Scott's Waverley Novels and their Midwest Legacy

Like the series of books dubbed the Waverley novels, the constellation of communities named Waverly share a common name and certain characteristics, even as each town hosts distinctive features and populations. The brief sketches that follow introduce towns’ origins and draw attention to the pattern of naming across the Midwest, as well as a similarity in accounts emphasizing the significance of settings poised at nodes of commerce and travel. The future exhibit entitled Maps and Migration will chart this Midwestern expansion and individual communities in more detail. 

Town signs, Waverly, Ohio, June 4, 2013

Waverly, Ohio

Waverly, Ohio

Pike County

Settlers to the area were drawn by the construction of the Ohio Canal along the Scioto River, which opened in Waverly in 1832. The town was laid out in 1829, the year James Emmitt purchased the first lot for thirty-six dollars (History of the Lower Scioto Valley 735).  As the History of Lower Scioto Valley, Ohio (1884) explains, in 1830, local denizens had petitioned for a post office and "were casting about for a suitable new name."  Their query was answered by the chief engineer for the canal, Captain Francis Cleveland. At the time, Captain Cleveland was reading one Sir Walter Scott's Waverley novels "and suggested the name of Waverly. Under this name the post office was established, and kept by James Emmitt in his store” (735-6).

Town sign in Waverly, Illinois, July 10, 2013

Waverly, Illinois

Waverly, Illinois

Morgan County

The village was laid out in 1836, and the chief aim of founders was to establish a school. James D. B. Salter, son of a successful merchant from New Haven who helped to lay out the town, was a young man in school when Waverly was platted. He apparently wrote his father, asking him to christen the town Waverly "in honor of the Waverly [sic] novels, for which he had an intense admiration. His father complied with his request, and hence the name" (History of Morgan County 421-2). In 1871, construction of the Jacksonville, Northwestern and Southeastern Railroad reached Waverly, a "gala day" for residents. By 1878, Waverly rivaled other towns due to a thriving economy enhanced by the new and speedy transportation by rail (424). 

Mural, Old Town Park, Waverly, Indiana, May 16, 2017

Waverly, Indiana

Waverly, Indiana

Morgan County

Like Waverly, Ohio, Waverly, Indiana's start in 1837 was tied to the construction of a canal, now known as the Indiana Central Canal. By 1838, however, local construction was suspended ( Nonetheless, the White River and completed canal feeder supported the operation of a number of successful businesses, including a four-and-a-half story grist mill--"one of the finest ever in this part of the State"--as well as a woolen factory, corn-drying kiln, apothecary, saw mill, and other businesses. Schools and churches soon followed. Laid out and recorded in 1841, Waverly prospered in the nineteenth century (Blanchard 135-6).  Ronald Baker and Marvin Carmony note that the town's name "probably comes from Scott's popular Waverly [sic] novels" (175), and an article published in 1916, in The Indianapolis News ("Down Waverly Way"), claims "Waverly was named by an old Scotchman, a Mr. McClain, an admirer of Sir Walter Scott' novels of that name" (13).

City Hall and clock, Waverly, Tennessee, January 7, 2015

Waverly, Tennessee

Waverly, Tennessee

Humphreys County

Established as the county seat because of the stagecoach line passing through the area, Waverly, Tennessee was incorporated in 1838, named because of Steven Pavatt's fondness for Scott's Waverley novels (Humphrey's County 46-7). Transportation continued to shape the area, especially with the advent of railroads. In 1863, close to a thousand armed black workers, the 12th and 13th USCT (United States Colored Troops), 8th Iowa Cavalry, and 1st Kansas Battery built and defended a railway line through Waverly, while Union troops occupied the pro-Confederate town ("Fort Hill at Waverly: Defending Railroads"). Today, freight trains continue to serve the area well, giving the "access to all parts of the continent," according to the town's website ("History of Waverly"). 

