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.
Twelve Mile Circle examined piles of sports teams while researching Other State Nickname Thingies. Generally I stuck with university teams although professional basketball’s Golden State Warriors provided the best example. Then I gazed at other sports and fell into the weirdness that could only be described as the names of minor league baseball teams. I wasn’t the first one to notice these unusual designations. The Intertubes were filled with articles about the strangest team names so I decided to take a slightly different tack.
The team volatility also surprised me. They changed names, affiliations, and cities with abandon. I examined a minor league team closest to me geographically, the Potomac Nationals. There wasn’t anything particularly creative about the name for this High-A farm team for the Washington Nationals. However, in less than forty year of it existence it had gone by Alexandria Dukes, Prince William Yankees, Prince William Cannons, Potomac Cannons, and then Potomac Nationals. It also changed affiliations between the Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and currently the Washington Nationals. I noticed this wasn’t unusual as I examined other teams.
The nearest team to me while I grew up was the Frederick Keys, a High-A team affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, based in Frederick, Maryland (map). The name "Keys" certainly qualified as an odd choice, in this case honoring historical resident Francis Scott Key, of Star Spangled Banner fame. I’d attended many games over the years when, completely by change, I happened to enter the ballpark on August 14, 1992. It was a Friday. I knew that only because I found a record of game online. Something piqued my curiosity as we approached the stadium gate. I never had to walk through magnetometers like I were entering an airport before, although I suspected what might be brewing. Sure enough, two military helicopters landed next to the field and out walked President George H. W. Bush and family into the stadium. They’d been vacationing at nearby Camp David. Presidential sightings in the Washington, DC area weren’t particularly unusual, however it was still pretty cool.
There was a long tradition with the Frederick Keys at the 7th inning stretch. The team’s theme song always played over the stadium speakers, a hokey event involving everyone shakes their keys, because this was the Keys. A bad pun, I know. Anyway, here was the best part — President Bush didn’t have any keys! He had to borrow a set of keys from someone in his party so he could play along. That notion stuck with me ever since — an amazing realization that the presidency was so powerful that no door ever locked in its path.
The bizarre variety of minor league baseball team names offered plenty of fodder for fictional match-ups. I didn’t consider whether they made any sense from a competitive standpoint because it hardly mattered, although I’d still love to see some of these games fielded. For instance, how about the Montgomery Biscuits (map) vs. the Kansas City T-Bones? A lump of dough battling a hunk of meat. Nice.
The most laid-back game would have to be the Traverse City Beach Bums vs. the Asheville Tourists. I almost went to an Asheville Tourists game when I was in Asheville last summer. I gave it up after spending most of the day hiking and driving, just too tired from being a real tourist to see the baseball Tourists.
A battle of crustaceans might also be amusing. I’m not sure which team would come out on top in a tournament between the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, the Charlotte Stone Crabs or the Lakewood BlueClaws. Maybe the two teams named for Blue Crabs would gang up on the Stone Crabs. It’s hard to tell.
Beaks and talons would fly if the Nuevo Laredo Owls ever played the Orem Owlz. And no, I didn’t understand why it was Orem Owlz instead of Owls. Maybe the team was trying to connect with a younger demographic although trying a little too hard to be edgy. If that was the case then it fell miserably short when the team announced Caucasian Heritage Night in 2015: "Our night was to include Wonder Bread on burgers with mayonnaise, clips from shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ and trying to solve the vertical leaping challenge." The Owlz canceled its plans after the inevitable uproar. The Director of Media and Communications resigned.
Talk about nuts, what if the Modesto Nuts, Lansing Lugnuts and Wichita Wingnuts all got a chance to play each other? Games could take place at Dunkin’ Donuts Park (the future home of the Hartford Yard Goats — another ridiculously named team).
A good dogfight might include any combination of the Portland Sea Dogs, Charleston RiverDogs, Batavia Muckdogs, Glendale Desert Dogs, Lincoln Saltdogs, El Paso Chihuahuas, Erie SeaWolves, Midland RockHounds, or New Jersey Jackals. And a good catfight could include the Carolina Mudcats, Gary SouthShore RailCats, Lynchburg Hillcats, New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Sacramento River Cats, Tri-City ValleyCats, Connecticut Tigers, Kane County Cougars, Lakeland Flying Tigers, Quintana Roo Tigers, or Yucatán Lions.
There could be only one favorite. Regular 12MC readers wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I preferred the Hillsboro Hops. This was a Single-A team in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon (map) affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Its physical placement on the northern fringe of the Willamette Valley and its location outside of Portland made the name a perfect choice. Portland was famous for its heavy concentration of breweries and hops were an essential brewing ingredient grown right in the valley. The team’s logo literally featured a hop cone wearing a baseball cap.