All Over The Map: Washington’s peculiar collection of backward towns
There are three communities in Washington that have one unusual thing in common.
The communities are Nagrom in King County, Retsil in Kitsap County, and Lebam in Pacific County. The names of all three are surnames or first-names that have been reversed – spelled backward – to create entirely new names.
It isn’t really a town anymore, but 100 years ago, the trackside community of Nagrom, north of Greenwater on the way to Stampede Pass, was home to a sawmill owned by Elmer G. Morgan. An employee of the Northern Pacific Railway gets the credit (or blame?) for spelling Morgan backward to come up with “Nagrom.”
From the old newspaper clippings, it sounds like Nagrom was a pretty rough and tumble place. The Great Depression took its toll, and Nagrom’s post office shut down for good on New Year’s Eve 1936.
Right across Sinclair Inlet from Bremerton and the Naval Shipyard is the Port Orchard community of Retsil.
When the Washington Veterans Home was built there in 1910, a name was needed for the post office. It’s unclear what the other possibilities were, but in 1915, a politically connected man named W.H. Cochran from Spokane – described as a member of the Washington State Board of Control – suggested spelling then-Governor Ernest Lister’s surname backward.
Governor Retsil – I mean Governor Lister – stepped down early from his second term in February 1919, and died that June one day shy of his 49th birthday. W.H. Cochran – who some thought might run for governor in 1920 – had died of what was called the Spanish Flu, the last deadly pandemic, in April 1919.
A quick review of other Washington governors from both the territorial and statehood eras reveals very few other Executive Branch leaders with surnames that would’ve worked as town names if spelled backward. Snevets? Nitram? Eelsni? Eckol? Yar? Snave? Namlleps? Inillesor?
In Pacific County on Highway 6, about midway between Frances and Holcomb where Half Moon Creek empties into the Willapa River, is the town of Lebam.
Back in 1890, the area was known as Half Moon or Half Moon Prairie. One version of the story says that the post office didn’t approve of the proposed name of “Halfmoon,” so town founder Jotham W. Goodell reversed the letters of his three or four year-old daughter’s first name. She was Mabel Pearl Goodell. Mabel – who married Charles Thompson – lived to be 89, and passed away in Seattle in 1976.
Other Backward Towns?
Are there other backward towns in Washington? Please send me an email via my contact information below. And please, no Tacoma or Spokane jokes.