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On the map of the world:
Where are our namesakes?

Olga Bobrova  

Cities are like people. They have their own image, history, legends, mysteries and names.

It is easy to explain why in almost every country there is its own New City, be it Novgorod, New York or Noestadt. But it is odd that east of the Ural mountains there is a God forgotten village called Paris or deep in the Mari region they have their own Rome.

Are there any namesakes of our city of St. Petersburg? How many? Is the origin of their names connected with the city on the Neva River? The New East/ Segodnya magazine is going to answer these questions.

Where has our search begun?

Searching the materials in the library

We started our search at the Russian Geographic Society in Grivtsov Pereulok. In order to answer our questions, Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savina, head of the library, had to look through all of the atlases and reference books that have been published over the last two hundred years not only in Russia, but in Leipzig, Stuttgart, London, Paris, Boston, Chicago and New York as well.

The results surpassed all our expectations!

Cities of St. Petersburg were found even on the 19th century maps of Australia and in southern Canada. In Czechia at the end of the 19th century there were two St. Petersburgs - a village in Bohemia with a population of 311 people and a castle near Rakhovnik that was founded in 1910. In Switzerland, in the area of Shafhausen on the right bank of the Rhine, there are two neighbouring villages, Moscow and St. Petersburg, which were named as such in memory of the Russian army under Suvorov crossing the Alps and in honour of Russia's victories in the Napoleonic wars.

Reliable geographic sources of the last two hundred years mention 16 St. Petersburgs in different states of the USA! 12 of them are marked in the latest 1999 edition of the World Atlas. Information about them is very concise and scanty: latitude, longitude, district name, population -- and that's all. Half of these St. Petersburgs are small settlements with populations of less than 10 000 people.

So, most of St. Petersburgs are situated in the United States of America. Therefore, the information we obtained at the Russian Geographic Society led us to the American Consulate-General in St. Petersburg.

When they heard about 16 American St. Petersburgs, the people at the consulate merely raised their eyebrows: "That many?" they said, but they were intrigued, promised to help and immediately joined our search.

A few days later it was our turn to raise our eyebrows.

Elena Andryushenkova, a consulate-general Information Resources Centre assistant, had made an inquiry in the USA and received the following answer. According to the USA Geographic Directory, there are 35 towns in the country called St. Petersburg and, according to the US State Department Office for International Information Programmes in Washington, there are as many as 52! In some states there is more than one namesake of our St. Petersburg. There are four St. Petersburgs in the states of Ohio, North Carolina and Missouri and five St. Petersburgs in Pennsylvania.

We don't know if the history of any of these towns is connected with our northern capital, except for one American St. Petersburg


On the shores of Tampa bay

Among all American St. Petersburgs, the one that is situated in Florida on the western shores of Tampa Bay is not only the most beautiful and famous, but also the biggest one. This Saint Petersburg covers a territory of 59.2 square miles and has a population of about 300 000 people. It is definitely known that it was named after our St. Petersburg in the north of Russia. You can see it in the photographs below

Pyotr Dementyev, or Peter Demens


Who was the founder of the American St. Petersburg? He was a Russian by birth, a nobleman, an officer of the Imperial Guards Troops, a landlord, an entrepreneur and a writer, Pyotr Alexeevich Dementyev. He was a man of unique fate, whose life was full of paradoxes and amazing adventures.

Pyotr's parents - he was born on May 1, 1850 - were rather educated people and they owned land estates in the Tver and Novgorod provinces. Everything was promising Pyotr the carefree childhood of a spoilt landlord and a brilliant career in the future. But fate turned out in a different way: at the age of 5 he became an orphan. He was brought up by Anastassy Alexandrovich Kaliteevsky, marshal of the Vesyegonsk district nobility, brother of the boy's mother, the boy's tutor and guardian of his land estates.

At the age of 10 Pyotr was sent to St. Petersburg to study. Gymnasium No. 3, where the boy was assigned to study (today it is School No. 181 in Solyanoi Pereulok), was one of the best in the city. The boy studied quite well and later was transferred to the newly founded First Technical School in St. Petersburg.

Pyotr's life was full of sudden changes, which is in the nature of all extraordinary people. Before finishing school, he went to serve in the household troops of the Gatchinsky regiment of Chasseurs. Within a few months he was promoted from private to non-commissioned officer to cadet and then to ensign. He served in the Imperial Guards Troops and he often stood guard at the Winter Palace and at the Anichkov Palace, the residence of the heir to the throne. It was obvious that he was ensured a brilliant military career. However, he married at 20 and resigned from the army for "domestic reasons."

Dementyev spent the first eleven years of his married life on his Vesyegonsk estate. As the owner of vast lands, he tried to develop agriculture, dairy cattle and grow oats, rye and wheat. He used to get up before dawn and supervised all this work in person.

However, Dementyev did not succeed as a farmer.

He was disappointed with public activities as well, although he succeeded in this walk of life having been elected marshal of the nobility and Chairman of the Council of the Vesyegonsk district.

With a little knowledge of English and three thousand dollars in his pocket, Dementyev eventually found himself in America.