Town sign in Waverly, Missouri, July 11, 2013

Waverly, Missouri

Waverly, Missouri

Lafayette County

Originally known as "Middletown," Waverly, Missouri was founded in 1845, named Waverly in 1848, and incorporated July 1, 1850 (Samuels 15). Waverly historian and archivist John Hinz explained two possible origins of the town’s name, each, interestingly, related to clothing (07-11-2013). One story: after a long discussion between a committee and the townspeople seeking to name the town, a tailor stood up and described his hometown of Waverly, Illinois. He thought Waverly seemed the perfect name, because both towns were friendly and prosperous, and his suggestion was approved. The second story appears in an undated newspaper clipping entitled “Early History of Waverly,” which includes the “historical musings” of W. N. Palmer’s grandfather, who reports his father plotted out and moved his mercantile business to Waverly. Palmer explains that “[o]ne day a lady come into his store who was fond of reading Scott’s Waverly Novels. Father remarked that he would give her a dress pattern f [sic] she would suggest a suitable name for the town. ‘Name it Waverly,’ she said ‘So it goes’ he replied,’ It is Waverly’" (n.d.). Situated on the bluffs above the Missouri River, Waverly was an active hub of commerce and travel in the nineteenth century.  

New Indiana
Town sign to New Waverly, Indiana, December 27, 2016

New Waverly, Indiana

New Waverly, Indiana

Cass County

Lying between the Wabash and Eel Rivers in the eastern part of the Miami Township, New Waverly "is an outgrowth of the railroad" (Helm 861), as are many Waverlys throughout the nineteenth century. As Thomas Helm explains in the History of Cass County, Indiana (1886), shortly after the survey was made, "a stock of goods was brought to the place" by the successful business man Mr. Forgy (861), and the village soon flourished. The town was laid out in 1855, the post office established in 1857 (Powell 652-3). The name probably derives from "Scott's Waverly [sic] novels with the adjective New added to distinguish it from the town in Morgan County" (Baker and Carmony 117). 

Old Waverly, Texas, historical sign

Historical sign for Old Waverly, Texas

Waverly Presbyterian Church

Waverly Presbyterian Church, established 1860

Waverly, Texas

Walker County

Waverly, Texas was surveyed, incorporated, and recorded in 1858, just three years before the Civil War began. Two researchers suggest that Francis Maxey Lewis named the town, based upon his enjoyment of Walter Scott’s novels (Baldwin 102-3, Lewis 5-6). Following the lead of a few other intrepid settlers from Alabama and North Carolina, Lewis traveled from Alabama to the area in the early 1850s, along with a contingent of about 300 people including a physician, planters, and numerous enslaved people, many of whom died from cholera during the arduous journey (Lewis 4-6). Other families soon followed. Unfortunately, as with many antebellum cultures, the absence of detailed histories about the enslaved people stands in contrast to archives that reflect the lives of “the pioneering plantation-owner class,” as suffragist and women’s advocate Minnie Fisher Cunningham describes early settlers like her grandparents, who settled in Waverly (McArthur and Smith 4, 8-9). Cunningham’s biographers write that between 1850 and 1860, the population of Walker County doubled, in large part due to the influx of planters and enslaved people; “by 1860, the county had a black majority and a fully developed cotton economy” (McArthur and Smith 9). In those prosperous pre-war years, Waverly was a thriving cultural center known as the “Boston of East Texas” (Allen 1C). Town leaders established the Waverly Institute, which included a Female and a Male Academy for the education of young, white men and women; churches, one of which remains in beautiful condition today (the Waverly Presbyterian Church); and several stores and businesses (Baldwin 106-109, Lewis 2-3).

After the Civil War, the town’s population and prosperity declined as many formerly enslaved people moved away, farm workers became difficult to find, and landowners declined the proposed establishment of the Houston and Great Northern Railroad close to the town (Baldwin 109-110, Lewis 20-22). Consequently, when the new railroad was established approximately eight miles west of Waverly (now often referred to as Old Waverly), people were attracted to the modern nexus of commerce and agriculture, which became New Waverly (T. Baker 178-179).

