How three small towns in the U.S. ended up with the name China

by William Hennelly (chinadaily.com.cn)

What is the largest “China town” in the U.S.? If you answered New York, you would be technically incorrect.

Because by China town, I don’t mean neighborhoods in major cities with large Chinese populations.

Three small towns in the U.S. — in Maine, Michigan and Texas — are actually named China. These towns came across their names not by any exotic history with Chinese settlers or some ancient silk trade, but rather by chance.

Maine, China, in Kennebec County on the Sheepscot River, northeast of the state capital of Augusta, has a population of 4,500, making it the largest of U.S. Chinas. The town’s website calls it “the friendliest town in Maine”.

In 1818, parts of Harlem, Albion and Winslow were broken off to become the current town of China. They had decided to call the town Bloomville.

Maine was then a part of Massachusetts, and in those days, Boston, the legislative seat, was a week’s trip by horse and wagon. The area’s legislative representative, Japheth C. Washburn, was discouraged from using the name Bloomville due to objections from nearby Bloomfield, which was concerned about mail-delivery confusion.

So Washburn, 200 miles away with no telephone or telegraph, needed an alternative.

The hymn China, written by Timothy Swan, of Northfield, Massachusetts, in 1790, was a favorite of his, and the rest is history.

“Over the years, I have had many, many Chinese tourists stop at our town office and come in and ask us questions about the name of our town,” Becky Hapgood, the town clerk for the past 23 years, told China Daily. “Often they are either seen out front posing by our town office sign or we kindly oblige and help them with a group photo.

“We all enjoy the visitors from away as they relish the town’s name that is the same as their country,” she said. “Many ask how we got our name and if there is anything with ‘Town of China’ on it that they may have as a souvenir. We normally offer them a town report. We have even had some stop by one year and return a couple of years later with others to show them the name of our town.

“We’d love to have a sister city/town (in China) …” she said. “Maybe you would be a good contact to spread the word!”

Next up is China, Michigan, in St. Clair County, in the southeastern part of the state near Lake Huron: population 3,551.

Michigan’s China got its moniker in 1834, after an early explorer, Captain John Clark, landed there.

As China Township Clerk Dan Turke tells the story, Clark’s wife inspired the town’s name because it reminded her of their old hometown — none other than China, Maine.

China, Texas, in Jefferson County, near Beaumont in southeast Texas, is the smallest of U.S. Chinas, with 1,160 residents. The town is supported by agriculture, especially rice, and by nearby oil and natural gas fields. Coincidentally, China recently agreed to expand imports of U.S. natural gas.

China, Texas, was first known as China Grove, for a water stop on the Texas and New Orleans Railroad that sat amid a chinaberry tree grove. In the 1860s, a small community grew around the water stop. as did another a few miles away called Nashland.

A post office with the name China was established in Nashland in 1893. When fire destroyed the China Grove depot in 1906, the railroad rebuilt in Nashland, but kept the name China for the depot.

The Nashland post office changed its name to China shortly afterward. It wasn’t until 1971 that the since merged communities incorporated as the city of China, Texas.

(For the record, there is an East China, Michigan, and a China Grove, Texas, near San Antonio.) Contact the writer at williamhennelly@chinadailyusa.com.

Submitted by Neil Farrington, of China, ME.

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