CAROLINE, N.Y. — For Tim Larkin, it’s been a rather long process to get the name of a local creek corrected. Perhaps one could say it was a six mile journey.

Most folks are familiar with Sixmile Creek, which winds down from its hilly tributaries, flows through the placid hamlet of Brooktondale and the farms of Caroline. It serves the Ithaca Reservoir in the like-named town, and courses through the heart of downtown Ithaca, bisecting Southside before emptying its content into the inlet. There are trails and gorges named after it. There’s a vineyard that takes it name from it. There are high-end loft apartments that pay homage to it.

Now take a look at that paragraph again. Does something look odd?

If you honed in on the creek’s name, you’re right. According to the official U.S. Board on Geographic Names (USBGN), the federal body in charge of maintaining the official records of place names, it is not Six Mile Creek. It’s “Sixmile Creek”, and according to them, we’ve all been spelling it wrong for at least 120 years.

Admittedly, this is not a life-and-death matter. But it is a very strange matter. Or at least Tim Larkin, a retired software engineer, thought so. He first became aware of the discrepancy when assisting his wife Susan on a history project for a photography class at TC3. To showcase her work and research, he built a modest, informative website about the Creek and its environs. It is after the website went live that the issue arose.

“Someone wrote to me when they had seen the website, this guy was a geologist who knew the USGS’s position on this. He corrected me on this, and I took some umbrage to that,” said Larkin.

It’s a fair thing to take umbrage to. When you live in the same town for nearly fifty years, one should expect to have the names and spellings down pat.

So Larkin double-checked with the USGS. Sure enough, “Sixmile Creek”. Who spells it like that? Larkin brought it up to friends, neighbors and officials. Practically no one.

“I had been visiting the USGS website to look at old maps, and somehow, I don’t remember exactly how, I got to this subsection with the U.S. Board of Geographic Names…it had a ‘contact us’ link, and I emailed them, and they sent back a link to petition the name change, and I did it online.”

Now, suffice it to say, getting the name of a place officially changed is not an easy or simple task. The USBGN wants a good explanation, and they want strong local support for the name change.

“I produced a document with a listing of maps and photographs on websites, historic links that all said “Six Mile Creek”, that was one part,” said Larkin. “The other part was talking to municipal authorities, they wanted to ask them. This creek, it goes through Caroline, the town of Ithaca, the city of Ithaca, and Tompkins County, and I had to contact these officials and get them to agree with my proposal.”

Getting them to agree with the proposal isn’t a simple task either, but it is possible. The county legislature’s Government Operations Committee is tentatively scheduled take a vote on approving the name change at its Thursday meeting. Their approval will allow Legislator Mike Lane, to sign and submit a recommendation form that says the county agrees that the name should be changed. The USBGN is also soliciting opinions from local town officials and historians knowledgeable of Sixmile Creek’s babbling waters.

So if no one calls it Sixmile Creek, where did it come from? Larkin did some research, but is still unsure. “The first {local} USGS map was published in 1900. That included Dryden and East Ithaca, and that’s the first map that Sixmile, one word, shows up, and that’s when they made up their mind that’s what the name of the creek name was. I don’t know why, maybe it was mistake.”

“It’s pretty geeky, but I think it’s a neat story. But if you look anywhere, it’s two words, except from the USGS. They got it wrong, we’re right.”

A mistake that has around longer than any of us have walked this world. But better to fix a mistake late, than to never fix it at all, right?

“I kinda get obsessed with details sometimes,” said Larkin with a laugh. “For 120 years, nobody’s cared too much. It just really irked me. There was an opportunity to change it, and I just couldn’t let it go.”

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.