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.
I thought I’d lump another set of somewhat related items together as I continued to cull the enormous backlog of possible Twelve Mile Circle topics. They didn’t have much in common except that they all involved continental Africa. Two were geographical observations and two were geological oddities. All of them piqued my interest although not enough to devote an entire article to them.
Most of us have probably seen the recent comparison-style maps on the Intertubes lately, some demonstrating Africa’s immense size. Brilliant Maps, for example, had a wonderful portrayal of the True Size of Africa in an article a few months ago. People tended to misconstrue Africa’s enormity, probably due to its under-representation in popular media combined with Mercator map projections that distorted its actual size. Twelve Mile Circle fell into some of those same traps as witnessed by the relatively few African article markers on the Complete Index page.
In that vein, I pondered Africa’s enormity in a slightly different manner using great-circle distances. And what better measure of great-circle distance could I generate than airline flights? One could take a direct nonstop flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Nairobi, Kenya (currently 7 flights per week on Kenya Airlines) and ponder its width. That would carry a traveler from west to east across the continent, not even its widest part, and it would take 5 hours and 20 minutes. That compared pretty nicely with a flight from New York to San Francisco across the width of the United States; or from London, England to Ankara, Turkey.
Looking at length, one could then take a nonstop flight from O. R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt (4 flights per week on EgyptAir) in 8 hours, or alternately to Dakar, Senegal (3 flights per week on South African Airways) in 8.5 hours. That compared rather favorably with a flight between Chicago, Illinois and Paris, France. Of course, an entire ocean didn’t have to be crossed on any of those African flights. That, to me, demonstrated its vast expanse quite succinctly.
Plus, now I get to see all sorts of interesting advertisements on my website now that Big Data thinks I’m contemplating so many far-flung adventures.
Extreme Elevation (or Lack Thereof)
Gambie by Guillaume Colin & Pauline Penot on Flickr (cc)
Africa demonstrated many extremes, although not in every instance. Certainly a landmass of its size featured an array of elevations, from Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (5,895 metres / 19,341 feet) down to Lake Assal in Djibouti (-153 m / -502 ft). I wondered though, which African nation had the smallest elevation extremes. I discounted the various offshore islands that were considered part of Africa and focused on the continent itself. The honor went to The Gambia. I featured Unusual Geography of the Republic of The Gambia in the very early days of 12MC and even commented on its elevation. What I didn’t note at the time was that its greatest "peak" (53 m / 174 f) was also the lowest national highpoint on the continent.
The website Peakbagger included this highpoint in its database, a place called Red Rock (map). Only one Peakbagger member claimed to have conquered its summit. I wasn’t surprised.
The continent also served as a home for what National Geographic dubbed the Strangest Volcano on Earth. The Ol Doinyo Lengai stratovolcano in the Gregory Rift of the larger East African Rift of Tanzania (map) was well known to vulcanologists for its unique properties. It was the only active volcano that was known to produce natrocarbonatite lava. The lava at Ol Doinyo Lengai wasn’t based on silica as was typical, rather it was composed of sodium and potassium carbonate minerals.
…the temperatures of these lavas are much lower, "only" about 600 deg. C., and Lengai’s lava does not emit enough light to glow during day,- only at night, a dull reddish glow that does not illuminate anything is visible. Also because of its peculiar chemical composition, the lava is extremely fluid and behaves very much like water, with the exception that it is black like oil. After it is cooled down it quickly alters and becomes a whitish powder.
Black water lava? I’d love to see some of that in person. I may have to settle for the YouTube video for now.
In the distant ancient history of the planet, something like two billion years ago, an asteroid slammed into the earth leaving an impact crater 300 kilometres (185 miles) across. The asteroid was much smaller than that, maybe 5-10 km in diameter, although it hit with such tremendous speed and force that it vaporized stone for great distances in all directions. This celestial divot was called the Vredefort crater — named for the South African settlement that grew there in modern times — the largest verified crater on the planet.
Very few signs remained because of its ancient pedigree, leaving it mostly eroded. A structure known as the Vredefort Dome sprouted at impact, an uplifting of rock that occurred at the very center of the strike. It was mostly weathered away too although it still appeared as a faint semi-circle on satellite images. A few roads also crossed its ridges, making it an interesting sight in Google Street View (image).
The thought of an impact that large seemed terrifying.
There was a town in Maryland I spotted named California. I’d known about it for awhile. It always seemed odd to have a town in one state named for another, especially one located an entire continent away. I figured there was a connection and further speculated that it had its roots in the California Gold Rush that captured the imagination of the nation in 1849 and thereafter.
