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Wendy Reuer, Published May 27 2012

The stories of how F-M landmarks got their names

FARGO – Often, North Dakotans’ directions include a geographical reference rather than a street number.

But when you tell someone to take a left at Unicorn Park or go two blocks past Cheney, it may give some visitors, and even residents, reason to pause and question just how a name became a name.

Fargo Parks Executive Director Roger Gress said the park board created a naming policy in 2008 to avoid conflicts in deciding a moniker for future play areas.

“We tried to take the emotions out of it because unfortunately we all think we know many, many deserving people,” Gress said.

Historically, Fargo parks have been named for early owners of the land or developers, a criterion that remains today.

According to the 2008 policy, parks can also be named for the nearest school, a developer’s suggestion, the name of a local interest point or geographical feature, historical event, or after a person or family if they donate the land.

The Forum asked readers to submit names around the metro they were curious about. Here are the origins of some of the most popular curiosities.

Cheney Middle School

No, Cheney Middle School is not named for former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney. The school honors Chuck Cheney, longtime West Fargo superintendent.

Chuck Cheney served the school district for more than 40 years, as superintendent, assistant superintendent, a middle school principal and teacher.

Chuck Cheney was superintendent in 2004, when the middle school carrying his name opened.

Ellen Hopkins Elementary School

This Moorhead school was named for Ellen “Nellie” Hopkins, a longtime Moorhead teacher and principal.

An amateur actress and lover of spring picnics, she was also well-known about town for her Maxwell car she named “Henrietta,” according to Forum columnist Andrea Halgrimson.

Hopkins often packed 26 of her first-grade students into Henrietta to attend lyceums.

Island Park

Located next to the Red River at 302 7th St. S., it is far, far away from any sea, lake or ocean where an island would normally be found. The popular park’s moniker raised many an eyebrow from metro residents curious about its origins.

The park, built in the 1940s, was so named because the area was prone to flooding. Before the dike was built to protect downtown Fargo, the Red River ran around Island Park, making the highest part of the park an island.

Elephant Park

Contrary to folklore that says circus elephants may have met their fate while in the park and are now buried there, Carolyn Boutain, Fargo Parks director of cultural activities, said the common name is derived from the elephant statue in the park.

Elephant Park is also referred to as Percy Godwin Park and is located at 100 19th Ave. N.

Brunsdale Park

Gress said Brunsdale gets its name from one of the original Fargo plat books, likely after an early family who owned the land.

But, its nickname, Spider Park, derives from a less sinister place than it sounds.

Arachnophobes can rest easy: The nickname comes from a popular playground piece made of mesh that children could climb – like a spider.

Brunsdale Park is located at 1702 27th Ave. S.

Unicorn Park

Although a few rainbows might be seen after a good storm, there is no prancing Pegasus in this park at 1603 3rd Ave. N. Instead, Unicorn Park is named for a former unicorn statue seated in the park during the 1970s.

The statue has been removed, but the name remains, Boutain said.

Lindenwood Park

This park at 1905 Roger Maris Drive was named for the neighborhood and development that was a part of the city prior to 1917.

Matson Field

This Moorhead ball field honors Harold H. (Peg) Matson of Moorhead, who died in January 1959, the same month the City Council unanimously decided to change the name of the field from Northside Ball Park.

Matson was a longtime industrial arts teacher in the Moorhead schools, but was also the driving force behind the city’s youth recreation program, running summer baseball programs, supervising playground activities and starting touch football.

Jack Williams Stadium

One of the oldest stadiums in the area, it was named for one of the originators and vital supporters of Fargo American Legion baseball teams before World War I, according to The Forum archives.

Williams was a North Dakota American Legion department adjutant.

In 1925, he was a pioneer during a convention that led to the endorsement of the national Legion baseball program. He organized and conducted the first season in North Dakota in 1928.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530