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'First Dot-com City' auctions off sign of the times

Halfway, Ore., which once publicly changed its name to Half.com, sells piece of dot-com history; Web site's founder puts in winning bid.

It's nowhere near Silicon Valley and it's likely that the residents who use "Google" as a verb are in the minority. But there's a town in Eastern Oregon that was once known as "America's First Dot-com City."

Halfway, Ore., a little town southwest of Hells Canyon, gained fame in 1999 when it agreed to publicly change its name for a year to Half.com in exchange for cold hard cash (said to be $100,000) and school computers. In an auction that ended Sunday on eBay, the town was able to squeeze out a bit more from its affiliation with the Web site.

The town auctioned off one of its two signs that once greeted people entering "America's First Dot-com City." Half.com founder Josh Kopelman had the winning bid at $1,000, according to a story in The Oregonian.

"While the sign represents a unique moment in Halfway's history, it also represents a unique time for me as well," Kopelman told The Oregonian. (In an aim to compete with Amazon.com, eBay agreed to buy Half.com, an online person-to-person marketplace for fixed-price goods, in 2000.)

When the deal to rename the town was announced in 1999, Kopelman told CNET News.com: "The biggest thing is that we both needed a way to put ourselves on the map. There is such a '.com' clutter out there, and we wanted to do something innovative to get some visibility in the crowd."

Half Moon Bay, Calif., was reportedly among the list of places that Half.com had thought of approaching with its publicity play. But Halfway, Ore., ended up going for it.

"We're kind of at a point where the economics of our community are falling by the wayside--we're losing Main Street businesses and just lost a gas station," Patti Huff, Halfway's city planner at the time, told News.com in 1999.

In addition to the $1,000 Kopelman bid for the sign, he reportedly also donated $1,500 to go toward community development. The City Council has not decided how it will use the money. The other Half.com sign will be kept in the town museum.

The farming and ranching community did not legally change its name to Half.com. Back in 1950 however, Hot Springs, N.M., did legally change its name--to Truth or Consequences, after the popular game show. Host Ralph Edwards had promised to broadcast the show from the first town that renamed itself for the program.