When I moved to Culpeper six years ago and began studying its history, a peculiarity was the town’s lake being named after a Civil War officer from Alabama, John Pelham, whose only connection was he died here.
Fast forward to Friday, when I was delighted to read in the Star-Exponent that one of the town’s committees has filed a motion to rename Lake Pelham and connect it to someone who made a positive contribution here.
Yes, I’ve heard the arguments about how difficult it will be for people to make the switch; but history does not bear that out. Another argument has been it could lend credence to other name changes—even going so far as renaming the town from “Culpeper” a tribute to Lord Culpeper of England. And then there is the unnecessary expense argument.
The Virginia House of Burgesses established the county of Culpeper in 1748 and in 1759 created its town as Fairfax in honor of Lord Fairfax of England. In 1795 the U.S. Post Office installed an office here and the address became Culpeper Court House. However, it continued to be referred to as Fairfax.
With its growing counterparts to the north—Fairfax County, Fairfax Court House, and Fairfax Station—all these Fairfax-es only became more confusing until, finally, the Virginia General Assembly officially renamed the town Culpeper in 1869. Pelham had been dead six years.
Although Pelham did not survive his wounds and has not been forgotten, the townspeople did survive the name change and did forget it was ever different. As to the cost of changing the name? The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors just approved $86,000 for an unnecessary special election for Clerk of the Court. Renaming Lake Pelham would afford the county an opportunity to spend its money more wisely.
(This letter has been modified from its original version to reflect that the County Board of Supervisors approved the Clerk of Court special election, not the Town Council.)