Open Wide the World


5 U.S. Destinations You Didn't Know You've Visited

Can you believe the original names of these 5 U.S. destinations? You may have visited without even knowing it! #travel #openwidetheworld

Think your vacation destination's name can tell you a lot about it? Its historical name might tell you even more! Check out the original names of these 5 U.S. destinations you may have visited without even knowing it!


It would seem that attempting to regulate the sale of alcohol, requiring strict rest on Sundays, and blocking the construction of churches for any religion but your own were not very endearing acts in the early colonies of the New World.

And so it was that Dutch colonial governor Peter Stuyvesan’s dictatorial style inspired his own countrymen to turn against him. When Stuyvesan's city of New Amsterdam was attacked by the British in 1664, its residents refused to help defend De Grote Appel,* preferring instead to surrender to King Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York.

Following the renaming of New Amsterdam to New York, Dutch and British settlers of the city lived together peaceably, presumably with less rest and more alcohol than they had enjoyed under Stuyvesan's reign.

*Dutch for "The Big Apple"

Honoring New Amsterdam's Past in the Present

Of course, these days, more than three and a half centuries later, you’ll have to look far and wide to find any traces of the Dutch or Brits left in De Stad die Nooit Slaapt,* with a few exceptions. Try having brunch at Prune in NoHo, where you can order a Dutch style pannenkoek (pancake). And for authentic British fish and chips, check out A Salt & Battery in the West Village.

*Dutch for "The City that Never Sleeps"


Named for a type of wild mint plentiful along the coast of Alta California, Yerba Buena was nothing more than a tiny outpost with a crumbling Franciscan mission, a nearly abandoned Spanish fort, and a single civilian dwelling when it was founded in 1833.

With the establishment of a general store a few years later, and soon after, a saloon, Yerba Buena had become a proper town by the mid-1840s, having about 200 settlers.

It wasn’t until residents of a nearby settlement, Benecia, sought to rename themselves after the increasingly important bay on which both settlements were located, that residents of the previously unassuming Yerba Buena realized the strategic importance of their location. In a single day, January 30, 1847, Yerba Bueanans rushed paperwork through to beat out Benecia in the renaming, and their town has forever since been the beloved City of San Francisco.

Honoring Yerba Buena's Past in the Present

The name Yerba Buena continues to live on in one small but vibrant neighborhood. Stretching from 2nd to 5th and Market to Harrison Streets, the Yerba Buena Neighborhood calls itself “the curator of San Francisco culture,” home to the most diverse and highest concentration of art galleries, museums, and theaters in the city.


With a name like Mosquito County, it’s no surprise that this area had a hard time attracting settlers in its frontier days. Despite homesteading incentives in 1840s-60s, Mosquito County had only 2 people per square mile by the time of the Civil War.

The arrival of the railroad in the 1880s, allowing transport of the region’s citrus crops to farther markets, finally brought prosperity and in turn, increased settlement, to the region.

But it wasn’t until a few dummy companies, with fictitious names like “M.T. Lott,” began purchasing land in the county in 1963, that Mosquito County really found its stride. Fortunately for Walt Disney, the man behind those fictitious companies, Mosquito County had long-since been renamed Orange County. And thanks to Disney's $5 million purchase of 27,000 acres, the former Mosquito County has once again seen its name upgraded; this time to “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Not bad for a region once named for bloodsucking pests.

Honoring Mosquito County's Past in the Present

You won't see many mosquitoes around the Disney parks these days, thanks to WDW's controlled release of "friendly insects" which feed on mosquitoes, not to mention their use of pesticides. But set foot outdoors anywhere else in the former Mosquito County, and you'll quickly meet some of the 80 species of mosquitoes that call Florida home. Just be sure to protect yourself, as 13 of those species can transmit diseases to humans.


It’s a good thing that old Saint Paul of the Bible had a somewhat colorful past himself, or he might otherwise not appreciate that his largest U.S. namesake was initially known as Pig’s Eye Landing.

Yep, the smaller of the two present-day Twin Cities earned its name of St. Paul, Minnesota, only as recently as 1841. Prior to that time, a cave-dwelling retired fur trader named Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant held the claim to the land. Soldiers and Native Americans frequented the cave to purchase illegal whiskey from Pig's Eye Parrant, and quickly nicknamed the area Pig’s Eye Landing.

Honoring Pig's Eye Landing's Past in the Present

Sadly, the cave from which Pig’s Eye conducted his bootleg business was buried by the construction of Shepherd Road in 1960. However, an innocuous marker ¼ mile southwest of Shepherd and Randolf Roads reminds the few who find it of the true origins of their sainted city. And locals can toast their city’s beloved first settler with a bottle of, what else? Pig’s Eye Beer!


History and legend blur together in tales of a destructive waterway along a peninsula of frontier Wisconsin. Unpredictable winds. Brutally rocky coastline. Swirling currents. Powerful tides. This passage is said to have destroyed an entire war party of hundreds of Native Americans in a single storm, earning it the name of Porte des Morts, or Death’s Door, by early French explorers.

While pre-settlement truth and legend are difficult to discern, the complete loss of 24 ships to Death’s Door between settlement and WWI is well documented, as is the almost-complete destruction of hundreds more ships in that short time.

When the fairly new state of Wisconsin carved a county out of the peninsula beneath Death’s Door waterway in 1851, they must have realized that the name wouldn’t entice many settlers to the area. Thus Death's Door County was slightly pruned, and Door County, Wisconsin hasn’t looked back.

Honoring Death's Door's Past in the Present

Tourists spend more than $300 million each year in (Death’s) Door County. For a mere 60 of those dollars, visitors can head out on a clear-bottomed kayak tour (like Lakeshore Adventures) to view shipwrecked remains responsible for the region's naming. But only on fair weathered days, because the passage continues to be as deadly today as it always has been, under the wrong conditions.

We also love Door County's Maritime Museum. Spread over three locations, visitors learn about iconic lighthouses, historic shipbuilding practices, and of course shipwrecks. Don't miss the maritime museum at Gills Rock, right at the tip of Death's Door!

Know another fun former city name?

Drop us a line in the comments!


For more travel trivia, check out:

9 Fascinating Facts about Donuts in America

World History through 5 Hot Chocolate Recipes

Or, for some outdoor inspiration:

The Best Hiking Quotes

Did you enjoy this post? Pin it!

Can you believe the original names of these 5 U.S. destinations? You may have visited without even knowing it! #travel #openwidetheworld

More fun with U.S. history & geography trivia!

We participate in Amazon's affiliate program, which allows sites to earn advertising fees. There is no additional cost to readers making Amazon purchases through our site.