I suppose this is something of a Part 3 addendum to the recent Southern Swing articles although maybe it’s not truly the case. Perhaps it would be better to call it "inspired" by those earlier articles. We broke the return trip into a two-day event with an overnight stay in Knoxville, Tennessee. The hotel happened to be located near the Sunsphere, a tower designed for the 1982 World’s Fair. That was a happy coincidence although unintentional. We never saw the tower during daylight because there’s a lot of darkness near the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice. That’s why I couldn’t get a decent photograph although I still gave it a shot. The sight also made me wonder about towers that have been built for World Fairs in general. Some of them became iconic structures while others fell into relative obscurity.
Sunsphere (1982) – Knoxville, Tennessee, USA
Sunsphere (my own photo)
The Sunsphere that we saw in Knoxville seemed to fall amongst those that didn’t quite capture public imagination (map); "It represents the sun, source of energy, and reflected the energy theme of the fair." I guess that wasn’t inspirational enough. It looked like a giant Van der Graaf generator. I guarantee it would have become iconic if it actually shot giant bolts of lightning. Sadly, it did not.
During the fair the Sunsphere featured five primary levels, an observation deck, a kitchen, two dining levels, and a cocktail lounge. It had a hard life once the fair ended, standing either vacant or underused for three decades and counting. However, it’s available for rent should someone want to use it for a wedding reception, a corporate event, or a 12MC reader happy hour.
As an aside, I wasn’t aware that the World’s Fair was still a thing. Apparently those events still exist and one will be held in Milan in 2015. None have occurred in the United States since 1984 and that’s probably why I though EPCOT or something must have replaced them by now.
La Tour Eiffel (1889) – Paris, France
La Tour Eiffel by Christopher Chan, on Flickr (cc)
I had no idea that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was a remnant of a World’s Fair (map). It served as the centerpiece of the Exposition Universelle of 1889 which also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The tower that Gustave Eiffel erected brought strong negative reactions from critics at the time and became a beloved symbol despite their pronouncements. Twelve Mile Circle doesn’t need to mention anything else about the Eiffel Tower, right?
It would be many years before another World’s Fair would attempt to feature a tower. How could any other city top such an iconic structure?
Atomium (1958) – Brussels, Belgium
Atomium landscape by Vase Petrovski, on Flickr (cc)
Neighboring Belgium made an honest attempt in 1958 with its Atomium for the Brussels World’s Fair (Brusselse Wereldtentoonstelling / Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles) (map). This was the height of the atomic age. An oddly shiny building with 9 interconnected spheres climbing 102 metres and fashioned in the form of an iron atom enlarged 165 billion times seemed to be an optimal choice for the times. The Atomium can still be visited today and its website describes it as,
A seminal totem in the Brussels skyline; neither tower, nor pyramid, a little bit cubic, a little bit spherical, half-way between sculpture and architecture, a relic of the past with a determinedly futuristic look, museum and exhibition centre; the Atomium is, at once, an object, a place, a space, a Utopia and the only symbol of its kind in the world, which eludes any kind of classification.
Readers can also use Google Street View to go inside of the Atomium. It’s quite a structure.
Space Needle (1962) – Seattle, Washington, USA
Space Needle and Pacific Science Center by Terence T.S. Tam, on Flickr (cc)
Seattle’s Space Needle (map) didn’t quite hit the same iconic status as the Eiffel Tower although it probably came closer than any of the other examples. Certainly, it would be recognized instantly by many people far beyond the Pacific Northwest. Fashions had begun to transition from the atomic age into the space age and the Seattle World’s Fair reflected those changing times.
Tower of the Americas (1968) – San Antonio, Texas, USA
Tower of the Americas (my own photo)
I’ve been to the top of the Tower of the Americas. San Antonio’s convention center is located next to HemisFair Park where the tower was built (map). I went to San Antonio a few years ago for a conference and I had a little extra time so I rode to the top.
This World’s Fair featured "The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas" as its theme. I’m not sure how the tower reflected that concept although it’s still impressive. The fair commemorated the 250th anniversary of San Antonio and supposedly the theme also referenced several nations that held sway of Texas territory. Some might say 6 Flags Over Texas, other might claim 7 Flags, or whatever.
The Skyneedle (1988) – Brisbane, Australia
Entire Skyneedle by Mervin, on Flickr (cc)
The weirdest World’s Fair tower might have been the Skyneedle in Brisbane (map). It reached 88 metres and appropriately matched World Expo 88. However the tower did not accommodate visitors. It was too small. Instead it shot a beam of light around the city. The Skyneedle was supposed to be relocated to Tokyo Disneyland once the fair closed. Instead, it became the possession of a local hairdresser entrepreneur, Stefan, who moved it to his headquarters nearby. Yelp had a number of amusing reviews:
Standing tall, proud and pointless Brisbane’s Skyneedle is capable of the occasional light show and little else. Even its powerful beam is only allowed to be used on special occasions as it is a potential risk to plane’s coming in to land at Brisbane airport. But despite its inherent absurdity, or more correctly, because of its inherent absurdity Stefan’s Needle has become a much loved part of the city skyline.
