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Opinion: A challenge and an answer based on the Albert Lea name

Published 12:00am Friday, August 26, 2005

Last week’s column about Albert Miller Lea and his connection with schools and colleges, plus the founding of a church down in Texas, reminded me of an item I prepared over a year ago based on this particular name. What follows is based on the comments of a local motel manager who said it would be nice to have something to explain to travelers where this city’s name originated. Thus, I prepared the following sketch and added still another fact. The intention was for the CVB or the Chamber to have it printed as an informational folder. So far, nothing has happened.

Now, here’s what I proposed for this publication …

Albert Lea is the largest city in the United States to have a person’s first and last name as its official designation.

In fact, there are actually very few challengers for this distinction.

One contender is Jim Thorpe, Pa., a community with a 2000 population of 4,804. The former twin localities of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were renamed in 1954 to honor the memory of a famous Native American athlete who was the star of the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.

Another contender which uses a person’s first and last name is the community of John Day, located in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. This town with a 2000 population of 1,821 is named for an American explorer who lived in the early 1800s.

There are two localities which aren’t really contenders for the distinction of being the nation’s largest community with a name based on both a person’s first and last name.

Warner Robins, Ga., with a 2000 population of 48,804, is actually named for a U.S. Army brigadier general named Augustine Warner Robins (1882-1940).

Then there’s Glen Burnie, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore with a 2000 Census population of 30,000. Its name is based on John Glen, a real estate developer in the 1880s, and burnie, the Scottish word for brook.

Now here’s the answer regarding the person who has his first and last name used for this community in south Minnesota:

Albert Miller Lea was born on July 23, 1808, in Richland, Tenn. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. in 1831.

Lieutenant Lea was a member of a U.S. Army unit which passed through Freeborn County in late July 1835 on an exploring and surveying trip. His 1836 book on this trip is credited with popularizing the word Iowa which was soon used as the name of a territory which evolved into a state.

After leaving the military service, Lea served as the chief engineer for the state of Tennessee, chief clerk of the War Department in Washington, D.C., as the nation’s Secretary of War for six weeks, and as a professor at East Tennessee University in Knoxville.

During the Civil War (or War Between the States)

he served as an officer with the Confederacy.

Despite this connection with the South from 1861-1865, his name continued to be used for the city, lake, township and many business firms. In fact, Lea visited Albert Lea in June 1879 as a special guest.

Lea lived in Galveston, Texas, and later moved to Corsicana, Texas, where he died on January 15, 1891 …

Now, here’s another suggestion. I suggest that the local motels and other places which have contact with the traveling public take the middle part of this column, make copies, and either use it as a handout or bulletin board posting.

As a postscript, here’s an inquiry from a Tribune reader named Terry Hopkins (ALHS Class of 1966) out in Fort Huachuca, Ariz. He wants to know what kind of oil was used to preserve the eggs shipped out from Merchants Egg Corporation in Walters years ago.

I checked with Fran Kalis and he says this was clear mineral oil which sealed pores in the shells and preserved the eggs for use sometime in the future.

(Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears each Friday.)