The Italian word rotonda meant the same as the English word rotunda, and both derived from the Latin word rotundus meaning round. I’d tugged that etymological thread in Rotonda West. However, Rotonda West wasn’t the only Rotonda. Far from it. Many more existed although usually in Italy as one would expect, or in places where Italian and Roman influences found a home.
Rotonda, Basilicata, Italy
Rotonda by Basilicata Turistica on Flickr (cc)
I discovered an entire town of Rotonda and it was a descent size too (map). Perhaps 3,500 people lived there. According to the Italian version of Wikipedia, the name first appeared in a document in 1083. A castle sat atop a knob hill and a town formed around it in a circular pattern. This physical appearance described the town and gave it a name. The castle fell to ruin long ago and the town grew imprecisely over generations so nothing remained of its roundness other than the name.
Villa Almerico Capra "La Rotonda"
Villa Capra "La Rotonda" by Hilde Kari on Flickr (cc)
Outside of Vicenza in northeast Italy rose a magnificent villa from the Sixteenth Century. It came to be known as Villa Almerico Capra in its official capacity although it was more commonly called "La Rotonda" (map). The masterful architect Andrea Palladio designed this structure for bishop Paolo Almerico "who after leaving his brilliant career at the papal court, comes back to his birthplace and prefers the quiet countryside to the family palace." Being closely connected to the papal court during the Renaissance wasn’t such a bad deal, I supposed. Forty years would pass before the villa reached its final perfection, well after Palladio and Almerico both passed away. By then it was in the possession of the Capra family.
It is no coincidence that the villa stands on top of a hill, in the countryside that stretches out from the banks of the river Bacchiglione to the Colli Berici. The image is the image of a temple-villa, almost cubical, with façades bearing a pronaos with majestic Ionic colonnades and triangular tympanums, topped by a dome which at the beginning was planned like the Roman Pantheon, and should be opened by an oeil-de-boeuf, but then was squashed and closed.
The property passed to Count Valmarana in the early Twentieth Century and it still remains in the family. Maintaining a facility of that grandeur must be expensive because it’s been open to the public since 1986. People can tour its grounds and interior on a regular schedule, or they can rent it out for cultural events, corporate gatherings or even parties. It remains one of the most significant contributing structures to the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage Site, the City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto.
The Rotonda in Thessaloniki, Greece
The Rotonda by Daniel Tellman on Flickr (cc)
Located physically in Greece, this Rotonda was a Roman structure commissioned by the emperor Galerius in the early Fourth Century. It was built at the same time as, and adjoined with, another feature known as the Arch of Galerius intending to celebrate a military victory over the Persians. Both were part of a larger palace complex. Thessaloniki became an important trading center and political power during this period and it made sense to locate imposing structures like these in the city (map). The site Sacred Destinations described the evolving purpose of the Rotonda over the centuries:
The Rotunda of Galerius was converted into a Christian church in the late 4th century or mid-5th century… The Ottoman Turks ruled Thessaloniki from 1430, and in 1591, Agios Georgios was converted into a mosque… After serving three religions, the Rotunda is now a deconsecrated museum. It has been undergoing extensive restorations ever since the destructive earthquake of 1978. The Rotunda reopened in 1999.
A minaret still stands outside of the Rotonda from the period when it served as a mosque.
Spanish for Roundabout
Rotonda by Núria on Flickr (cc)
The Spanish word for round was redondo, yet they adopted the Italian word rotonda for roundabouts. That made it difficult to search other uses of rotonda. I kept bumping into images of roundabouts. I felt it would be appropriate for me to select one of those Spanish roundabouts at random and take a closer look. I chose the Plaça d’Ildefons Cerdà (map) in Barcelona primarily because I found a nice photograph of it with a creative commons license.
The choice came with a heavy dose of irony. Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876), was "considered to be one of the fathers of ‘comprehensive city improvements through physical planning’ and, essentially, modern-day planning itself." He designed an extension beyond the original city of Barcelona called the Eixample.
Here’s how El Periódico Barcelona described the roundabout named for him (the original was in Spanish; I cleaned it up from a mangled Google Translate rendition):
He designed a grid, but the square is a perfect circle. He thought of rectangles and octagons, but they put his name to .. a roundabout. He envisioned a city of quiet, peace and pedestrians, but the place is the territory of noisy engines. He dreamed of green, with more gardens than buildings, but the beautiful meadow that lies at the center of the square is only achievable for pigeons, provided they fly to it.
In other words, city officials put his name on something he would have hated.
Rotonda West looked like a two-dimensional rendering of the Death Star transformed into a planned community along Florida’s southern Gulf Coast.
