Nowhere appeared on Twelve Mile Circle before. I guess I liked the underlying concept of a place of nowhere, which by definition had to be somewhere. I mined this topic pretty hard with articles like Middle of Nowhere and X to Nowhere. I referenced it more recently in the latest Odds and Ends article. That one featured a road in Iqaluit, Nunavut named, literally, Road to Nowhere. People in Nunavut seemed amused by its existence and took photographs that they posted all over the Intertubes. I was amused too, amused enough to wonder if there were other roads to nowhere actually called Road to Nowhere, literally.
I ran into an immediate issue, the overwhelming figurative usage of Road to Nowhere describing journeys to extremely remote places or as a metaphor representing life’s unproductive tangents. Atop that layered several songs titled Road to Nowhere, like the one from Talking Heads released in 1985 or a completely different one from Ozzy Osbourne in 1991. Then there were two or three films with the title. Abundant pop culture references made it difficult to find any actual roads called Road to Nowhere. Nonetheless, I scrounged through my online sources and discovered a small handful.
Then I shifted gears a bit and tried another approach. If Road to Nowhere might be a problem then perhaps Nowhere Road might offer a solution. No dice. There were just as many songs and movies about Nowhere Roads as there were Roads to Nowhere. Eventually I found a decent, real world Nowhere Road outside of Athens, Georgia. It was pretty significant too, stretching a little more than 9 miles (14.5 kilometres). Best of all it included the glorious intersection of Nowhere Road and Nowhere Lane (map)! That spot might be able to make a legitimate claim to being the best middle of nowhere anywhere, or at least the crossroads of nowhere, even though it didn’t necessarily seem to be all that nowhere.
It featured numerous homes and businesses along its multi-mile length, including Big Tom’s Christmas Trees.
Did I mention the boiled peanuts? — I guess you didn’t watch the video, right?
I never developed a taste for boiled peanuts despite growing up in the South. They always seemed much too salty and mushy to me. Maybe I’ve never had a good batch. In my experience they were also far more common much further south than where I lived so that’s probably why I never got used to them as a delicacy. I typically thought of Georgia as the home of boiled peanuts when they came to mind so its prominent placement in the video made perfect sense.
A Change of Direction
Then I threw in the towel. I had to go figurative because the literal examples simply weren’t cutting it and I still had a lot of space to fill in the article. Fortunately there were still decent occurrences in the wild that hadn’t made it onto the pages of 12MC yet. The most commonly referenced Road to Nowhere seemed to be one in Great Smokey Mountains National Park (map).
The Federal government promised to replace Highway 288 with a new road. Lakeview Drive was to have stretched along the north shore of Fontana Lake, from Bryson City to Fontana, 30 miles to the west… But Lakeview Drive fell victim to an environmental issue and construction was stopped, with the road ending at a tunnel, about six miles into the park… The legal issue of whether to build the road was finally resolved in February, 2010 when the US Department of Interior signed a settlement agreement to pay Swain County $52 million in lieu of building the road.
I found another one. Remember the Bridge to Nowhere in Ketchikan, Alaska? A few years ago I said,
It was portrayed in the media as a bridge for the 50 residents of Gravina Island. That’s a bit simplified. Actually it was intended to replace the ferry and connect Ketchikan to its airport. That would have benefited 8,000 residents rather than 50. Still, it works out to about $50,000 per resident.
Well, it turned out that the State of Alaska started building highway infrastructure on Gravina Island in anticipation of the bridge, before money had actually been secured for it. Funding for the bridge famously dissipated after it became a public symbol of pork barrel politics. Its construction never happened. This left Gravina Island with a beautiful $28 million, 3.2 mile (5 km) high-capacity road from nowhere to nowhere; "the road now ends, as it has since it was completed years ago, amid nothing but muskeg and scrub forest." (map)
This article, more than just about any other, led truly nowhere.
Twelve Mile Circle received a visit from someone in Susanville, California (map) last week, landing right on the front page of the site. What an odd name for a town, I figured. It had to have a story. Who was Susan and why did she have a town named for her? Couldn’t the town founders have honored her surname instead?
Actually, the did, sort of, when first settled. The seat of government in Lassen County, California went by a different name originally, the even stranger Rooptown. The City of Susanville provided context:
In 1853 the Honey Lake Valley was an oasis for emigrants, the first green grass and free flowing water after months of desert and dry. During that summer the Roop brothers built a cabin at the head of the valley, just west of the meadow where thousands of emigrants camped. That cabin would go on to act as a trading post, a seat of government and as a fort in the Sagebrush War of 1863.
It made sense to call it Rooptown in a sense, although who would have wanted to live in a place called Rooptown? Soon the designation started to morph and take on the name of the nearby Susan River. It had been named for Susan Roop, the daughter of one of the Roop brothers, Issac Roop. The town prospered for many years because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada’s abundant resources such as timber and minerals. It reinvented itself latter as a prison town, now the site of the High Desert State Prison and the California Correctional Center.
I considered the possibility of other mundane first names adopted as placenames. Indeed, they existed. Some of them derived from actual people while others appeared entirely by coincidence.
I found Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada (map). If that wasn’t odd enough it had once been combined with two other local communities to form Joe Batt’s Arm-Barr’d Islands-Shoal Bay, which later became a larger grouping known as the Town of Fogo Island: "The town was incorporated on March 1, 2011 following the amalgamation of the towns of Fogo, Joe Batt’s Arm-Barr’d Islands-Shoal Bay, Seldom-Little Seldom and Tilting and a portion of the Fogo Island Region." Got all that? 12MC only cared about Joe Batt’s Arm.
