Directional Upstart Eclipses Namesake

On September 23, 2015 · 14 Comments

Loyal reader Cary suggested an article idea that built upon a previous topic, Upstart Eclipses Namesake. In that previous posting I offered "new" places that grew more prominent than their original namesakes. Examples I proposed included New Zealand (vs. Zealand), New South Wales (vs. South Wales) and others. There were several comments and a lively discussion — for instance the relative prominence of New Jersey and Jersey seemed to depend upon the side of the Atlantic of one’s abode — and it was all good fun.

Cary’s proposal took these efforts in a different direction, literally. Instead of new places, what if we looked at directional places instead? For example, suppose there was a town of Podunk and later a new settlement grew just to its north, and people lacking originality or hoping to ride Podunk’s coattails decided to call it North Podunk. Then suppose, over time North Podunk continued to grow until it eventually became significantly larger than Podunk. Cary was even kind enough to provide examples. I’m going to simply plagiarize Cary’s ideas in a callous manner, wrap a little text around them and call it a day. I like articles where someone else provides the hard part and I get to take a small break. Keep those ideas and suggestions coming!

Palm Beach vs. West, North and South Palm Beach, Florida

Palm Beach - "Whitehall" (Flagler Mansion)
Palm Beach – "Whitehall" (Flagler Mansion) by Roger W on Flickr (cc)

Palm Beach, that ritzy settlement on a sandy stretch of barrier island on the Atlantic side of south Florida, traced its founding back to the efforts of Henry Flagler. He was one of those Gilded Age gazillionaires at the tail end of the Nineteenth Century with abundant money to burn. Anyone familiar with Florida history should recognize the Flagler name. It’s everywhere. He laid the Florida East Coast Railway along the length of the state and plopped a string of luxury hotels down the tracks to Key West. He, maybe more than anyone else should be credited with opening Florida to mass tourism and settlement. Palm Beach was a crown jewel, the place he chose to build his winter mansion Whitehall in 1902 (map).

The opulence and wealth of Palm Beach attracted his well-heeled peers, however supply-and-demand with geography created limitations. There was only so much land available on a thin strip of barrier island. Parcels became obscenely expensive as wealthy industrialists seized the best spots for competing displays of extravagance. Those of lesser means built nearby in other directions, principally west across a narrow channel on the mainland. They still wanted to grasp a bit of the "exclusivity" of the Palm Beach brand, however. Thus grew additional towns of West Palm Beach, North Palm Beach and South Palm Beach. West Palm Beach has ten times more residents (about a hundred thousand) than Palm Beach (a little less than ten thousand). North Palm Beach is slightly larger (about twelve thousand). Only South Palm Beach has fewer residents (about fifteen hundred).

Certainly West Palm Beach overshadowed Palm Beach by population. However Palm Beach could still take some consolation. It’s most recent median annual family income was $137,867 while West Palm Beach was only $42,074.

Orange vs. West, East and South Orange, New Jersey

East Orange Station
East Orange Station by Adam Moss on Flickr (cc)

The story of "The Oranges" — and that’s how the collection of New Jersey’s orange-named places are often grouped — was quite a bit different. Why Orange? Like many places named Orange it referred to William III of England, a.k.a. William of Orange. A group of breakaway Puritans left the New Haven Colony in Connecticut in 1666 and settled in lands that would later become Newark and the Oranges (map). According to the City of Orange Township, the area composing the Oranges served as an agricultural portion of Newark. The interests of the two began to diverge by the end of the Eighteenth Century, with Orange finally detaching in 1806. Internal rifts appeared within Orange over the next few decades and it too split not long after earning town status in 1860.

… Orange was permitted to establish fire, police, street and other town departments. On March 13, 1860, Dr. William Pierson was elected as the first Mayor of the Town of Orange. Almost immediately, the new town began fragmenting into smaller independent communities primarily because of local disputes about the costs of establishing the new departments. The other areas separated from the Town of Orange…

That resulted in four Oranges: Orange, West Orange, East Orange and South Orange. Today Orange has about thirty-thousand residents, West Orange has about forty-five thousand, East Orange has about sixty-five thousand and South Orange has about fifteen thousand. Thus, two of the three directional Oranges grew larger than Orange.

Demographically the Oranges are starkly divided.

Orange and East Orange are relatively urban and working-class, while South Orange and West Orange remain affluent suburban enclaves. In addition, the residents of Orange and East Orange are predominantly African American (75.1% and 89.5%, respectively), while those of South Orange and West Orange are predominantly white.

Battleford vs. North Battleford, Saskatchewan

Downtown North Battleford
Downtown North Battleford by waferboard on Flickr (cc)

Battleford in Saskatchewan provided another interesting tale. First I wondered about its name. Was there really a battle on a ford or was it simply some Englishman’s surname that transposed to the colonies and found its way to the Canadian prairie? Battleford (map) sat near the confluence of the North Saskatchewan and Battle Rivers, and a ford actually existed there. That solved part of the mystery. Also the "battle" wasn’t a single clash, rather it reflected an ongoing series of conflicts between Cree and Blackfoot tribes within the larger geographic footprint. Learning that, I felt comfortable and could move on with my investigation.

