England underwent an extensive Canal Age in the mid Eighteenth Century, lasting for longer than a century. Waterways provided a cheaper means to move goods across a nation, helping to spark the country’s rapid transformation during the Industrial Revolution. Canals offered remarkable improvements over rutted, muddy overland routes and provided the best transportation alternative in the decades before the invention of railroads.
The Bridgewater Canal was frequently cited as the blueprint for a network that quickly evolved across the nation after it opened in 1761. Its builder and owner, Francis Egerton the third Duke of Bridgewater, envisioned a canal as a better way to move coal from his mines at Worsley to nearby towns. Coal from his mines heated homes and fueled industrial expansion. Egerton’s design hadn’t been tried in England before; his was the first canal that didn’t following an existing waterway. He kept his design simple. The canal followed natural topography so it didn’t require locks anywhere along its 65 kilometre (39 mile) path from Leigh to Runcorn; near Liverpool and Manchester. It was a narrow canal designed for small slender boats and it served its purpose well enough to inspire numerable imitators.
The Manchester Ship Canal, by contrast, was one of the last canals built and it didn’t arrive on the scene until the 1880’s. It traced the original paths of the rivers Mersey and Irwell, in a general manner. Industrialists in Manchester felt that they were at a disadvantage because of the city’s inland location inaccessible to oceangoing vessels. Manchester businesses paid dearly for railroad access to the docks at Liverpool. The city lobbied for relief and Parliament approved construction despite Liverpool’s strong objections. Construction required an immense effort with extensive dredging, numerous locks, and high overhead bridges to accommodate the passage of large cargo ships. These improvements allowed merchant vessels to sail all the way into Manchester and the city became an important seaport.
Where the Canals Crossed
That was all fascinating although the stories of two specific two canals didn’t differ materially from many of the dozens of other English canals. However the two canals crossed physical paths and that was where things got interesting. Engineers had to find a unique solution to accommodate the situation. The Bridgewater Canal, being the older structure, crossed above the River Irwell on an historic stone arched aqueduct at the town of Barton-on-Irwell. Oceangoing ships on the new Manchester Canal, following the path of the River Irwell, would never be able to fit beneath the aqueduct. It had to be demolished. In its place rose a marvelous manifestation of Victorian design, a swing aqueduct.
The Barton Swing Aqueduct became the first and possibly the only structure of its type anywhere in the world. It was designed to pivot 90 degrees whenever large ships traveling along the Manchester Canal approached it, allowing them to pass without obstruction. Engineers created an artificial island at the center of the canal that served as the pivot point. A control tower built on the island contained the necessary machinery to operate the swing. Some of process involved manual labor as evidenced by the YouTube video. One can see a worker operating a hand crank to move the watergate at the end of the aqueduct. The swing aqueduct is still in operation serving its original purpose, an engineering marvel.
In addition there was a road that crossed the Manchester Canal near the same point. It also required a swinging mechanism, and was called the Barton Road Swing Bridge. The same concrete island and control tower pivoted the road bridge at the same time it pivoted the aqueduct.
Reader "Qadgop the Mercotan" sent an email message to 12MC recently, referencing a conversation on the Straight Dope Message Board under the intriguing title, "Are there any streets with names containing all four cardinal points?" One of the participants on that board, kunilou, discovered a street that met the criteria: Southeast Circle NW in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And it appeared to run into Northeast Circle SW! (map). Many thanks to Qadgop the Mercotan for passing that along.
Twelve Mile Circle has been on a bit of an odd placenames fixation as of late. I found a few more examples although they didn’t have enough of a story behind them to justify an entire article on any one of them. I figured I’d resurrect an earlier series and title this "Even More Weird Placenames" in continuation of the theme. This will also help me whittle-down my ever persistent list of possible topics I’ve been compiling since I began this site.