Rotonda West, Florida
It also had an air of familiarity, like I’d seen it somewhere before although I stumbled across it quite by accident just recently. My recollection gets a little hazy now that I’ve posted more than 1,200 of these Twelve Mile Circle articles. It’s never gotten so bad that I’ve written the same article twice although I came close a couple of times. I’ve made it a habit to always double-check. Indeed, Rotonda West made a guest appearance once before although not in an article. Reader "Joshua" included it in a comment on Corona’s Corona all the way back in 2009. He described it then as, "about 7/8th of a circle. It’s almost like missing one category pie piece in Trivial Pursuit."
I must have tucked Rotonda West somewhere within the deep crevices of my mind although I never pursued it farther. Maybe its "rediscovery" offered an opportunity for me to undertake a proper examination of the situation. Clearly someone needed to check the facts further.
The Rotonda West Association maintained a comprehensive website with more details that I’ve seen for some actual cities much larger, devoting an entire section and multiple articles to its history. Salient details flowed freely from that definitive source.
The land on which Rotonda sits was owned originally by brothers William and Alfred Vanderbilt. William was a former Governor of Rhode Island, and both brothers were direct descendants of the renowned Cornelius Vanderbilt…. The brothers acquired the Rotonda land (36,000 acres) in 1952… Eventually, Alfred owned most of it and sold it to Cavanagh Leasing Corporation of Miami in 1969 for $19.5 million, when ranching became uneconomical.
Rotonda West by Mark Mathosian on Flickr (cc)
Like much of South Florida, the community of Rotonda West didn’t have particularly deep roots. Nonetheless it began to grow rapidly especially with those of a certain senior age who had plenty of time for leisure activities. That’s probably why Trip Advisor listed golf courses as two of the Top 5 things to do there. It also had an odd connection to Ed McMahon, the longtime sidekick to Johnny Carson of the Tonight Show. The owners of Rotonda West hired McMahon to promote the community pretty much everywhere he went using any means available to him. They paid him off with property and a house in Rotonda West. He also became a vice president of the development corporation. The arrangement must have worked because now almost nine thousand people live there.
Assuming the existence of a Rotonda West, it seemed natural that there should be another Rotonda community elsewhere acting as its namesake. There wasn’t. The community offered an explanation for that too.
Yes, there was a Rotonda East. It straddled Florida’s Palm Beach and Martin Counties. In the 1960s, Cavanagh reportedly sold about 18,000 acres of mostly swampy land there for up to $6,000 an acre. But suddenly the new ecology awareness took hold, bringing tougher country building and zoning codes… Rotonda East died stillborn.
I loved that crack about the "new ecology awareness" killing Rotonda East before it could be born. Another article offered similar views about Rotonda West,
The environment was another problem for developers."Ecology" became a new buzz word, as did "wetlands." The newly-found interests of eagles, scrub jays, gopher tortoises, sea turtles and certain snakes now had to be addressed. This retarded construction in Rotonda West.
I’m sure this was a fine community and I didn’t intend to cast aspersions, I just found it amusing to see such a nakedly pro-development slant: darn ecology and wetlands and animals and such standing in the way of draining swamps and blocking plans for all those lovely houses. Feel free to throw in a "get off my lawn" if you like, too.
So, that was that. It was a fairly typical South Florida story except for the community’s circular shape which was chosen because it was believed to be "softer and more romantic."
Wait, What’s a Rotonda?
Rotunda. My own photo..
I was certainly aware of Rotunda (with a "u") — after all I was an alumnus of the University of Virginia with its rather distinctive Rotunda designed by Thomas Jefferson — and I figured Rotonda must have had a similar derivation. Was it an accepted version, however, or was it a clever marketing ploy used by the developers of Rotonda West? I turned to a dictionary "1. a round building, especially one with a dome. 2. a large and high circular hall or room in a building, especially one surmounted by a dome." It derived from the Italian rotonda (aha!) which in turn came from the Latin rotundus, meaning round. The usage was entirely proper — perhaps a little pretentious that they went with Italian instead of English — although it was perfectly suitable for a circular community.
Hurricanes often hit the eastern part of the United States, generally on the Atlantic side or the Gulf of Mexico coast. Sometimes they move inland, weakening as they push away from open water although sometimes causing massive flooding. I was pretty sure none of them ever made it all the way to Utah though. Yet, a random Twelve Mile Circle visitor dropped onto the site from the City of Hurricane in Utah and once again I found myself wondering about that odd situation. It had nothing to do with the visitor of course, the ebb and flow of the Intertubes explained all that, instead I wondered why anyone would call a place Hurricane so obviously far removed from the possibility of such a calamity.