Welcome sign to Waverly, noting "Home of Wartburg College," Waverly, Iowa, June 27, 2016

Waverly, Iowa

Waverly, Iowa

Bremer County

William Harmon, who hailed from Maine and became captivated by the prospects of and fertile land surrounding the Cedar River, founded and named Waverly, Iowa. His daughter Jennie Harmon Case wrote that "he named the town from the Waverley novels, which he was reading at the time. In naming the town, he left off the final letter 'e' so it (is) spelled 'Waverly' instead of 'Waverley'" (quoted in Bean and Cheville 7). Genevieve Bean and Mary Cheville suggest that because the Waverley novels "were of a chivalrous nature, it is supposed that William P. Harmon adopted their name with the hope that his town would embody the spirit of honor, courtesy, and generosity" (7). Waverly was incorporated in 1859 (29). Recently, Wartburg College history professor Dr. Terry Lindell has suggested a compelling theory that the second "e" in Waverly may have been dropped as part of a national movement changing British to "Americanized" spellings, during the period Waverly was founded (T. Baker A10). Currently, the Waverly Public Library holds a beautifully illustrated, 24-volume set of Scott's Waverley novels, published in the 1840s (Edinburgh: Robert Cadell; London: Houlston & Stoneman).   

Map of (New) Waverly, Texas, recorded August 31, 1874

Map of (New) Waverly, Texas, recorded August 31, 1874

Saint Joseph Catholic Church, New Waverly, Texas

Saint Joseph Catholic Church

New Waverly, Texas

New Waverly, Texas

Walker County

New Waverly seems to be a microcosm of the adaptable amalgam of people and polities Lawrence Wright describes in his recent book God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State: “Texas is a part of almost everything in modern America—the South, the West, the Plains, Hispanic and immigrant communities, the border, the divide between the rural areas and the cities” (9). Often known as “the cradle of Polish colonization” (Dworaczyk 157) or “mother colony” for later Polish colonies in east Texas (T. Baker 63), New Waverly was established when the Houston and Great Northern Railroad surveyed and developed tracks and a station in the area, after leaders in Waverly decided not to grant a right-of-way. Camped on the plantation of Horatio and Sallie Fisher, through which the railroad was constructed, supervising engineers offered to name the station after the family. The Fishers declined the honor, and the town was situated three miles south, first named Waverly Station, and then New Waverly (McArthur and Smith 10).  

New Waverly soon attracted established families from Waverly such as the Hardys, Thompsons, Lewises, Traylors, and Fishers (Adams and Kmieck 650); immigrants from Poland, many recruited by and initially under work contract with the Waverly Emigration Society (T. Baker 62-3); formerly enslaved people who participated in a new system of labor based on tenancy and sharecropping; and other people attracted to the region’s new industries and farming opportunities (McArthur and Smith 10-11). As the featured map shows (recorded August 31, 1874), many of the streets were named after local families. New businesses, schools, churches of different denominations, and prosperous farms soon accelerated the population growth (Hailey). By the turn of the twentieth century, families from Poland who had settled in New Waverly “had bought almost all the farmland near the community and had purchased or were buying considerable amounts of land outside the immediate area” (T. Baker 63). An impressive testament to many of the early settlers from Poland, St. Joseph Catholic Church remains a striking feature in downtown New Waverly. Saint Joseph Catholic Parish was organized in 1869, the current building dedicated in 1906, and, until recently, the parish retained a Polish identity (Malak “St. Joseph Parish and Church, New Waverly, Texas”). Similarly blending history with contemporary change and reflecting the area’s growth and diversity, New Waverly remains poised for the future.

