The Geographic Names Information System listed 94 populated places in the United States called Rome. I figured maybe some should exist in other nations that created a bunch of new places around that same time period. Alas, I didn’t find any such places in Canada, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. Why Rome seemed so popular in the U.S. (and only the U.S) remained a mystery. I still enjoyed a peek at some of the more engaging Romans of the New World.
Romulus and Remus in Rome Georgia. Photo by Lee LeFever on Flickr (cc)
Americans of European descent began to push into northwestern Georgia in the 1830’s, displacing native Cherokee. One group settled at the confluence of the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers, at the beginning of the Coosa River. This would be a perfect spot to gather locally-grown cotton and move it downriver to Mobile Bay, to a port on the Gulf of Mexico. They needed a name. Five men placed their choices in a hat; Hamburg, Pittsburg, Warsaw, Hillsboro and Rome. Obviously someone pulled out Rome, and that’s the name that stuck starting in 1834. Rome had seven hills just like its more famous namesake in Italy. That seemed to be the only reason.
Rome suffered the effects of the Civil War like many Georgian towns. I decided to skip forward in time instead and focus on its odd fascist connection.
City officials placed the Capitolene Wolf nursing Romulus and Remus in front of City Hall (map). It faithfully replicated the original at the Pallazio Del Conservatori in Rome (map). That made sense.
Roman legend held that a wolf suckled the abandoned twins Romulus and Remus. As adults they quarreled about where to found a new city. Romulus killed Remus and named the new city after himself. The statue of the Capitolene Wolf commemorated what I’d guess might have been a happier time in their lives.
Officials in Georgia did not commission the statue. It came as a gift. The American Cotillion Company decided to build a rayon factory in the city. However, it didn’t do it all on its own. It formed a joint venture with an Italian company. The statue came courtesy of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in 1929, arriving "as a forecast of prosperity and glory… from Ancient Rome to New Rome."
Rome removed the statue in 1940 and flew an American flag in its place during the Second World War. It didn’t reappear until 1952.
Rome, New York
Fort Stanwix. Photo by Anne White on Flickr (cc)
Rome also sprouted in New York in the mid-19th Century although its history of settlement went back a century earlier. The Jervis Public Library in Rome offered an interesting explanation for the name.
There are several theories as to how Rome, New York got its name; none of them are definitive… The name, "Rome," apparently first had been applied to the township to which the village belonged. The township was formed in 1796 from Steuben township, and named "Rome" as part of what is now called the Classical Naming Period, a time when upstate New York communities were being named after classical European cities. This type of naming was, for some reason, a popular trend at the time.
Once again I decided to skip a bunch of history and focus on a single narrow era. Rome existed for a very specific reason. It stood at the point of the Oneida Carry (aka the Great Carrying Place). Here, only a couple of miles separated the Atlantic watershed from the Great Lakes watershed. Traders and trappers used the portage as a way to connect the English colonies to a distant frontier hundreds of miles inland, deep within the North American continent. The St. Lawrence River — much farther north — wouldn’t be practical for merchants in New York City. Their emissaries paddled up the Hudson River to the Mohawk. There they portaged over the Oneida Carry to Wood Creek then paddled onward to Oneida Lake, the Oswego River and finally to the Great Lakes themselves.
European troops battled over this spot repeatedly. The English built Fort Stanwix (map) there to protect it during the French and Indian War. Britain and the new United States clashed at the Oneida Carry during the Revolutionary War, and Americans fortified it during the War of 1812. It became obsolete overnight during the canal era a couple of decades later. Rome became just another port along a canal and nobody needed a portage anymore.
New Rome, Ohio
Speed Trap. Photo by – POD – on Flickr (cc)
Why would I include New Rome, Ohio on this list (map)? It didn’t have the name recognition of the others and it didn’t even exist anymore. History at this location came much later, a brief period from its founding in 1947 to its dissolution in 2004. The village never covered more than a few blocks on a 12 acre footprint. Yet it held a dark secret.
It’s population fell from 111 in 1990 all the way down to 60 in the next census a decade later. People grew disgusted with the clan that controlled New Rome and the police force that relentlessly harassed residents and visitors alike. Car and Driver called it a Town Without Pity.