Poor Battleford. It should have risen to such greater prominence. Things began well at its founding in 1875 and soon it became the capital of the North-West Territories. Then came the railroad. Originally the Canadian Pacific Railway would have passed directly through Battleford, cementing its future.

But in 1881 the community’s destiny was altered with the federal government’s abrupt decision to alter the route of the trans-continental railway to cross the southern plains: as a consequence, the territorial capital was officially transferred to Regina in 1883…

Then, to add insult to injury, the Canadian Northern Railway came along in 1905 and built a line to Edmonton, placing its route on the other side of the river from Battleford. Naturally a new settlement migrated there and became North Battleford, soon eclipsing the original Battleford. Current Battleford has about five thousand residents compared to North Battleford with at about fifteen thousand. Battleford could have been Saskatchewan’s capital. Instead it became North Battleford’s smaller cousin.


Cary offered several other examples although I got tired of typing:

  • North Richland Hills vs. Richland Hills in Texas
  • North Tonawanda vs. Tonawanda in New York
  • West Covina vs. Covina in California
  • West Babylon vs. Babylon in New York

I’m sure the 12MC audience can find others. Thanks Cary!


On September 20, 2015 · 0 Comments

I’ve always thought that places named Braintree sounded odd. I knew it couldn’t have derived from a tree with brains dangling from its branches although that’s exactly what came to mind. The Osage Orange or Hedge Apple (Maclura pomifera) might come closest to that twisted image. Still, my overactive imagination went directly to literal brains.

Maclura pomifera, "Osage orange"
Maclura pomifera, "Osage orange" by John Lillis on Flickr (cc)

My familiarity with Braintree drew from the town of the same name in Massachusetts. I surmised correctly that it wasn’t the original Braintree, that its peculiar phrasing must have sailed across the Atlantic with the original European settlers.

Braintree, Essex, England

Day 82,365,Postcard From Braintree
Postcard From Braintree by Andreas-photography on Flickr (cc)

Indeed, Braintree migrated from a place in England, a town dating back at least a thousand years (map). I’m usually pretty adept at digging into obscure corners of the Intertubes discovering etymologies, especially for a name so delightful as Braintree. I didn’t do so well this time however, running up against the dreaded, "nobody really seemed to know" excuse. Wikipedia included a long paragraph without attribution. In essence the tenuous claim came down to "the origin of the name Braintree is obscure" and it might "indicate that Braintree literally means ‘town (or village) by the river’" It could mean that, or it could mean something completely different. Take your pick.

However, the Braintree in Essex definitely conveyed its name to the Braintree in Massachusetts, USA. People who emigrated from the English Braintree to the colonial Braintree included influential citizens such as the ancestors of future US presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Both of them were born in the Massachusetts Braintree (a portion now in Quincy) as I noted in an earlier article, Presidential Birthplaces.

Braintree, Massachusetts, USA

Sacco and Vanzetti via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

The Adams Family notwithstanding, I first encountered Braintree and wondered about its unusual name because of a more recent and completely unrelated historical event. Many people probably recognized the names Sacco and Vanzetti even if they didn’t fully remember the notorious events that happened in Braintree in 1920. Two robbers shot and killed a paymaster for the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company and his guard as they transported payroll boxes to the factory building on Pearl Street (map).

Authorities quickly arrested Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, known anarchists born in Italy who belonged to an extremest group called the Galleanists that advocated violence against government officials and institutions. The alleged motive involved funding future bombings. Both men were convicted and sentenced to death. This caused an international uproar with allegations of unfair treatment deriving from prejudices against Italian immigrants. Historians have long debated whether Sacco and Vanzetti committed the crime. However the consensus seemed clear that their "prosecution, trial, and aftermath constituted a blatant disregard for political civil liberties" at the very least. The state electrocuted the pair in 1927.

The Governor of Massachusetts issued a proclamation in 1977, the 50th anniversary of the execution,

…that any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed from the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, from the names of their families and descendants, and so, from the name of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and I hereby call upon all the people of Massachusetts to pause in their daily endeavors to reflect upon these tragic events, and draw from their historic lessons the resolve to prevent the forces of intolerance, fear, and hatred from ever again uniting to overcome rationality, wisdom, and fairness to which our legal system aspires.

A small marker now memorializes Sacco and Vanzetti at the intersection of Pearl Street and French Avenue (map), in Braintree.

New Braintree, Massachusetts, USA

New Braintree, Massachusetts

There was a New Braintree in Massachusetts too? Why, yes there was, and it was situated about 75 miles (120 kilometres) west of the other Massachusetts Braintree (map). I figured that Massachusetts residents must have migrated away from the coast and brought the name along with them, just like there forebears had done when they crossed the ocean from England. Now I’m not sure.

