The search engine query landed with an explosion on Twelve Mile Circle, hoping to uncover the ultimate in unlikely conspiracy theories, "Gary Coleman on the Grassy Knoll." The article you are reading right now was the first time that Mr. Coleman ever appeared in these pages as far as I could remember, and as confirmed by a quick search of every phrase that’s ever been published on this domain. I may never know why or how the mysterious forces of the Intertubes thought that 12MC might provide a solution. I can only thank whatever happy sparks of coincidence delivered this outlandish premise to my doorstep for my personal amusement.
I did know one thing: I wanted to cement the status of 12MC as the top of the list should anyone ever again drop Gary Coleman on the Grassy Knoll into a search engine.
The Grassy Knoll, Dallas, Texas, USA
The primary concern with this supposition, as I saw it, was the very simple fact that Gary Coleman was born in 1968. The John F. Kennedy assassination in Dallas, Texas — and the possibility of additional shooter(s) on the grassy knoll — happened in 1963. And yes, I realized that the query was more than likely posted by someone searching for the most ridiculous conspiracy theory imaginable, probably out of simple boredom just to see if anyone had ever made the claim before. That didn’t make it any less awesome. Maybe that made it more awesome. Would it even be possible to imagine something more outlandish?
It had been a long, tragic ride for Gary Coleman as he nosedived from his childhood starring role in Diff’rent Strokes all the way down to Midgets Vs. Mascots (also staring Ron Jeremy… I don’t even want to know) not long before his untimely death in 2010. I have visited the Grassy Knoll and unless Mr. Coleman somehow mastered interdimensional time travel, I’d say it would be fairly safe to assume that he didn’t play a role. Still, "Gary Coleman on the Grassy Knoll" remained my favorite 12MC query ever.
While we’re on the topic, my "Grassy Knoll at Dealey Plaza" photograph continues to hold the record for being the most frequently stolen image on Twelve Mile Circle. It got so bad after awhile that I finally had to add that little tag-line at the bottom of the graphic to keep potential copyright violators at bay. That seemed to work.
Grassy Knoll Dr., Romeoville, Illinois, USA
it surprised me to find quite an abundance of roads in the United States named Grassy Knoll given the emotionally-charged nature of the phrase. Perhaps some of them predated 1963 although I didn’t know what to make of the others. A few examples included:
- Grassy Knoll Way, Elk Grove, California (map)
- Grassy Knoll Drive, Tavares, Florida (map)
- Grassy Knoll Drive, South Bend, Indiana (map)
- Grassy Knoll Drive, Romeoville, Illinois (map)
- Grassy Knoll Circle, Shreveport, Louisiana (map)
- Grassy Knoll Terrace, Germantown, Maryland (map)
- Grassy Knoll Street, Las Vegas, Nevada (map)
- Grassy Knoll Lane, Raleigh, North Carolina (map)
- Grassy Knoll Road, Gaffney, South Carolina (map)
- Grassy Knoll Lane, La Marque, Texas (map)
- Grassy Knoll Court, Woodbridge, Virginia (map)
I provided only one example per state, otherwise I’d probably still be recording and posting them. Most of these instances appeared in neighborhoods with bucolic themes, allowing Grassy Knoll to slip-in unnoticed within prevailing street names and norms. Some occurrences, since we’re conspiracy minded at the moment, might have included subtly hidden references to the Kennedy assassination. Notably,
Some say… a Nixon Connection?
- In Raleigh, North Carolina, Grassy Knoll Lane fell close to Daingerfield Drive. One could certainly characterize the grassy knoll as a "danger field."
- In Tavares, Florida, a housing development included Grassy Knoll Drive and Waters Gate Drive. Some say (notice how I slipped-in "some say" the favored expression of baseless claims) that Richard Nixon was involved in the Kennedy assassination and subsequent coverup. Nixon, of course, was brought down by the Watergate scandal.
- In Woodbridge, Virginia, Grassy Knoll Court bordered on Slippery Elm Court. President Kennedy was riding down Elm Street in front of the Grassy Knoll when he was shot!
.. or they could have been completely coincidental. However, when has that ever stopped anyone from posting a reckless statement on the Internet? Never?
Rest in Peace, Mr. Coleman.
Loyal reader Glenn noted that Napoleon and Wellington met at Waterloo east of Kansas City, Missouri.
(A) Napoleon, (B) Waterloo, and (C) Wellington, in Missouri
Famously, Napoleon Bonaparte and Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington met in battle at Waterloo, south of Brussels, Belgium in 1815. Now they continue to do so into perpetuity in Missouri. Glenn couldn’t find definitive evidence to prove that Waterloo, Missouri was named intentionally to fit the theme, however it seemed too remarkable to be completely coincidental.
Is anyone aware of other contiguous towns named for a battle and its opposing combatants?
My reference to Audubon Park, New Jersey in For More Birds revealed an historic experiment in middle class public housing. In that instance the earlier residents of Audubon voted the newly-arrived shipyard workers out of their borough which led to the creation of a separate Audubon Park borough. That anecdote revealed a short-lived and little known corner of the United States government’s Federal Works Agency, a unit called the Mutual Ownership Defense Housing Division. Eight housing developments were constructed under the auspices of the program circa 1940-1942, one of which was Audubon Park.
