The American landscape is scattered with hidden treasure, from awe-striking flatlands, untouched wilderness, and hyper-specific cuisine. It's a map not quite like any other.
Perhaps the most amusing among these hidden treasures though are the offbeat and sometimes outright ridiculous town names that can be found in each state.
Carefree, Arizona for example sits northeast of Phoenix and Waterproof, Louisiana is just inland from the Mississippi River. Some of these hamlets claim less than a thousand residents, while others are prominent cities in their state.
Come with us from the wild west to the northern coast on a phantom road trip as we take you across America to the most distinctively named cities and towns. You might even decide some of these spots are worth a real-life visit.
The population of this Alabama town is just under 1200 people, Mayor Gary Davenport tells me. The name was generated by one of the founding fathers who practiced ‘eclectic medicine‘, a form of American medical practice that focused on noninvasive therapy and healing.
This small town in Pike County, Arkansas is only a few miles from the birthplace of country music sensation Glen Campbell, known best for his countrypolitan anthem ‘Rhinestone Cowboy'. In fact, the sign welcoming you to Delight has a black and white portrait of the singer.
This community sits at the intersection of Highways 85 and 86 and is home to 65 residents. Anyone passing through can visit the comically named Why Not Travel Store which offers refreshments, knick-knacks, and, one would assume, a ‘why not' attitude.
This island, inhabited for thousands of years by the Unangan people gets its name from a Native Aleut word: Agunalaksh.
Ray Hudson, an Unalaska historian and author writes, “The name “Unalaska” does not reflect a thwarted attempt to secede from the 49th State, nor does it imply that the residents of Unalaska view their community as one that runs counter to the majority of the state, although some might.” It is simply the evolution of a word, first co-opted by Russians, then by the United States Board on Geographic Names.
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Rough and Ready
This small town in Nevada County, California has less than a thousand residents and was named after President Zachary Taylor whose nickname was “Old Rough and Ready.”
In 1850 the town seceded, deciding it didn't want to be taxed and becoming the independent Republic of Rough and Ready. The secession was later reversed when residents became frustrated that nearby saloons would not sell liquor to “foreigners.”
This coastal town earned Hollywood fame when it was depicted in the 1988 rom-com “Mystic Pizza” starring Julia Roberts. It documented three young girls working at a pizza parlor in Mystic, Connecticut.
The real parlor from the film still serves up hot pies today. If you visit, you can grab a slice!
This Colorado town has a population just above 13,000 and was given its name at the turn of the 20th century for the ‘superior' quality of the coal mined in the region.
Honorable mentions in this state go to the unincorporated communities of Paradox and Hast and, notably, Moffat, Colorado which is considering changing its name to ‘Kush' to honor the growing cannabis industry.
This tiny beach side town has a lot of varied lore surrounding its name. One story though involves the horseshoe crabs which are plentiful in the area. In the spring and summer they come to shore to lay their eggs and are sometime flipped by waves, then left to die in the hot sun.
This phenomenon is nicknamed “Slaughter of the Crabs.” Bob Wood, mayor of the town of slaughter beach tells me by phone that another theory is that the name comes from a old English word, sounding similar to ‘slaughter' and referring to plum trees, which are also plentiful by the shoreline.
Located in southern Georgia, Enigma has a town population of just above 1,000. In his book “Georgia Place-Names”, author Kenneth Krakow writes that when the citizens of the town were unsuccessful in deciding a name, one commented that it was “just an enigma.” It stuck.
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Believe it or not Sandwich is actually one of the largest towns in the state of New Hampshire. It is named after the Fourth Earl of Sandwich who had a propensity for gambling, so much so he refused to get up from the table for meals. He is said to have asked for a slab of beef between two slices of bread to be brought to him.
Soon enough people at the table began to say, “I’ll have the same as Sandwich”, hence the birth of the popular lunchtime special.
Located in eastern Washington, Electric City has a population of 1,025 residents, according to city clerk Peggy Nevsimal. And is named for the nearby Grand Coulee Dam which produces, you guessed it, large amounts of electricity.
When the dam was first built many of the engineers settled in the town.
Intuitive minds might guess, this is a small area in Nevada’s Clark County that sits incredibly close to the borders of nearby Arizona and California. It’s name is an abbreviated jumble of the three states. As of 2021, it had a mere 250 residents.
That’s right, for residents who grew up in this West Virginia hamlet, their hometown is literally Hometown. There are only six streets and one elementary school, which services about 80 children according to the county clerk.
The town in total had 595 residents as of the 2020 census.
This unincorporated community in Pittsville County got its name many years back when both a general store and a blacksmith-wheelwright shop were built on a narrow dirt road, close enough to the road so that people riding by in carts could step right out of the carriage and onto the porch of the stores.
According to the Pittsylvania Historical Society, when passersby came through they would have to slow their vehicles because it was such a “tight squeeze”, hence the name.
This town, bearing the name of men's formal wear, is located in New York's Orange County along the Ramapo River.
The name is actually derived from tucseto, a word found in the language of the Lenni-Lenape tribe, native Americans indigenous to this region.
