Life is Hard

Did anyone else notice the oddly-named park immediately to the east of Social Circle, Georgia when I posted The Chunk that Got Away in December? I did, and I made a record of it intending to return later. Hard Labor Creek had to have a story. Places like that weren’t named accidentally.

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It’s seemed to be a typical case upon closer scrutiny, a name shrouded in legend and lost to history. The Hard Labor Creek State Park focused primarily on its golf course and sidestepped the odd name. An obligatory Wikipedia page stated without any attribution whatsoever, "The creek’s name comes either from slaves who once tilled the summer fields, or from Native Americans who found the area around the stream difficult to ford." Right. The usual antebellum or Native American explanation. I picked the antebellum explanation because of those actually providing the bulk of hard labor in this area during the period. I based that assumption on preconceived notions and nonexistent evidence which should make it perfectly legitimate for the Intertubes. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough to fill an entire article.

Wikipedia went on to explain that "Camp Daniel Morgan [ed., which is part of Hard Labor Creek State Park], was the filming location of three well-known ‘camp’ movies, Little Darlings (1980), Poison Ivy (1985), and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)." OK then, that’s an interesting little pedigree for a very small segment of the audience.

I still liked the name so I turned to my go-to source for these types of anomalies, the USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS). There I discovered several other Hard Labor geographic features — concentrated primarily in the American south which lent confirmation bias to my earlier reckless speculation — plus one location in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Actually that last one was Hard Labour, with an "ou" British-style. It didn’t appear to be a populated place anymore, rather more of a wooded hillside. There was something poetic about Hard Labour sandwiched between Anger Ridge and Upper Love. The person naming these places must have had relationship issues.

From there it was easy to follow GNIS to all other Hard places identified within the United States, with implied tales of woe and misery etched upon the landscape, with occasional burst of optimism.

  • Hard Bargain Cemetery, Landing, Gas Field, Mine
  • Hard Cash Cutoff, Lake, Mine, Spring, and a populated place
  • Hard Climb Mine
  • Hard Fortune Creek
  • Hard Head Mine
  • Hard Luck Creek, Tank, Ranch, Mine, Hammock, Well, Crossing, Draw, and a populated place
  • Hard scrabble / Hardscrabble Cemetery, Ridge, Hollow, School, Creek, Falls, Farms
  • Hard Scratch Hill, and a populated place
  • Hard Times Landing, Bend, Plantation, Spring, Mine, Reservoir
  • Hard to Beat Mine, Canyon
  • Hard to Find Ditch, Mine
  • Hard Up Cemetery, Gulch, Point
  • Hard Working Lumps

The final spot jumped from the screen. Hard Working Lumps?!? It correlated geographically to a set of small, shifting sandbars at the southern edge of the Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina (map). The USGS called Hard Working Lumps an "island" although I think that may have been overly generous. I did note that a topographic map placed Hard Working Lumps directly next to Bunch of Hair, leading me to wonder whether the mariner naming these features may have been out-to-sea a little too long.

Mines often have the most colorful names and that seemed to hold true for these instances too. Prospectors in the Old West almost never struck it rich, failing repeatedly while enduring personal hardships, and often returned home penniless. The mines reflected their fatalism, perhaps due to past experience or because of superstitious attempts to avoid jinxing their claims. A cluster of Hard Luck Mines dotted the mountains near Helena, Montana, although pragmatism also lurked nearby with Hard Cash Mine. I also enjoyed the Hard to Find Mine northeast of Reno, Nevada although it’s not necessarily accurate anymore with exact lat/long coordinates and satellite imagery.

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An entire mountainside seemed to have been removed for the Hard Time Mine near Battle Mountain, Nevada. It may have lived up to its name, having been located so close to a town dubbed the armpit of America in 2001.

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Cemeteries seemed to be unlikely candidates although several appeared on the list. Could one imagine Hard Bargain Cemetery in Greene Co., Alabama? Death is probably the hardest bargain of them all so the name reflected truth, however, it seemed to be an odd designation. Nobody really wants to be reminded of that eventuality. Even so, it was still preferable to Hard Up Cemetery in Baker Co., GA which was so hard-up that surrounding vegetation overtook it (map).

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Merriam-Wester defines hardscrabble as "being or relating to a place of barren or barely arable soil; getting a meager living from poor soil; or marked by poverty." Life on the Great Plains was tough. Several Hardscrabble or Hard Scrabble Schools existed historically from the settlement period including a now-empty lot in Kansas depicted above. No Hardscrabble Schools exist today although a Hard Elementary School can be found outside of Birmingham, Alabama. In that instance it was named for Charles F. Hard, "the second mayor of Bessemer." Schools have largely transcended beyond hardscrabble.

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Hard-to-get-to Ridge in Garfield Co., Washington was probably accurate when named. Things change. National Forest road NF-4027 terminates within a half-mile of the ridge. I drilled down within the image and noticed a couple of trailers parked there. Maybe they should change the name to Not-so-hard-to-get-to Ridge?

Let’s toast our pessimistic ancestors.