Sunday Times - Sri Lanka 2005 November 13th - Plus - Page 1

Searching for Ceylon

Kavan Ratnatunga discovers some little known towns called Ceylon in the US

Searching for an encyclopaedia on CD rom with the keyword Ceylon in November 1997, my son found an entry that said former US Vice President Walter Mondale was born in Ceylon. We discovered there was a Ceylon in Minnesota, USA.

There are many places with international place names in America. Towns have often been named after the cities from which immigrants came to populate a new land but this surely was not the case here?

In those early days of the Internet it was possible to search for e-mail addresses by name of city and I e-mailed four residents I found listed under Ceylon, Minnesota. I had this illuminating correspondence with Jerry Rosenberg who replied, “ The railroad came through this part of Minnesota in 1899, and that is when the town was born. At that time, legend has it, there was a gathering in a local general store, where they were trying to pick out a name for their new settlement. Someone saw a box of tea that was from ‘Ceylon’, and suggested that as a name. Apparently the name was adopted!”
They even had a State Bank of Ceylon.

Years passed, and I had almost forgotten this encounter when in August 2001, I found on eBay a brass token from the Top Hat Cafe, Ceylon Minn while searching for coins and tokens from Ceylon for my collection online. Out of curiosity I bid for and won this old US token which was to start off a new collection at my website. I wrote to Jerry asking for details on this 1930's cafe and over the next few years whenever I found more tokens issued by various establishments in Ceylon Minn on eBay, Jerry would fill me in on the details of each store and its history.

Top Hat Cafe Token
Top Hat Cafe Token

Searching maps.yahoo I found a few smaller suburbs called Ceylon in the USA. There is a Ceylon in Green County, Pennsylvania, a Ceylon in Erie County, Ohio and a Ceylon, in Adam’s County, Indiana. I decided on visiting all of them in the fall of 2005.

Ceylon in Green County, Pennsylvania
Ceylon in Pennsylvania is old. It is listed, dating back to 1893 on a genealogical site with birth records.

Turning off Highway 40 to Route PA-21, I turned into Ceylon Road and reached the village of Ceylon. About a dozen houses later, I was already leaving the small scenic village with a 19th century charm to it. Taking some photographs, I spotted a sign which read ‘15 acres for sale by owner’. Disturbing the owner who was fixing his TV aerial, I asked the price. At $52,000 for the property, it was not significantly different to the price of agricultural land in Lanka. The seller had no idea where the name Ceylon originated and said that the village was a suburb of Carmichaels.

At the Carmichaels post-office, the counter clerk didn't even know that Ceylon Road led to a place signposted as the Village of Ceylon.



Road Sign of Ceylon Pennsylvania
Ceylon in Erie County, Ohio
At around noon on Labour Day, I went to visit Ceylon in Ohio. Ceylon Road (Route OH-61) toward Ceylon OH is off freeway OH-2. Other than the two CEYLON road signs to mark the village boundary, Ceylon OH, had a building with BERLIN TWP. FIRE DEPT. CEYLON STA. painted on the side. I stopped and spoke with some persons who were outside their residence. The freeway had cut through part of the village. There were abandoned roads close to the freeway which now served no purpose. One of them who was visiting had formerly lived near Ceylon IN. They told me the region was known as Berlin Heights and a suburb of Huron.
Berlin Township Fire Department, Ceylon Station, Ohio

Ceylon in Adam’s County, Indiana
In 2002 I had found on eBay a 1976 Bicentennial Medal which lists Ceylon among 17 other towns in Adam’s County. What motivated the name "Ceylon" in the middle of a region settled by a Swiss community?

I drove along US-27 south toward Ceylon, which was between the Swiss towns of Berne and Geneva. Unlike the two previous Ceylons, there wasn't even a sign on the road. Leaving the highway, I went toward the best known landmark, the Ceylon Covered Bridge built in 1860 and advertised as the last remaining on the Wabash river. The road no longer went through the bridge, and the river was all dry. The graffiti inside the wooden bridge indicated it was probably now the local lovers’ lane.

Visiting the Geneva Public Library, I was able to refer to a history of Adam's county as well as read about a recent campaign to preserve the Ceylon Covered Bridge. Interestingly I found out that although the name uses the English spelling Ceylon, it is pronounced with the Dutch accent Ceilon, probably because of the European heritage.


Ceylon Covered Bridge, built over the Wabash river in 1860

Ceylon in Martin County, Minnesota
Ceylon in Martin County, Minnesota is signposted from Interstate I-90 Exit #93 to Route MN-263 with Welcome/Ceylon. Welcome is the name of another town near Ceylon Minnesota. Approaching Ceylon there was another large billboard which made clear that the residents were proud of the origin of their name. It read Welcome to Ceylon ‘We’re your cup of tea’.
Welcome Billboard to Ceylon, Minnesota

Arriving at the State Bank of Ceylon in Minnesota, I showed Marlen Bents, the President of the bank my collection of Ceylon Minn tokens. I had been able to trace more of them in a few years on the Internet via eBay than he had in local auctions over a much longer time. I also displayed for them a number of handicrafts and a book on Lanka, I had brought with me.

The local Martin County newspapers interviewed me and wrote a story titled 'Ceylon' man visits Ceylon.
One of the staff agreed to show me the way to Jerry Rosenberg's farm which was a few miles outside town. It was not too difficult to get lost when all around are miles and miles of cornfields. Just opposite his entrance is a plaque about the Lost Town of Tenhassen.

In 1898 the Chicago & North Western Railroad establishing a train station in the area had authorized the Western Town Lot Company to sell to settlers from the village they called Tenhassen. However the Post Office had rejected the name Tenhassen because there had already been an abandoned village by that name, and this had led to the selection of the name Ceylon. Both names (Tenhassen and Ceylon, Inc) appear on all old documents until 1950 when that was legally changed to just Ceylon.


Post Office Ceylon, MN 56121

Ceylon Area Historical Society Museum
Next morning we had arranged to visit the Ceylon Area Historical Society Museum, formed to preserve items from the Ceylon High School which started in 1918 but sadly closed in 1996 due to shrinking enrolment. On display were uniforms, banners and various other memorabilia from the school. There was a special room with a Veterans’ Memorial for those who had gone to war from Ceylon Minnesota.

The Martin County Historical Society Pioneer Museum in Fairmont which we visited later also had complete collection of the Ceylon Herald which had been published from 1901 to the early 1960s. Gifted by a resident of Ceylon Minnesota, it was a gold mine of information about the town.


I was not the first Lankan to discover Ceylon Minnesota. On October 29, 1966, Shelton Gunaratne, on a World Press Institute fellowship at Macalester College, St. Paul had a friend from the Twin Cities bring him to Ceylon. He recollects, “I once told Senator Walter Mondale that I was born in Ceylon. The Senator had replied that he too was born in Ceylon, but soon discovered we were talking about two different places.”


Mannequin of Ceylon High School Cheerleader


This text is a copy of Searching for Ceylon By Kavan Ratnatunga which appeared in the SundayTimes of Sri Lanka on 2005 November 13th. The eEdition online doesn't have the illustrations of the printed copy. I have also added above one pictures from Ceylon Ohio which had been cut out due to the lack of Space on the Newspaper.

My original A trip to places called Ceylon in USA Blog has many related weblinks, is three times longer and also has few more pictures.

A Sinhala Translation by Premachandra Alwis of my SundayTimes article appeard on 2005 November 27th in the Sunday Lankadeepa Taksalawa page 5. It unfortunately not included in the online edition of that Sinhala Newspaper.