You know that Washington, D.C., is named for America's first president, but did you know that Harrison City, Pa., (population 134) honors ninth president William Henry Harrison? Or that Pierceton, Ind., (population 1,015) memorializes 14th president Franklin Pierce? "You can find towns named after [obscure presidents] all over the place," says Grant Smith, an expert on "toponymy" (the study of how places got their names).
Smith, an Eastern Washington University professor and past chairman of the American Name Society's Toponymy Interest Group, says that presidents who are lesser known today often got communities named after them thanks to the intervention of supporters of their own time. "People who were in the right place at the right time and had the authority to name their communities often named them after someone they thought was a good president," he says.
Smith -- whose forefathers helped name Blaine, Wash., after failed 1884 Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine -- says many U.S. leaders little remembered today had plenty of contemporary fans. "A lot of people must have admired [1920s presidents] Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge -- who didn't do much -- because they wouldn't have gotten elected otherwise," he says. Still, Smith says the golden age of naming towns after presidents ended in the late 1800s, when newcomers for the most part filled in the last unsettled parts of our country.
He doesn't expect any future Obamavilles or Romneytowns, as builders who create today's "planned communities" are too afraid of offending any would-be buyers. "Today's developments tend to have idealized names like 'Sherwood Forest' or 'Mill Creek' -- names that are comfortable and will attract suburbanites," Smith says.
Here's a look at real estate in five communities across America that are named after some lesser-known U.S. leaders. Median home prices and 12-month net changes for each town are courtesy of market tracker Zillow.com and reflect estimated values for all local residences (not just those on the market) as of Dec. 31. Population and income figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau.
5 Towns Named After Presidents -- And More Affordable Than Washington, D.C.
Median home price: $2.7 million
A wealthy enclave some 40 miles west of New York City, Harding Township is named after 29th President Warren G. Harding -- who collapsed and died in 1923 while on a speaking tour of western U.S. states.
Harding's tenure is best remembered for the Teapot Dome scandal and other corruption cases, although most such affairs came to light after his death and apparently involved crooked cronies rather than the president himself. Harding Township, originally part of a neighboring area now known as Long Hill Township, took its name in 1922 while Harding was still in office. Today, the 3,800-person town is one of America's richest communities, with a $179,000 median household income and a $2.7 million median home price as of Dec. 31.
Zillow estimates that the area's home prices technically rose 35.3% during 2012, but says one or two property sales in small communities such as Harding Township can skew net changes.
If you've got the money to live there, Zillow lists some 65 properties for sale in the Harding/New Vernon area. Asking prices start around $500,000 and run as high as $5.5 million, though.
Once known as Vann's Ferry, this community changed its name to Harrison in the 1800s to honor ninth President William Henry Harrison -- best known as our nation's shortest-serving president.
Harrison caught a cold either during or a few weeks after his March 4, 1841, inauguration and died a month later (he gave a nearly two-hour inaugural address in the cold, wet outdoors).
Today, the middle-class suburb of Harrison (about 10 miles northeast of Chattanooga) has 7,800 people.
"Harrison has more of a quaint-township feel than you get in Chattanooga, but it's still close enough that you can enjoy all of the amenities of the city," says David Hawke, a Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce official who lived in the town in recent years and still works nearby.
A median-priced Harrison home goes for $136,100, with prices rising 0.7% during 2012. AOL Real Estate lists 90 properties for sale in and around the community.
Madison honors fourth President James Madison, who died right around the time of the city's founding as Wisconsin's capital in 1836.
Although less well known today than his predecessors George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Madison is generally remembered as the father of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights (he pressed for both in the 1780s).
Madison's 1809-17 presidency, though, was marred by the War of 1812, which was so unpopular at one point that New England states -- whose ports suffered under a British naval blockade -- considered secession. Ultimately, a U.S. military victory restored Madison's public standing.
Today, the Wisconsin city that bears his name remains the Badger State's capital and hosts the 30,300-undergraduate-student University of Madison-Wisconsin. Additionally, companies from appliance maker Sub-Zero/Wolf to Spectrum Brands -- parent of the Rayovac and Remington consumer lines -- call the 569,000-population metro area home.
Originally known as Minor or Minorville, Calif., this community of some 15,200 people on the Pacific Ocean some 300 miles north of San Francisco changed its name to McKinleyville following 25th president William McKinley's 1901 assassination.
These days, the town is home mostly to a mix of retirees and locals who primarily work in businesses geared toward other McKinleyville residents. The community also hosts the area's airport and gets some tourism business that spills over from the larger communities of Arcata and Eureka. (Arcata also hosts the 7,400-undergraduate-student Humboldt State University.)
"We're a coastal town with pretty redwoods right behind the coast," Cindy Harrington of the McKinleyville Chamber of Commerce says. AOL Real Estate lists 19 properties for sale in the McKinleyville area, where a median-priced home costs $240,700. Local home values have risen 6.4% over the past year.
This city of 9,300 people is named after William Howard Taft, who led our country from 1909 to 1913 but is mostly known today for being America's fattest president ever (he weighed some 340 pounds).
While that might not seem like an auspicious person to name your town after, "Taft" sounds a lot better than the community's previous name: Moron, Calif. City fathers are said to have renamed the community after a fire around the time of Taft's presidency burned down much of the original community, about 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Originally an oil town, Taft is perhaps best known today as the home of a 2,300-inmate federal prison. Parts of the 1991 hit movie Thelma & Louise were also filmed in the community.