New Rome didn’t have much of a tax base although it straddled a major road for a quarter mile. There it created one of the most notorious speed traps in the nation, generating nearly $400,000 a year at its height. The speed limit dropped suddenly at the village border so police could catch "speeders." A stoplight gave them time to check everyone else for a laundry list of petty violations like dirty license plates. Nearly everyone in power was related by blood or by marriage and money collected had a habit of disappearing.
New Rome’s Demise
It got so bad that Ohio passed a narrowly-tailored law that allowed the dissolution of very small towns with few public services and repeated instances of malfeasance. As memorialized by New Rome Sucks,
The village of New Rome died abandoned and alone on September 9th, 2004. Born in 1947 it has been a source of corruption and abuse for many years and will never be missed. Funeral will be held on September 18th. The procession will start at 2:00pm in the old Kroger parking lot and will be lead by Jim Bussey and the New Rome Sucks Crew.
Thus came the fall of the inglorious New Roman Empire.
We took one of the more inefficient routes from Wheeling to Morgantown, West Virginia. There didn’t appear to be any decent, straight-line way even if we’d wanted to use it. However, we pushed it to an extreme. The third day involved a long U-shaped path that rambled along the Ohio River for awhile before dipping down to US Route 50, then turning decidedly north on Interstate 79.
Our route involved county counting at its finest, our biggest day of captures. I added Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler and Pleasants in West Virginia, and Monroe in Ohio, to my lifelong tally.
Grave Creek Mound
Even so, the total route involved barely more than three hours of driving. I needed to fill the rest of the day with interesting tidbits along the way. Luckily Moundsville sat on the banks of the Ohio River just south of Wheeling on our direct path. Moundsville sounded like an unusual name and the Twelve Mile Circle audience knows how much I enjoy unusual names. Would there be mounds? Well yes, of course, with one particularly noteworthy mound in mind. Grave Creek Mound grew right in the middle of town. The mound rose upward a solid 60 feet (19 metres), unmistakable in stature and appearance. It dated to the Adena culture of mound builders of about two thousand years ago. The Adena flourished along the Ohio River valley during what came to be known as the Early Woodland period, leaving their signature structures scattered throughout the area before they faded from the archeological record.
Apparently the State of West Virginia built a really nice museum next to the mound. I emphasized "apparently" because they decided to close it on Sundays, a vestige of the old Blue Laws I supposed. I could understand Monday closings because those tend to be the lightest traffic days at any attraction. Closing on Sunday eliminated fifty percent of the weekend hours and I’m sure dramatically cut the number of potential visitors. That included us. A large iron fence circled the entire complex so we couldn’t even climb to the top of the mound. What purposed did that serve? I could only stand outside the fence, slip my camera between the bars, snap a few photos and pine for what I missed.
West Virginia Penitentiary
I shouldn’t complain too strenuously. The real reason to stop in Moundsville, the true attraction stood directly across the street from the Grave Creek Mound. Here, the state of West Virginia operated its maximum security penitentiary until 1995. It began in the earliest days of statehood, a stockade designed to corral Confederate prisoners of war. It seemed like a pretty convenient place to house criminals afterwards so they simply recycling what already existed.
The state decided to keep the West Virginia Penitentiary standing as a tourist attraction once it built newer, more modern prisons. Now anyone can tour it and get a taste of what it must have been like to live behind bars.
My son and I both enjoyed the tour led by someone who used to be a guard at the prison. She told a lot of wild stories of deviously clever prisoners with nothing but time on their hands: smuggling; escapes; violence; revenge and the like. Some channeled their energies more creatively as expressed by prisoner artwork covering many of the walls. One particular prolific prisoner painted detailed landscapes until another prisoner poked his eyes out with a pencil. Even art critics behaved differently in prison.
The facility remained untouched since its abandonment. Paint peeled, cement crumbled, dust gathered. We walked through old cellblocks and even got to stand in a cell (at our option) while the electronic gates clanged shut behind us. It was quite an experience both from an emotional and an educational perspective. I’d recommend a visit to the old penitentiary for anyone traveling through the area.