He chose Florida, which was scarcely populated at that time and where land costs were cheaper. He bought 80 acres of land in a place called Longwood. He soon realized that farming was a difficult and not very prosperous undertaking for a newcomer. Dementyev bought a sawmill, founded a woodworking factory and a store and started building houses, working indefatigably. Within a few years he headed a large woodworking and house-building company with an annual turnover of over one million dollars. Longwood was growing very fast. When it turned into a town, Peter Demens -this is how Dementyev was called in America - became its first Lord Mayor.

The need for timber was growing all the time and it was taking too long to transport it from the sawmills, so Demens invited some advisors and, with their help, built a three-mile long railroad. His first experience in railroad construction was encouraging. He extended the railroad further south, dreaming of connecting the navigable St. Johns River with the Gulf of Mexico and founding a new town at the southern end of the railroad.

The first train on the new railroad reached the Pinellas peninsula in Tampa Bay on June 8, 1888. Demens founded a small settlement there and he called it St. Petersburg. His dream was to eventually turn it into a city.

In memory of the city of his youth


In August 1888, the general plan for the new city construction, which was worked out by Demens and his companions, was ratified. A large portion of the plan was reminiscent of the Russian capital. The American St. Petersburg was laid out with wide, straight streets, which were unusual for America and with a lot of greenery and water. The city's plan was similar to that of Vassilyevky Island in St. Petersburg. The railway station designed by Demens in the Russian style reminds one of the station in Tsarskoye Selo. Demens built the harbour and piers to be suitable for ocean liners. He had to borrow money in order to continue the construction of the very costly railroad.

In the end, he was ruined and the railroad was given to creditors for his debts.

A name returned to the descendants

Dementyev-Demens and his family first moved to North Carolina, and then to Los Angeles in California where he lived to the end of his days. On the Alta Loma ranch he grew oranges and other fruit, subscribed to Russian newspapers and magazines, published articles in them, wrote a story about country life and edited the Sovremennik monthly political magazine in London. He visited Russia twice.

Dementyev died in his house on January 21, 1919, leaving five grown up children, dozens of publications, the Alta Loma ranch with the orange grove and the city of his dreams - St. Petersburg.

As often happens, after Demens had left Florida, he was forgotten. The history of the city's foundation was bound in legends. Not wishing to yield the palm to a foreigner, it was generally considered that the city was founded by General John Williams, who had owned some land along the coast before the construction of the railroad, and that the city was named St. Petersburg by mere chance.

However, owing to Russian and American researchers and to archival documents, justice has been restored. The name of Pyotr Dementyev-Peter Demens is well known in America today, and he is considered the founder of the city in law and in fact. Karl Grismer, Albert Parri and professor Anatoly Sokolsky of the Russian community in Florida wrote books and articles about him. Bill Parsons, a specialist in Russian and professor at Eckerd College in the American St. Petersburg, did much in order to perpetuate the memory of the true founder of the city and to disseminate Russian culture there.

Pyotr Dementyev is known and remembered in Russia, too. At the Tver Region Museum one can find archival documents and photographs connected to the life of Pyotr Dementyev, as well as his publications. Due to the long-term activities of Inna Povedskaya, the museum director, and professor Igor Bogachek, a few years ago a special exhibit devoted to Dementyev was organized in St. Petersburg at the Peter and Paul Fortress.

View of St.-Petersburg

The American St. Petersburg today is the fourth largest city in Florida. During the last hundred years it has turned into a resort capital with beautiful white sandy beaches, washed on three sides by the glittering blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. People call it Sunny City.

There are many private art galleries in the American St. Petersburg. One of them belongs to Arnold Garikov. One of the main attractions in the gallery is Pushkin's portrait by Ivan Garikov, father of the owner of the gallery. He had lived in Leningrad and studied at the Fine Arts Academy, but during the war he found himself in the West and settled in Florida. His art is permeated with a certain nostalgia.

The city is very green. One of the new parks in the city centre is called Demens Landing, with a monument to Peter Demens, the city's founder.

The overseas St. Petersburg, just like the Russian St. Petersburg, is a city of poets. The poets of the two cities have found each other. Their poetic cooperation has resulted in bilateral translations and publications, festivals on the banks of the Neva River and return visits to Florida.

Four years ago a book of poetry by American St. Petersburgers called Memory Recovery was published here in translation by their Russian fellows from St. Petersburg. Poet Ilya Fonyakov, one of the organizers of professional meetings and joint publications, was very obliging to give us a poem in his original translation called The City by Tom Clark, one of the oldest poets in Florida's St. Petersburg:

Man is born
builds a city
Then man dies
ity lives on

The search continues

View of St.-Petersburg

Let us remind you that in the Russian Geographic Society we have found other places on the world map called St. Petersburg. There were such places in Australia and in Canada as early as in the 19-th century. In Bohemia there was a village with a population of 311 people called St. Petersburg, and in Czechia, near Rakhovnik, in 1910 one of the castles was also called St. Petersburg. There is a village of St. Petersburg in Switzerland, in the Shafhausen area on the right bank of the Rhine. The search continues

As we are finding new information about the St. Petersburgs of the world, we will be supplementing our documentary report. We wish to invite everyone to join us in our search. We will certainly be happy to hear responses from the namesakes of our Russian St. Petersburg.

Our E-Mail: segodnya_spb@mail.ru

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