STATEWIDE – Maybe one of your New Year’s resolutions is to travel to new and interesting places, like China, Peru or Rome.
Well, you can do just that – without ever leaving the state.
A well-known sign stands at a South China intersection, directing people to foreign-sounding places just a few miles away.
“On the Maine scale, it’s the alternative to international travel, really,” said state historian Earle Shettleworth.
Dozens of Maine towns and cities have names that match others around the globe.
“I think there’s a natural curiosity, and people often wanna know what’s behind the name, you know?” said Shettleworth.
It turns out, there are a of couple reasons why these places were named the way they were.
Take Moscow, ME, for example. According to state historian Earle Shettleworth, the town was named in response to what was going on in Russia in the 1800s.
“Moscow is been burned, it’s a major city in Russia, and why don’t we name our community after it? It was a response to a current event,” said Shettleworth.
“Long before there was a Soviet Union or anything like that, you have a group of Americans who see themselves as having some form of solidarity or sympathy,” said Dr. David Haus, an associate professor of history at Husson University.
Flip through a map and you’ll find other towns named for similar reasons, in connection with current events at that time, like Peru and Mexico.
“They were reading the magazines and books of the period and getting a sense of what was going on in the rest of the world and wanted the names of their communities to reflect that world awareness,” Shettleworth said.
Then you have places like Athens, named towards the end of the revolution when Dr. Haus says people thought the U.S. would become the new center of art and culture.
“Etna, Rome, and those are the classical influences. You also see in those towns the Greek revival architecture as well,” said Dr. Haus.
But not all were named after places in other countries. In Kennebec County, the founder of China thought of the name another way.
“One of his favorite hymns was a hymn known as ‘China,'” said Dr. Haus, “and that is why the town is named China.”
There are dozens more, all with their own stories.
“It’s what really kinda enriches Maine as your travel through it,” Shettleworth said.
“These are small towns that have deep connections across the world,” said Dr. Haus.
For more information about the names of specific towns and cities, both historians say to reach out to the local historical society.