Historian digs into origin of city name

Historian digs into origin of city nameI thought I’d write about a local mystery that has intrigued me for a while. It concerns the naming of our little town. Many of you may know the story of how Ridgecrest got its name. In 1940, the 100 or so residents of the community then known as “Crumville” (when called anything at all) requested a Post Office for their town, and suggested it be called “Sierra View.”

The Post Office Department agreed to provide an office, but objected to the name, on the grounds that there were too many Sierras in California already. How many Sierras were too many? According to History of California Post Offices 1849-1976 by H.E. Salley, there were four post offices in California in 1940 that began with “Sierra”: Sierra, Sierra City, Sierra Madre, and Sierraville. Remember, this was before Zip Codes, so postal workers had to rely on town names to sort and distribute mail.

But back to the main story. The townsfolk didn’t have a Plan B in mind as far as the name for their post office and town was concerned. So, they decided to hold an election to pick a name. Residents posted suggestions on a bulletin board in Bill Bentham’s store, a general store and gas station that was to become the location of the post office. One visitor to town had “fond memories” of Ridgecrest, Missouri, and posted that name. When it came time to vote, “Ridgecrest” beat out “Gilmore,” the brand of gasoline sold by Bentham, by one vote. “Rattlesnake Gulch” came further down the polling.

So, what’s the mystery? Well, where exactly is Ridgecrest, Missouri? Searching for it in Google Maps only gives hits for a Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri, and a few street names in various other parts of Missouri. Neither could I find the town in various old and new atlases I consulted.

Wikipedia lists Ridgecrests in Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia, but not Missouri. Ridgecrest, N.C., is in Buncombe county, which gave rise to the terms bunkum and bunk when their congressman gave a lengthy and irrelevant speech about the Missouri Compromise. Coincidence? I think so!

So, there you have it – Ridgecrest was named after a town in Missouri which seems to have vanished without a trace in the ensuing years. If anyone out there has a lead on whatever became of Ridgecrest, Missouri, let me know! — Andrew Sound

Originally published in the monthly newsletter of the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert.

Pictured: Bill Bentham’s store, on the corner of what would become Ridgecrest and China Lake Boulevard, would later become the site of the city’s first Post Office. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2020-04-24