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Myths and legends: How did Barcelona get its name?

September 3, 2015
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

As soon as they learn about my position as Westfield historian, new neighbors and friends at Edgewater start asking all sorts of interesting questions. And living next to Lake Erie, only about two miles from our historic Barcelona Lighthouse, there are many queries about that special place in our hearts and history. Some of the most often asked questions are, "How did Barcelona get its name?" and "Does it come from Barcelona, Spain, and if so, why?"

Faithful readers of "BeeLines," and of our previous Westfield historian's column, the late Billie Dibble's "Dibble's Dabbles," may recall that both of us researched and wrote articles about these very same questions. The Westfield Republican of July 14, 1988, first published "Dibble's Dabbles - Basse a Loin sketched, described in colorful detail." The article used by Dibble for her article was "BASSE A' LOIN" written and illustrated by Will Larrymore Smedley, in the August 1908 "House & Garden" magazine. It appears that Smedley used a work of fiction penned more than 20 years earlier - "Button's Inn" by Albion Tourgee, 1887 - as a source for the speculation regarding the supposed British corruption of the French "Basse-a'-Loin" to "Barcelone","and easily from that to "Barcelona."

While sorting through my files for the two articles mentioned above, a yellowed newspaper clipping about "Barcelona in the News" containing three photos with captions that included "Photo by Blackburn" caught my eye. In fact, one photo even included my dad, Don Blackburn, who was noted for setting a timer and slipping into some of the photos he took. These photos from Aug. 15, 1962, Westfield Republican, page 12, were a follow-up of an April 9, 1959 article, "Emissaries From Spain's Barcelona Visit Here," and stated that "Barcelona, Spain came to Barcelona, Westfield in representation by a group of Spanish law students who are touring the United States."

Article Photos

This is a map, drawn by Frenchmen Baron de Longueuil, and Chaussegros de Lery in 1739, showing the area near Barcelona.

In a May 22, 1968 Westfield Republican article, "150 Years of Postal Service in Westfield," Ann Johnson wrote that a post office was established at Portland Harbor on Oct. 24, 1827. Eliphalet L. Tinker was the Postmaster. The name of the post office was changed to Barcelona on Sept. 9, 1836, but after the railroads took the bulk of transporting goods and people away from the harbor, the post office was discontinued on Dec. 4, 1862.

A longtime historian of Barcelona provided further information, notably about the formation of the Portland Harbor Land Co., from notes derived from documents on file at the Chautauqua County Court House. Sept. 3, 1836, a group of investors formed an association for the purposes of making a profit by the buying and selling of lots, properties, and by making improvements thereon - named "The Portland Harbor Land Co." Article 17 made provision for a change in name in the event the Portland Harbor post office or the village should make a change in name. Just six days later the name was changed officially to Barcelona, and soon after, the company name was changed to "The Barcelona Land Co."

According to these same records, "A man by the name of Isaac S. Smith, the enginner of Buffalo Harbor and also a large investor in the Portland Harbor Land Company, was a world traveler in years past, and had spent some time in Barcelona Spain. It is reasonable to believe that this man could see a resemblance in this fast developing port to that of his memories of Barcelona, Spain, thereby having a very strong influence in selecting the new name."

However, Basse-a'-Loin could still be a strong contender as the precursor to the name of Barcelona, as fancifully described in Button's Inn by Tourgee. While I was doing research for a 2009 talk to a local organization about the Portage Trail, I found a document at the Patterson Library, written by Ruth Douglas, Aug. 7, 1934 - "Tales of the Portage Trail from Lake Erie to Lake Chautauqua" that referenced an older document, "The Old Portage Road" by H. C. Taylor. Taylor summarized his research of the history of this area prior to settlement in 1800.

Legends, stories, histories, journals, diaries, and letters have been recalled, discovered, and passed on over the past four centuries since the "white man" first saw and set foot in the area of Chautauqua County we now know as Westfield and Barcelona, circa 1615. Among these are journals and maps written and drawn by Frenchmen Baron de Longueuil, and Chaussegros de Lery in 1739, while on a campaign planned by the Marquis de Benuharnois, governor of Canada, and M. de Bienville, governor of Louisiana (the whole area drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries), to hold back the British expansion westward from the Atlantic seaboard colonies.

Features on the maps are identified and named including "Tchatakoin" (Chautauqua Creek) where it enters the shore of Lac Erie (Lake Erie), where there is a sort of bay at the mouth of the creek that is sheltered by a long sand bar "Basse-a'-Loin" (long & low), and east of which is "Pte. Basse Boisee." Other features are the streams, gorge, and waterfalls in what is now Forest Park - labeled "Cataraqui, Ruisseaux, and Ecorres."



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