Kavan Ratnatunga discovers some little
known towns called Ceylon in the US
Searching for an encyclopaedia on CD rom with the keyword Ceylon
in November 1997, my son found an entry that said former US Vice
President Walter Mondale was born in Ceylon. We discovered there
was a Ceylon in Minnesota, USA.
are many places with international place names in America. Towns
have often been named after the cities from which immigrants came
to populate a new land but this surely was not the case here?
those early days of the Internet it was possible to search for e-mail
addresses by name of city and I e-mailed four residents I found
listed under Ceylon, Minnesota. I had this illuminating correspondence
with Jerry Rosenberg who replied, “ The railroad came through
this part of Minnesota in 1899, and that is when the town was born.
At that time, legend has it, there was a gathering in a local general
store, where they were trying to pick out a name for their new settlement.
Someone saw a box of tea that was from ‘Ceylon’, and
suggested that as a name. Apparently the name was adopted!”
even had a State Bank of Ceylon.
Years passed, and I had almost forgotten this encounter when in
August 2001, I found on eBay a brass token from the Top Hat Cafe,
Ceylon Minn while searching for coins and tokens from Ceylon for
my collection online. Out of curiosity I bid for and won this old
US token which was to start off a new collection at my website.
I wrote to Jerry asking for details on this 1930's cafe and over
the next few years whenever I found more tokens issued by various
establishments in Ceylon Minn on eBay, Jerry would fill me in on
the details of each store and its history.
maps.yahoo I found a few smaller suburbs called Ceylon in the USA.
There is a Ceylon in Green County, Pennsylvania, a Ceylon in Erie
County, Ohio and a Ceylon, in Adam’s County, Indiana. I decided
on visiting all of them in the fall of 2005.
in Green County, Pennsylvania
Ceylon in Pennsylvania is old. It is listed, dating back to 1893
on a genealogical site with birth records.
off Highway 40 to Route PA-21, I turned into Ceylon Road and reached
the village of Ceylon. About a dozen houses later, I was already
leaving the small scenic village with a 19th century charm to it.
Taking some photographs, I spotted a sign which read ‘15 acres
for sale by owner’. Disturbing the owner who was fixing his
TV aerial, I asked the price. At $52,000 for the property, it was
not significantly different to the price of agricultural land in
Lanka. The seller had no idea where the name Ceylon originated and
said that the village was a suburb of Carmichaels.
the Carmichaels post-office, the counter clerk didn't even know
that Ceylon Road led to a place signposted as the Village of Ceylon.
Ceylon in Erie County, Ohio
At around noon on Labour Day, I went to visit Ceylon in Ohio. Ceylon
Road (Route OH-61) toward Ceylon OH is off freeway OH-2. Other than
the two CEYLON road signs to mark the village boundary, Ceylon OH,
had a building with BERLIN TWP. FIRE DEPT. CEYLON STA. painted on
the side. I stopped and spoke with some persons who were outside
their residence. The freeway had cut through part of the village.
There were abandoned roads close to the freeway which now served
no purpose. One of them who was visiting had formerly lived near
Ceylon IN. They told me the region was known as Berlin Heights and
a suburb of Huron.
in Adam’s County, Indiana
In 2002 I had found on eBay a 1976 Bicentennial Medal which lists
Ceylon among 17 other towns in Adam’s County. What motivated
the name "Ceylon" in the middle of a region settled by
a Swiss community?
along US-27 south toward Ceylon, which was between the Swiss towns
of Berne and Geneva. Unlike the two previous Ceylons, there wasn't
even a sign on the road. Leaving the highway, I went toward the
best known landmark, the Ceylon Covered Bridge built in 1860 and
advertised as the last remaining on the Wabash river. The road no
longer went through the bridge, and the river was all dry. The graffiti
inside the wooden bridge indicated it was probably now the local
the Geneva Public Library, I was able to refer to a history of Adam's
county as well as read about a recent campaign to preserve the Ceylon
Covered Bridge. Interestingly I found out that although the name
uses the English spelling Ceylon, it is pronounced with the Dutch
accent Ceilon, probably because of the European heritage.
in Martin County, Minnesota
Ceylon in Martin County, Minnesota is signposted from Interstate
I-90 Exit #93 to Route MN-263 with Welcome/Ceylon. Welcome is the
name of another town near Ceylon Minnesota. Approaching Ceylon there
was another large billboard which made clear that the residents
were proud of the origin of their name. It read Welcome to Ceylon
‘We’re your cup of tea’.
at the State Bank of Ceylon in Minnesota, I showed Marlen Bents,
the President of the bank my collection of Ceylon Minn tokens. I
had been able to trace more of them in a few years on the Internet
via eBay than he had in local auctions over a much longer time.
I also displayed for them a number of handicrafts and a book on
Lanka, I had brought with me.
local Martin County newspapers interviewed me and wrote a story
titled 'Ceylon' man visits Ceylon.
One of the staff agreed to show me the way to Jerry Rosenberg's
farm which was a few miles outside town. It was not too difficult
to get lost when all around are miles and miles of cornfields. Just
opposite his entrance is a plaque about the Lost Town of Tenhassen.
1898 the Chicago & North Western Railroad establishing a train
station in the area had authorized the Western Town Lot Company
to sell to settlers from the village they called Tenhassen. However
the Post Office had rejected the name Tenhassen because there had
already been an abandoned village by that name, and this had led
to the selection of the name Ceylon. Both names (Tenhassen and Ceylon,
Inc) appear on all old documents until 1950 when that was legally
changed to just Ceylon.
Area Historical Society Museum
Next morning we had arranged to visit the Ceylon Area Historical
Society Museum, formed to preserve items from the Ceylon High School
which started in 1918 but sadly closed in 1996 due to shrinking
enrolment. On display were uniforms, banners and various other memorabilia
from the school. There was a special room with a Veterans’
Memorial for those who had gone to war from Ceylon Minnesota.
Martin County Historical Society Pioneer Museum in Fairmont which
we visited later also had complete collection of the Ceylon Herald
which had been published from 1901 to the early 1960s. Gifted by
a resident of Ceylon Minnesota, it was a gold mine of information
about the town.
I was not the first Lankan to discover Ceylon Minnesota. On October
29, 1966, Shelton Gunaratne, on a World Press Institute fellowship
at Macalester College, St. Paul had a friend from the Twin Cities
bring him to Ceylon. He recollects, “I once told Senator Walter
Mondale that I was born in Ceylon. The Senator had replied that
he too was born in Ceylon, but soon discovered we were talking about
two different places.”