Town sign in Waverly, Kansas, July 12, 2013

Waverly, Kansas

Waverly, Kansas

Coffey County

The September 20th (1902) "Souvenir and Historical Edition" of the The Waverly Gazette explains "Waverly is the result of building a railroad," the Ottawa and Burlington Railway, built 1877-78; by 1902, the Santa Fe and Missouri Pacific Railroads "gave direct connection with Topeka and Fort Scott north and south and Kansas City and Burlington east and west" (72, 4). The town was laid out and platted 1877-1878. Indirectly alluding to Walter Scott's novels, Isaac Pierson, one of the first settlers, “offered the name of Waverly in honor of his old home town, Waverly, Indiana, and by popular vote the name was adopted and accepted by the postal department and railway” (72-73).

Automobile with five people, Waverly pennant displayed, El Paso Township, WI, ca. 1910-1920

El Paso Township, Wisconsin, ca. 1910-1920

Courtesy of Pierce County Historical Association

Waverly, Wisconsin

Pierce County

Stories about Waverly obtained from older residents and compiled by seventh- and eighth-grade students in 1948 (entitled "So This Is Waverly") reveal a practical reason for the current name. The original name of Deck's Corners "was too long to put on the post mark" (2). One of the students, Reta Lansing (now Reta Sanford), later wrote a short history of Waverly from notes she gathered from family and neighbors. Her account concurs the name was too long and adds that "after a lot of discussion for a new name, the wife of the postmaster, Henry Lammers, took it upon herself to change it to Waverly" (Sanford 7). Apparently the original Rock Elm Post Office "was established and was located in Derrick (Derk) Lammers store in the southeast corner" (7). Citing a slightly different spelling for the postmaster's name (Henry Lammus), Timothy Ericson notes that the name of the Rock Elm Post Office was changed after Lammus "selected the name Waverly, although we do not know why" (113). Sanford suggests the Rock Elm Post Office was established "[a]bout 1863" (7) and Ericson states the office's name changed to Waverly in 1878 (113); both dates concur with those cited in a publication by the Wisconsin Postal History Society (Moertl 265), although there, Henry G. Lammas is listed as postmaster.   

Welcome sign, Waverly, Virginia, December 29, 2016

Waverly, Virginia

Librarian Laurie Latham, Agnes Taylor Gray Library, Waverly, Virginia, December 29, 2017

Librarian Laurie Latham, Agnes Taylor Gray Library

Waverly, Virginia

Sussex County

Waverly and four other towns in the region bear names from Scott's novels, thanks to "a lady of rare beauty and one possessed of a strong and forceful personality" (quoted in McGlone), Otelia Butler Mahone. An ardent fan of the Waverley novels, Mrs. Mahone accompanied her husband William Mahone--chief engineer of the first rail line connecting Norfolk to Petersburg and later president of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad--on one of the first train rides from Norfolk. Obtaining her husband's agreement, she named train stops after Scott's characters or titles: Waverly, Ivor (for Fergus MacIvor, in Waverley), Wakefield (perhaps for Harry Wakefield, in "The Two Drovers"), and Windsor. The final depot/town name, still called Disputanta, became the one site of disagreement, thus the name (McGlone). A post office was established in Waverly in 1859, and in 1879, the General Assembly granted a charter to incorporate Waverly, the first town in Sussex County (Williams 180). 

Welcome sign, Waverly, Minnesota, July 24, 2017

Waverly, Minnesota

Waverly, Minnesota

Wright County

Nestled beside the twin lakes of Waverly and Little Waverly, the present Waverly, Minnesota was formerly called Waverly Station, to distinguish the location from Old Waverly, an older village about a mile away. Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge explains that “Waverly Station was laid out by the railroad company on their land…at about the time that regular trains commenced operation in this locality in 1869” (762). However, the lineage of Waverly doesn’t stop there. Two brothers and their nephew—Deacon, William, and Asa Colwell—chose the name Waverly because their former home was Waverly, in Tioga County, New York (Curtiss-Wedge 757).  They joined a partnership that laid out, surveyed and platted the original Waverly town-site in the 1850s (757). By 1877, an article written by a recipient of Waverly’s “kindness and courtesies” describes citizens as “moral, intelligent, hospitable and temperate,” in other words, decent, generous Midwesterners (W.F.).  Incorporated as Waverly Station in 1881 (a name reminiscient of the earlier, more famous, Waverley Station in Edinburgh, Scotland), the village was reincorporated as Waverly in 1885 (Curtiss-Wedge 763).

