The Germantown Museum
A project in the making
|In Times Past………..
By Andy Pouncey
So what’s in a name? If it is a town or city it could be the place you call home or go to work. It could be a source of pride, a name that features some geographical position, a historical figure, a prominent resident of the town, or a great city somewhere else.
The area, we know as Germantown, was first referred to as Pea Ridge. Yes, there was a ridge, followed today by Poplar Pike. In the 18th Century, the ridge was known as the West Tennessee Chickasaw Trail. This trail connected the Mississippi River bluff with the Chickasaw and Choctaw settlements in Mississippi and Alabama. The Chickasaw nation was centered in Pontotoc, Mississippi.
Did William Twyford, the first settler, or his neighbor Frances Wright plant peas as their primary cash crop? This important answer is forever lost to history.
By 1836, Pea Ridge became Germantown. For the name’s origin we present to you three choices with each name having an accompanying story. When you are tested at your next Germantown party, you have at least one in three chances of answering this question correctly.
First, the town was named for a small German colony that settled in the area. In addition to the innkeeper, Mr. Lucken, other German residents were Frederick Seidecom, Joseph Molitor and family, the Schieleys, Stricklands, Gerbers, Garners and Scharfs. Francis Molitor and his son Joseph owned a grist mill. His daughter, Della Molitor Strickland, gave the first pulpit Bible to the Germantown Presbyterian Church. However, early records dealing with the area are overwhelmingly Irish or Scotch-Irish.
Second, the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., suggested that the town be called Luckenville after the innkeeper and his inn, a defining landmark of the town. Lucken’s inn became a gathering place for locals and the lager he brewed in the basement was quite popular. When Lucken declined the honor, the town was called Germantown, still a tribute to Lucken and his Germanic roots.
Maybe you like the story of N. T. German best. N. T. German was a surveyor from Holly Springs, Mississippi, who laid out the town lots and streets in 1834 under the order of Col. G. P. Shepherd. I have a hard time understanding how you get Germantown here. Why not Shepherdsville?
So now we move forward to the 20th Century when the United States entered the First World War on April 17, 1916. At this time, anti-German sentiments were intense and were reflected in the details of everyday life. Many people boycotted brands of beer with German names. Don’t touch my Heineken!
Sauerkraut was renamed liberty cabbage and hamburger was called Salisbury steak. Even the dachshund dog, whose sprint to the finish of our Weenie Race in the Germantown Festival, was christened the liberty pup. Schools stopped teaching the
German language and musical selections by German composers were not played.
Germantown boys serving in the Armed Forces (23) wrote home saying that their fellow soldiers gave them a hard time after seeing the name “Germantown’ on their mail. Soldiers passing through the town on troop trains pelted the “Germantown” depot sign with mud balls.
A group of patriotic citizens collected the signatures of 326 residents asking that the town’s name be changed to “Woodrow”, the President’s first name. Other towns changed their name to Pershing after the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. The Post Office Department approved the name change from Germantown to Neshoba (see postmark on December 20, 1920 Farm Journal) on May 15, 1917.
A Commercial Appeal article proclaimed that Germantown was now “just a memory and that the community had become Neshoba, the same name as Frances Wright’s early plantation and the Indian name for wolf. However the name would be spelled Neshoba
with an “e” rather than Nashoba with an “a”, according to postal records.
After the war ended and people settled down, Neshoba once again became “Germantown” on April 4, 1922. Although the name change to Neshoba had been
adopted by the Post Office Department and Southern Railway, it had never come up for official approval before the state legislature.
And we have remained Germantown ever since….