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It’s official: Bureau County creek will be renamed Adams Creek

Name change honors waterway’s first settler, removes outdated name

If this spares someone from being offended, or being offensive, it’s totally worth it.

—  Amy Urbanowski, who grew up in Ladd and led the effort to change the creek's name

In 1829, a Black man named Adams settled near a creek in Bureau County.

Rather than name the geographic feature after his name, the creek was named instead for the color of Adams’ skin.

Thursday, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names agreed to honor Adams — voting 14-0 in favor of changing Negro Creek to Adams Creek, making it official.

“The creek was named Negro because Adams was a black man,” said Amy Urbanowski, who grew up in Ladd and led the effort to change the creek’s name. “It is more respectful to name the creek after his name, rather than his race. The names of towns and streets in our community are named after people, not their skin colors.

“If this spares someone from being offended, or being offensive, it’s totally worth it,” she added.

The change is effective immediately for all federal maps and products, said Jennifer Runyon, research staff for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

“The next step will be to notify all parties, i.e. the local governments and others who provided input into the decision,” Runyon said. “That will happen early next week (the proponent of the change was notified by email yesterday).”

Urbanowski said she also will notify mapmakers of the change. She is hopeful a road sign on County Road 1600, west of Ladd, will be changed.

The Bureau County Assessors Office changed the name of the creek Friday morning on its GIS mapping software.

The U.S. Board’s official names database is usually updated within 24-48 hours, but it is currently offline, pending a system upgrade, Runyon said.

“We hope to be able to take care of the update in the next few weeks,” Runyon said. “Federal maps, primarily the U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps, will be updated during the normal three-year revision cycle. Illinois was just remapped this year, so it will presumably happen in 2024. Digital products will reflect the change sooner.”

Urbanowski and Charles Klinefelter, of DePue, have been instrumental in seeking the name change. Since April, Urbanowski circulated petitions, drummed up letters of support and presented the proposal in August to the Bureau County Board.

The board unanimously approved the request to rename the creek, but its action was not the final say.

The Ladd Village Board also approved the request at an Aug. 10 meeting in which Village President Frank Cattani used a racial slur three times while discussing the proposed name change. According to an audio recording of the meeting, Cattani said the creek was known decades ago by another name, and then said the racial slur.

”That’s the history of it,” he told his fellow trustees, after using the slur another time in an incomplete sentence.

According to research by the Bureau County Historical Society, the creek has not been officially known by a racial slur.

Urbanowski said she is hopeful that with the name change the informal use of the racial slur by some when referencing the creek will fade away over time.

“This is a great thing for the county,” she said. “It will rename the creek, and reduce the opportunity for people to use culturally offensive language and set a better example for the children in the county.”

Klinefelter has shared the story of his children being targeted by racial slurs, and he was happy to see the creek’s name changed Thursday. An attempt to rename the creek occurred about a decade ago, but it was not adopted.

“With the help from those in the past who helped, and Amy Urbanowski and myself, we were able to reach the hearts of the committee and with an unanimous 14-0 vote it was approved,” Klinefelter wrote in a Facebook statement. “I myself feel that this world just became a better place to live in and that if you have a dream to change something don’t give up on it, we can all make positive changes in this world.”

Why Adams Creek?

According to “The History of Bureau County, Illinois” by HC Bradsby, in the fall of 1829, “Adams built a cabin at the mouth of Negro Creek and from his circumstance the stream gets its name. He was frightened across the river by the Indians and never returned.”

The literature was provided by the Bureau County Historical Society and research conducted by David Gugerty, the organization’s curator.

An “Atlas of Bureau County and the State of Illinois” in 1875 by Warner and Beers, Chicago, also confirms the naming.