This waterfront neighborhood in New Jersey was named after Thomas Lovelady, who once owned a small island just across from the land. Lovelady Island can still be seen on a map.
Truth of Consequences
Formerly called ‘Hot Springs' this 6,000 person town is home to plentiful natural hot springs and a ‘retro' vibe. The new name came about in 1950 when, for the 10th anniversary of NBC radio's Truth or Consequences game show, host Ralph Edwards suggested there might be a town willing to adopt the name as their own. The people of “T or C”, as locals call it, bought in.
Honorable mention for New Mexico goes to Dulce, a town on the Jicarilla-Apache reservation originally dubbed “Agua Dulce”, or ‘Sweet Water' in English for the natural springs which supplied quality drinking water.
Not unlike another famed New Mexico town, Dulce has a great deal of paranormal lore. Residents claim to have seen and photographed UFOs, and a group of theorists is convinced there is an underground alien base.
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This Iowa town has just over 600 residents. City clerk Melanie Vermillion told local newspaper The Gazette in 2015 that school children all across the county write to her about where the name came from. The answer? Joseph Andrews, an early settler.
Andrews opened a post office once the town grew big enough and named it after the English greeting “What Cheer.” The town later took on the name as well.
This village on the coast of Maine was christened ‘Bald Head' for a nearby rock formation bearing the same name.
This community sits halfway between Hagerstown and Williamsport, making the name a natural choice. Near the Pennsylvania border in Maryland's Washington County, this community is home to just under 12,000 residents.
North Start Township, to be exact, was founded in 1857, though it didn't receive its noble name until 1884. The 2020 census indicated a population of 895 people.
Honorable mentions go to Loud Township and Covert Township.
Local legend has it that this town was named when residents were engaged in a tense debate over what the town was named and an onlooker stepped in saying, “Let’s have Harmony here!” Participants agreed that indeed, Harmony would be a nice idea, and named the town after it.
In the market for a piping hot cup of joe? Perhaps this should be your first stop. How Coffee is an unincorporated area in southern Mississippi. It gets its name from an inn that was built back in pioneer days. The inn brewed, you guessed it, hot coffee, and travelers used to delineate their journey's progress by how much longer it would be until they could get to this town and snag a cup.
Mark Usler, author of ‘Hometown Revelations', told NPR in 2007 that the town name originates from a local legend that if you stand on a nearby mountaintop and look down at the region, it resembles the shape of a monkey's eyebrow.
Located on the Ohio river, an LA Times article noted in 1987 that residents of nearby Paducah have to tell people their town is halfway between Monkey's Eyebrow and Possum Trot.
In the heart of Amish country, it is likely this name is not meant to be as crass as it sounds. About an hour or two out from Philadelphia by car, legend has it that the town name comes from an old race track whose entrance was dubbed “entercourse.”
Other theories involve the crossing of two highways or the old English meaning of the word which signifies friendship. Today, it is home to many Amish families and businesses.
This village in northeast Louisianna is home to a mere 688 residents.
Town clerk Peggy Timple tells me that her grandfather always said the town name came from 1927, when the river flooded, back 1927 and it was the only section that was dry. Supposedly the riverboat captain came down and said “What are y'all waterproof?”
This waterfront village is man-made, a fact that becomes fairly evident when you take a look at it on a map. Located in Galveston County, this community lists itself as a place where you can channel vacation year-round. In fact, there's a street called “It's 5 o'clock somewhere.”
Despite its name, the town does not have some grand romantic story. It was given the name ‘Valentine' to honor local congressman E.K. Valentine.
I stopped in Valentine on a cross country road trip my senior year of college and got terribly ill from a roadside burrito – heads up!
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This community sits in Chester County, northwest of Nashville. Legend has it that civil war soldiers stopped for a drink in the creek here and the water was sweet to the lips, hence the name.
Curiously not named after Sesame Street's favorite red puppet, the town of Elmo, home to only about 400 people, got its title from the first letter of the last names of the original four families that settled there: the Ericksons, Larsens, Mortensens and Oviatts.
Legend has it that the name for this small community in Park County comes from an incident where loggers, working up on a hillside, shot logs down a draw and the formation turned out to look like a wineglass, Audrey Dodge, president of the Clark County genealogy society tells me.
Once entirely rural, the community is growing in development, Dodge reports.
Now a ghost town managed by the Bureau of Land Management, this community was one of Wyoming's first mining towns. In 1868, Miner's did in fact delight there with the discovery of gold.
This unincorporated village in Franklin County was supposedly named after a large forest fire during a fire and brimstone sermon in the early days of the community, the Boston Globe reports.
Other accounts insist the name came as a means to warn people of the dangerous wildlife that existed in the forest.
The Town of Normal in central Illinois, gets its name from a ‘normal school', the historic terminology used for a teacher's college, founded there in the 1850s.
In the mid 1930s, two Normal residents, Gus and Edith Belt, built a dining room on the side of their Shell gas station. There they sold burgers and shakes, in particular burgers made from choice beef. That gas station addendum went on to become the popular fast-casual restaurant Steak ‘n Shake. Thanks, Normal!
