Lemont – What’s in a name?

Lemont ca early 1900s (Photo courtesy of Lemont Historical Society)
Lemont ca early 1900s (Photo courtesy of Lemont Historical Society)

My novel, Mystery at Sag Bridge is set in the town of Lemont, a suburb about twenty-five miles southwest of downtown Chicago, Illinois. Future blogs will delve into interesting facts and rants about the wonders of Lemont, but today I’d like to tell you how it was named.

Potawatomi tribes inhabited the Lemont area prior to the 1830s, at which time white settlers largely from eastern states came to the wilderness for a better place to live and more opportunities for their families. The area grew due to construction of a canal—the I & M (Illinois and Michigan)—that would link Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River, thus providing waterway transport from east coast ports to the Gulf of Mexico. The canal ran through the future Lemont, and Archer Avenue was constructed along an old Indian trail to transport construction supplies. Towns grew up along Archer, including Sag Bridge in 1838 (now incorporated into Lemont) and Athens in 1839 (previous name of Lemont).

Prior to 1840 three subdivisions made up what came to be known as Lemont: Athens, Keepataw, and Des Plaines (no relationship to the suburb of Des Plaines northwest of Chicago). In 1840 a post office was established, officially named Keepataw, whereas the canal stop was called Athens. There was also a town named Athens in Southern Illinois…all of this was confusing for postal workers, so Athens had to be renamed.

In those days, the country was experiencing a fascination with classical names. In addition to Athens, nearby towns were named Rome (later Romeo) and Juliet. It is interesting that Romeo and Juliet were once neighboring towns. It is also interesting that, although most people think Joliet, Illinois was named for the explorer Louis Joliett, the name came later. It was originally named Juliet just because that was the name the first settlers used.

In choosing a name for Lemont, the naming committee rejected Keepataw because they felt the name made the town sound uncivilized. They considered Palmyra, but decided that was as confusing as Athens. Finally, Lemuel Brown, a leading citizen on the committee, suggested Lemont. The assumption was that the name was chosen as a corruption of La Mont, French for “the mountain”, in reference to the limestone bluffs and hills on which the town was built. However, some historians insist Lemuel named it for himself, taking the first three letters of his name and adding “-ont” to it.

As a writer, I too had difficulty deciding whether to use the real name, Lemont, or create a fictional suburb in which to set The Mystery at Sag Bridge. I wanted the leeway to fictionalize as needed—I did not want the story compromised by limitations of historical accuracy (although much of it is accurate!).

As with the original residents, I started by naming my town Athens, but ultimately decided, as they did, that it was too confusing. Next I renamed my town New Athens, only to find that such a town also already exists in Illinois. I considered, as the original residents did, many of the same names they considered: Keepataw, Hastings, Emmettsburg, Haytown, Corktown, Des Plaines, and a close variant, LaMont. Ultimately I stuck out my chin and just went with the real town name. I never considered changing the name of Sag Bridge. It was just too good a name, and I had to keep it!


About Pat Camalliere

Pat is a writer of historical mysteries. She lives in Lemont, Illinois.
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7 Responses to Lemont – What’s in a name?

  1. Paul F says:

    Very Interesting. I’ve already learned something new about Lemont, Romeoville, and Joliet.

  2. Gail says:

    Pat, I think that you giving historical information about Lemont is a good idea and will garner interest in reading your book. I know the title would make me take a good look at the book if I saw it in a bookstore. I’ve always liked mysteries!
    I also like the look of the website. It’s bright, cheerful and informative.

  3. Rich Lee says:

    Being a student of the Fernch language and speaking a little of it, Lemont would be a perfect description for this town. The masculine form, Lemont would be more appropriate than the feminine form, Lamont and means “the mountain or hill” which lemont has many of. Infact, it’s the only other town in Illinois outside of Galena that has many steep hills and a ski resort! lemont one had a ski hill where the Hindu Temple is located today.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Karen Rodde says:

    Pat, I work at a library and picked up the book at it passed thru my hands on the way to the public display. My parents/grandparents/great grandparent lived in Lemont and surrounding area. I am not far into the book yet but love the descriptions of the places. Since the main character is about 70 I can relate to her and her “hoarding”. And she is a member of LAHS. Now I really feel I know her.
    Wishing you great success in you career.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Karen. Do you work at the Lemont Library or another in the area? One of the reasons I placed my story in Lemont was that I wanted people to know what a wonderful place it is, and I am glad you are enjoying the descriptions.

  5. Karen says:

    Since growing up in Lemont, your website was a great find. My maternal grandparents lived in Sag,; my paternal grandparents along the river. Thanks for delving in and recording this history. Please inform if you ever have a book signing event.

    • Thank you for your comment Karen. Since I became active at the Lemont Historical Society, Sag Bridge has been of particular interest to me, and we have little information specific to the area. I’ve been trying to build up those archives, and it has only been since my book is out that people are coming forward with info about Sag. If you have any old photos showing locations in Sag I would be very interested in seeing them. You can contact me through this website at any time, and we could perhaps arrange to meet.
      I will be signing my book at the Lemont Farmer’s Market Tuesday morning, at Printer’s Row in downtown Chicago next weekend, and at The Tinley Park Library on June 13. I will also be scheduling more events in Lemont this summer, and you can watch my events page on this website for further information. Thanks for your interest!

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