Another Name for a Run in a Hollow

Nine Mile Run joins the Monongahela River at Duck Hollow, 27 Oct 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

18 January 2021

At the end of yesterday’s blog post about Panther Hollow and Four Mile Run I explained a local naming convention that’s a mystery to people from other parts of the country. The noun “run” means the act of running or a route taken on a regular basis yet in Pittsburgh it also means “creek.”

A stream is called a “Run” in Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio and western Maryland. Derek Watkins’ map of Generic Terms for Streams in the Contiguous U.S., generated from GNIS data, shows the places where people use different words for Creek including: Branch, fork, run, brook, kill, stream, bayou, swamp, slough, wash, cañada, arroyo, rio. (Click here to see his map.)

— from The Rise and Fall of Panther Hollow Lake by Kate St. John

Using the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), Pfly generated a map of just two words — “Run” in red and “Branch” in blue. South of here, Branch and Run coexist then Branch takes over.

Branch vs. Run (map by Pfly on Flickr via Creative Commons licensing)

There are other anomalies as well. Hollow, as in Panther Hollow, is our name for a narrow valley. The term is used throughout Appalachia and in places where Appalachians settled later such as the Ozarks, Utah, Texas, and parts of Oregon and Wisconsin(*). Everywhere else out West a narrow valley is a Gulch. Since the West is dry we think gulches are dry, but they don’t have to be.

Here’s Pfly’s map of Hollow in orange versus Gulch in blue.

Hollow vs Gulch (map by Pfly on Flickr via Creative Commons licensing)

So a Run in a Hollow could be called a Branch in a Gulch.

Nine Mile Branch in Duck Gulch is pictured at top.

It just doesn’t sound right.

(photo by Kate St. John, maps by Pfly on Flickr, Creative Commons licensing)

p.s. (*) The Hollow vs Gulch map is interesting from a Western migration perspective on places where Appalachians settled later. For instance,

  • Utah was settled by Mormons from Upstate New York.
  • Parts of Texas were settled by Appalachians looking for more land. For instance, my great-grandparents emigrated from Appalachian Tennessee to northeastern Texas near the town of Paris.
  • Southwestern Wisconsin uses both Branch and Hollow, terms from the southern Appalachians. Derek Watkins speculates that this patch may have come from Appalachian in-migration “during a regional lead mining boom in the early 19th century.”

7 thoughts on “Another Name for a Run in a Hollow

  1. Very interesting info regarding the terminology. It would be interesting to know what terms American Indians used for these features.

  2. It’s been fun. To me a run is a very tiny stream of water that “runs” off the hills and a “crick” is small stream that joins a larger one. Branch is the joining of larger bodies as the North Branch and the South Branch of the Potomac. (Both which run south to north and are east/west of each other.) Names also are related to where they are first named – at the origin or the insertion.

  3. P.s. Don’t forget who settled where first. What was the language of the person who attempted to continue a native name.

  4. Our nearest waterway (NW Wisconsin) is a branch (Balsam Branch). I always thought it was simply the branch of something bigger – now I know better! Thanks, very interesting as always.

  5. In salmon country out West the etymology references a fish spawning event, a ‘salmon run’. Probably in some spots back East as well. Another likely reason for the name is ‘to run the rapids’. A place you shoot through in a canoe with strong flowing water. Of course ‘run’ has other uses too, there’s probably ‘bootlegger’s runs’ out there as well.

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