"I Before E Like in Milwaukie." If that phrase doesn’t grate on one’s nerves or otherwise sound completely wrong, it probably means the reader came from a location outside of the United States. Or came from Oregon. Because there is a Milwaukie in Oregon. I discovered that recently while examining the 12MC reader statistics. Someone visited the website from Milwaukie and it caught my eye because of its unusual spelling. The more standard variant, of course, would be Milwaukee with double-e as used in the large city of that name in Wisconsin.
Milwaukie Theater by Curtis Perry, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
There were two takeaways. First, anyone arriving on Twelve Mile Circle from an unusual location will always be fair game for a future article. Second, I felt compelled to learn whether Milwaukie and Milwaukee were somehow related to each other. That’s my nature and that’s always going to happen.
I’ll spoil the surprise right at the beginning. Yes there was a connection. Alright, everyone can go home now.
Wikimedia Commons in the public domain
Credit an early Western pioneer and entrepreneur, Lot Whitcomb, for the Oregon name. He founded the town in 1848 and without a doubt he named it for Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukie Historical Society of Milwaukie, Oregon issued a History of Milwaukie Oregon in 1965, basing it on an unfinished manuscript prepared as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The manuscript noted the etymology of Milwaukee, a "gathering place by the water" in various Algonquian languages such as Potawatomi and Ojibwe (Chippewa).
Milwaukee in Wisconsin was settled where three rivers converged, the Milwaukie, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic, forming a natural harbor immediately prior to entering Lake Michigan. Whitcomb admired the success of the Wisconsin city that he attributed in part to its favorable geographic placement and searched for a similarly-situated location in Oregon. He found such a spot along the Willamette river where "Kellogg Creek, Johnson Creek and many smaller branches fed by the multiplicity of springs in the vicinity" came together in a comparable fashion. Thus Whitcomb platted a new town and named it Milwaukee. Later the spelling changed to Milwaukie. The exact reason for the change was subject to various apocryphal tales. The History of Milwaukie Oregon concluded that the most likely explanation involved the Postal Service wanting to reduce postal mistakes. Less mail would be routed erroneously if the spellings differed.
Bing by mbgrigby, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Milwaukie’s primary claim to fame has been the Bing Cherry. That famous fruit also had a fascinating history.
Henderson Luelling traveled to Oregon with a wagon full of fruit tree seedlings and, in effect, delivered the tree fruit industry to the West. Henderson’s younger brother, Seth followed in 1850, settling in Milwaukie, Oregon, where he established a commercial tree fruit nursery (and curiously, changed the spelling of his name.)… Ah Bing was Seth Lewelling’s Manchurian foreman who oversaw 30 Chinese farm workers and helped run the nursery. Accounts differ as to whether it was Seth or Bing who developed the large black sweet cherry variety, but the Bing cherry was developed at the Lewelling nursery and named in honor of the Chinese foreman.
I never realized Bing cherries were actually named for a person. Also, why the fixation with spelling changes in that part of Oregon?
Finally I guess I should mention that Milwaukie is the home of Dark Horse Comics so nobody should feel a need to mention that in the comments.
Back to Milwaukee
I examined the Geographic Names Information System to see if there were other places named Milwaukee, Milwaukie or whatever other variations might be possible. There were very few and I found almost nothing more related to any of them. The Milwaukee in Pennsylvania, however, was featured in a YouTube video by a guy who randomly hit a map with a Sharpie while blindfolded and selected a tiny village near Scranton (map). He drove three hours to Milwaukee the next day to see a few homes and a pie shop.
Actually, the guy had an interesting premise called Here a Year, "to embody the three verbs (Live, Discover, Connect)." He let his readers select a state for him to live in for a year and the audience chose Pennsylvania. The Milwaukee video was one of many articles and videos he posted from March 2012 to March 2013 during his Pennsylvania year. I always find out about these wonderful ideas when it’s too late. I would have enjoyed following along with his adventures as they unfolded.
