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Give us back our ‘s’!

What’s in a name is a big question in the tiny town of Smartville, where locals have continued to call it Smartsville with an extra “s” for almost 100 years after the U.S. Postal Service dropped the letter back in 1909.

The U.S. government insists on identifying the burg located just across the Nevada County line as Smartville on Highway 20 road signs.

All others say Smartsville, with the exception of the old store and the Post Office, which has Smartville across the front in wooden letters. But even there, someone has drawn an extra “s” between the “t” and “v” to reflect local feelings.



The sentiment for a single letter and historic accuracy is why a group of historians and residents of the once-busy stagecoach stop want to change the Yuba County town’s name to Smartsville with the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.

“You drive around town and mostly, it’s Smartsville,” said Kit Burton, who has lived in the area for about 10 years, researched it and is now active in the project to restore the Smartsville Catholic Church and the town’s original name.




“It’s a personal thing when it’s your name,” said Burton about the town with a population of less than 100. “You wouldn’t want somebody calling you Jimmy when your name was George.”

“All the fire engines say Smartsville,” said Kathy Smith, of Sacramento, a historian whose great-grandparents once owned a motel across from the Catholic Church.

Sure enough, the Smartsville Fire Protection district uses the extra “s” on its signs, equipment and documents.

Leading the charge with Smith and Burton is Lane Parker, a San Francisco historian who recently wrote a soon-to-be-released book with Smith about the area titled “Smartsville and Timbuctoo.”

“In 1909, the post office was trying to streamline its post office names and changed it to Smartville,” Smith said. “The people have been fighting it ever since.”

“It’s gotta’ be Smartsville,” said area resident Robbie Sullivan. “Smartsville – it’s easier to say and everyone here has some smarts now and then.

“We’re just trying to keep a little nostalgia for the town.”

“I was born and raised in Yuba City, and I’ve always known it as Smartsville,” said Beverly Brandon who has run the post office for the past year and recently moved to the quiet town. “When I came here to be officer in charge, it was hard to get used to.

“The old picture we have on the wall is from 1871, and it says Smartsville,” Brandon said. “The mail still comes with Smartsville on it, and people have always had their mail sent to Smartsville. That hasn’t changed,” Brandon said.

When people walk into the Calfire station on Highway 20 to get a burn permit, “They say ‘Put the “s” in,'” for Smartsville under the location, said Capt. Chris Thonet.

Even the Calfire sign at the station says Smartsville, and Thonet said, “Capt. Glen Ford, who has worked here 25 years, has always called it Smartsville.”

The group’s petition to have the town’s name change has been received, according to Lou Yost, the executive secretary of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Now the board is looking for letters of support from the community, the Yuba County supervisors and a state advisory committee on geographical names, Yost said.

Input from Indian tribes within a 50-mile radius is also wanted for full historical perspective, he said and a decision should come in about eight months.

Though a similar attempt to add the “s” failed in 1947, Yost said the chances are good it will go through this time.

That’s exactly what Smith and Burton are looking for.

“This area played a huge part in the Gold Rush,” Smith said. “It was halfway between Marysville and Grass Valley on the stage route. This is basically where hydraulic mining started and it went from here to Malakoff Diggins.”

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

History of ‘Smartsville’

James Smart built a hotel and store along the Marysville to Nevada City stage route in 1856 and the town was subsequently named for him. Smarts-ville with an extra “s” thrived in the 1860s and 1870s as miners travelled through and hydraulic mining originated in the area. In 1909, the U.S. Postal Service stripped the second “s” from the town name during a move for brevity among post office names to avoid confusion, which was later rendered moot by zip codes. In 1947, Noel Stephenson led a move to change the name back but the effort failed.


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