The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.


Spotlight: The Harp or La Harpe

Jim Clayton - The Quill Reporter

As a newcomer to La Harpe I decided to do two things with my article this week.

First I am going to write in the first person. It will not become a habit, but it will become more evident why as you read.

Second I have wondered how La Harpe got its name since I first heard it.

I have conjured many images in my mind. A harp is the instrument the angels play, so I thought maybe there were some heavenly connections to the name.

Harpo Marx played the harp so I thought there could be a possibility, albeit slim, that he had been here or lived here or somehow had a connection.

I also wondered, "Why French?" Did the French settle this area, was the first music teacher also the French teacher. Are La Harpians big fans of French fries or French toast? There has to be an explanation.

So I did a little bit of research and the following is what I found.

I am sure many of you already know this, and that is the primary reason why I am writing in the first person, so everyone will know that I wrote this to satisfy my own curiosity.

This could also be a good primer for the younger members of your families to get their first taste of the history of their hometown.

The first thing I did was confirm that the name is in fact French and according to my wife, who had several years of French in high school and college it means "the harp'. Which is what I thought anyway, but with only one semester of French in junior high, I thought I should confirm.

I found according to several sources including the city's website that sometime in the 1700s a group of French explorers which were led by a gentleman named Berrard de la Harpe were forced, possibly due to bad weather, to spend the winter in an area north of what is now La Harpe, Illinois.

Some one hundred years later in or around 1896, four stone tablets were discovered that dated back to June 15, 1715. The tablets were inscribed in French and were reportedly found a few miles east of an old primitive fort which had been built by la Harpe's men.

Sometime, in or near 1830, a group of landowners began to develop this area and had to come up with a name.

They settled on Franklin and set out to do all the necessary filing.

Upon their arrival at the post office to make it official, they were informed by the postmaster that there was already a town named Franklin in Illinois and they would have to come up with something else.

The postmaster, Louis F. Chaffin, recommended they use the name La Harpe after Berrard la Harpe and in honor of those men who had to suffer through the long cold winter over 100 years prior to the filing attempt.

Besides the fact that La Harpe is named after a man, not a musical instrument or a famous comedian, I found some other related facts.

Illinois is not the only state with a La Harpe. There is also a La Harpe, Kansas.

La Harpe, KS was platted in 1885 and began life as a stop on the St. Louis, Fort Scott and Wichita Railroad.

According to my research and the Allen County Kansas (which is where La Harpe, KS is located) web site it was actually named after La Harpe, Illinois simply because the engineer on the first train through, lived here.

There is also a La Harpe Furniture Store in Little Rock, Arkansas. It seems to also be named after a person named La Harpe.

So, our little town has some history attached to it. But I can't help but wonder, "How did a man get named after a musical instrument in France?"