I’ve begun to plan a long-distance road trip for April that I’m not quite ready to reveal to the Twelve Mile Circle audience. However, offering just a hint, I noticed an oddly named town in Indiana called French Lick. It fell remarkably close to Santa Claus, the subject of one of the earliest articles on this site. I figured the fine people of Indiana must have a sense of humor.
The named sounded familiar for some reason. Once I looked it up I knew immediately why I’d heard it before. Basketball legend Larry Bird grew up in French Lick. They even named a street after him there. Nonetheless, this being 12MC, the more fascinating tangent seemed to be the name of the town itself.
I figured the Lick part probably came from a nearby salt lick somewhere. Indeed, that seemed to be the case as I researched it further. Bison herds roamed this area in the days before people of European descent started pushing over the Appalachian Mountains and paddling through the Mississippi watershed. Bison and other animals gathered at these natural licks to literally lick the ground for essential mineral nutrients. It didn’t take long for the newcomers to decimate local bison populations: "The last historical account of killing a buffalo east of the Mississippi occurred in 1830 at French Lick, Indiana."
The French part seemed more problematic. No definite French population settled at French Lick although the general vicinity fell within French control for awhile. Later American settlers just thought it sounded plausible that the French must have lived at that particular spot. An entrepreneur applied French Lick to a resort he opened at the lick — mineral spas being quite popular at the time — and the name stuck. The spa continues to exist today (map).
There seemed to be a definite time and place for the word Lick to be appended to towns. The names were applied during a period when people still remembered that Bison once roamed east of the Mississippi River. That seemed to coincide with the early to middle Nineteenth Century. Licks clustered in places such as Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and especially Kentucky. I found a bunch of Kentucky place names in the Geographic Names Information System. There, all sorts of specific Licks existed: Bank; Bee; Blue; Deer; Flat; Grants; Grassy; Knob; Lees; Log; Mays; Mud; North; Paint; Rock; Salt; Slate; Sulfur; Wolf. I never did learn why they seemed to concentrate so predominantly in Kentucky.
The biggest of those Kentucky places appeared to be the town of Salt Lick (map). Pioneers were drawn there originally by abundant game that gathered at the local licks. One early account claimed that hunters once spotted 500 bison there. The animals left long ago although their legacy survived in the name of a town where several hundred people still lived.
Appending the word Lick to various place names seemed pretty unique to this region, too. I found only minor geographic references anywhere else in the world, and certainly none included town names.
Every once in awhile 12MC resorts to Beavis and Butt-Head behavior. Please forgive me. It might be best to jump entirely to the next topic. Nonetheless, I felt that I should note the existence of Big Bone Lick, a State Historic Site in Kentucky (map). It’s on Beaver Road. Seriously.
Actually it sounded like a really fascinating place, and something right in my area of interest. It’s called the "Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology." An ancient mineral lick drew megafauna including mammoths. However, the lick occupied a rather marshy area and large animals sometimes got stuck. They died there and their bones remained in the muck waiting to be discovered several thousand years later. Settlers came to the area and saw those big bones so they named their nearby town Big Bone. It seemed logical enough. The unfortunate situation met by those ancient animals reminded me of the Mammoth Site in South Dakota that I visited a couple of years ago. I’ll need to keep Big Bone on my list of places to see someday.
A mountain in Georgia’s Appalachian region bore the name Young Lick, reaching an elevation of 3,780 feet (1152 metres) (map). Hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail could reach its summit –the knob — with just a minor detour. SummitPost described it as "a mellow hump along the ridgeline forming the Tennessee Valley Divide."
That’s not what made it special, though. It marked the tripoint for Habersham, Rabun and Towns counties. It also marked a triple divide for Eastern Continental Divide watersheds. Water flowed to the Atlantic via the Savannah River. In another direction it flowed directly towards the the Gulf of Mexico. A final option also flowed to the Gulf, taking a circuitous route through the Mississippi River watershed instead.
If that wasn’t motivation enough, it’s located near Hellhole Mountain.
Something needed to be done about the clutter. My list of potential topics grew to unmanageable proportions once again so I decided to keep pruning. I discovered an island theme as I sorted through the pile so I lumped a few items together. Nothing much unified them except that they involved islands with unusual twists. Twelve Mile Circle didn’t really need any more than that to get things going.