This small town in southwest Indiana has really committed to the yuletide theme. A trip there is full of holiday cheer, with tourist attractions like Santa's Candy Castle and the Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari theme park.
Local lore attributes the town's unusual name to a meeting one December night. Townsfolk had communed to discuss the name when a gust blew open the church doors where people were gathered and the sound of sleigh bells came in from the outside. The children delighted thinking it was Santa Claus and shouted his name. Thus, the town's holiday-tinged title was born.
Located in the northwest part of Ohio, Defiance gets its name, Mayor Mike McCann tells me, from an instance in 1794 when General Anthony Wayne, after having built a fort at the confluence of the Maumee and Auglaize rivers said to his men “I defy the English, the Indians, and all the devils in hell to take this fort.” Another General looking on replied, “Then we shall call it Fort Defiance.”
Today the city of Defiance, Ohio is home to Defiance College, and is considered a manufacturing hub. McCann tells me the city is looking forward to completion of a Native American tribute at a local riverside park.
For music lovers, there's also a punk rock band with the name “Defiance, Ohio.” Ironically, the group started in Columbus, which, admittedly, has much less of an anti-establishment ring to it.
Dead Women Crossing
This town just east of Oklahoma City gets its ominous name from a supposed haunted bridge in the area. In the early 1900s a woman named Katie Dewitt James was murdered, and her body was found near a bridge in Weatherford, Oklahoma.
The unincorporated community of Dead Women Crossing now lies right near that bridge and is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Dewitt, whose killing was never solved.
This community got its name officially in 1852 when James Denny, an early settler, proposed “Sublimity” for the breathtaking views and ‘sublime' natural scenery. Today the city has just under 3,000 residents and is still home to beautiful rolling hills and greenery.
Honorable mention for Oregon goes to the unincorporated community of Lookingglass.
Formerly Jackass Junction, this Florida crossroads got its new name in the 1940s, a Miami Herald article reports, when some local townspeople suggested it. In the 1950s, state officials wanted to swap the name, but locals refused, threatening to switch it back to Jackass Junction.
Today, Yeehaw is a tiny census-designated place, dotted at the meeting of two highways, but still proudly bearing its name.
This unincorporated community in Addison County no longer even has a post office. It abuts Bread Loaf Mountain, which happens to be its namesake and serves as the locale of a writing conference hosted by Middlebury Colleget.
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In records provided by Susan Lewis, the Kismet City Clerk, the name ‘Kismet' is attributed to the dictionary meaning of the word, “fate” or “the end.” The fate of trains passing by on a nearby railroad depended on their ability to cross the Cimarron River, which is just west of Kismet, making the city name appropriate.
Despite it's condiment adjacent name, this South Carolina town is actually not named after the red hot dog topper. A local news outlet from Ketchuptown's home county of Horry reports that the name actually comes from the fact that it used to be a spot to “catch up” on the news.
Resident Herbert “Hub” Small built a small store where farmers would flock to discuss goings on.
Another name in cupid's realm, this town was founded by Andy Barker in 1954 though it remained unincorporated until 1963. Barker was just 29 when he moved his family there from Charlotte, following dreams of living in a true western town.
Need a winning lottery ticket? Might be best to take a trip to the village of Luck, near the Minnesota border. One local legend has is that founder William Foster felt so fortunate to return to such a beautiful place after the Civil War that he called the place Luck, according to the Luck Historical Society.
Luck also happens to be considered the “Yo-Yo capital of the world“, as it was a massive hub of manufacturing for the toy.
This small city, southeast of St. Louis has a population that hovers around 1,000 people, city clerk Tracy Mason tells me. There's one K -12 school that, despite not having a track to run on, has produced some exceptional track and field athletes, Mason reports.
The town is named after James G. Human, who settled there and incorporated the city limits, and is set to celebrate its 150th anniversary this year at their annual fall festival.
Two theories exist behind the name of this Oglala Lakota County community, both outlined in the book, ‘South Dakota Place Names', compiled by The Work Projects Administration in the State of South Dakota.
The first is that there was a wealth of prickly creatures in the area and it only made sense to give the town the same name.
The second, and more likely according to the book, is that the community got its name from a nearby butte, or flat-topped hill which was covered with pine trees, making it look like a porcupine.
Located in Dunn County, Killdeer is home to some 1,400 residents. The name comes from the nearby Killdeer Mountains, a range called TAH-KAH-O-KUTY, by Native Americans: “the place where we kill deer.”
This explosively named hamlet sits right at the base of Kilauea volcano, outside the limits of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It's known as a sort of artist colony, and as expected, the community has to keep a vigilant eye on nearby volcanic activity.
The population of this small North Idaho town is three. Oral accounts, detailed in a KTVB 7 article, attribute the name to a man, Paul Springs, who bough the general store in town in the 1950s without telling his wife. Legend has it when she found out she said, “Good Grief” and the community has been called that ever since.
Interestingly, there are only two Woonsocket's in the entire country. The second one, in South Dakota, is named after its superintendent of railroads who originally came from the Woonsocket in Rhode Island.
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