A websight devoted to Joe Batt’s Arm went into more detail. Readers should be warned that it began… "Legend has it." Nonetheless, I found it amusing so here it is with the distinct possibility that poetic license may have been taken.
Legend has it that the name of the community comes from the first European settler, possibly a deserter of Captain James Cook in the early 1750s. The community is shaped as an inlet and in those days it was called an ‘Arm’. The deserter – Joseph Batt settled here and the locals liked him so much that they gave it the name Joe Batt’s Arm.
Twelve Mile Circle once posted an article about Captain Cook. Now the previously unknown deserter Joseph Batt had something too.
There were distinct differences in the geographic mention of Bill in the United Kingdom and the United States. Bill in the UK referred to a narrow promontory or peninsula, like the bill of a bird. This specific usage appeared in the Online Etymology Dictionary, deriving from Middle English and "a common Germanic word for cutting or chopping weapons." The beak of a bird was thought to resemble the curves of certain knives or axes, and the notion carried through to a geographic designation. The most well known reference was Portland Bill at southernmost Dorset, England (map). Selsey Bill along the English Channel in West Sussex offered another tantalizing occurrence (map). I couldn’t find any other instances although I’m sure they must have existed.
By contrast, Bill spots in the United States tended to reflect the names of actual people named Bill. For example, Negro Bill Canyon in Utah (map) got a bit of press attention in 2015 because of various perceptions of its potential offensiveness. At least it was an improvement over its previous, horribly offensive name.
There was also a town named Bill in Wyoming and one named Hollow Bill in Kentucky. I desperately wanted to discover the story behind Hollow Bill and sadly, I failed.
The names just kept coming. I noticed a whole assortment of things called Dave (map) near the Wallonian city of Namur in Belgium. There was a village of Dave, a castle of Dave, a fortress of Dave and an island of Dave all along the river Meuse. Dave must have been quite a guy. Actually the name went back much further, having previously been Daveles, Daule, Davelle, Davelis, and Davre.
I particularly like Doug Well in South Australia (map). Not only was it Doug Well, presumably it was Dug Well.
Finally, one could always take a journey to Bob Island in Antarctica.
Everyone knows how much I enjoy counting things. This marks the 1,234th article posted on Twelve Mile Circle.
Twelve Mile Circle received a handful of mysterious search queries focusing on the word "sawtooth" recently, and then specifically referencing a location named Sawtooth Point, Rhode Island. I assumed they all derived from a common origin because they landed on the same day from the same metropolitan area.
One shouldn’t get too alarmed. Usage statistics can’t identify individual readers by name although a lot does get recorded whenever someone lands on a website. I do enjoy reviewing aggregated data especially searches dropped directly onto 12MC. Sometimes they pique my curiosity, as with the aforementioned Sawtooth Point, and I learn a thing or two in the process. Hopefully my curiosity will also satisfy the needs of our anonymous reader who placed the notion in my head if he or she ever returns.
Spoiler alert, I quickly discovered that Sawtooth Point was a fictional location. It simply didn’t exist. Rather it was the setting for a novel written by John Casey in 2010 titled "Compass Rose." I haven’t read it although it sounded interesting, more character focused than action driven, and of course I liked the title. The New York Times Sunday Review gave it favorable marks.
… the story of a handful of people who live in a small coastal community in Rhode Island’s South County. Yet this bit of a world is complete unto itself, with its own force fields, its own variations of true north, its own ways of tilting into alignment.
John Casey finished writing Spartina in 1986, but his characters weren’t done with him. The novel went on to win the National Book Award, Casey went on to other books — but he never stopped writing about his fictional South County world. Twenty years later, the highly anticipated sequel, Compass Rose, brings it all back. "I was thinking the next time I’m in Rhode Island, I’ll go look at that big old white house on Sawtooth Point," Casey says. "Then I remember that I made it up."
That certainly addressed the question with certainty. The author himself stated unambiguously that Sawtooth Point didn’t exist except in his fertile imagination. Or was it? Did the "made it up" refer to the old white house or to Sawtooth Point itself? Could there still be an actual Sawtooth Point? The designation didn’t appear in the Geographic Names Information System. In fact no place anywhere in Rhode Island had any variant of sawtooth in its name. That only meant that no formally designated Sawtooth Point existed in Rhode Island. It could still exist off-the-books, I figured. Maybe.
Wait a minute, though. I celebrated capturing the final two counties on my trip through the area last May to complete my Rhode Island county counting map. I didn’t remember any South County. Rhode Island had only five counties: Bristol; Kent; Newport; Providence and Washington. There wasn’t a Sawtooth Point and there wasn’t a South County.
By an odd twist of fate, I’d received an email message from reader "Dave" just a few days before I noticed the Sawtooth Point queries. He recounted a dinnertime conversation where his family discussed county names. That made me jealous because I couldn’t imagine a geography-based conversation happening anywhere around my dinner table, although that was really besides the point. Their discussion turned to the counties of Rhode Island, and the notion that Washington County (map) was rarely referenced in that manner. Locals called it South County. I supposed it related to its geographic placement within the State although I couldn’t find any concrete reason why Washington County wasn’t a good enough name. Maybe it was because Rhode Island disestablished its county structure except for various statistical and judicial purposes in 1846 and it simply didn’t matter anymore. Washington County, South County, whatever.
Dave had wondered whether this was a unique situation, a county with a largely ignored official name and a frequently referenced nickname. I didn’t know of any other situation like that, however, before declaring it unique I thought it might be best to consult the all-knowing 12MC audience.
I supposed I also needed to add two more titles, Spartina and Compass Rose, to the long list of books I should probably read someday. And I still didn’t know if there was an actual Sawtooth Point.