Over the years I have been fascinated by how towns acquired their names. For instance, when I was at seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, I went on an excursion with a government employee, Keith, to secure the signature of a local school board president. We traveled into the depths of Kentucky until we arrived at Hazard, Kentucky.

“Why such a foreboding name?” I asked.

Keith chuckled and said, “You’ll see!”

We drove to the end of a country road. A river flowed in front of us and blocked the way.

“Mildred lives on the other side. She’s the one we’re looking for, but there’s no road on that side. I’ll ring the bell hanging on that tree and the boat will come to pick us up.”

When our mode of transportation arrived it was not really a boat. It was a raft. With visions of Huckleberry Finn, I boarded the wooden raft. Our captain poled and rowed into the fast flowing current and I struggled to maintain my balance. The school board president, unable to read, signed with an X and we returned to the raft. Crossing over, we barely avoided a boulder concealed beneath the water and then became momentarily grounded in a morass of grasses and falling limbs. Then I knew how the town of Hazard acquired its name!

Our trip also included a stop in Pigeon Roost, Kentucky. I remembered growing up in Albany where the roof of the State Capital was home to hundreds of roosting pigeons. It was advisable, if walking near the capital, to wear a hat since the pigeons’ aim, when they desired to relieve themselves, could easily mistake your head for a target. Beware of Pigeon Roost!

On a recent trip from Brant Lake, I believe it was on the road towards Tupper Lake, I noted a sign welcoming me to the town of Hope. “You Are Entering Hope.” According to its website, Hope was largely uninhabited land when John Bergen purchased 19,589 acres from the Mohawk Indians in 1772. The purchase was signed by Mohawk Chief Hendrick who drew a turtle rather than an actual signature. Over the years, sawmills and farms proliferated in the area and, in 1850, the population was 1,125, Hope’s personal best.

Eventually hotels and inns spread over the wilderness and lakes and streams added to the beauty. However, the population gradually declined and as soon as I passed the sign,”You Are Entering Hope,” I came to a second sign that read “You Are Leaving Hope.” I did count three houses off the road and, according to statistics, around 400 people call their home Hope, but I could not erase the image of the two signs almost on top of one another: “You Are Entering Hope.” “You Are Leaving Hope.” Not much Hope in between!

Today we live in difficult times. Hope is not always easy to find. And, for many of us, in our personal lives, hope is often evasive. Some night, when no one is looking, I will return to the town of Hope, New York, and move the entering and leaving signs until they are far away from one another and the borders of Hope will expand. Then, symbolically at least, we will enjoy a great deal more hope in this area of the world.

We can never have too much hope!

Brant Lake

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