West Virginia
Postmark from Waverly, West Virginia, December 28, 2016

Waverly, West Virginia

Waverly, West Virgina

Wood County

Theories abound about why the Bull Creek post office was officially renamed Waverly, on April 8, 1886, during the tenure of Postmaster Joseph Norris (Smith 21). Perhaps inspired by scenes in Scott's Waverley novels like Ivanhoe, tournaments were held in town during the 1880s and 1890s, featuring mounted men who competed by running spears through wooden rings hung by poles (West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia 4895), a lively scene indeed! Other theories suggest that either the wife of Postmaster Norris organized a group of women to change the name to Waverly, objecting to the name of Bull Creek as too "vulgar," or an early president of the Parkersburg National Bank who greatly admired Scott's novels "foresaw the coming of a town and felt a more suitable name was needed," once the railroad came to Bull Creek (Smith 21).  The busy rail service benefitted residents and boosted the town's growth during the nineteenth century (Smith 34), situated as it is between lush, rolling hills beside the Ohio River and Bull Creek. Today, the railroad, Waverly Elementary School, Waverly Public Library, Waverly Vol. Fire Co., churches, and the U.S. Post Office continue to serve the area well. 

U.S. Post Office, Waverly, Kentucky

Waverly, Kentucky

Waverly, Kentucky

Union County

"Wav'ly," as local denizens call their town, has adapted well over the years, from its inception at trail crossroads in the nineteenth century, to the town that stands today (Waller 1-2). The Waverly post office was established in 1875, and the town boasted a population of 179 by 1880 (Union County Past and Present 187-88). Not unlike the protagonist Waverley in Scott's first novel by the same title, the area's geography suggests movement, being "kind of wavy, with its rolling hills and gentle landscapes," which leads to one hypothesis for the town's name. Some believe Waverly was named for Hugh McElroy's nephew (Waverly Greathouse), while land agent McElroy debated town names for the land he had recently purchased. Others suggest the Walter-Scott alternative (Waller 1). Any one of these three reasons would not negate McElroy's desire to find a name no other town in Kentucky carried at the time, something The History of Union County Kentucky reports mattered to McElroy (645). 


Waverly, Alabama

Chambers and Lee Counties

First appeared on maps 1853, incorporated 1910

Waverley (New Zealand) Town Centre and library, March 19, 2016

Waverley Town Centre and library

Waverley, New Zealand

South Taranaki District

While Waverley (with the original "e") is not in the United States, the town shares a rich cultural background and aligns historically with many American towns, being renamed from the Maori name, Wairoa, in 1875 (Sole 9). In Waverley: The Early Years, Laraine Sole quotes a newspaper account from February, 1876, describing the name-change: "Henceforth we are to know our Wairoa by the old name no more. The settlers feeling the effects of the confusion which ensued from another township on the east coast being known by the same name resolved to give the scene of a little history of this coast a new name and selected the honorable one of Waverley in memory of Sir Walter Scott" (9). Sole's histories of Waverley provide excellent background about Waverley and illuminate issues settlers faced as they encountered the Maori population already inhabiting the area, not unlike American pioneers who met and displaced many native populations as they pressed west. Other areas in New Zealand also reflect Scott's literary influence, including Waverley, Mannering, and Kenilworth Streets, among other Scott-inspired roads, in South Dunedin and/or throughout the Otago Peninsula.