He selected another state afterwards, Nevada, and a few months later the trail ran cold. I have no idea what he’s up to now — probably got swallowed up in Vegas for all we know — and disappeared. I suppose I could fill-out the contact form on his website and see what happened although, well… that would entail effort. I’m sure he’s well.
Someday I’d love to undertake a year-long county counting journey. I’ll get right on that after I collect my lottery winnings.
Loyal reader "Lyn" contacted Twelve Mile Circle a few weeks ago with a stack of digital images from a recent road trip to California’s Salton Sea. This has long been on my list of places I’d love to see some day, and I still hope that will happen, so I was pleased to receive the photos. These pictures plus the text I’ve created around them will have to keep me content until the day I can visit the Salton Sea in person.
This wasn’t the first time Lyn contributed to 12MC either. I mentioned receiving a web hit from Cameroon awhile ago. Yes, that was Lyn who happened to be in Douala at the time and knew I’d appreciate the ping.
I’m fortunate to add Lyn to the very selective list of 12MC readers who have provided material that became full articles. All photographs belong to Lyn and are used with permission.
According to the Salton Sea History Museum, this geographic feature was actually an extension of the Gulf of California until about four million years ago. The Colorado River washed enough silt downstream over numerous millennia to cut the tip off from the Gulf. This left behind a large, deep depression now known as the Salton Sink. The floor of the empty sink extended far below sea level, down to -226 feet (-69 metres). By comparison Death Valley — the lowest spot in North America — measured -282 ft (-86 m) so the Salton Sink compared rather favorably as the second lowest spot on the continent.
The Salton Sea was an artificial creation and an accident. People diverted the Colorado River to irrigate parts of the sink, and for a time around the turn of the previous century the area blossomed with cropland. The river busted from its man-made diversion in 1905 after it ran higher than usual, and flooded uncontrollably into the sink. Engineers couldn’t completely halt the breach for two years and by then the spill grew to 35 miles long and 15 miles wide (56 km X 24 km) within the depression, and formed the Salton Sea.
However it was an endorheic basin without an outlet to the ocean. The salinity increased over time, and continues to increase, making it difficult for the few fish species that survived there to thrive in ever worsening conditions.
That naturally brought up a legitimate point. Why would 12MC, or anyone for that matter, want to experience the Salton Sea in person? I supposed it had to be because every description I’ve ever seen of the few settlements still clinging to its shores undoubtedly referenced the phrase "post-apocalyptic" (e.g., Salton Sea: From Relaxing Resort to Skeleton-Filled Wasteland).
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. The Salton Sea held so much promise after its accidental creation while the water remained fresh, before salt built up and poisonous farm runoff added to the disaster. Bombay Beach was envisioned as an inland resort, a beachfront paradise, and was constructed in such a manner. Now it’s mostly a ruin, a desolate place strewn with graffiti and abandoned belongings in the searing Sonoran Desert by a fetid saline lake, a photographer’s paradise and an oddball’s dream. A handful of outcasts still live among the detritus adding character to the scene. Now does it make sense?
Harsh conditions created strange situations out there on the fringes of society. Slab City started as a marine corps training facility during the Second World War: Camp Dunlap they called it. The marines had no need for remote camps in the middle of the desert after the war so Camp Dunlap closed and the government dismantled it, leaving behind only the cement foundations of various buildings.
Seasonal campers in large recreational vehicles learned about the wide selection of perfectly level concrete slabs and figured that a favorable wintertime climate made this an attractive spot to park for a few months every year. Slab City came without amenities, however people remained there as long as they wanted for free. "And now thousands of visitors return to ‘The Slabs’ each winter."
I couldn’t be sure if the isolation created unique behaviors or if people with those traits saw the Salton Sea as a beacon and arrived there from elsewhere, or a little bit of both. No matter the case, this location provided a perfect backdrop for something as wonderful as Salvation Mountain by Leonard Knight (1931–2014).
Leonard’s passion has lovingly created this brilliant “outsider art” masterpiece resplendent with not only biblical and religious scripture such as the Lord’s Prayer, John 3:16, and the Sinner’s Prayer, but also including flowers, trees, waterfalls, suns, bluebirds, and many other fascinating and colorful objects… Its 50 foot height and 150 foot breadth is made totally of local adobe clay and donated paint and is truly unique in the United States and probably the world.