We spent the middle part of the day following the prescribed route. I had hoped to ride the Sistersville Ferry across the Ohio River as I began initial planning. Unfortunately the ferry closed for the season a couple of weeks before our intended dates. I’ll have to wait for another opportunity to add that to my ferry list. I mentioned this only because someone may want to replicate my route someday in the future. The ferry might provide a nice addition (map).
I’d driven past the outskirts of Morgantown several times, always on the way to somewhere else. I knew very little about the city other than West Virginia University anchored it in place. Morgantown served as our final destination for the day so we got a chance to check it out in person. For instance, I didn’t know that the residents held the comedian Don Knotts who passed away in 2006 in such high regard. Some might remember Knotts as Barney Fife, the bumbling deputy on the Andy Griffith Show. Others may recall his role as Ralph Furley on Three’s Company. Anyway, he was born in Morgantown and graduated from West Virginia University. The town loved him enough to place his statue right on High Street (map). They also named one of the major thoroughfares leading into Morgantown, Don Knotts Boulevard (map).
Morgantown turned out to be a good place to stop, with an attractive, walkable downtown right on the edge of the University.
Articles in the Counting West Virginia Series:
- Let’s Begin
- The U
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
I don’t feature the most obvious geo-oddities of the United States anymore unless I plan to actually visit them in person. Perhaps a few longtime Twelve Mile Circle readers noticed the foreshadowing when I discussed the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia a few days ago. Maybe others saw photos I began to post on the 12MC Twitter account. Clearly, I intended to focus some personal love and attention on that northernmost pinnacle of the Mountain State.
The Columbus Day weekend offered an ideal opportunity to fill-in some nearby blanks on my county counting map. I finished Virginia a few months ago so maybe West Virginia would be the next logical target. I wouldn’t be able to complete it in a single long weekend although I could certainly take a chunk out of it. Originally I intended to head out onto the highways on my own. However, my older son also had a 3-day weekend and he decided to tag along. I warned him that the trip would long drives, random geo-oddities and obscure historical sites. He seemed fine with it so I started pulling together my plans and the route.
We would head first up to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to get some miles behind us. From there we would head to the northern tip of West Virginia and turn south, zigzagging across the Ohio River valley, capturing counties on both sides. We would then proceed east across West Virginia filling a couple of doughnut holes, and head home. I could capture 10 new counties if all went according to plan. That happened for the most part.
The Trip Began
The only difficulty took place on the first leg of our road trip. We couldn’t leave until afternoon. Traffic near Washington, DC rarely goes well under the best of circumstances. Friday afternoon on a 3-day weekend, well, that was practically a guaranteed disaster. We suffered through stop-and-go traffic on the Beltway, then on Interstate 270, and all the way west out to Hagerstown, a distance of 70 miles (115 kilometers). The road opened up as we moved deeper into Maryland and north towards the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Clouds started moving it. We ran into the very outermost bands of Hurricane Matthew, many hundreds of miles from the worst parts of the storm. It rained the remainder of the drive to Pittsburgh and indeed throughout the night. Driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike through the western part of the state is never easy, with its twisting lanes and narrow shoulders over the mountains. Throw in heavy rain, road spray and lots of trucks and it became quite the nail-biting experience.
First Leg Done
A four hour drive took five and a half hours. I needed a beer after that.
We headed straight to Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh. We didn’t even bother to stop at the hotel to check in first. Nope. I definitely needed that beer. I’d been wanting to go to Church Brew Works for awhile so it was nice to finally check it out in person. The place drew quite a crowd on a Friday evening and we arrived just in time to get what appeared to be the last table available. Our luck changed from that moment forward. We found only smooth sailing for the rest of our expedition.
My West Virginia county map showed only six counties remaining once I completed the trip. They aligned in a nice belt through the middle of the state. Maybe I could finish West Virginia with one final push? It certainly seems doable. If anyone comes back to this page in the distant future (I’m posting this in October 2016) and notices the blanks filled, it means I’ve succeeded.
Articles in the Counting West Virginia Series:
- Let’s Begin
- The U
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr