Saturday, July 02, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  July 3

Summer Diversion—Methodist Toponyms in Texas

Rather than a specific event this week in Texas history, I thought readers might be interested in thinking about the imprint of Methodism on Texas place names.  

Since so many of the immigrants coming to Texas in the 19th century were Methodists and first settlers often have naming rights on settlements they create, one would expect plenty of Texas Methodist toponyms.

Of course Methodists cannot claim a fraction of names when compared to the Roman Catholic names in Texas, but there are still a significant number.
How could one possibly begin to count Methodist place names? Poring over county maps would be the project of a lifetime, and to tell the truth, not a very use of one’s time.

There is an easier way.  The USGS publishes all kinds of maps of the Untied States and its territories.  Among the most popular are the 7.5 minute series---the famous quadrangles published at the 1:24000 scale.

The site  provides access to the whole collection of maps.   They are available for downloading or purchase of the physical map.

The site also has a place name search feature. 
Just type in a term, and the site supplies a list of every time that term is used as a place name.  Here are some results.

“Wesley” produces 13 hits.  All of them followed by either “church” or “chapel.”  They occur in Austin, Fort Bend, Freestone, Galveston, Hopkisn, Houston (2), McLennan, Tarrant, Van Zandt, Walker (2), and Waller Counties.  The Austin County example is not really Methodist.  It is the Anglicized version of the Czech “Veseli (joyous).”

In addition there are 6 Wesley Cemeteries.(Erath, Houston, Hunt, Robertson, Van Zandt, and Williamson Counties) and of course “Mount Wesley” in Kerr County.
“Asbury” results in 4 results (Hood, McLennan, Rusk, Shelby, and Smith Counties)
There is “Cokesbury” in Grimes County and “Methodist School,” in Brazos.
The overwhelming names associated with 19th century religion, though, are  “Campground” and “Chapel”.   There are 421 place names that use “Chapel,” and 31 “Campgrounds” in Texas.

If one places Methodist names on an outline map of Texas, some interesting patterns emerge.  The author plotted counties having greater than 5 examples of “”chapel.”  The results were striking.  There was no county south or west of Gonzales County with as many as 5 sites named “chapel.”   The four northeastern counties with the Red River as their northern boundary (Bowie, Red River, Lamar, and Fannin) all have more than 5 “chapels.”  The next tier of counties to the south does not, but a large contiguous block of counties stretching from Marion to Robertson all have more than 5 “chapels.”

Most of western Texas is completely bare of such religious names.  That pattern is probably due to the fact that many towns in western Texas were founded by rail road companies.  Railroad executives often named towns after investors in the railroad and employees.  Some western Texas towns reflect the physical environment.  Gone were the names such as Elysian Fields, Arcadia, Pleasant Retreat, and other names reflecting verdant East Texas.  In West Texas we get Shallowater, Notress, and Plainview.   There are very few “chapels” in West Texas, but there are a several “campgrounds”  (Dallam, Brewster, Culberson)  

Texas settlers didn’t just use religious names for their children.  They also put those names on the landscape.


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