What’s in a name? History of Broomfield’s name

This article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise.

Broomfield has had to fend off a few insults for its name over the years. Some say it sounds stiff, a bit flat. Mournful perhaps. Not entirely the most creative or inspiring. Still, some interesting historical tidbits can be found behind the name.

The history books don’t exactly lay credit (or blame) for it on any particular person, though railroad men have been mentioned. The place started out as a railroad spur called Zang’s Spur, named after the Zang family who once owned a big chunk of these parts.

The name Broomfield comes from broomcorn, the crop of choice among some of the early white settlers in this area. The botanical name is sorghum vulgare, and it’s also been referred to as millet or guinea corn. It’s not, however, a type of corn. Back then, the British referred to any kind of seed-bearing plant as “corn.”

Broom corn

According to the Newton “Ask a Scientist” web site (a cool site where you can submit questions), the broomcorn story leads straight back to America’s own Renaissance man, Benjamin Franklin:

“Back in the late 1700’s, Benjamin Franklin found a small seed on a whisk broom that a friend had brought him from France for dusting is beaver hat. Next spring he planted that seed and it grew into a tall corn-like plant with a flowering brush of stiff fibers bearing seeds.” –Nature Bulletin No. 685, Forest Preserve District of Cook County Illinois.

In 1797, a Levi Dickenson of Massachusetts fashioned a broom out of this stiff fiber and proudly presented it to his wife. She was soon gushing to her friends about how well it kept her hearth clean compared to the tree branches and corn husks they’d been using. Soon, other inventors were at work, coming up with methods and gadgets that kept the brooms from falling apart, and a new industry was born.

Boys packing brooms for sale

Historically, Illinois has been the broom capital of the country, but the growing regions gradually shifted westward to places liked Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. It’s likely that the growers in this region chose broomcorn because it resisted the locusts, one of the great scourges of 19th century farmers. Locusts are grasshoppers in swarm mode, and they eat just about everything in their path – except broomcorn.

There is some disagreement as to whether humans can eat the stuff, but in this country, we use it only for making brooms.

Broomfield has a couple of sister cities, one of which is the hamlet of Broomfield in southern England. According to Tony Skinner, a citizen of the English Broomfield, who last year wrote a guest column for the Enterprise, “Broomfield comes from the Brvmfelle, which appears in the Norman Domesday book of 1086, and relates to the abundance of a shrub, perhaps the Cystisus Scoparius, bearing bright yellow flowers still growing in our local wood today. Thus, Broomfield was open land where Broom grows.”

Norman Domesday Book

Written in the Norman Domesday Book of 1086. Now that’s impressive.

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