While most people around here know the origin of how Primghar got its name, I’m sure there are some questions about how other N’West Iowa communities acquired their monikers and I want to highlight a few.
Because there are more than 30 towns in our primary four-county coverage area, I won’t be doing every town and I’m going to skip the railroad tycoon towns — sorry Hartley, Sanborn, Sheldon and similarly-named communities — and self-explanatory names like Germantown and Sioux Center.
I’ve become far more invested in this project than I intended, so this Take 5 will cover Lyon and O’Brien countries and I will write about Osceola and Sioux counties for my next one.
For some reason, I always thought Doon was named after “Bonnie Doon,” a once-famous hotel in the community — in fact, I’m pretty sure Bri Harrell, a Doon native and our head editorial designer told me this — but it was the other way around.
The hotel was named after the city and Doon is actually named after a song.
According to “Bonnie Doon, Our Town,” one of the community’s founders was so taken in by beauty surrounding him he started quoting from “The Banks O’ Doon,” a Scots song written by Robert Burns in 1791, particularly this passage:
"‘Ye banks and braes O'Bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair:
How can yet chant ye little birds?
And I sae weary, fu' O' care!"
Lester’s origin seems a little complex. According to the Lyon County genealogy website, the town was originally named Hastings after first postmaster J.A. Hastings sometime in 1889 and it says the town went by that name for “several years.”
However, another origin basically attributes the town’s name to graffiti. The Cleveland family were earlier settlers of the community and one of the boys, Lester, would write his name in bold letters on the side of boxcars. He did so much it was said railroad workers started calling incoming cars “Lester cars.”
Lester and one of his brothers died after freezing to death in a blizzard on Jan. 12, 1888, according to the city of Lester’s website. The town was officially plotted on Nov. 29, 1889, according to the genealogy site, although it does not specify what it plotted as.
Hastings/Lester was officially incorporated in 1893.
O’Brien County’s smallest incorporated community is named after John Archer, who owned about 4,000 acres of land surrounding his namesake city. Ironically, John Archer ended up moving to Sheldon and was involved in banking.
I can’t find a concrete answer for Calumet’s official origin but one definition of the works basically calls it an intricate Native American peace pipe used in important ceremonies and that’s derived from American French dialect.
Here’s what Merriam Webster says about it, “English speakers borrowed ‘calumet’ from American French, which had carried it from the dialects of France to North America. ‘Chalumet,’ the French ancestor of ‘calumet,’ traces to the Latin calamus and the Greek kalamos, both of which mean ‘reed’ or ‘pen.’
While Gaza is unincorporated, it has a pretty fun name! Although it is named after its Middle East counterpart, it’s pronounced like GAY-ZUH, not GAH-ZA.
Also, I learned this as I was writing this piece, Gaza was originally named Woodstock but it was changed because there was another town with that name, according to chapter 24 of “History of O’Brien County.”