View Mutual Ownership Defense Housing in a larger map
The original idea had been pitched a few years earlier by Col. Lawrence Westbrook within the spirit of a latter phase of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Administration promptly mothballed it. The underlying concept was rooted in Progressivism. In this instance middle class home ownership was considered socially desirable and beneficial, and the government should take steps to promote it.
Increased home ownership could be fostered by mutual or cooperative arrangements according to the theory. The government would leverage its capabilities to construct housing and would then ease ownership over to cooperative boards as residents could support it. This was a type of ownership still not very common in the United States; where co-op boards owned all of the property and leased units back to individual residents, each of whom owned a share in the company. One sees this arrangement in places such as New York City and environs — particularly Manhattan — and only rarely elsewhere, especially for typical suburban settings.
There were other New Deal era cooperative developments elsewhere by 1940. The twist here was the program’s specific focus on national defense. The United States had already began a military buildup in the years prior to Pearl Harbor and U.S. entry into the Second World War. This required a large influx of skilled labor for factories that manufactured the machinery of war, and the workers had to live somewhere. The government dusted-off Westbrook’s idea and he moved forward with several prototypes. As described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cooperative housing in the United States, 1949 and 1950.
Under the defense housing program of the Federal Works Agency eight projects (the so called Westbrook projects) were designated for eventual sale to nonprofit housing corporations formed by the tenants. During the war however the dwellings were placed on a rental basis managed under the direction of the Public Housing Administration in order to insure their being available for war workers… By January 1951 the first five had successfully negotiated a purchase contract the sixth was operating the project under a lease and the last two were still under PHA management.
The eight developments totaled 4,050 units according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They had been designed and constructed with Progressive elements including abundant shared open spaces in park-like settings. Some of them also incorporated interesting themes into their road designs and names, which I’ve done my best to describe based on my observations:
- Audubon Park (map): Semi-Circles; Birds
- Avion Village (map): Teardrop; Aviation Pioneers
- Bellmawr Park (map): Ribs; Trees
- Dallas Park: privatized – unknown
- Pennyback Woods (map): Cul-de-sacs; Flowers and Universities
- Greenmont Village (map): Oval; People who were notable in the 1940′s
- Walnut Grove (map): Native American Breastplate; Trees
- Winflield Park (map): Arcs and Geographic Contours; Oceans and Waves
My descriptions probably said more about my psychological point of view than any actually intended shapes. Feel free to provide your own Rorschach interpretations as appropriate.
I already describe Audubon Park in that earlier article so I decided to focus on a couple of other Mutual Ownership Defense Housing properties, both in Texas. One may wonder why Texas had two outliers while other projects sprouted closer to industrial areas of the Northeast and Great Lakes. Lawrence Westbrook was a Texan and he was the boss. That probably explained it.
Avion Village, Grand Prairie, Texas, USA
Avion Village grew next Hensley Field, later Naval Air Station Dallas and now the Grand Prairie Armed Forces Reserve Complex. The first residents of Avion Village were "civilian employees of the North American Aviation Company" who built B-24 bombers and other aircraft for the war effort.
Consolidated B-24 Liberator
By U.S. Air Force photos [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
An historical marker erected at the site provided additional explanation.
Avion Village, Grand Prairie Texas Historical Marker by Nicolas Henderson on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
As early as the mid-1940s, housing was scarce in Dallas as well as in other centers of defense production and military activity throughout the nation. The private housing industry was unable to keep up with the demand for shelter in these areas. Some federal officials saw the situation as an opportunity for experimentation in architecture and planning, as well as establishment of a pilot program aimed at lowering the cost of quality housing through the use of prefabrication and mass production building techniques. Defense housing officials also wanted to introduce industrial workers to mutual home ownership as an alternative to traditional suburban home ownership.
The Mystery of Dallas Park
I don’t have a map of Dallas Park. Seven of the eight Mutual Ownership Defense Housing properties passed successfully through the intended process and now operate as cooperative enterprises more than seventy years later. Dallas Park failed. The name seemed to have been wiped from the map; I could not locate it precisely through Intertubes searches and the Geographic Names Information System didn’t list it at all. Gone. Vanished. I gave up after longer than I’d care to admit. I’d probably offer a small reward to the first 12MC reader who could locate it on a map with definitive supporting evidence (maybe I’ll write an article about your hometown or something, like I did for Peter).
I found contemporary information from Get Your Own Home the Cooperative Way (1949),
The development of the Dallas Park Mutual Ownership Corporation covers 114 acres and is in Dallas proper… The rental for a one-bedroom apartment is $22.50 per month; and for the three-bedroom single dwelling, from $32 to $34 a month. In addition, the residents pay $6.75 to $8.50 a month for gas, light, and water. Buildings at Dallas Park are of frame and brick and were completed January 1, 1942.
