There’s absolutely no shortage of interesting place names throughout the US. From the creative to the downright boring, there’s a good chance that if you can think of a name, there’s some small town that claims it as its own. That’s the thing, though – most towns are named after just that, names. At the very least, the vast majority of places are named after words. But there are a select few that chose to take the arithmetic angle instead. Scattered throughout the country are a few communities whose names aren’t names, but rather numbers. For a variety of reasons, these towns chose to go numeric, and that has made them all the more unique. Let’s look at sum (pun absolutely intended) of them.
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Eighty Four, Pennsylvania
The small town of Eighty Four is tucked away just outside of the Pittsburgh metro area in southwestern Pennsylvania (see map). This lumber town is small, with less than 700 total inhabitants. However, it’s easily the most famous, and I can guarantee that many of you have unwittingly heard of it. That’s because the lumber company 84 is appropriately based here. The industry giant obviously took its name from its hometown, but where did the town name come from in the first place?
If you’ve seen this sign, you’ve heard of the town. Via Wikimedia Commons.
The answer is uncertain. What we do know for sure is that Eighty Four was originally named Smithville, but was forced to choose a new name due to conflicts related to postal delivery. From that point, there are a wealth of potential explanations. A local paper ran a great article detailing all of them back in the 1980s. The widely accepted explanation is that the town was named to commemorate Grover Cleveland’s electoral victory in 1884. However, most of Eighty Four’s county was staunchly Republican during that time, and would have therefore supported Cleveland’s opponent. Other speculation includes the mile marker on the local railroad, but that makes no sense either: the rail line was constructed after the town was renamed. Unfortunately, it looks like the true origin of the name is painfully uncreative: Eighty Four was forced to rename in 1884, and the postmaster simply took the last two digits of the year. In any case, the name has stuck for over a century now, and is plastered on lumber dealers all around the country.
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Eighty Eight, Kentucky
Eighty Eight’s origin story is as quirky and funny as Eighty Four’s is unoriginal. The tiny hamlet in the rolling hills of southern Kentucky (see map) was established in 1860. Its postmaster, a man with the delightfully creative name of Dabnie Nunnally, had a problem: He wasn’t so sharp when it came to reading and writing. In fact, he believed that his handwriting was barely legible, and had serious concerns that no one would be able to read any of the town names he submitted. So, he turned to numbers. There are two theories on how Nunnally settled on 88: either he reached into his pocket to find 88 cents there, or (more likely) he just picked the number that was nearly impossible to mess up. Of course, another plausible explanation is that the town is 8.8 miles from the local hub of Glasgow. But that’s boring, so I’m going to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Postcard from Eighty Eight. Via Donald on stampboards.com.
Eighty Eight is a quiet town most of the time, but its numeric nature has attracted fans at times. The town gained national recognition when it managed to cast 88 votes for Truman and 88 for Dewey in the 1948 election, a coincidence which earned it a mention in Ripley’s: Believe it or Not. Then, on August 8, 1988, 4,000 people flocked into town for a celebration of the eight-ges (get it? Like ages? Oh, never mind). The master of ceremonies was an 88 year old local, the main event was a wedding to take place at 8:08, and revelers enjoyed a cake that measured 8’8” long. A smaller celebration occurred on the same date in 2008, but was overshadowed by the Olympics.
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Ninety Six, South Carolina
Ninety Six is by far the oldest numbered settlement still in existence in America: it was founded by the British all the way back in 1730. Back then, this area of upstate South Carolina (see map) was a frontier – most colonists stuck to the coasts, while the Cherokee tribe lived northwest in the mountains. The relationship with the Cherokee explains Ninety Six’s name – settlers mistakenly believed that the town was 96 miles from the nearest Cherokee town of Keowee (now drowned by a lake, and actually only 80 or so miles from Ninety Six). The misinformation was spread by a local legend: Allen Francis, an early settler, fell in love with a Cherokee woman named Cateeche. When the Cherokee turned hostile towards the settlers, Cateeche rode a frantic 96 miles to warn her lover of the impending danger.
An old colonial road at Ninety Six. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Ninety Six was a historically significant frontier town. The British built a star fort here to defend against the Cherokee, and it saw heavy use in the late 1700s. During the Revolutionary War, Ninety Six was the site of the first battle south of New England, when a contingent of Cherokee and Loyalists ambushed rebel forces. The Rebels ultimately won, and Ninety Six remained a pivotal location for controlling the South. Today, the star fort and surrounding town are memorialized by the National Park Service.
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Honorable Mention: Seventy-Six, Missouri
Although Seventy-Six is one of the more interesting stories on this list, it only gets an honorable mention since it no longer exists. This numeric town was located right on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi (see map), and its name and history is definitely connected to Old Man River. The town began its life as a port for riverboats, and trade blossomed. By 1903, the introduction of a rail line decreased river traffic, but kept the town alive. Many travelers passed through on the rivers and rails, including one of the members of Jesse James’ gang, who was shot just outside of town during an attempted train robbery. However, the creation of a solid road system and continuous flooding doomed Seventy-Six, which was abandoned by 1957. Today, the former town is a conservation area.
Entering the town’s remains. Via Wikimedia Commons.
As for the name, there are once again many potential explanations, all connected to the river. Some speculate that the name was given by a steamboat captain who used to exclaim “That beats all 76!” when he was frustrated. Others claim that a captain made 76 landings here while rescuing people from a flood in 1844. Still others believe that the landing here was the 76th from St. Louis. The best (and the only true) story, though, comes straight from the source: John Wilkinson, who founded the town. Wilkinson wrecked his boat just outside of Seventy-Six. Escaping with nothing more than the clothes on his back, he vowed to start fresh and began building a town with the wreckage. Since the accident happened near the 76th landing he saw, he gave his town that name as a reminder of how he ended up there. A great riches to rags to riches story!