My mental island journey began with the Lord Howe Island Group first (map). They sat within the Tasman Sea off of the eastern coast of Australia, unknown until spotted by Henry Lidgbird Ball in 1788 as he sailed towards Norfolk Island to establish a penal colony. He named the tallest of the islands, a jagged volcanic peak rising mightily into the sky, Ball’s Pyramid. He named one of the more dramatic peaks on the main island Mount Lidgbird. His legacy secured, he decided to suck-up to his superior by naming the main island after Lord Howe. Richard Howe, First Earl Howe, was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time.
Ball claimed the island group for Britain. Whalers began using it as a convenient place to replenish provisions. A permanent settlement followed soon thereafter. The group became part of Australia as that nation formed. It’s now an unincorporated area of New South Wales. Few people live there though — only 360 residents as of the 2011 Census — and the government limits tourism because of the fragile ecosystem of such a small place. Given that, a maximum of about 800 people occupy the space at any given time.
The Twist: Lord Howe Island made a credible claim to being located within the world’s least populated time zone. This island group uniquely occupied Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) +10.5. Fewer than a thousand people ever set their watches to observe this time zone at any given moment. That contrasted with UTC +8 (the one with China) with a population of 1.7 billion.
I remained in Australia momentarily, focusing on the coast of Queensland near Mackay. There I found the Smith Islands (map), the site of a national park of the same name. Those unspoiled islands offered very few amenities other than their natural beauty. People traveled there by boat, private or charter, for fishing, diving and wildlife excursions. They needed to be self-reliant during these excursions. Visitors might be completely isolated with little help available anywhere around them should any difficulties arise. Nonetheless, the park attracted a certain type of adventurer who relished unspoiled experiences and abundant solitude.
The Twist: While I never discovered who named the islands or how they chose the theme, they did follow a consistent pattern. Imagine every kind of smith — skilled metal workers — and it had its own island named for it. I saw Ladysmith, Blacksmith, Silversmith, Coppersmith, Goldsmith, Anchorsmith and Tinsmith. Some readers may remember the 12MC article I called Ladysmith, and yes that’s how I found this island group. I liked Blacksmith Island most of all, however. Nearby stood Hammer Island, Anvil Reef, Forge Reef and Pincer Island, enough tools to create an entire blacksmith shop. Other features figured into the general theme as well, including Ingot Island and Bullion Rocks.
Ada-Kaleh on Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain
Ada Kaleh experienced a convoluted history. This small island sat in the Danube River between modern-day Romania and Serbia, just downstream from Orșova (map). It became a strategic point along the river, a place taken and retaken repeatedly by the Austrian and Ottoman empires starting in the 17th Century. The name of the island itself came from a Turkish word, Adakale, meaning Island Fortress.
The real weirdness started in 1878 when the Ottomans lost control of the surrounding area as a result of losing the Russo-Turkish War. Everyone just sort-of forgot about Ada Kaleh during the peace talks so it became a Turkish exclave. It transformed into something of a lawless territory, a haven for smuggling and other nefarious activities. The situation remained that way for about a half-century when another treaty corrected the error. However, even afterwards it retained its distinct Turkish attributes and culture even though if fell within the physical confines of Romania.
The Twist: Ada Kaleh no longer exists. The waters of the Danube rose considerably along this stretch of the river after construction of the Iron Gates Dam in 1972. Most of the island’s residents chose to relocate to Turkey rather than remain in Romania.
In east London the River Thames took quite a curve, enclosing a small area on three sides (map). Technically this wasn’t an island at all so it probably shouldn’t even be on my list. I found it while Marking the Meridian. The Isle of Dogs wasn’t that distant from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and the meridian came oh-so-close to crossing through it. Despite its name, somehow it attracted commercial enterprises in the modern era particularly for banking and finance.
The Twist: Well, other than the fact that it wasn’t actually an island, nobody knew how it became the Isle of Dogs. East London History said,
The original name for the island was Stepney Marsh or Stebunheath. It is thought that the Isle of Dogs name originated in the 16th century. Nobody really knows where this name came from, but there are plenty of theories. Some say that the name was given to the area because of the number of dead dogs that washed up on its banks. Others think that the modern name is a variation of other names given to the area, such as the Isle of Dykes or the Isle of Ducks.
Dogs or Dykes or Ducks (or others). Take your pick.