First I needed to examine the etymology of California to understand if the name might have arisen independently. However, nobody was completely sure what influenced the original California name. Most sources tended to speculate that it derived from a romantic novel published in Spain in the early Sixteenth Century, "Las Sergas de Esplandián." The book described a fictional island found east of Asia. Early Spanish explorers, mistaking Mexico’s Baja Peninsula for an island, noticed a similarity and applied California both to the peninsula and to lands farther north. The theory seemed plausible although plenty of other ideas existed too.
The name spread throughout parts of the New World. However, I was interested specifically in places named because of the Gold Rush influence. Therefore I declined to examine places named California in Central and South America. Those would have likely traced back to the Spanish colonial era. I stuck to English-speaking areas.
I didn’t resolve the mystery in Maryland completely. Indeed, the California (map) in St. Mary’s County was named for the west coast state of the same name. However I never discovered what year that happened. I also learned that this once sleepy hamlet had been growing rapidly in recent years due to its proximity to adjacent Naval Air Station Patuxent River while also becoming popular with commuters to Washington, DC. It experienced an explosive 25% population growth in the previous decade, now approaching twelve thousand residents. That recent surge probably made it the largest U.S. California outside of the state of California.
This same general area made an appearance in Twelve Mile Circle about three years ago in Three Notches for an entirely different reason.
The California in Pennsylvania (map) sparked similar déjà vu. I knew I’d encountered the place previously. Sure enough, the university located in town — California University of Pennsylvania — appeared in a 12MC article called Résumé Bait and Switch a couple of years ago. I’d even speculated on the potential Gold Rush nature of its name. The conjecture was well founded since the borough of California confirmed it:
California Borough is a community of approximately 5200 people that covers nearly 13 square miles of land. California was founded in 1849 and incorporated as a Borough in 1853. It is named after the state of California because the town’s founding coincided with the California Gold Rush of 1849. Naming the town after the state was meant to symbolize our town’s future growth and prosperity.
The third largest non-California California seemed to be a town so named in Missouri (map). It also had the distinction of being the seat of local government for Moniteau County. This California was named for its west coast cousin although I’d have to call it a near-miss on the Gold Rush connection. It actually predated the Gold Rush by a couple of years.
California, county seat of Moniteau county, …was first called Boonsborough but by act January 25, 1847, changed to California. The new country on the Pacific Coast was just then attracting attention and the overland railroad was being agitated and during this agitation the name was given for the state of California
The name change may have had something to do with a Post Office issue; the original name already having been applied to another Missouri town.
Most of the other towns of California were nothing more than flyspecks. There was one former town however, now a neighborhood within Cincinnati, that seemed to have some significance (map). The village claimed a Gold Rush derivation, albeit indirectly.
In the year of the Gold Rush, three friends… shook off the desire to become gold miners and decided instead to make money in an "easier" way. Their idea was to lay off a town that would become one of the greatest industrial cities along the Ohio River… Unfortunately, their dreams were never fully realized and California was to remain a small rivertown until it was later annexed by Cincinnati in 1909.
California eventually packed a lot of activities within its tiny neighborhood boundaries including a golf course, a nature preserve and an amusement park. It was also the city of Cincinnati’s southernmost point.
I did discover a couple of California place names in English-speaking countries outside of the United States with potential Gold Rush connections. The larger was California Gulley (map), a suburb near Bendigo in Victoria, Australia. Bindigo was noted for its goldfield.
People came from across the world to seek their fortune in Bendigo in the mid to late 1800’s. Alluvial gold was discovered along the banks of the Bendigo Creek in 1851 and resulted in a major gold rush… In Christmas 1851 there were 800 people on the field and by the following June, 20,000 diggers had arrived in the alluvial field. Alluvial gold production was dominant in the first ten years of the field to 1860 and is estimated to account for up to four million ounces or almost one fifth of the total gold won from the Bendigo goldfield.
It didn’t seem surprising that an area on the outskirts of Bendigo came to be known as California Gully given the timing of the Bendigo Gold Rush, just a couple of years after the similar rush in the United States.
There was also a California in England, an area within Derby (map) in Derbyshire. The etymology was unclear although speculation existed that it may have had ties somehow to the California Gold Rush.
My search showed that many California place names did seem draw their influence from the state of California in the United States. Connections to the Gold Rush often existed, although not ubiquitously.