NCPedia becomes an even richer -- and tempting -- resource

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 12:35 PM

If you wanted to know how Lizard Lick got that name – one of my favorites on the North Carolina map – you could, of course, Google it.

But then you would have to wade through multiple links to the TruTV mock-reality show, Lizard Lick Towing, to find a dubious Wikepedia entry.

Or you could go to “The North Carolina Gazetteer.”

That indispensable trove of information about the state’s communities, rivers, mountains – pretty much any place with a name – will tell you this:

“Lizard Lick -- crossroads community in E Wake County near town of Wendell. Named by a passing observer who saw many lizards sunning and "licking" themselves on a rail fence there.”

I’ve had a now-dog-eared copy of the gazetteer in my library since shortly after University of North Carolina Press first published it in 1968. Compiled by long-time UNC professor and preeminent North Carolina historian William S. Powell, it was updated in 2010. It contains information on more than 20,000 places in the state.

And it just got even easier to use.

The complete gazetteer is online through the NCPedia at The NCPedia is itself a marvelous resource of which I was unaware until the press release arrived last weekend announcing that it had added the gazetteer.

It is, the press release said, a “free online encyclopedia (that) features thousands of articles and resources about North Carolina culture and history.” It’s managed by the State Library of North Carolina’s Government and Heritage Library, part of the state Department of Cultural Resources.
Aside from the just-added gazetteer,  resources bundled on the site include the “Encyclopedia of North Carolina,” – the complete text of which has been online since the end of 2012 – and the  “Dictionary of North Carolina Biography.” The content of its six printed volumes are being added steadily and should be complete by the end of this year.

One of the latest entries to be uploaded is for Durham business leader Asa T. Spaulding, the long-time executive with N. C. Mutual Life Insurance Company who was its president for a decade before retiring in 1968.

The entire collection is easily searchable. For the randomly curious, it can be browsed in several different ways.

Curious to know who else from Durham joins Spaulding in the biography dictionary? You can search biographies by county – there are 44 entries for men and women who “were born, died, or made significant contributions” in Durham.

The encyclopedia – edited by Powell – goes deep below the usual pantheon of well-known Durhamites such as the Dukes, Julian Carr or George Watts Hill.

You can learn about Lillian Baker Griggs, who became Durham County’s librarian in 1911 and then, in 1930, became the first librarian of the new Woman’s College of Duke University until her retirement in 1949.

Or read about Alban Gregory Widgery, recruited from Cornell University in 1930 to chair the expanding philosophy department at then-nascent Duke University.  “He was described as an incomparable teacher, fluent, provocative, and erudite,” according to his entry. “His role in helping to make Duke University a center of intellectual thought and research in a strategic period of its establishment and growth was acknowledged.”

In welcoming the “North Carolina Gazetteer” to the site, Mark Simpson-Vos, UNC Press’s editorial director, said “I know plenty of folks are going to spend hours like I have losing myself in the important, surprising, and sometimes quirky history of these places and their names.”

As should be obvious, I plead guilty to yielding to that temptation. I invite you to, too.

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6678 or