The Town of New Braintree said,

In 1709, 6000 acres were granted to the residents of the village of "Braintree Farms". Additional tracts of land which were formerly part of Brookfield and Hardwick were acquired and in 1751 the town was incorporated as New Braintree.

I dug a bit deeper and discovered more information from a book printed in 1902, published to commemorate the town’s 150th anniversary. It referenced the "Braintree Grant" that dated back to 1666 that formed the later Braintree Farms and a portion of the future town of New Braintree.

The incorporation of Braintree outside of Boston happened in 1640 so it’s possible that it influenced the name of the Braintree Grant. It think it’s more likely that the Braintree in England provided the name directly though, since Grants generally (although not always) were bestowed by Royal decree. That remained just a hunch for now.

Columbus Name Symmetry, Part 2

On September 16, 2015 · 1 Comments

It doesn’t take much to please Twelve Mile Circle and I’d been particularly fascinated by the first name / surname symmetry of Cristóbal, Colón, Panamá. Never one to stop beating that dead horse I considered that Christopher Columbus had lots of other places named for him that remained unexplored. Certainly there must be plenty of other examples with similar symmetry buried deep within those thousands of potential spots around the globe.

First, I pondered the many language variations of the name: Cristóbal Colón in Spanish; Christopher Columbus in English; Cristoforo Colombo in Italian; Cristóvão Colombo in Portuguese, and so on. Plus there were other permutations like the Latinized version, Columbia/Colombia. One had to be careful to avoid going overboard though. Words like columbine and columbina derived directly from Latin too (meaning dove-like) and had an etymology independent of Christopher Columbus.


Alright, I thought, let’s get right down to it. There was that big hunk of South America that formed the nation of Colombia. Certainly there must be a Cristóbal hiding within its borders somewhere. If it existed, I certainly couldn’t find it. I did uncover three sort-of near misses that provided modest comfort though.

Pico Cristobal Colon
Pico Cristobal Colon via Wikimedia Commons (cc)

There was a San Cristóbal on the southeastern side of Bogotá. However this neighborhood referred to the actual Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, who was probably more legend than fact and "died a martyr during the reign of Decius in the third century. " Then there was Pico Cristóbal Colón, the tallest mountain in Colombia (map), rising an impressive 5,700 metres (18,700 feet). That was pretty spectacular although it didn’t fit the first name / surname symmetry. Someone would need to rename it simply Pico Cristóbal for that to occur. Finally, as a consolation prize, I considered that Cristóbal in Colón Province, Panamá was once located in Colombia. Cristóbal would have maintained the requisite symmetry within Colombia from its founding in the 1850’s until Panamanian independence in 1903.


British Columbia

Maybe Canada would bail me out of this dilemma. British Columbia was a large place, and certainly named for Christopher Columbus. Natural Resources Canada contained three Christopher names in British Columbia within its extensive database; a creek, a lake and a point. I doubted that any one of them would actually be named for the proper Christopher. Still, on some tenuous level it maintained the integrity of the first name / surname symmetry even though it required a little imaginative thought.

Christopher Point, BC

I focused on Christopher Point because it seemed to be placed unusually far south on Vancouver Island (map) and that fascinated me. In fact it turned out to be the southernmost tip of the island so that was a nice surprise.

Christopher Point was part of a Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot, a sub-unit of CFB Esquimalt. This area had also been fortified during World War II. The battery still existed although guns were removed long ago.

The Magic of Lassie Lunch Box
The Magic of Lassie Lunch Box by National Museum of American History Smithsonian via Flickr (cc)

The most bizarre reference to Christopher Point turned up in a book, "World War II Goes to the Movies." It claimed that some scenes in the movie Son of Lassie (1945) were filmed on Vancouver Island, including Christopher Point. It was quite common for movie franchises of that period to weave Nazi plots into their narratives as a mix of propaganda and patriotism. Even a fictional dog could contribute to wartime efforts and the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.

The sequel to ‘Lassie Come Home’ (1943), which now focuses on the adult Joe Carraclough, who joins the RAF during WWII and is shot down over Nazi-occupied Norway along with the stowaway, Lassie’s son ‘Laddie.’ The two are forced to parachute when they are hit by enemy fire. Laddie then seeks help for his injured master and race for their lives through Nazi lines to safety.

I don’t know how Eric Dunn got his lunchbox into the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, although it seemed pretty cool. It made me jealous that I threw away my Hot Wheels lunchbox right around the time I hit puberty.

Even More Tenuous

Not hitting a lot of pay dirt for most of the research although enjoying the hunt, I turned to what I hoped might be a ringer. Certainly within the United States, where many places bore the name Columbus or Columbia, I should be able to find something named Christopher.

Christopher Park Lane

Behold, Christopher Park Lane in Columbus, Ohio.

Good enough.

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