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August 30, 2005 > We are family

We are family

by Tina Cuccia

In 1987, when Newark, New Jersey Mayor Sharpe James learned that a San Francisco Bay Area town called Newark was considering changing its name to distance itself from its East Coast sister city, he was taken aback. Sure, the "right coaster" Newark, just minutes from New York City had, through the years, developed a reputation as a gritty industrial city associated with urban blight and crime. But even so, it didn't settle well with Mayor James to think that the "left coaster" Newark was ready to bail on the name.

So he made call to the Mayor of the California town, David Smith. Mayor James learned the name-change proposal was simply the result of a poll conducted by a local newspaper, and that local officials had never considered changing the name. Regardless of the good news, Mayor James hopped on a plane to California to get to know the sister city and take part in its "Newark Days" celebration.

That was just the beginning and led to further research. Just how many Newarks were around the world? It turns out there are 27 in the United States that are or once were towns or cities called Newark. There are Newarks of Australia, Canada, South Africa and the original Newark, which inspired the rest: Newark-on-Trent in East Nottinghamshire, England.

That research led to a gathering of representatives from the Newarks of the world that has since been held every two years in one of the Newark locations. The event allows visitors to tour local sites, take in local entertainment and food and talk about the similarities of their towns and cities. So far, eight such gatherings have taken place.

Most recently, the event took place in Newark, New Jersey, where visitors were able to visit, among other things, the Newark Public Library, which has examined the history of all the Newarks. In addition, they had a chance to see how far New Jersey's largest city has come through the years.

"We live with a stigma, and it is a tragedy," Mayor James recently told The New York Times, and who became Newark's longest-serving mayor when he was re-elected for an unprecedented fifth term in 2002. "And the only way you can break down misconceptions is to sit down and find common ground. My experience is what whenever we do that, we always win them over."

Mayor James says over the years, the Newark gatherings have become more like family reunions. Even though they are all very different, at the same time they all have a lot in common.

The coming together of the Newarks was unique, according to Ami Neiberger-Miller, communications director for the nonprofit group Sister Cities International. She says the organization works with more than 2,400 community partnerships in 127 countries, but it is unusual to have a sister-city partnership built around a name.

Through the years, many Newarks have come and gone. Only a collection of tumbleweeds is left of the silver mining town named Newark that existed in the 1880s in Nevada. The same goes for the once lively town from that same era in Queensland, Australia. Iowa once had four Newarks. Today it has none.

The Newarks of today in the United States vary in size. For example, those located in Michigan, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois and Texas are farm or cattle towns. Newark, Missouri, has a population of 100, while Newark, New Jersey, its big city sister had an estimated population of 200 -- that is in 1666. Its population has grown to 273,546 according to the 2000 U.S. census.

The name dates back to 12th century England, when Newark Castle was built near the Trent and Devon rivers. The word itself probably originated from the phrase "new works" according to Rupert Vinnicombe, the librarian of East Nottinghamshire, referring to fortifications that were put in place in 1645 as part of a two-year siege of King Charles I by forces loyal to the English Parliament and Oliver Cromwell.

Many Newarks can trace their name to the medieval Anglo-Saxon town in England while other Newarks claim only an indirect connection. The Burnet family that founded Newark, Ohio, in the 1700s, actually brought the name with them when they left New Jersey. Residents of the new town later traveled westward and carried the name to Indiana, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri. How other U.S. states called Newark got their names is something that has long been forgotten.

So what about Newark, California? Is its namesake a carry over from the East Coast or must we pop over the pond to discover the origin of its name? Newark, California, that celebrates it 50th anniversary as a city this year was originally settled in the 1850s and named after Castle Newark in Scotland by a Scottish land developer in the 1870s.

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