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SUMMER / FALL 2019      © 2020 812 Magazine

Tales of two cities

Hoosier hometowns with foreign names

They sound exotic but they're familiar as farmland. Small towns named after foreign locales dot Southern Indiana, and while they have borrowed names, they are truly Hoosier in spirit.

1. Milan: Take in a little local history at the town museum to remember the 1954 "Milan Miracle" high school basketball championship team that inspired the movie "Hoosiers." Be sure to note the Hoosier twist on the pronunciation and put the stress on the first syllable: "MY-lan" rather than Italy's "mi-LAWN".

2. Rome: Once the Perry County seat, the unincorporated city of Rome is so small it may have been built in a day. The town boasts a cozy population of 36 people and lies on the bands of the Ohio River.

3. Dublin: When it rained, the muddy thoroughfare now called National Road often required not one, but two teams of horses to pass through. This was called double teaming, or "doublin'," and so goes the legend of how the town got it's seemingly Irish name.

4. Versailles: Another instance of a Hoosier-ized pronunciation: the French "ver-sigh" is here pronounced "ver-sales." The town's Tyson Temple Methodist Church, bankrolled by Walgreens tycoon and Versailles native James Tyson, echoes France's Palace of Versailles in terms of memorable architecture. The Temple was constructed using no wood or nails, with structural details and materials imported from England, Germany and, of course, France.

5. Bethlehem: Like Santa Claus, Ind., the little town of Bethlehem receives a flurry of hopeful letters during the holiday months. Because of the large volume of misaddressed mail, the unincorporated community began utilizing a special cancellation stamp featuring the biblical Three Wise Men. For those who'd like to stay at a Bethlehem inn on Christmas Eve, the Riverhouse Bed and Breakfast (502-645-2930) offers more than a manger.

6. Vincennes: In 1800, Vincennes became the state's first capital--the capital of the Indiana Territory, that is. Founded by French fur traders in 1732, Indiana's first town shares its name with a suburb of Paris, France, and boasts Indiana's first Catholic and Presbyterian churches, first newspaper, and first bank.

7. Edinburgh: The Scottish metropolis after which it's named is pronounced "Edin-borough," and for many years citizens of the Indiana town followed suit. Originally, though, the town was called Eddiesburg after Eddie Adams, the booze-loving brother-in-law of one of the town's founders. After rebranding the town as "Edinburg" without the ending "h," the post office finally settled on the Scottish spelling and the Hoosier pronunciation "Edin-burg" in 1977.

8. Gnaw Bone: There's no foreign town called Gnaw Bone, but etymologists believe the town's name was chosen as an homage to the French port town of Narbonne. Oral historians, however, tend to favor tales of the area's occasional drunkards and snowed-in settlers chewing through long hours by gnawing away at bones.