A random Twelve Mile Circle reader became an unwitting inspiration for this article simply because of where he or she lived. The little dot within Idaho on my Google Analytics dashboard mentioned State Line. That seemed too good to be true. I’ve done plenty of articles about border towns although I’d never noticed that one before. It sounded like a good excuse to peel things back a layer and take a closer look.
State Line didn’t cover much area and only 38 people lived there (map). It seemed an odd situation until I uncovered a bit of history in an old newspaper article. This creation sprang to life in 1947 and existed for a very specific reason. Quite simply, "the town was incorporated so it could sell liquor and have slot machines." End of story.
Those who incorporated the town leveraged the adjacent state border, just enough over the line to fall outside of the laws of Washington State. Residents of the region’s dominant city — Spokane, Washington — needed only a short drive to take advantage of the more liberal alcohol and gambling rules of Idaho. Apparently incorporated towns in Idaho had some legal leeway to provide these services so State Line filled that niche. The town didn’t have to worry about do-gooders interfering with its business either; it carefully corralled a sympathetic population. I’ve explored similar themes before, e.g., in Right Up to the Line.
A lot of separate sins packed into that tiny package, too. I drove down Seltice Way, the main road through State Line, vicariously using Google Street View. From the border heading into Idaho I noticed a smokeshop, a liquor store, several taverns including a biker bar, and a building with no windows advertising "Show Girls." I wonder what could possibly be going on inside there? This is a family-friendly website so I’ll leave it at that. I also found the residential area consisting of a small trailer park. Maybe the show girls lived there? If so then one of them visited 12MC and landed on the Thelma and Louise Route Map. Maybe someone was planning a weekend getaway?
Idaho didn’t contain the only town with that familiar name. Stateline existed in Nevada, too. I talked about that one briefly in the Loneliest Road in the USA and it appeared in reader comments from time-to-time as well. South Lake Tahoe, on the California side, seemed like the average ski resort town. A gondola led up to the slopes, part of the Heavenly Mountain Resort. Just down the street, however, marked Nevada. Five humongous casinos rose starkly from the pavement barely inches onto the Nevada side of the border. This grouping represented the same basic premise as its Idaho counterpart, bringing convenient "sinful" businesses closer to the masses.
A morbid geo-oddity of sorts existed in Stateline. The ski resort included trails on both sides of the border. Skiers crossed the state border on several of the runs. That was a worthwhile oddity by itself of course, although that wasn’t the morbid part. Something awful happened there in 1998. That’s when Sonny Bono, the lesser-known half of Sonny and Cher, slammed into a tree on the Orion slope (map). Bono died in Stateline on a border-crossing trail.
Stateline existed as one of thirteen townships in Sherman County, Kansas. The name went back historically to the 19th Century and simply represented its geographic placement next to Colorado. Stateline didn’t exist to entice people across the border and only 344 people lived there in the most recent Census. The township contained only one settlement of any size, Kanorado (map), the home of about half of Stateline’s residents. That still made it large enough to serve as Sherman County’s second largest town. My attention automatically focused on that spot because, as longtime readers know, I love a good portmanteau. The name combined and shortened Kansas and Colorado into Kanorado. It’s website noted that someone originally named it Lamborn. I preferred Kanorado. Excellent choice.
This one also existed in a bit of a geo-oddity. Only four counties recognized Kansas Mountain Time, including Sherman County. Of course that also included Stateline Township and the village of Kanorado. From my experience driving directly through there on Interstate 70 several years ago, I couldn’t determine why the area felt more aligned to Mountain Time. It seemed really remote, regardless. Either one should be fine. Nonetheless residents apparently felt otherwise and aligned chronologically with Colorado. Actually, as I thought about it more, Stateline should probably exist on the Colorado side instead. Colorado seemed to feature more sins than Kansas, particularly cannabis and perhaps alcohol too. The current Stateline alignment represented lost economic opportunities.
I found other State Lines and Statelines. For instance, check out State Line Pond in Connecticut. It also had its own website, believe it or not. From its description,
State Line Pond is an approximately 75 acre lake in Stafford Springs, Connecticut on the Massachusetts border at Monson, MA. The lake was formed when a stream running through a meadow was intentionally flooded approximately 150 years ago. For many years, the Stafford Ice House "harvested" ice by horse from the lake during the winter and delivered it to restaurants, homes and businesses as far away as Boston.
Even more obscure places existed in the form of State Line, Mississippi and State Line, Indiana. I couldn’t find much about either place other than their existence.