Dallas Park probably reverted to private ownership soon thereafter because the switch was described as having taken place a few years earlier when reported upon in 1955. Privatization was then under consideration for other mutual ownership properties: "Basically, the conversion would involve nothing more than exchange of perpetual use contracts for warranty deeds, with accrued funds due the tenant to be applied toward the purchase price principal."
Building materials became increasingly scarce once the U.S. entered the war as a combatant. Additionally, real estate developers applied political pressure, arguing that residential construction wasn’t a government function. The experiment, while seemingly successful given the longevity of all but one of the mutual housing corporations, lost its sponsorship and support. The Mutual Ownership Defense Housing Division disbanded.
I remained vague when I discussed Boston — the Boston in Texas — in Named Like a Whole Other Country. I kept it to "the man who opened the first store in the area was W. J. Boston." Otherwise I might have tipped my hand that I’d discovered three Texas Bostons all within about four miles of each other in Bowie County. To wit,
- Boston was always Boston, and it’s newer than New Boston, although it’s now part of New Boston. Probably.
- Old Boston was the original Boston.
- New Boston was named for Old Boston back when Old Boston was still Boston.
- They’re all New Boston for postal purposes (Zip Code 75570) so maybe it doesn’t matter.
Got all that? It confused me too. Fortunately the Geographic Names Information System or GNIS provided precise locations for each location and the Handbook of Texas Online provided context and history.
(A) = Old Boston, (B) = New Boston, (C) = Boston
Notice the tight clustering of the Boston trio. This proximity would tend to justify a single town with a single name just about anywhere else. Maybe that would have happened here too except for several extenuating events. I took all three town histories from the Handbook, sorted through their intricacies and developed a timeline.
1830′s: Early settlers founded Boston and named it for the guy I mentioned earlier.
1841: Boston became the initial government seat for newly-founded Bowie County. That was while Texas was still an independent nation, the Republic of Texas.
1846: Boston gained a post office. Yes, it’s important to the story.
Some of the Railroad has been Decommissioned
1876: The new Texas and Pacific Railway laid track through Bowie County, and it skipped Boston. Residents feared Boston’s stagnation, a sad situation for many towns bypassed by railroads, so residents met with railroad officials to see what could be done about it. They agreed upon a station at the closest place possible along the line, about four miles north of Boston. Many Bostonians packed-up and platted a town around the new station, calling it New Boston because they lacked originality.
Mid 1880′s: The Bowie county seat moved from Boston to Texarkana which had become the largest town in the county by that time. Even so, Texarkana sat at the far eastern edge of Bowie County which inconvenienced just about everyone else. The county seat moved again about five year later, this time to the exact geographic center of Bowie. It corresponded to a spot about a mile south of New Boston.
1890: Bowie County started building a new courthouse at its nameless, centralized spot. The location lacked a post office and it needed to have one because of a quirk in the law that required a post office at every county seat. The Boston post office would move to the nameless spot — no issue there — although what should they call it? The Postal Service rejected several alternatives because they were already taken, otherwise Center, Hood or Glass would have sufficed. With preferred options unavailable, the county transferred the Boston name along with the Boston post office. Thus Boston became the county seat and the original Boston became Old Boston. Meanwhile, New Boston was still New Boston.
That’s the way things remained geographically and administratively for the next century even though the economics changed. New Boston, with its proximity to a railroad and later an interstate highway, expanded in size and influence.
1986: Bowie County built a modern courthouse in New Boston, on the edge of town near Interstate 30 and a Wal-Mart (map). The courthouse moved although Boston remained the legal county seat.
The Old Courthouse is Gone. Only the Abandoned Jail Remains
1987: An arsonist burned the old courthouse building in Boston, completely gutting it.
The story had an interesting postscript. An article in the Chicago Tribune reported on a suspicious situation in 1988.
The torching of one of Texas’ oldest courthouses has sparked a controversy nearly as hot as the flames that gutted the structure a year ago. At issue is whether to raze or restore the 99-year-old Bowie County Courthouse, one of the 10 oldest in Texas. An equally popular topic of discussion at local coffee shops is the timing of the fire, which was quickly ruled arson; it occurred two weeks after county officials increased insurance coverage on the building, at a time when the county budget was in the red. Another vexing question is whether the location of the new courthouse is legal.
The legal situation focused on whether the courthouse should have been allowed to move to its new location. By that time New Boston had annexed all of Boston except for the single block with the old courthouse. Apparently the move violated a Texas law about locating a courthouse too far away from the center of a county without adequate voter approval, or so it was alleged. Then there were the mysterious circumstances surrounding the arson. I couldn’t find out what happened after that time although eventually New Boston annexed the remaining vestige of Boston even though it continued to serve as the official Bowie County seat. That would make Boston a neighborhood of New Boston, and seemingly legitimize the new courthouse location.
I learned about an interesting tool from Twitter user @OsmQcCapNat as a result of the recent 12MC article on Trap Streets. The tool, Map Compare, displays the same location on several online maps simultaneously. That would have made my side-by-side comparison of OSM, Google Maps and Bing Maps so much easier. I’ll file that one away for future use.