Names on the Land

A picture named herpoco.gif

I printed out a little map from Yahoo! Maps yesterday because I was driving over to the scary suburbs of northern Contra

Costa County to pick up a box of tile. I noticed this morning that the map contained the name of a place I’d never heard of before and thought was a humorous misprint: “Herpoooo.” I know that some mapmakers salt their products with deliberate errors to catch cartographic thieves who betray themselves by repeating the mistakes. I was wrong on two counts. First, the name is “Herpoco” but was unreadable on my poor printout.

But still — Herpoco? Never heard of it. Though when I thought about it, it occurred to me it might have a connection to nearby Hercules, which itself has a link with an explosives company that ran a plant there (here’s the history).

Still — look where Herpoco is placed on the map — smack in the middle of a freeway interchange. But having too much time on my hands, obviously, I plugged Herpoco into Google. The result shows it’s an actual place name, though I don’t think it would mean a thing to most of the hundreds of thousands of people who live close by or pass through every week. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System delivers this hit when you query the name Herpoco:

Feature Name: Herpoco

Feature Type: populated place

Elevation: 60

State: California

County: Contra Costa

USGS 7.5′ x 7.5′ Map: Mare Island

380042N

1221612W

And the gay-lesbian community search site ePodunk lists Herpoco, too, with a note that it was named after the Hercules Powder Company (successor to the California Powder Works and a long-ago spinoff from DuPont. But that’s another story).

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