SAN ANTONIO – Have you ever wondered how some South Texas towns got their names? Here are the stories behind Utopia and Comfort.
Scenery does not get much better than it does in the Hill Country town of Utopia, which was originally and aptly named Montana. The name was changed in the late 1800s by resident George Barker. Barker was brought to then Montana to teach school and become the postmaster.
"But he came here sick,” said lifelong Utopia resident and historian Diane Causey. “We think it was like tuberculosis or something."
Barker also had an odd habit of swimming daily, winter or summer, in the Sabinal River.
"That was his ritual,” Causey said. “Every morning, he got up and swam in the river. And then he was cured."
It was that miracle, of sorts, that had such an impact on Barker that he took it upon himself to change the name of the town.
"So he said Montana is just not the name for this place. I’m going to name it after Sir Thomas More's 'Utopia' – a perfect place to be,” Causey said.
Hollywood thought the town was perfect, too, filming the movie "Seven Days in Utopia," starring Robert Duval in the Hill Country town.
“They came to get away from government. They came to get away from church, and they weren’t going to have anyone tell them what to do,” said Anne Stewart, a lifelong resident and member of the Comfort Heritage Foundation, of Comfort founders.
The first settlers of Comfort were a group of free-thinking, university-educated Germans, who left their home country to escape strict German rule.
“What they wanted to do was secede from the state of Texas and set up the free state of German West Texas," Stewart said.
That did not happen, and the Texas frontier was not kind to the new settlers. They found manual labor difficult after coming from an academic background. As a result, the town got off to a shaky start.
"It was nothing but shacks and lean-tos, and they were all full of fleas,” Stewart said.
It was that hardship that helped form the town’s current name.
"They called it Camp Comfort, thinking it was going to get easier and better,” Stewart said. “It didn’t, and so they dropped the word 'camp,' and they went with Comfort, because there wasn’t any."
In the end, the name represented extreme irony. However, residents did eventually get comfortable, and the name lives on.
Comfort is also known for having the only Civil War memorial celebrating the Union, as many of the town’s residents were sympathetic to the Union’s beliefs during the conflict.