Pity the Skyneedle.
I still hate airlines. I don’t fear flying, I simply want to withhold as much of my money as I can from those greedy [censored] until the tight squeeze of market forces compel them to start treating their passengers with a little respect. I’m pretty much at the point where I’ll drive to any destination of a thousand miles or so instead of fly. That sentiment led to another grandiose road trip over the winter holidays. Of course, the handful of readers who follow the 12MC Twitter feed already figured that out. That’s an incentive for the rest of you to subscribe to my Twitter page I guess, or maybe it’s a disincentive. I don’t know.
DC to Florida to Mississippi and Back
We took a rather unusual route to the Mississippi Gulf Coast this time, via St. Augustine, Florida. I know many readers would think of that as a crazy detour. I rationalized it a couple of different ways. First, there wasn’t a completely straight route between the Mid Atlantic and the Mississippi Gulf so the detour didn’t make all that much difference in the larger trip. Was it the most direct route? No, of course not. It wasn’t totally insane either.
Second, there were lots of cool things to see and do in St. Augustine and I knew the boys would love it. My wife actually nailed it on the head, though. "Is this a county counting thing?" she asked. Well, ahem, yes that might have had something to do with it. She was fine with the idea once I confessed the ulterior motive. We’ve been married long enough by now that she accepts my weird hobby even if she doesn’t completely understand it.
We left on Christmas day to avoid the worst of the soul-sucking horror of Interstate 95 traffic and stopped overnight somewhere in North Carolina. That evening, with few restaurant options, I chose shrimp and grits for my Christmas Dinner. That’s a thing, right? The traditional shrimp and grits Christmas Dinner? I enjoyed it anyway, and it reminded me that we were in the South. I washed it down with a Sweet Tea since we were way below the Sweet Tea Line by that point. The next day we continued to Florida and all went smoothly except for some bad traffic for the final forty-five miles of South Carolina. We made it safely to St. Augustine (map) by late afternoon.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Castillo de San Marcos
We stopped first at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (map).
Americans often think of Plymouth, Massachusetts (established 1620) or Jamestown, Virginia (established 1607 – and visited by 12MC) as the "oldest" successful European settlements in the continental United States. That’s because people of English descent wrote many of the history books. As a point of fact, that honor should go to St. Augustine instead which was founded by Spanish settlers in 1565.
St. Augustine didn’t incorporate a magnificent fort from its inception. Rival European nations and their privateers conducted raids up and down the Atlantic coast. St. Augustine was sacked a couple of times by the English and threatened by the French. Spain finally had enough after the 1668 attack by Jamaican privateer Robert Searle. Construction of Castillo de San Marcos began in 1672, a full century after the original settlement of the city.
The National Park Service discussed the architecture and construction of this oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S., and its only surviving specimen from the Seventeenth Century:
… It is a prime example of the "bastion system" of fortification, the culmination of hundreds of years of military defense engineering. It is also unique for the material used in its construction. The Castillo is one of only two fortifications in the world built out of a semi-rare form of limestone called coquina… A cannon ball fired at more solid material, such as granite or brick would shatter the wall into flying shards, but cannon balls fired at the walls of the Castillo burrowed their way into the rock and stuck there, much like a bb would if fired into Styrofoam. So the thick coquina walls absorbed or deflected projectiles rather than yielding to them, providing a surprisingly long-lived fortress.
Castillo de San Marcos was constructed in a star shape with four bastions. This allowed defenders to create deadly crossfire for anyone hoping to to attack. The fort never fell during battle, however it changed hands a number of times because of political changes.
- Florida became a British territory in 1763 as part of the settlement of the Seven Years’ War.
- Florida returned to Spanish control in 1783 at the end of the American Revolutionary War (Spain had been a supporter of American independence and this was its reward).
- Florida became part of the United States through the Adams–Onís Treaty in 1821.
- Florida seceded from the U.S and joined the Confederate States of America in 1861.
- Union troops seized the undefended fort in 1862 and held it for the remainder of the war and ever since.
During all that time and up until 1933, it remained a military garrison. Only then did the property convey to the U.S. National Park Service.
Saint Augustine Lighthouse
St. Augustine Lighthouse
Our other primary stop that day was the Saint Augustine Lighthouse (map).
Everyone else, it seemed, had a similar idea. The weather was absolutely perfect on the Saturday after Christmas. All the sites were mobbed. We drove onto Anastasia Island and noticed a line of traffic stretching at least a half-mile in the opposite direction, backed up by a traffic light at the end of the bridge in St. Augustine proper. Getting onto the island was easy. Getting back would be a problem. We couldn’t do anything about it so we headed towards the lighthouse anyway. We feared the worst when we were forced to park down the street because the parking lot was completely full. Tons of people mingled around the lighthouse base although few of them ventured to the top. I suppose the 219 steps in the spiral staircase separated the tourists from the lighthouse nerds. From there, 165 feet (50 metres) above the fray, we spotted another bridge several miles away. We enjoyed a panoramic lighthouse view of the Florida coast and discovered a way to avoid the dreaded stoplight. Pro Tip: maybe skip the extra helping of mashed potatoes on Christmas so one can climb to the top of the tower and find the secret escape route.
