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Question: Why is it that the correct or accepted spelling of Marys River and Marys Peak has no apostrophe?

Answer: "I could not hazard a guess," says Mary Gallagher, collections manager at the Benton County Historical Museum. The standard to which the museum adheres is set forth in "Oregon Geographic Names," which lists no explanation for the omission of apostrophes in this case or in that of Kings Valley. "Historically, the apostrophe is not there," she says.

The absence of the punctuation mark, used to indicate contractions or possessives, could be linked to a tradition established by the United States Geological Survey, which, since its inception in 1890, has discouraged or disallowed the use of the possessive form in place names. The precise reason for this policy is unknown, but according to the USGS Web site, the "Board does not want to show possession for natural features because, 'ownership of a feature is not in and of itself a reason to name a feature or change its name.'" Apostrophes have been officially approved for use in this country only in five place names: Martha's Vineyard (1933), Mass.; Ike's Point, New Jersey (1944); John E's Pond (with no period after the initial), R.I. (1963); Carlos Elmer's Joshua View, Arizona (1995); and Clark's Mountain, Ore. (2002), which was "approved at the request of the Oregon Board to correspond with the personal references of Lewis and Clark."

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The variations on the real-life Mary or Marys who may be responsible for the names of the river, the peak, the subdivision west of Philomath or the first historical name for Corvallis have been debated often and were revisited in the Feb. 17 Gazette-Times reprint of a 1992 column by local historian Ken Munford, who concluded that the mountain was named St. Marys Peak by French Canadian trail riders traveling to California in the 1830s.

A more recent development in the identification of Mary has emerged, Gallagher reports, with the museum's discovery of documentation from one John Champion Richardson. Born in 1832, Richardson immigrated to Oregon in 1847 with his family and settled along the Long Tom River, 14 miles south of Corvallis, which, he said, was then call "Maries-Ville." Since 1847 predates the founding of Corvallis, Gallagher believes Richardson's statement corroborates Munford's conclusion that the original Mary was none other than the mother of Jesus.

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