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Welcome to City of Cheese, Chairs, Children and Churches

March 27, 1991 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Everyone knows Denver is the Mile High City, but did you know Hoboken, N.J., is the Mile Square City? That fluoride-rich Hereford, Texas, calls itself the Town without a Toothache? That Sheboygan is known across Wisconsin as the City of Cheese, Chairs, Children and Churches?

From Boston, the Athens of America, to Fairbanks, known simply as Frostbite, Alaska, thousands of American communities have a nickname that boosts a dominant industry, touts a tourist attraction or celebrates past glory.

Now, April’s American Heritage magazine has come up with a handy list of these monickers, most of them informal, many of them anachronisms, and almost all of them incredibly corny.

Farmington, Maine, calls itself the Earmuff Capital of the World, commemorating the invention there 118 years ago. Crystal City, Texas, is the Spinach Capital of the World, and anyone who doubts that should check out the statue of Popeye erected by city fathers in 1937.

Many places claim to be the Athens of something, although only Beantown has the temerity to claim to be the Athens of the whole country. Lexington, Ky., is the Athens of the West, Waco the Athens of Texas, Fayetteville the Athens of Arkansas. Leonia is the Athens of New Jersey, a nod to the Columbia University professors who once commuted across the Hudson River.

Pullman, Ill., which everybody associates with railroads, is the City of Brick. New Haven, Conn., synonymous in most minds with Yale, is the City of Elms - a name that predates the spread of Dutch elm disease.

Radburn, N.J., built in the 1920s with the first system of suburban cul-de- sacs, was dubbed The Town for the Motor Age - a motto somewhat dated by the advent of the Space Age.

Many nicknames betray a civic identity crisis. Lake Placid thinks it is America’s Switzerland, while Albany boasts of being America’s Edinburgh. Rapid City is the Denver of South Dakota and Lincoln, Neb., is the Hartford of the West. The Hartford of the East, meanwhile, calls itself the Insurance City.

Other cities can’t decide what they are. Rochester is both Snapshot City (a reference to Kodak) and the City Built By Hands (as opposed to what?). In addition to the aforementioned Frostbite, Fairbanks also is known as the Kansas City of Alaska.

Economies change, but nicknames live on. Holyoke, Mass., is the Paper City, although that industry long ago moved south, and neighboring Westfield remains the Whip City despite a drop in demand for buggy whips.

Paterson, N.J., is still known as Silk City, even though the local textile business is a memory. Paterson could just as truthfully been dubbed ″Strike City,″ so regular and contentious were its labor disputes. This tradition, in fact, helped inspire the motto of neighboring Garfield: City of Industrial Peace. Today, however, Garfield styles itself City of Champions, a switch that reflects the trend away from gritty, specific nicknames to bland platitudes.

Among the most mind-numbing of the new breed is the one adapted by Klamath County, Ore. - known popularly as the Center of the Great Western Market in Southern Oregon’s Finest Recreationland.