A lighthouse stood at this spot even during the Spanish period. It was an important structure marking the inlet between two barrier island, Anastasia and Conch, so that ships could enter the Matanzas River and approach St. Augustine safely. This version was constructed in 1874 and continues to remain an active navigational aid. According to Lighthouse Friends, the tower was built using brick from Alabama, granite from Georgia, iron work forged in Philadelphia, and a first-order Fresnel lens crafted in France."
A1A Ale Works
We also visited a couple of brewpubs including A1A Ale Works in downtown St. Augustine (map).
Imagine that. Somehow we ended-up at a fort, a lighthouse, and a brewpub — all things that I "collect" and count. It sounded pretty self-indulgent although we also did plenty of things enjoyed by the other members of the family too. I’ll talk about some of those in the second part.
It began with High Level, in Alberta, Canada. I came across the name and wondered what made it so special. It didn’t seem to be all that high level. In fact it appeared to be downright flat at an elevation of 325 metres (1,066 feet) atop the Canadian Prairies. Well, being that far north I suppose it might be more boreal than prairie although commercial grains certainly seemed to be an important part of the local economy.
Grain elevators by Jimmy Pants, on Flickr (cc)
That didn’t answer the question, though. One would expect some kind of summit or promontory in High Level (map) and it didn’t seem to exist. Actually the height did exist although I wasn’t looking closely enough. One needed to focus on the change in elevation one had at hand even if it happened to be subtle way out there on the flat plains: "The name High Level described the height of the land that separates the Peace River and the Hay River." Apparently it didn’t take much of a change to separate the two watersheds although that was enough to establish a good place for a town. That had to wait until 1947 when the Mackenzie Highway ran through the area. Now 3,500 people live at the slightly elevated land between the rivers.
That got me thinking about other places named High Something and what made certain locations high even if the reasons weren’t obvious. I could have selected plenty of other Canadian examples although I turned my attention south of the border.
High Point, North Carolina, USA
The occurrence that came to mind most quickly happened to be High Point, North Carolina so I decided to check it out. This was a fairly significant place with about a hundred thousand residents so I supposed the high point of High Point would be clearly marked and commemorated. Surprisingly, it was not. Historically, it seemed to be that the North Carolina Railroad ran between between Charlotte and Goldsboro, and intersected here with a plank road called the Fayetteville-Western Road. Both were constructed in the 1850’s.
The intersection was called High Point because it was at a relatively higher point of elevation than the surrounding terrain. A town of that same name sprang up around the crossing — a natural place for commerce — and was incorporated in 1859. The supposed high point itself wasn’t marked at all as far as I could tell although a good guess might be where Main St. crossed the railroad tracks today (map).
This commercial hub gained fame for furniture manufacturing and called itself the "Furniture Capital of the World." The local Chamber of Commerce even built the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers in the 1920’s to cement its claim.
World's Largest Chest of Drawers by Kayla Glasgow, on Flickr (cc)
I noticed a "for sale" sign on this image taken in August 2006. Google Street View showed it still for sale with a "Huge Price Reduction." when the cameras passed through in June 2012. Some quick searching uncovered a listing for a:
"Unique and historical 2,245′ office building containing 1,800sf on main level. Partially unfinished basement. Parking in rear and extra lots for expansion!
The total assessed value for the property in 2014 was $140,000. This might be a perfect opportunity to purchase the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers if one were inclined to own such an object. I can’t guarantee how long this offer will last after publication of this article in January 2015 so act quickly!
However, when it came to High Something examples, the crown had to go to the United Kingdom. I found a huge cluster of examples in the Gazetteer of British Place Names. There were well over five hundred occurrences. They were so common that the Gazetteer alphabetized them by the Something rather than by the High, so the entries ran from Ackworth, High to Wycombe, High. That would be like specifying Level, High in Canada and Point, High in the United States.
Ackworth by William, on Flickr (cc)
Being the lazy creature that I am, I decided to examine that first entry on the list, High Ackworth or perhaps Ackworth, High if one preferred, in West Yorkshire. There was actually a single village of Ackworth consisting of four distinct parts: High Ackworth; Low Ackworth; Ackworth Moortop and Brackenhill. I’m not sure what Brackenhill did to escape an Ackworth name although the remainder traced an etymology back to ack (oak) and worth (enclosure), or a place where oak trees had been cleared to form an enclosed open space.
The Various Subsidiary Ackworths in the Village of Ackworth
I figured there might be at least three potential explanations for the usage of "High" in British place names. Perhaps the usage referenced some kind of elite status or superiority for a particular plot of land granted the designation (e.g., as used in High Society or highbrow). Maybe it denoted a directional placement (e.g., high meaning north and low meaning south). Possibly it meant the same thing as the North American examples, a signifier of elevation. I looked through a number of places and I’m pretty sure more of them fell into the third category. I’m not confident enough to say that all of them referenced relative elevation although the ones I examined appeared to support the theory.