By Shawn Clubb
South City Journal
September 18, 2007

Bob Corbett calls it "the sheerest nonsense, claptrap, hogwash." Tom Haller says simply "that rumor is not true."

What they are talking about is theory that Dogtown got its name because Philippine natives, the Igorots, who visited the area as part of the 1904 World's Fair, would hunt dogs there for food.

Haller of Dogtown and a distant cousin, Michael Gittins of Cannes, France, believe they have found the true origin of the Dogtown name. They claim it has little connection to actual dogs. Instead, the cousins believe the name originated in the mid-1800s, long before the Igorots' visit during the World's Fair.

Haller, Gittins and Corbett, a founding member of the Dogtown Historical Society, always doubted the colorful theory about the Igorots held much weight.

Haller started developing a new explanation after he and Gittins learned of each other while doing research on the Dogtown Historical Society Web site - which can be found by using an Internet search engine. They shared ancestors who lived in Dogtown in the early 1800s. Those ancestors were miners.

Corbett said Gittins' great-great-great-grandfather, William Gittins, was a miner from Wales, who moved his family in the 1830s to the area where the World's Fair birdcage is now located in Forest Park. The family became successful and owned a hotel, grocery store, saloon, livery and coal and clay mines.

Haller's great-great-grandfather, Stephan Volz, came from

Baden, Germany, and arrived in 1856 in Dogtown to work in the mines. Volz's daughter, Lucy, married Gittins' son, Edward.

Text and a map of the area from prior to the World's Fair confirmed for the men that the area was called Dogtown as early as 1876. This led the cousins to concentrate on the Dogtown name having something to do with miners.

"The original coal miners in the area were small timers, not the larger scale, more professional miners that arrived later with proper equipment," Gittins said. "Individual miners simply started digging small holes in the ground with nothing more than shovels and their shoulders, and they literally dragged the coal out of the ground to the surface.

"This activity left a whole lot of little holes everywhere, which looked a lot like the types of holes that a dog would dig. I was told (by relatives) that's where the name Dogtown comes from."

Gittins searched a dictionary on mining and minerals for the term "dog."

Here's what he found: A "doghole" is a small opening from one place in a coal mine to another or a small mine employing fewer than 15 miners. A "doghouse" is a small building where miners wash or change clothes.

He searched the Wikipedia Web site and found that a "dogtown" is a collection of huts and shelters usually near a mineral deposit. Corbett said five or six places around St. Louis were at one time called Dogtown.

Other rumors, such as the name coming from the area having a large number of dogs, are just "people reaching for straws," Haller said.

As for the Igorot theory, Haller said, "It's colorful. That's why it caught on and it will never die, but it's stupid."

Gittins said he doesn't mind if people want to think their neighborhood has a connection to dogs. He said it does, because of their habit of digging.

"(The name) Dogtown might have been frowned upon early on but today's Dogtowners have grown to love and respect it," Haller said. "We are proud of the neighborhood's name, origin, character, traditions and historical identity, including the mines and hardworking coal and clay miners who once inhabited the area."


Bibliography Oral history Recorded history Photos
YOUR page External links Walking Tour

Bob Corbett