I barely scratched the surface of the Salton Sea’s weirdness or Lyn’s collection of photographs. I need to save a few surprises for later in case I ever make it out there.
When I was asked to chauffeur a runner to a half-marathon with a course that crossed between the conjoined cities of Bluefield on the border between Virginia and West Virginia, how could I say no? A long weekend of fall foliage and geo-oddities? I felt like I was dropped into an episode of Weekend Roady.
Lotito City Park, Bluefield
To be clear, I’m not a runner. Even so I’ve enjoyed traveling with the athletic gang at several Mainly Marathon events. These journeys took me to some out-of-the-way corners of the nation including the Dust Bowl and the Lower Mississippi; five races (marathon or half-marathon options) in five days in five states. The newest event was the debut of the Appalachian Series. I would have loved to have stayed for all five races although we could only attend the first two before heading home, the races in West Virginia and Virginia.
Those two races involved the exact same course through Lotito City Park on both sides of the border in Bluefield. It counted as West Virginia on the first day and Virginia on the second day, or vice versa. That’s the way 50-state racers count things. Only one state can be claimed per race.
Play Tennis in Two States
I had to find ways to amuse myself as the runners ran the course. That wasn’t a problem with a state border drawn directly through it. Oh look, isn’t that a tennis court with the boundary cutting through it? Why, yes it is.
Little things like trying to count the number of times I could split myself with the borderline offered countless entertainment options. This was an image from the northwestern corner of that same tennis court, with West Virginia to the left side of the diagonal and Virginia to the right (and me in both). That was another weird thing: a border quirk at Bluefield made Virginia west and West Virginia east.
It wasn’t all about racing all weekend. By chance, we discovered an Oktoberfest celebration being held in the nearby town of Bramwell (map). Bramwell was originally one of the many towns of West Virginia that arose because of its proximity to the coalfields. It differed from many others though because of the wealthy owners that settled there.
Bramwell is best known for having the largest number of millionaires per capita of any town in America in the late 1800s. Bramwell once had as many as thirteen millionaires living there at one time in the early 20th century. The magnificent homes that remain there today testify to this wealth.
It was a wonderful setting for an Autumn festival. I was also pleasantly surprised at the quality of craft beers brewed in West Virginia.
I’d never been to this area before so I made a series of minor jogs during the weekend to further pad my County Counting list. In Virginia I collected Bland, Giles and Tazewell Counties. In West Virginia I collected McDowell, Mercer, Monroe and Wyoming Counties. The jog to Wyoming County was the most memorable. The narrow twisting roads ran through genuine Appalachian settlements verging on stereotype, ambled past strip mines and climbed over mountain ridges (map). I was shocked that it remained paved and never swtiched to gravel or mud. After getting stuck behind the third coal truck I figured it out. The road didn’t exist serve the needs of residents so much as the mines.
The foliage approached peak Autumn glory, improving each day of our visit. That became a perfect excuse for a picnic at Pinnacle Rock State Park, located on a ridge between Bluefield and Bramwell (map). We climbed up to the overlook and saw nothing but forest to the horizon.
We rounded out the long weekend with a visit to Pipestem Resort State Park. Pipestem included the "County Line Trail" that crossed between Mercer and Summers Counties a couple of different times. We didn’t have an opportunity to hike it because of the rain. However, precipitation didn’t spoil the weekend and it didn’t rain the entire time. It just happened that one of the intermittent storms passed through the park at the wrong time so it limited our activities for awhile.
The tram running from the Canyon Rim Center down to Mountain Creek Lodge was operational though (map), and the views were fantastic between frantic efforts to wipe condensation from the windows. On the river valley far below, the Bluestone River overflowed its banks after several days of stormy weather.
I mentioned a place where 81° west longitude crossed US Interstate 81 in a recent article. I visited the golden spot in person on the way home (map). Of course I did.