A anonymous 12MC visitor landed onto the site by chance seeking information about Knockemstiff. I didn’t know anything about it and had nothing prepared so I supposed they left disappointed. Even so, it sounded like a suitable topic and I knew I’d explore it eventually. It took little effort to find Knockemstiff once I got around to it, a crossroads in Ohio near another place featured on these pages previously, Chillicothe.
Knockemstiff served as the backdrop for a series of short stories published in 2008 by local writer, Donald Ray Pollock, in a book with the same title. One review said Pollock "presents his characters and the sordid goings-on with a stern intelligence, a bracing absence of value judgments, and a refreshingly dark sense of bottom-dog humor." His literary works received national attention including the New York Times which profiled the settlement of Knockemstiff, attempting to learn the story behind its unusual alias.
The town’s name is a source of folklore and conjecture… a resident saying that the origins dated far back, perhaps 100 years, to an episode in which a traveling preacher came across two women fighting over a man. The preacher said that he doubted the man was worth the trouble and that someone should "knock him stiff." But variations on that story exist, as do ones that say the name is associated with moonshine and bar fights.
That was a long way of saying that no definitive explanation existed. The story had been lost to history. Nonetheless this brief summary will be waiting here for the next unknown visitor who may stumble onto 12MC searching for Knockemstiff.
The City of Ennis fell within the confines of Ellis County, Texas. Ennis had been named for a railroad official, Cornelius Ennis. Ellis probably referred to Richard Ellis, who headed the commission that declared Texas’ independence. The two men had no connection or relationship that I was aware of, although that was completely irrelevant to this story anyway. My fascination centered on the peculiar notion that if one replaced the “nn” in Ennis with “ll” it became Ellis. I was unaware of any other town-county combination where one could make a simple letter substitution in the town’s name to transform it into the county name. Of course I didn’t look too hard trying to find other examples either. I’d like to say that I wanted to reserve that puzzle for the 12MC audience although the real reason was my laziness.
Completely unrelated, the aforementioned Ennis in Ellis "was designated by the 1997 State Legislature as the home of the ‘Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail’ and was designated the ‘Official Bluebonnet City of Texas.‘" That was a pretty big deal considering the prominence of the bluebonnet in Texan culture. The Department of Horticultural Science at Texas A&M University elaborated,
As historian Jack Maguire so aptly wrote, "It’s not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat." He goes on to affirm that "The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland."
During times when bluebonnets weren’t in bloom, no worries, one could always visit Bluebonnet Trail — not the trail itself, rather a street named Bluebonnet Trail — in a local trailer park (map).
I’m sure if I thought long and hard enough I could figure out a few similarities between Brazil and Indiana. Nonetheless I still found it strange to see a town named Brazil in Indiana (map). It wasn’t a small place either. It had eight thousand residents and served as the seat of local government in Clay County. I wished I could have found a decent explanation. Several sources pointed back to the naming of a local farm in the 1840’s, designated Brazil because the nation had been in the news frequently during the era, supposedly. The town then adopted the name of the nearby farm when it was founded in the 1860’s. I guess I could accept that even though I couldn’t find any solid attribution. I’ve heard of stranger explanations for town names.
I didn’t know what to make of High Point in Palm Beach County, Florida, except that I wished I’d known about it when I wrote High Level some time ago. What point of High Point was actually high? It’s total elevation barely broached 20 feet (6 metres). It wasn’t even the highest point in Palm Beach, where two separate spots reached pinnacles of 53 feet (16 metres) according to the County Highpointers Association. I realized those two co-highpoints didn’t have magnificent summits either, although 53 feet completely dominated 20 feet. I guess it didn’t matter. High Point and its condominium community were in the process of being annexed by the nearby city of Delray Beach, anyway. The name will probably disappear.
Continuing on the theme of items uncovered while researching Geographic Matryoshka with US States and in recognition of the Presidential primaries that will be held in Iowa in a couple of weeks, I felt an Iowa topic might be appropriate. I’d uncovered a wonderful triple sequence formed by Iowa Township in Iowa County in the state of Iowa. That put it right up there in exalted territory along with Oklahoma City/Oklahoma Co./Oklahoma and New York Co. (i.e., Manhattan)/New York City/New York. The latter two were a little more obvious and significant. I hadn’t anticipated Iowa.