Sunrise, Hurricane, Utah by dakman on Flickr (cc)
The naming of Hurricane, Utah (map) wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the name that was selected. A local historical marker explained a series of mundane events.
In 1863 settlers on the Upper Virgin River whose lands were being washed away, made preliminary surveys for irrigating and occupying these lands. Erastus Snow, David H. Cannon and Nephi Johnson came down the hill over an old Indian trail, with a heavy buggy drawn by mules, using ropes to keep it from tipping. A whirlwind took the top off the buggy. Erastus Snow exclaimed, "Well that was a hurricane, we’ll name this hurricane hill." The fault, bench and town were named from this event.
I concluded, a city of fifteen thousand residents got its name from a gust of wind observed by someone who obviously never experienced a real hurricane. Case closed. Can I end the article now?
I did find one fascinating feature, the Hurricane Canal. Southwestern Utah was a harsh, dry landscape not particularly hospitable for farming. Irrigation became a necessity for those early Mormon pioneers. When more people moved into the area they started to envision a canal from the Virgin River as a way to create additional farmland. The men of Hurricane tilled the soil every summer. Then, each winter between 1891 and 1904, they traded farm implements for pickaxes and shovels. By hand, over many years, they dug a 7.5-mile (12.1 km) canal. Their handiwork included twelve tunnels through solid rock. The canal fell into disrepair many years ago although it later became a popular hiking trail maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.
Hurricane, West Virginia
Welcome to Hurricanecc)
West Virginia wasn’t exactly noted for hurricanes either, although the aftermath of such storms occasionally made it that far inland with torrential rains and flooding. Maybe I could cut them some slack. Nonetheless, the origin of this Hurricane was similarly mundane. It did have a famous name attached to it ever so tangentially it so I took some solace.
In 1774 a party of surveyors, commissioned by George Washington, traveled down the Kanawha River until they came upon an area at the mouth of a creek where they found trees all bent in the same direction. They called the location "the place of the hurricane" after discovering the bent trees. The creek became known as Hurricane Creek and by 1811, according to early Virginia maps, the town of Hurricane Bridge appeared…
Its ultimate success came much later, particularly with the construction of Interstate 64 and owing to its ideal spot between the cities of Charleston and Huntington (map). Three thousand people lived there in the 1970’s. More than six thousand people live there today.
There were many more places named Hurricane than I ever expected. Most of them were tiny, insignificant crossroads, like the one in Missouri (map). This one, however, might explain the logic behind several others, so bear with me for awhile. The State Historical Society of Missouri explained,
Hurricane Creek: A large creek in Crooked Creek and Lorance Townships, which flows south and empties into Crooked Creek near Lutesville. It runs with unusual swiftness and violence when a heavy rain falls, making passage across the creek impossible or dangerous. This speed is likened to a storm or hurricane in violence, and hence the stream received this name. It is commonly pronounced “herricane” and is so spelled once in the County Court Record. (Robbins, Wiggs, County Court Records)
The village of Hurricane (map) was named for the creek of the same name that flowed nearby. Let’s keep that in mind.
Hurricane Mills, Tennessee
Hurricane Mills, TN by Brent Moore on Flickr (cc)
I never determined exactly how Hurricane Mills got its name although I devised a theory based upon the previous item. I consulted an 1886 source, Goodspeed’s History of Tennessee that mentioned a local Hurricane Creek.
The county is drained and well watered by numerous. small streams, the prominent ones being Duck and Buffalo Rivers, Tumbling, Hurricane, Blue, Trace, Big and Little Richland, White Oak, Indian and Bear Creeks. Of these Hurricane, White Oak, Big Richland and Blue Creek, furnish excellent water-power for driving machinery.
The same source later referenced "G. W. Hillman’s Hurricane Mills" that was used as a mill for "flour, corn [and a] woolen factory, etc., on Hurricane Creek." These all implied that Hurricane Creek had some power behind it, and I figured it demonstrated the same raging characteristics when flooded as the creek in Missouri. Whatever. That wasn’t even the most interesting feature of Hurricane Mills, the settlement that grew around the mill of the same name.
Hurricane Mills (map) didn’t have any name recognition beyond the local community until the 1960’s when Country Music legend Loretta Lynn bought an old plantation home at that spot for her growing family. She was born into poverty in rural Kentucky during the Great Depression, literally a coal miner’s daughter, and rose to superstardom in a multi-decade career that continues even today. Loretta Lynn’s ranch turned Hurricane Mills into one of Tennessee’s most popular tourist attractions, with several museums, a campground, motocross races and concerts. Some consider it a laid-back Graceland. Loretta Lynn herself performs there several times a year, now well into her eighties. She’s practically a hurricane all on her own.