the sea and make a life in such an inhospitable environment? Eric was a crafty fellow. He chose a name for this icy island that was not descriptive in the least; he called it Greenland, a lovely sounding place that lured a few generations of unsuspecting settlers before  word got out about the true nature of this land.

    So maybe the folks who named Mount Sterling, Ohio, were not simply honoring Mount Sterling, Kentucky. Maybe they too were using the name to plant the hope of a picturesque mountain set amidst the otherwise unrelenting flat lands of central Ohio.

    The other town this exit announces is London. London, Ohio illustrates another principle of naming. Early settlers in the Ohio country had visions of grandeur in this new land and so they chose grand names, such as, the great cities of Europe. Today, without crossing the Ohio border, you can visit Paris, Rome, Milan, Lisbon, Berlin, Bremen, Vienna, Dresden, Petersburg, Oxford, Cambridge and, yes, London. Actually, this practice got kind of out of control. On a detailed map today, you can find multiples of these cities, such as, not one but five Romes in Ohio and a Rome Station. As well as three Berlins, a Berlin Center, Berlin Center Station, Berlin Crossroads, Berlin Heights and Berlinville. We hope residents of the European cities honored by these Ohio towns feel properly grateful.

For more about Mt. Sterling, London and surrounding communities, see the CD for I-71 South: Columbus to Cincinnati.

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