Iowa Township was rather obscure. There were only 148 people living in Homestead, its principal settlement, as of the 2010 Census. That made it just a tad less meaningful than the more obvious trifectas of Oklahoma and New York. Still, the relationship existed and it counted as much as the others for purposes of this exercise. The triple layer arrangement had been around for a long time, too. I turned to the History of Iowa County, Iowa (1881) which helpfully noted that Iowa Township existed ever since Iowa County was first subdivided in 1847. It was one of the county’s original townships in a much larger form until chipped away to create additional townships in later decades, as more people moved in to farm its fertile soil.
One never knows what one may uncover while searching for information on obscure jurisdictions. Often it was very little. However the History of Iowa County turned out to be a goldmine. That little Iowa Township tucked within a rural county of the same name hid quite a colorful past, particularly in its former Brush Run community. Brush Run sounded like a quiet, relaxing name and yet the History claimed "… the first settlers along the section of country where Brush Run is were very depraved…" I’ve consulted a lot of similar county history books over the years and they’ve tended to be puff pieces exclaiming the wonders of their out-of-the-way domains. I’d never seen any of them refer to settlers within their own boundaries as depraved. It got better:
Though Brush Run is scarcely any run at all it is noted in history. No creek or flow of water in Iowa county has witnessed so many deeds of love and hate, so many scenes of joy and sorrow, so many drunken revels and fights, so many suicides and murders… the headquarters of drunkards and cut throats.
It then kindly offered several examples of depravity and debauchery, most distressingly,
A child six years of age was attacked with delirium tremens one day in November, 1857, at Brush Run. The father was in jail at Iowa City for selling whisky, and the mother, in a fit of drunkeness had recently fallen and killed herself.
Brush Run did not appear on any modern maps, nor did it receive a mention within the records of the US Geological Survey’s vast database of place names, past or present. I supposed it should be expected given Brush Run’s notoriety. They erased the name from the map. However, the paper trail hadn’t disappeared completely and I was able to trace its evolution. Brush Creek soon faded, to be replaced by Homestead at the same approximate location.
Homestead bore no resemblance to Brush Creek whatsoever, in fact it was pretty much its polar opposite. Homestead was designed as a rail depot and shipping point for the nearby Amana Colonies. Amana had its roots in a religious movement arising in Germany that settled on the American prairie to escape persecution.
In 1855 they arrived in Iowa. After an inspired testimony directed the people to call their village, "Bleibtreu" or "remain faithful" the leaders chose the name Amana from the Song of Solomon 4:8. Amana means to "remain true." Six villages were established, a mile or two apart, across a river valley tract of some 26,000 acres – Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana and Middle Amana. The village of Homestead was added in 1861, giving the Colony access to the railroad.
Homestead was the only one of the seven Amana villages in Iowa Township. The remainder were across the nearby border in Amana Township. Homestead didn’t receive much attention after that except for the meteorite that exploded directly overhead.
The Amana Meteorite flashed into Iowa between 10:00 and 11:00 pm on Friday February 12, 1875. Its bright fireball was visible from Omaha to Chicago and St. Paul to St. Louis… it exploded over Amana, producing a meteorite field approximately 3 miles wide and 5 miles long. A total of about 800 pounds of the Amana meteor, classified as a dark chondrite, were recovered from this field, the largest fragment weighing about 74 pounds.
Don’t be fooled by references to the "Amana" Meteorite. The closest settlement was Homestead, and indeed the Meteoritical Society declared Homestead as the meteorite’s OFFICIAL name. People still search for fragments of it today.
Things remained quiet in old Homestead for more than a century after that, remaining in obscurity until Ashton Kutcher grew up there. Recently he even renovated his childhood home. He was one of the few people who could claim that he lived in Iowa Township in Iowa County in the state of Iowa.