Monday, April 14, 2008

My blue bell theory

Blue Bells at RittenhouseTown.Blue bells -- yes, blue bells -- Historic RittenhouseTown, Wednesday evening.

Blue bells we called them on the farm were I grew up in York County, Pennsylvania, and blue bells they were called by the old timers in Blue Bell Hill when I first moved here fifteen years ago. A botanist would tell you no, that they are grape hyacinths, and I have neighbors who grow true blue bells as a show of pride for their neighborhood. But my theory is that these are the blue bells for which Blue Bell Hill was named.

Blue Bell Hill has been known by that name since at least 1877. A record exists somewhere showing that the local church then was called Blue Bell Hill Mission. But why that name? Well, the hill leading up from Historic RittenhouseTown to the neighborhood today is covered with thick woods, but not too long ago it was pasture. Clem Rittenhouse, who used to stop by the visitor center at RittenhouseTown when I was a volunteer there in the early 1990s remembered when it was pasture. His memories would have gone back to at least the 1920s, and I have seen old photographs from well before then showing a bare hill.

On the farm where I grew up the blue bells loved exposed hillsides, especially if they got a lot of sun. In April they would turn the hill in the lower pasture on our farm deep blue. As they did on the sun drenched hills of neighboring farms.

I imagine the hill that leads up from RittenhouseTown a hundred years ago painted blue in April -- the conditions would have been perfect -- and travelers along Lincoln Drive and Rittenhouse Street remarking on that sight. Surely it would become know as Blue Bell Hill.

Thanks to Wayfaring Wanderer, whose post inspired this post.

6 comments:

Wayfaring Wanderer said...

I feel all warm and fuzzy :o)

I much rather them have the obvious name of Blue Bell.....it's definitely more fitting!

Great shot....

Anonymous said...

nice to read. have never heard them called bluebells but that is so much easier remember than grape hyacynths.

meg said...

While I am no botanist I knew by looking at these that they where in fact grape hyacinth but even still that's a nice story to go along with them.~

Dan Allen said...

Hey Meg,
Thanks! They are indeed grape hyacinth, botanically speaking. My contention is that they were known locally as blue bells, and that because of there tendency to proliferate on sunny hills, Blue Bell Hill got its name from them. Besides, "Grape Hyacinth Hill" just doesn't have the right ring to it.

Elliebug said...

Ah, lovely. I used to live in Houston, TX, where both the real blue bells and the grape hyacinths grew. We were taught the difference between the two in a very simple way: Blue bells were illegal to pick and grape hyacinths weren't. So we called the latter blue bells and pretended to break the law.
Ah, blue bells....

Ryan Shaffer said...

I had a feeling you were going to mention York County. I'm from Mount Wolf, just outside the borough, and I didn't know they were actually "grape hyacinths" either! But they'll always be "bluebells" to me. Actually, they're just called "grape hyacinths" because that's what some people call them; I bet you that if we rounded up all the people near and far who call them "bluebells" and started a movement, the common name would change in a second. Some other person actually posted some photo and titled it: "Grape Hyacinths, NOT Blue Bells." I guess he/she had no idea that I wouldn't have found the page, if not for the "Blue Bells" part of it. haha